The IBWAA ballot; or, how I voted for the Hall of Fame

National Baseball Hall of FameSince I wrote purely from an observer’s position, I was content to let my previous writings on this season’s Hall of Fame voting stand for themselves. But in the interim I was made a life member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, which conducts its own Hall of Fame ballot every year. My membership came just in time to have such a vote myself.

This vote, of course, is purely symbolic outside the IBWAA itself. Even if there are those in the mainstream press who actually pay attention to the balloting, sometimes using those results as one barometer toward gauging how the Baseball Writers Association of America vote might result. The day may come when the IBWAA vote is included in the ultimate tally that elects Hall of Famers. May.

Like the BBWAA, the IBWAA requires 75 percent of the vote to consider a player a Hall of Famer. Unlike the BBWAA, whose voting members can choose up to ten candidates, the IBWAA voters can choose up to fifteen. (The BBWAA recently elected to raise the limit to fifteen, but the Hall of Fame has yet to sign off on that change.)

The IBWAA ballot includes one candidate (Barry Larkin) who’s already in the Hall of Fame but didn’t make the 75 percent cut in previous IBWAA votes. It also includes two players still on the BBWAA ballot—Mike Piazza and Craig Biggio—but who did make previous IBWAA vote cuts. (Piazza in 2013, Biggio in 2014.) Yes, it was a little strange to me when I saw it. And, a little sad, because I’d vote for Piazza and Biggio without apology. But it’s also fun, because I get to vote for Larkin.

Astute readers of this journal (all three of you) may note that I’ve argued for a very long time in favour of transparency on the BBWAA’s part—who voted how and why, something the BBWAA was reluctant to share until very recently. A considerable number of voting BBWAA members have disclosed their Hall votes this time around and explained them. Having argued for it, I have no problem being transparent myself about even a symbolic vote.

My votes may or may not dovetail to arguments I’ve made previously about the players in question. Arguing intellectually, as an observer, is one thing. Having a tangible if symbolic vote is another. The IBWAA vote may not apply to the actual Hall of Fame voting, but how could I reject the chance, indeed the responsibility to think and re-think previous arguments?

Those of us considered mere bloggers by many in the establishment press are not exclusively ranters alone. Many of us have been or are actual, practising members of the working press. I was myself, for many years, in small city/regional journalism, print and radio alike, as well as trade and non-blogging Internet journalism. I’d like to think that I and most of my IBWAA fellows are a little more than just bathrobe bleaters.

And I didn’t have to be asked to accept the responsibility of casting even a symbolic ballot without my own transparency, since I’d been critical in the past of any previous lack of BBWAA transparency. I will write only about those players for whom I voted yes, taking each alphabetically.

I'm proud to be made a member.

I’m proud to be made a member.

For the record, I hold no ridiculous anti-first-ballot bias. There are those Hall of Famers whose cases do require deeper analysis, but there are those who are only too obviously Hall of Famers on the ballot for the first time, and keeping them outside the door merely because they’re new to the ballot is fatuous and foolish.

Nor will I dismiss anyone who played during the era of actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances merely because he played during that era. Unlike the Ken Gurnicks of the world, there’ll be no mere guilt by association here. It’s one thing to want to punish those players who were suspected of using actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances, but it’s something else entirely to decide anyone who played during the era should be considered suspect simply for having been there.

Now, about those who were suspected: Show me the evidence—not innuendo, not suspicion, not accusation, the evidence—that

a) The player in question did use actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances; or—not and, or:

b) The substances in question actually did/do something for a player other than bulking him up or getting him healed quicker.

Show me that evidence. Or, show me where the Hall of Fame itself has offered any guidance—which it hasn’t, yet. I don’t know for dead last certain what actual or alleged PEDs did for particular players, and you don’t know for dead last certain, either. These things we do know, and little if anything else:

* Baseball may have had a stricture on its books since 1971 against non-prescription use of prescription drugs, but specific strictures against amphetamines and actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances such as steroids and human growth hormone didn’t become against baseball law until 2005.

* Possession of non-prescription steroids became against the law law in 1991. Well, now. Assault and battery are also against the law. But you haven’t seen a rush to swear out arrest warrants against beanball pitchers or players swarming out of the dugouts and bullpens into bench-clearing brawls during which there have been assaults.

* “The game’s lax enforcement of its own [1971] rule across the decades since and the writers’ willingness to do likewise by enshrining amphetamine users,” ESPN’s David Schoenfeld has written, “suggests to me that the issue today is less about the numbers or even guilt and innocence by the nebulous standards of ‘integrity, sportsmanship, and character,’ and more about writers going on about the immorality of steroids and stooping to playing make-believe about some players while doing so.”

(Writers and politicians, if you remember the rantings of Arizona Sen. John McCain and the hearings before the House Committee on Government Reform—derided at the time, by George F. Will, as the House Committee for the Dissemination of Great Messages to Kids—which had no actual, legitimate, consecrated authority to hold them on that issue in the first place.)

* Hank Aaron wasn’t just blowing smoke when he said, a few years ago, “I know that you can’t put something in your body to make you hit a fastball, change-up or curve ball.” (Or, for that matter, to make you throw a fastball, change-up, or curve ball the way a major league pitcher might be expected to throw them.) And Joe Sheehan (Baseball Prospectus, The Joe Sheehan Newsletter) wasn’t blowing smoke when he marshaled the actual, not the alleged data, and conjugated credibly that “The big lie is this: Steroids caused home runs and testing stopped home runs.”

* The foregoing should not be mistaken for an argument against the game’s continuing cleanup. But the arguments otherwise require real evidence, not innuendo; real provenance, not rhetoric.

Here, then, are those for whom I voted yes, marking newcomers to the BBWAA Hall ballot marked by a #:

Bagwell.

Bagwell.

Jeff Bagwell—I’ve believed Bagwell to be a Hall of Famer from the moment he retired. The only thing attaching to him is suspicion, not evidence. Bagwell’s biggest mistake seems to have been taking up the wrong kind of serious weight-lifting circa 1995. He’s said it himself: Lifting like a bodybuilder instead of programming his lifting for baseball ultimately wrecked his shoulders and forced his retirement after his only World Series.

Fun stat: Bagwell has a higher lifetime OPS than Ty Cobb, Alex Rodriguez, and Willie Mays. That surprised me, too, just by itself, especially considering Bagwell played a huge chunk of his career in the hitter-hating Astrodome.

Himself.

Himself.

Barry Bonds—I think we know Himself was a no-questions-asked Hall of Famer before he was thought to begin playing with actual or alleged PEDs circa 1999, even as we know how many times we’ve heard plenty of non-harrumphing BBWAA members give the answer. (See above for the “rules” or the “law.”) Absent that issue his biggest problem might be how his attitudes and behaviours toxified his clubhouses, and he might end up waiting a BBWAA ballot or two before going in because of it. Still, quite a few of his teams went to the postseason and to one World Series, and it took a lot more than Barry Bonds to keep them from winning.

Jay Jaffee of Sports Illustrated makes a point: Remove Bonds’s seasons from 1999 through his retirement, he says, and you would still discover the following: 99.6 career wins above a replacement player (which would make him third among left fielders), a .967 lifetime OPS, and 62.4 WAR as peak value (which would make him second among left fielders).

I don’t have to like the man to vote for him. Not every Hall of Famer is going to turn out to be a Stan Musial, a Jackie Robinson, a Hank Aaron, a Sandy Koufax, or an Ernie Banks. (Just to name one not named Ty Cobb, Ted Williams wasn’t exactly the sweetest soul in baseball, and his “Knights of the Keyboard” probably gritted their teeth voting him his MVPs and into the Hall of Fame.) But Jaffe’s isolated figures look like those of a Hall of Famer to me. That—plus the actual unknowability of what actual or alleged PEDs did for Bonds, to say nothing of baseball’s institution-wide failure to address the issue before he partook—means a yes vote.

The Rocket, red glare or otherwise.

The Rocket, red glare or otherwise.

Roger Clemens—See Bonds, Barry. Including the prickly personality, even if Clemens may not have been seen as half the kind of clubhouse poison Bonds was seen to be. He was an absolutely great pitcher before any suspicions of usage, court trials, acquittals, and an ongoing defamation lawsuit attached to him. (He’s also never failed a drug test, if that means anything.) He had an argument as one of the three greatest starting pitchers of all time, or close enough, before any such suspicions arrived.

One problem Clemens will have, of course, is the Hall of Fame’s shortening of BBWAA-voting eligibility for players to ten years, since Clemens hasn’t been on the ballot long enough to be grandfathered to the former fifteen-year wait. It’s not impossible that he might have to wait for a future Veterans Committee extant (the Expansion Era committee) to have a hope of going in. But if you want to ponder whether Clemens was a bona fide Hall of Famer before he’s suspected of dabbling, as with Bonds, he’d be a match for Pedro Martinez—who’s a no-questions-asked Hall of Famer (I’ll address him shortly)—when covering just his Red Sox seasons and his first, Cy-Young winning season in Toronto.

The Big Unit, before he learned about mullets.

The Big Unit, before he learned mullets weren’t wings.

# Randy Johnson—The Big Unit may or may not be the greatest starting pitcher in baseball history across the board. But he has a powerful case as the possible greatest lefthanded starting pitcher of all time, at least one of the three. Maybe Sandy Koufax has the edge in peak value, as opposed to career value. Maybe. Wanna fight?

Johnson retired with the question of when, not if he was a Hall of Famer in waiting. He’s the fifth-winningest lefthander behind Warren Spahn, Steve Carlton, Eddie Plank, and Tom Glavine; he’s the all-time strikeout leader among lefthanders (and he’s the fastest pitcher with either arm to get to the 4,000 milestone); his 10.9 strikeouts per nine all time is the leader among starting pitchers; he’s fourth all time in WAR among post-World War II pitchers (the three ahead of him: Clemens, Tom Seaver, and Greg Maddux); he’s tied for seventh all time for ERA+.

The most fun stat about Johnson: He’s the oldest man in major league history to pitch a perfect game, accomplishing that at age 40. An interesting stat about him you don’t always think about: He’s seventh on the all time list for win probability added—the number of additional wins for his teams expected whenever he took the mound—with 53.19. Six starting pitchers (Clemens, Maddux, Seaver, Spahn, Martinez) and one relief pitcher (Mariano Rivera, third all time) are ahead of him.

I say again: If Johnson doesn’t get in on his first try there should be an investigation. Anti-first-ballot bias holders, please send your arguments in stamped, self-addressed envelopes.

Larkin.

Larkin.

Barry Larkin—I thought he’d wait longer than he did to make it to Cooperstown, silly me. I knew he deserved the honour when he did make it, but once again it feels strange but fun to be able to vote for him even symbolically now. What I wrote when he was elected to the Hall of Fame still stands: Larkin was overshadowed badly enough by Cal Ripken, Jr. and Alex Rodriguez, but he was the best all-around shortstop you barely heard of in his time and place, not to mention the first at his position to go 30-30, believe it or not. 

Edgar Martinez—The only better designated hitter all-time was Frank Thomas if you take Thomas’s career overall. Martinez has a claim as the best by his hitting plus the fact that he spent 72 percent of his career as a DH. Martinez could flat out hit even in an era of batting statistics that weren’t inflated exclusively (if, really, at all) by actual or alleged PEDs. (How easy it is to forget the factors that really made the difference in offense inflation: the rash of new ballparks opening that were very friendly to hitters, and the volume of umpires squeezing strike zones tighter than a belt buckle or a postage stamp.) But did you know that, among hitters with 8,000+ plate appearances, Martinez is twelfth in on-base percentage?

Martinez . . .

Martinez . . .

He’s also number 25 all time for OPS and 21st among age 27-forward players with 67.6 WAR. (Sometimes forgotten is how comparatively late Martinez’s major league career began.) He also has the best OPS (.959) among anyone who has 2,000+ plate appearances as a designated hitter. Some call Edgar Martinez the Mariano Rivera of designated hitters. It’s not an unreasonable statement, though you might be amused to know that Martinez owned The Mariano at the plate: he has a .579/.652/1.053 slash line in 23 plate appearances against the Yankee stopper. Take it from The Mariano himself, who said this to Charlie Rose in 2013: “It didn’t matter how I threw the ball. I couldn’t get him out. Oh my God, he had more than my number. He had my breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

You need a lot more than owning one Hall of Famer in waiting to get to the Hall of Fame yourself, of course. Martinez has a lot more. The new ten-year-eligibility BBWAA vote rule hurts him because—like such players as Bert Blyleven and Tim Raines—his case has needed a longer and deeper analysis. I only wish my yes vote could do him a big favour in actuality.

. . . and Martinez.

. . . and Martinez.

# Pedro Martinez—Maybe the greatest peak-value righthanded pitcher of all time. If you think actual-or-alleged performance-enhancing substances stacked the deck against pitching (and who knows how many pitchers dabbled to what actual extent or actual, not alleged, effect), with or without knowing for dead last certain what their real as opposed to alleged impact was, then Martinez’s peak value goes even further through the roof.

And if you ever saw him pitch when Randy Johnson was the opposition starter, it was like Koufax against Bob Gibson or Juan Marichal, or Tom Seaver against Steve Carlton—an absolute duel of the masters of the art. (You could say likewise about the Big Unit against the Rocket, in fact.)

The Moose.

The Moose.

Mike Mussina—He’s a classic career-value Hall of Famer in my book. Mussina should have had a better postseason career but it wasn’t entirely his fault. He pitched better than many remember him to have done in the postseason but he often lost through reasons not of his direct making. Think about this, too: if wins above a replacement level player is a valid criteria for determining a Hall of Famer, Mussina (83.0) is 9.6 WAR above the WAR of an average Hall of Fame starting pitcher. His peak value isn’t great, but for career value Mussina belongs.

Don't knock the Rock!

Don’t knock the Rock!

Tim Raines—I’ve been arguing his Hall case for a long time, and I haven’t changed my mind. But now I can do something about it even if it won’t help him get in. One thing I think hurt Raines for many years was that he didn’t get to play on a World Series winner until the near-end, when time had taken its toll on his once formidable skills. Another is that he doesn’t have a blaring statistical benchmark by which you can see his care more clearly. The advanced stats make Raines’s case more clearly, especially his 69.1 WAR being above the average Hall of Fame left fielder. (He’s seventh all-time at the position with fourteen Hall of Famers behind him.) When The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract was published in 2001, James ranked Raines the eighth best left fielder of all time.

One of Raines’s most telling abilities: what he could do to reach and advance base. His contemporary Tony Gwynn’s gaudy batting averages and hits totals make Gwynn look superior, but Raines was so much better at working out walks that he looks like the lesser hitter. Of course Raines wasn’t going to compile 200-hit seasons or win more than one batting title; he was that good at reach base by hook, crook, and anything else he could think of, and he was one of the best in the league when it came to wringing out walks.

Yet Raines comes out better than Gwynn in the metric of bases gained—Gwynn could crank out hits taking fewer walks, but Raines picked up a lot more bases once he reached base in the first place. Gwynn’s lifetime bases gained total is 5,267; Raines gained 538 more bases. And he probably used up fewer outs to reach base.

You don’t have to line Tim Raines up to Tony Gwynn or anyone else to make a Hall of Fame case, of course. (I note many observers saying he was the best leadoff man of his time who wasn’t named Rickey Henderson.) He’s earned it in his own right, and it would be only right to vote yes for him.

Ol' Blood and Sox.

Ol’ Blood and Sox.

Curt Schilling—This guy was what Jack Morris’s supporters only think their man was: the very essence of a big-game pitcher. I haven’t changed in my thinking from the moment Schilling first entered the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot. Voters who still weigh pitching wins heavily will hesitate on voting for Schilling, of course, and in that regard Schilling might have a higher hope of going in next year, when the only newcomer on the ballot will be Ken Griffey, Jr. But Schilling’s is one of those careers that requires a deeper look despite his gaudy looking workload and ERA+ numbers (he’s in the top fifty all time) and his spectacular postseason record.

One thing you notice when you do look deeper is this: Of his 216 wins, only nineteen could be considered “cheap” wins, wins in which he didn’t log a quality start . . . but of his 146 losses, 41 were “tough” losses—losses hung on him despite quality starts. He simply didn’t have the run support and/or bullpen protection he might have had.

Smoltz.# John Smoltz—He picked up where Dennis Eckersley left off, almost, but Smoltz was a better starting pitcher. Right now he’s just about the greatest starter/closer combination the game’s ever seen.

Trammell.

Trammell.

Alan Trammell—I only wish my vote could do something for him in his next-to-last turn on the BBWAA ballot. And it took me a long time to convince myself that, yes, Trammell does deserve the honour, after having been on the fence about him for what now seems eons. It looks as though Trammell will have to wait until a future Expansion Era Committee elects him, and I think that will happen. Trammell was actually one of the three shortstops (Robin Yount and Cal Ripken, Jr. were the others) who arrived to puncture the former norm of a slick glove at shortstop being valuable no matter that such a shortstop carried a paper knife for a bat. He finished his career with 70.4 WAR, 4.7 above the average Hall of Fame shortstop.

I suspect his injury-pockmarked later career wounded him in Hall of Fame consideration, as did his lack of Most Valuable Player consideration even though he might have won two awards had the voters looked deeper. (There’s no way Willie Hernandez should have been the 1984 American League MVP; Trammell was also actually better than George Bell the year Bell won his MVP.) He might also have been hurt by his keystone partner Lou Whitaker dropping from the Hall of Fame ballot after one try, and Whitaker deserves a plaque, too. But the closer you look at Trammell, too, the more Hall of Famer you really do see.

That’s my IBWAA ballot and I’m sticking to it. But considering the foregoing arguments, why didn’t I vote for Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa? Simple enough: the position players I did vote for were better and even more valuable players all around.

In fact, Sosa’s 58.4 WAR is 10.7 lower than Raines’s. Raines is above the average Hall of Fame outfielder; Sosa is well below. He only ever cracked his league’s top ten WAR for position players in three seasons, while his career WAR is almost fifteen short of the average Hall of Fame right fielder. For someone who hit all those jaw-dropping home runs that’s a staggering statistic.

McGwire finished with a career WAR slivers short of the average Hall of Fame first baseman. Had there not been that issue attached to him—allowing, yes, again, for the actual unknowability of what actual or alleged PEDs did or didn’t do for him—it’d be a fair argument that he finished with a foot on the Hall of Fame border but his injuries keeping him from stepping clearly over it. Enough to keep you on the fence about him for a good while.

Agree with me, disagree with me, as you will about the foregoing. I’m a big boy, I can take it.

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