If the decision had been up to the Negro Leagues’ club owners and the Brooklyn Dodgers, Monte Irvin would have been the first African-American to re-break baseball’s unconscionable colour line in the 1940s. Irvin—who died Monday night at 96, following a long and distinguished baseball life—was the one who turned the opportunity down.
If only the Internet Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s balloting counted for the real thing, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Mike Piazza would be joined by Edgar Martinez at the Cooperstown podium come July. The IBWAA’s annual exercise voted for Piazza two years ago and for Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines last year, so they weren’t on this year’s IBWAA ballot.
But Griffey and Martinez were on the ballot. I’d have been very hard pressed to see my fellow IBWAA writers not vote Griffey in, though we did something the Baseball Writers Association of America couldn’t quite do for Junior—we voted him yes unanimously, after all.
The only question around Ken Griffey, Jr.’s election to the Hall of Fame was not whether he’d be elected in his first year on the ballot but by how much. If injuries kept him from obliterating the career home run record he once looked like a lock to smash, they didn’t keep him from getting 99.3 percent of the vote, obliterating Tom Seaver’s record for the highest such percentage.
Yes, I would rather be thinking aloud about such things as Jeff Samardzija’s slightly ridiculous contract. (Shades of Bud Black.) About whether John Lackey’s and (especially) Jason Heyward’s signings with the Cubs really do make them a 2016 World Series entrant. (Berra’s Law still applies, as the 2015 Nationals can tell you.) About how much financial flexibility Michael Cuddyer’s retirement leaves the Mets. (Some, but maybe not quite enough to think about re-signing Yoenis Cespedes.) Or Johnny Cueto signing with the Giants. Among other things.
The holdover Hall of Fame ballot entrants are both an interesting and a troublesome group, largely because the recent rule changes limiting a Baseball Writers Association of America candidate to ten years on the ballot—and limiting voters to ten players per ballot—push a few right up against the exit door if they don’t make it this time. And in a few cases that just doesn’t seem right.
Let’s review the holdovers’ candidacies. Much of what I’ve written of some of these players in the past still holds, so I’ll include what I wrote of those:
That’s the problem with Hall of Fame ballots. Other than the obvious there-because-it’s-five-years-retired players, picking the worthies from among the newcomers is both a challenge and a lot of fun, at least until you run into the ones you knew were good, even great, but not quite Hall of Fame great.
And several of these players have had some impeccable moments regardless of whether or not they shake out as Hall of Famers:
THE NEWCOMERS, CONTINUED . . .
Ken Griffey, Jr. has arrived. On the Hall of Fame ballot, that is. And if there’s justice it ought to be Trevor Time one more time.
Griffey and Trevor Hoffman are two of fourteen new entrants on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot, and among those they’re two who should be no-questions-asked Hall of Famers.
There are also seventeen players making return engagements, including a pair in their final year of BBWAA eligibility thanks to the rule change that shrank the eligibility period to ten years. The BBWAA also shrank the number of voters, too, casting away members who hadn’t voted on Hall of Fame ballots for ten years or better.
There are those who walk among us in their twilight and inspire us to think that, warts and all, our world still remains a lovely place to be simply because such people still walk among us. In a time when sports seems to yield up more dubious and disreputable characters among its active players, we are comforted to know that some of our past athletic subjects prove better people than they did players, however great they were as the latter.
As of 16 March 2015 the question of whether Pete Rose should or will be reinstated to organised baseball became an official issue one more time. That was the date commissioner Rob Manfred announced he received a formal request for reinstatement from Rose himself. And Manfred was clear enough that nobody—Rose’s sympathisers and opponents included—should read anything deeper into that request or his receipt of it. Yet.
I can admit when I’m wrong. I thought the Hall of Fame-voting writer who turned his ballot over to Deadspin, vowing to cast his ballot according to how Deadspin readers voted, might have opened the proverbial can of worms. A can at least as putrid as that which surrounds the farce of most years’ All-Star Game voting, where fans can vote multiple times and often use the game for the Hall of Fame’s purpose, a kind of lifetime achievement award even if the players for whom they vote are not having All-Star worthy seasons.