A few ways to fix the Hall of Fame vote

This year’s Hall of Fame vote by the Baseball Writers Association of America is troubling, for more reasons than just Curt Schilling falling short by sixteen votes and Schilling’s demand to be removed from the writers’ ballots. Something is wrong, drastically so, with the vote. For the sake of the Hall of Fame, it needs to be fixed. But how?

The answer isn’t simple. But there’s one sub-issue to consider at once: the blank ballots. How many the writers submitted is less relevant than the thought that, perhaps, if you submit a blank ballot, you should lose your Hall vote for a spell.

Voting for the Hall of Fame isn’t exactly a right. The Hall conferred the privilege upon the writers almost a century ago. With privilege comes responsibility, no matter the controversies that do or don’t surround a particular year’s candidates. The responsibility includes the one holding the privilege to do his or her job, think hard, and vote.

If assorted BBWAA members thought it was difficult to impossible to resolve certain questions around certain players while considering their Hall ballots, they don’t always seem to find it too difficult to write magnificent ravings about those questions and players when the occasion arrives.

As a life member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, I cast votes for the IBWAA’s Hall of Fame roll every year since becoming such a life member. Such votes are neither simple, cut, dried, or prenatal surgery. Last November, I voted, citing why I voted for this player or didn’t vote for that player. If a man can do that in what amounts to a symbolic Hall election, surely the BBWAA can do theirs in a real one.

The writers might consider that blank ballots are simply not acceptable regardless of the moment’s controversies. They might also consider that those submitting blank ballots should have their Hall vote privileges suspended. It might convince the blankers to think twice, thrice, as much as it takes.

The Hall of Fame itself should step up, step in, and decide the writers have played enough games for long enough, it’s time to broaden the Hall of Fame vote. You can pick numerous instances if you like, this year and in years past, but perhaps it’s time the BBWAA and the Eras Committees are no longer the only groups privileged to vote for the Hall.

Come to think of it, the former Veterans Committee really put its own foot in it (hardly for the first time) when they enshrined former comimssioner Bud Selig. We should have expected certain ramifications and after-effects, when players indulging actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances pre-testing still tie the BBWAA up in knots but the old Veterans Committee elected the commissioner who let the so-called Wild West Era run wild.

Who else should be invited to vote for the Hall of Fame? I have a few ideas:

1) The living Hall of Fame players themselves. No one should feel funny about allowing such as Jeff Bagwell, Johnny Bench, Craig Biggio, George Brett, Dennis Eckersley, Ken Griffey, Jr., Rollie Fingers, Vladimir Guerrero, Rickey Henderson, Randy Johnson, Chipper Jones, Sandy Koufax, Greg Maddux, Willie Mays, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Nolan Ryan, and Ozzie Smith, to name a few, voting for successors worthy of joining their fraternity.

Some of them get to be part of assorted sixteen-member Eras Committees, of course, which also include “executives, and veteran media members” according to the Hall itself. We can adjust that: The Hall of Famers should have to choose whether to vote concurrent to the BBWAA or as members of one or another Era Committee considering overlooked/snubbed BBWAA candidates—but not both.

Why shouldn’t such Hall of Famers as Ken Griffey, Jr., Johnny Bench, and Rollie Fingers, among others, have Hall votes?

2) The living Ford C. Frick Award winning broadcasters and those currently working in the broadcast booths. They see as much of the games as the writers do. The Hall would not be disgraced by the like of Marty Brennaman, Chip Caray, Bob Costas, Ray Fosse, Jaime Jarrin, Jim Kaat, Buck Martinez, Tim McCarver, Jon Miller, Vin Scully, Bob Uecker, or Suzyn Waldman, among others, having a vote.

3) The established statistics mavens, since statistics remain the life blood of baseball.  Please tell me you don’t think it would be a travesty for Allen Barra, Bill James, Rob Neyer, or the folks at Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Reference, retrosheet, and The Elias Sports Bureau to be included in the Hall of Fame vote. If much of their work has provoked re-assessments of several subsequent Hall of Famers, they should not be regarded as voting interlopers.

4) Those writers/historians who were never admitted to the BBWAA but who’ve established themselves long and with particular distinctions as blessings to the game. Find us a valid reason for ageless Roger Angell, Peter Golenbock, John Helyar, Donald Honig, Richard Goldstein, George F. Will, or plenty of the fine excavators of the Society for American Baseball Research, just for openers, to be excluded from the Hall vote. You’ll have a simpler time finding Atlantis.

5) Umpires with above-average ratings. (God and His servant Doug Harvey only know you don’t even want to think of bringing Angel Hernandez or Country Joe West into the voting fold.) Those folks had the second-best views of Hall of Fame candidates for themselves. (The first-best is probably a tossup among several.) The best umpires didn’t just call the pitches or the plays, they developed particular appreciation for players who strove for and achieved Hall of Fame-level excellence.

They would not lack credibility as Hall voters if allowed the chance. Should a voting umpire lose his (or her, in due course?) above-average rating, their Hall vote can be suspended for that year.

6) How about the IBWAA? As in, members not concurrent BBWAA members but whom the IBWAA leadership deems by their actual works to be worthy of a Hall of Fame vote to exercise wisely and diligently. (Fair disclosure: I’m not an IBWAA leader or officer yet.) The IBWAA is not just another gaggle of fans ranting our heads off. We’ve got some excellent observers/analysts/commentators among us who have earned the chance.

7) Establish a Pioneer Committee. This would be a group considering and giving due to those people—players, executives, statisticians, others—whom we’d consider to have changed the game profoundly in ways other than how they played or managed or administered the game. (It wouldn’t have let Marvin Miller wait until death did he part for his well-deserved Cooperstown enshrinement, either, if it lived while he did.)

The Pioneer Committee could begin with considering Curt Flood, who kicked the door to free agency open just enough with his reserve clause challenge. And, Andy Messersmith, who shoved the door open all the way by finishing what Flood started and prevailing. And, Tommy John, who enjoyed a long, distinguished second act after undergoing the first of the ligament-replacement elbow surgeries that’s long since borne his name.

They didn’t quite post Hall of Fame playing careers, but they all changed the game profoundly, and irrevocably. There should be a place in the Hall of Fame for all three.

This Pioneer Committee should also consider those such as Allan Roth, arguably the godfather of deep statistics; and, Bill James, who picked up where Roth left off, all but invented sabermetrics, and sired subsequent generations of deeper analysts many of whom came to play key roles in re-developing baseball organisations. If those are unworthy of Hall consideration, remember that my Antarctic beach club has yet to find a buyer.

The BBWAA should also re-consider the ten-vote maximum on the Hall of Fame ballot. The max was imposed in the first place out of concern to do whatever the writers could think to keep those nefarious suspected users of actual or alleged performance-enhancing substance from getting through.

Aside from that jet taking off decades ago (greenies, anyone?), they shot themselves in the foot with the limit. The bullets traveled far enough to delay or torpedo entirely more than a few legitimate Hall of Fame cases thanks among other things to several instances ballot jam. Kenny Lofton surely isn’t the only man wondering why the number ten center fielder ever to play major league baseball can’t be in Cooperstown (pending a future Era Committee consideration) except as a visiting customer.

Raise the ballot max back to fifteen. Maybe that wasn’t perfect, either, but it might return the writers a little more of the proverbial wiggle room to cast thoughtful, reflective votes that, among other things, won’t leave enough of the Loftons as baseball’s wronged men to be done right at some future date if at all.

While they’re at it, they should dump once and for all the prejudice against first-time votes. If you think a player belongs in the Hall of Fame, vote him on the first ballot. You don’t need reminders of how many Hall of Famers you’d assumed Cooperstown locks waited five or more ballots to get their due, or how often you wrote fuming over that very sad fact.

(People still think it’s more than a little surreal, if not insane, that Cy Young, Lefty Grove, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Craig Biggio, and Vladimir Guerrero aren’t first-ballot Hall of Famers. Even if things worked out well enough for Ford that he got in on his second try, the following year—next to his old running mate Mickey Mantle, on Mantle’s first.)

So why not invite Joe and Jane Fan into the Hall of Fame voting discussion yet? There’s a very good reason not to. They’ve turned All-Star Game voting into ballot box stuffings or gold watch honoraria. (The All-Star Game vote system needs a complete overhaul, but that’s another day’s subject right now.) Do you really want to know how much worse they might make the Hall than did the Today’s Game Committee that decided Cooperstown should be Harold Baines’s gold watch?

On Schilling wanting off the Cooperstown ballot

Why should members of a profession for whose lynching Curt Schilling once called want to vote him into Cooperstown?

The Hall of Fame pitching a shutout in this round of Baseball Writers Association of America voting wasn’t really that big a surprise. Curt Schilling’s post-results tantrum after he fell short by a measly sixteen votes was, somewhat. What to make, then, of Schilling’s demand that the BBWAA remove him from its ballot for what would be his final bid for Hall of Fame election by them?

The bad news, for those who’ve come to consider him poisonous entirely by way of about 95 percent or more of his infamous tweets, is that neither the BBWAA nor the Hall of Fame can just send him off the ballot with a single finger snap. Yet. The BBWAA’s ballot rules enjoin against it, and the Hall of Fame may be likely to reject it on those very grounds, no matter what Schilling has asked of the Hall in that regard.

But perhaps the BBWAA should find a way to amend its rule and grant Schilling his request. Maybe the best thing would be for a future Eras Committee to contend with his candidacy. If Schilling thinks his “peers” would be more likely to elect him, someone might remind the former righthander that one of his own general managers (Ed Wade, Phillies) once called him “a horse every fifth day and a horse’s ass the other four.”

Schilling’s rant included referencing his own having won a few humanitarian awards during his pitching career, but there have also been references over the years to his not quite having been the most popular or respected man in his clubhouses, too. When he teamed with Hall of Famer Randy Johnson on the 2001 World Series-winning Diamondbacks, a member of the organisation told baseball writer Joe Posnanski, “[W]ith Johnson, teammates hated him on the day he pitched, loved him the other four days. And with Schilling, teammates loved him on the day he pitched, hated him the other four days.”

I’m not a member of the BBWAA. I don’t have an official Hall of Fame vote. I am a life member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, however, and every year we, too, conduct votes symbolically for our own Hall of Fame. Sometimes, we’ve elected people before the BBWAA. We pitched a shutout this time around, too.

Back in November I wrote about my own IBWAA ballot choices and what the thinking was behind it. My choices did include Schilling. (For the record, I also voted yes on Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, Jeff Kent, Scott Rolen, Gary Sheffield, and Billy Wagner.) In the passage I wrote on behalf of that vote, I concluded, “I don’t have to love or respect Schilling as a person to respect what he did on the mound. When you take your children to Cooperstown, and you see Schilling’s plaque, just tell them he isn’t the first and won’t be the last to be a Hall of Famer at the ballpark and a Hall of Shamer away from it.”

Immediately preceding that, I cited Jay Jaffe’s essay on Schilling in The Cooperstown Casebook: “I wouldn’t invite Schilling into my own home, and I wouldn’t encourage anyone to view him as a role model, but in my view nothing in his career leaves a doubt that he belongs in Cooperstown. He ranks among the all-time greats via his run prevention skill, his dominance in the game’s most elemental battle of balls and strikes, and his repeated ability to rise to the occasion when the on-field stakes were highest.”

Jaffe has since changed his mind, and not just because he knows that those who think denying Schilling his Cooperstown plaque comes purely from his support for Donald Trump aren’t thinking. Mariano Rivera made no secret of his own support for Trump before his own unanimous election to the Hall, but neither is The Mariano on record as supporting among other Schilling positions the lynching of journalists.

“[A]s a first-time [Hall of Fame] voter,” Jaffe wrote after Tuesday’s Hall shutout, “I avoided invoking the character clause . . . on the grounds that the clause was conjured up by a commissioner (Judge Landis) who spent his entire 24-year term upholding the game’s shameful color line. I viewed my omission of Schilling as a protest against the notion that he’s owed any deference for his hateful post-career conduct; if he’s ever elected, it won’t be in my name. More than ever, I stand by that decision.”

Writing as I am about to write is painful enough. I watched Schilling pitch over many years of his career. I saw how great he was on the mound, I saw the way he dominated batters whether pitching for also-ran teams or World Series champions. I saw the ways he lived for and triumphed in the biggest of the big games, sometimes despite his body attempting sedition. I also knew Schilling had (and has) a love of the game so deep he never forgot being awed at Frank Robinson managing him early, or getting to pick the brains of Hall of Fame pitchers, or admitting he’d watch Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez when they were teammates “because any day they pitched could be history.”

“He’s a horse every fifth day and a horse’s ass the other four.”—Ed Wade, Schilling’s GM with the Phillies.

I was too willing to overlook too much simply because by the record alone, the eye test and the deepest statistical look alike, Schilling belongs in the Hall of Fame. He may be the greatest or at least the toughest big-game pitcher who ever took the mound. I’ve seen a boatload of pitchers, Hall of Famers and otherwise, who stood tall and delivered big when the biggest of the big demanded it; I’ve seen a boatload of pitchers, Hall of Famers and otherwise, who didn’t. (Conspiracy theorists, if you still believe the Bloody Sock Game was fraud, you can still buy my beach club in Antarctica.)

But I’m familiar, too, with the wisdom projected in 1949 by an essayist not remembered much today outside the intellectual circles of those who believe, as I do, in something not much discussed or pondered over the past decade plus: freedom. The essayist was Frank Chodorov, today unsung often enough as a bellwether of the freedom philosophy. Writing in his one-man broadsheet analysis about the leaders of the Communist Party USA brought to trial under the Smith Act, in May 1949, Chodorov demurred from such a prosecution, despite being a staunch anti-Communist himself:

The danger, to those who hold freedom as the highest good, is not the ideas the communists espouse but the power they aspire to. Let them rant their heads off—that is their right, which we cannot afford to infringe—but let us keep from them the political means of depriving everybody else of the same right.

Schilling’s political opinions are one thing. So is criticising journalism with which he disagrees. His approval of lynching journalists (recanted swiftly enough, but hardly forgotten), and for things that would indeed amount to depriving others of their rights or at least compromising them in broad sweeps, are something else entirely.

There are journalists who dishonour their profession and our intelligence in ways too numerous. I’ve had a career as a journalist in regional daily newspapers, regional daily news radio, and trade journalism. I’m too well aware that there are and have always been such journalists. They didn’t begin or end with, for one grotesque example, Walter Duranty’s notorious use, misuse, and abuse of his New York Times berth to propagate on behalf of one of history’s bloodiest tyrannies.

There’s no such thing as the perfect, fault-free journalist, whether a straight reporter, an analyst, or a commentator. The day I claim to be one now or to have been one then, just shoot me dead. But the flip side to the precept that “fake news” is news someone (usually in authority) doesn’t want to hear or doesn’t want known is that there has been fake news as long as there’s been news at all.

If it was purely a matter of rejecting Schilling’s political opinions that would be simple business. He has the same mere right to be wrong as anyone else, regardless of what today’s “cancel culture” left, right, or over-under-sideways-down would argue to the contrary, regardless even of some of Schilling’s own remarks that imply merely being wrong should be a punishable crime.

“To be sure,” Chodorov also wrote, “our history is not free of political efforts to put limits on what people may think . . . authorities [have] sought to get at ideas by inflicting punshment on those who held them . . . It is to the credit of the American genius for freedom that ultimately the right to think as one wishes prevailed, even though too often some were made to suffer for it.”

Hall of Fame debaters, who are legion, remind others that the Hall itself hardly lacks for honourees of dubious character or thought. Such honourees are not generally known to have called for the execution of the journalists with whom they often disagreed, sometimes appropriately, sometimes inappropriately, sometimes violently. Baseball players have never been immune to testy relations with writers who covered them. Testy relations didn’t exactly equal wanting to speed the writers’ deaths, either.

It’s not just Hall of Famers incumbent or in waiting who’ve found the baseball press equal to a castor oil over the rocks. But even Jason Vargas threatening to knock a writer the [fornicate] out for daring to question then-Mets manager Mickey Callaway over a dubious non-move that cost the Mets a ball game late wasn’t quite threatening to knock the writer the [fornicate] into the cemetery.

Let Schilling rant his head off, wherever he pleases, to whomever he pleases, from whichever forum allows, until or unless he violates that forum’s rules flagrantly enough. That is his right, which we cannot afford to infringe, and his right to rant his head off holds hands with anyone else’s concurrent right to ignore or denounce his rants. Let us just keep from him the political means of depriving everybody else of the same right.

Let us also not insist that a certain group of journalists should yet confer upon him an honour for which they have the privilege of voting since he is on the record as approving their profession’s dates with lynch mobs. Not even if giving him 71 percent of their Hall of Fame vote this time equals their telling him, “Thank you, sir, and may I have another.”

On renaming the J.G. Taylor Spink Award

A Red Smith Award or Wendell Smith Award for Hall of Fame writers?

Did you forget that the Baseball Writers Association of America is thinking of changing the name of another award, too? Much was written and said over taking Kenesaw Mountain Landis’s name off the Most Valuable Player award, and the BBWAA also ponders taking J.G. Taylor Spink’s name off the Hall of Fame award given to a distinguished baseball writer every year.

Being a baseball writer myself if not a member of the BBWAA, I have particular interest in the Spink Award, even if I have more chance of winning the Howitzer Prize for Extinguished Commentary than the Spink. The BBWAA wants to change the name because Spink himself, the longtime publisher of The Sporting News, opposed “organised baseball’s” integration, and they are not wrong.

“In August 1942 [Spink] wrote an editorial saying that baseball did not have a color line, but that segregation was in the best interests of both blacks and whites because the mixing of races would create riots in the stands,” Daryl Russell Grigsby reminded us in Celebrating Ourselves: African-Americans and the Promise of Baseball. ” . . . Spink’s defense of segregation was largely not based on fact but on fear and prejudice.”

Claire Smith, an African-American lady and the first of her gender to receive the Spink Award, has nailed it herself. “If this is the time of introspection,’’ she told USA Today baseball columnist Bob Nightengale last summer, “if Mississippi can change the flag, and Confederate statues can be removed from state capitals, we can do this.” If Landis can be removed from the MVP award because of his active enforcement of baseball’s old and disgraceful colour line, then yes, Spink can be removed from the Hall of Fame honourarium still bearing his name.

The BBWAA is voting on that as I write. Remove Spink’s name, though, and for whom would you re-name the award?

With the MVP the choices may be simpler. You can choose Happy Chandler, the commissioner who refused to disallow Branch Rickey signing Jackie Robinson and breaking the colour line at last; you can choose Rickey himself. You can choose instead the African-American player who remains the only one to win the MVP in each of the National and the American Leagues, Hall of Famer Frank Robinson.

The choices to re-name the Spink Award? One can think of quite the handful, Spink winners all, including a Pulitzer Prize winner or three while thinking.

There’s Red Smith, as close to a poet laureate of daily baseball writing as the game has known from his years with the New York Herald-Tribune and the New York Times. There’s Jim Murray, the Los Angeles Times fixture whose wit made you think he was what Fred Allen might have been if Allen had chosen sportswriting instead of radio comedy. There’s Shirley Povich, the grand old man of Washington baseball, who practically raised the Washington Post‘s sports section by himself. Practically.

There’s Damon Runyon, who wrote eloquently, edgily, and wittily about baseball when he wasn’t celebrating Broadway. (You really should hunt down his anthology, Guys, Dolls, and Curveballs: Damon Runyon on Baseball.) There’s Ring Lardner, baseball storyteller and reporter alike, at least before the Black Sox scandal put the first serious dent into his love of the game. (The live ball era finished what the Black Sox started for Lardner.)

There’s Wendell Smith, whose reporting for the Pittsburgh Courier was a phenomenal pressure point toward baseball’s integration, which also begs the question why the best of his baseball writings haven’t been anthologised for today’s generations who need to know the arguable most powerful black press voice toward Jackie Robinson’s advent.

There’s Smith’s African-American colleague Sam Lacy, who did with the Chicago Defender and the Baltimore Afro-American what Smith did with the Courier. He became one of the first black members of the BBWAA while he was at it. (Lacy published a memoir, but his baseball and sports journalism, too, has yet to be anthologised so far as I know.)

And, especially, there’s Roger Angell, about whom it’s been said (by me, to a fare-thee-well, but tough tarantulas) that he isn’t baseball’s Homer, Homer was ancient Greece’s Roger Angell. He was also the first non-BBWAA member and first non-daily baseball reporter to be honoured with the Spink Award.

Any one of those writers’ names would absolutely grace the award. But I have another dog in the hunt, by way of a journalism legend named Murray Kempton.

Kempton once attended the Meyer Berger Award luncheon at Columbia University. His Newsday colleague Jim Dwyer heard him say, “You know, I never won the Berger Award.” A New York Times honouree, Sara Rimer, said, “Murray, you just won the Pulitzer!” The courtly Kempton reminded her, “The Pulitzer is named for a publisher. The Meyer Berger is named for a reporter.”

In 1993, Kempton told David Remnick for a New Yorker profile (which included the aforementioned tale), during one of New York’s too-frequent tabloid wars, “In the end, my view of this so-called tabloid war is that I just don’t consider the character of publishers. I’m rooting for my friends—the reporters.”

(Harking back to a 1962 issue of Sport, Kempton wrote then of the Polo Grounds’ re-opening with the birth of the Mets: The return of the Polo Grounds to the National League was like the raising of a sunken cathedral. It is a place sacred in the history and hallowed in the memory. Christy Mathewson used to make his home on the bluff above the Polo Grounds. When he was working, Mrs. Mathewson could look out her window at the scoreboard and, when the seventh inning came, put the roast in the oven secure in the knowledge that her husband would be finished and showered and home from the plough in an hour.)

For re-naming the Spink Award, I’m rooting for my kindred, too—the reporters.

The troublesome case of Curt Schilling

2020-01-05 CurtSchillling

On the mound a Hall of Famer, in retirement a Hall of Shamer.

Once upon a time, Curt Schilling’s own general manager (it was Ed Wade, during their Phillies years) described him as “a horse every fifth day and a horse’s ass the other four.” By assorted readings I knew that the pitcher who evoked guts on the mound and philanthropy off it during his career was also a man in retirement who shot from the hip and the lip and bothered about the messes left afterward.

Which made Schilling no worse than assorted non-sports entertainers who speak of things beyond their professions and embarrass themselves likewise, but somewhat less, than they often embarrass those to whom their crafts are received as part and parcel of their daily bread.

But in 2016 there came the notorious Schilling tweet of a T-shirt proclaiming, “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required,” with the just-as-notorious vote of approval reading, “OK, so much awesome here.” (Schilling deleted the tweet when the fit hit the shan, as Mr. Elder would say, but it still lives in a few thousand screen captures if not more.) His momentum for Hall of Fame election hit the wall the way Wile E. Coyote hit the earth falling from the cliff. The only shock, at least when it came to Hall of Fame-voting writers, is that they didn’t carry through on any undisclosed desires to burn Schilling in effigy. At minimum.

Over three years later, at this writing, Schilling by way of publicly disclosed voting has a shot at being elected to Cooperstown. According to the Baseball Hall of Fame Vote Tracker, out of votes disclosed publicly (the Baseball Writers Association of America has allowed that the last couple of years) Schilling has 108 votes, or 80 percent of the votes known thus far. He needs to prevail on 75 percent of the total vote, and the Tracker says that means he needs 201 more votes to get there.

The Tracker also says Derek Jeter is at a hundred percent of the known votes, Larry Walker is at 84.4 percent of those, and Barry Bonds is at 75.6 percent. (The winners will be announced on 21 January.) And even Bonds sometimes seems less a controversy than Schilling.

It’s a waste of ink to review Bonds above and beyond a simple if discomfiting fact: Whatever he did or didn’t use among actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances, it happened during baseball’s so-called Wild West Era when the substances ran rampant (and often enough misconstrued) and neither their teams’ administrations, the players’ union, nor then-commissioner Bud Selig were in that big a hurry to stop them. When the owners, the union, and the commissioner finally wised up and brought in testing, Bonds’s and Roger Clemens’s long careers were pretty much over and out.

Yet it’s Schilling who makes Hall of Fame watchers even more nervous than anything surrounding Bonds. Bonds’s admission a few years ago that yes, he was a first class jerk most of the time when he played, with or without the actual or alleged PEDs, did much to soften his once-forbidding image. Schilling’s only too renowned for the kind of diarrhea of the mouth that provokes even those who agree with him to wish his saliva glands secreted Kaoepectate.

Now we hear from Peter Gammons, one of baseball’s most long-respected journalists, whose Beyond the Sixth Game is the best available analysis of what became of the Red Sox from after the 1975 World Series and the beginning of free agency through 1985. In a lengthy but imperative read at The Athletic, Gammons examines Schilling’s Hall of Fame case and includes this quick but pungent insertion about the “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required” business: “Schilling says he wishes he’d never done so, admitting, ‘it was in poor taste’.”

That may not satisfy two contingencies among those who follow Schilling’s Hall of Fame voting progress. One says Schilling did nothing more than say what a lot of people wish they’d had the guts to say about today’s journalists. The other says Schilling himself should be married to a rope and a tree for even thinking that way about journalists, when he isn’t being flogged for assorted sociopolitical opinions about which “controversial” may resemble a compliment so far as some are concerned. (We should note that most of those Hall voters uncomfortable with Schilling rarely if ever cite his support for today’s not so popular or amiable president as part of their grounds.)

Among purely baseball writers, Jon Heyman of MLB Network, Susan Slusser (the San Francisco Chronicle and a former Baseball Writers Association of America president), and Jose de Jesus Ortiz (another former BBWAA president) were three among many who decided that advocating murder equals the kind of character flaw that enjoins against Hall of Fame enshrinement by way of the character factor among the voting criteria.

When I first saw Schilling’s approval of marrying journalists to ropes and trees, I also thought he went far beyond the line that distinguishes mere criticism from thoughts of homicide. And I wished to God that Schilling remembered he could have drawn the line between objecting to flawed journalism and killing journalists without fearing he was tempering his view.

There’s as much to abhor as to admire about journalism and always has been. There’s scrupulous and unscrupulous journalism alike. Journalists delude themselves if they think otherwise. There’s also the parallel syndrome, likewise undeniable, that bias isn’t a one-way street: Readers see with their biases just as frequently, and not always scrupulously. Enough of what’s considered unscrupulous journalism is considered that not because it is that but because it speaks of things readers simply don’t want to know.

Well, enough of what a politician on any side of the ideological divide denounces as “fake news” isn’t “fake” but, rather, news he or she simply doesn’t like, too. Practising opinion journalism such as I practise now? Of course you get called unscrupulous now and then, not because you are, but because someone reading and disagreeing with your latest offering believes the disagreement by nature indicates scruples missing in action.

Applaud murdering journalists or other writers and speakers with whom you disagree or who brought you news you dispute or didn’t want to hear, and it’s something entirely beyond mere objection. Even American presidents, including the incumbent to whom Curt Schilling’s plighted his political troth, have only harassed with incessant rhetoric if not government apparatus, but they haven’t killed writers whose publications infuriated them—yet. When not using the press for themselves or against each other, that is.

Think of how many people continue to respect Thomas Jefferson as a champion of freedom including and particularly the press—until he wasn’t, then denounced him for saying nothing could be believed in a newspaper until he and his frenemy John Adams needed the newspapers to call each other a hermaphrodite and hypocrite (Jefferson, about Adams) or a half-breed atheistic libertine. (Adams, about Jefferson.) If you thought presidents resorting to schoolboy or locker room-style name-calling began with President Tweety, this Packard Panther car is in my garage and can be had for a measly three large.

Schilling knows only too well that he’s expert at shooting first and regretting later. “Gotta own the times you go off the rails,” he tweeted regarding one such regretted shot. He’s had to own the equivalent of a chain of stores worth of those times since his retirement from baseball, alas. Gammons, who’s known Schilling a long enough time and knows only too well how often his train jumps those rails, thinks the thing that seems to worry Hall of Fame voters most isn’t likely to happen:

My guess is that if Curt Schilling ever walks to the microphone on the stage in Cooperstown, he will be as close to speechless as he’s ever been, and the words that he utters will not be political but instead will honor [Jim] Palmer and [Tom] Seaver, Randy [Johnson] and Pedro [Martinez], [Greg] Maddux, Sandy [Koufax] and [Bob] Gibson.

He may mention the day Tony Gwynn went 5-for-5 against him, or much how he respected [Barry] Bonds, walking him 19 times in 100 plate appearances. I expect he would mention Johnny Podres and Terry Francona and Cal Ripken. And pay homage to Roberto Clemente, because the journey to that podium really began with [his father] Cliff Schilling’s favorite player.

As a pitcher, Schilling is qualified and then some to be a Hall of Famer. “I wouldn’t invite Schilling into my own home,” The Cooperstown Casebook author Jay Jaffe wrote in that book, “and I wouldn’t encourage anyone to view him as a role model, but in my view nothing in his career leaves a doubt that he belongs in Cooperstown. He ranks among the all-time greats via his run prevention skill, his dominance in the game’s most elemental battle of balls and strikes, and his repeated ability to rise to the occasion when the on-field stakes were highest.”

If you doubt that assessment, be reminded that seventeen pitchers have struck out 3,000+ batters but only four of them have done it while walking fewer than 1,000. The four are Schilling and incumbent Hall of Famers Ferguson Jenkins, Greg Maddux, and Pedro Martinez. Nice company to keep, particularly if you consider Jenkins may still be one of the most underrated and under-appreciated pitchers who ever stepped on the mound. If you doubt Schilling’s stature as a true big-game pitcher, you didn’t see him in several pennant races and postseasons, especially in 2004.

Schilling’s right to speak is equal only to someone else’s right to reject the thought, and to reject the thought isn’t quite the same as rejecting his right to enunciate it. Neither is concluding that the thought indicates a character as well as an intellectual flaw. He’s had his feuds with assorted journalists (including the aforementioned Heyman, Slusser, and de Jesus Ortiz), but he hasn’t been suspected of graduating from mere disputes to hunting down and trying to kill them himself, either. Yet.

The voting rule that includes the character factor reads, Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played. The Hall of Fame was born in 1936; that rule, known as Rule 5, was born in 1944. The parents were Hall of Fame founder Stephen Clark and then-commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Landis, whose integrity, sportsmanship, and character allowed him to refuse allowing non-white men to play major and minor league baseball.

The Hall of Fame includes no few whose play was as extraterrestrial as their characters were actually or allegedly subterranean, and they weren’t all elected before 1944, either. It also has no few whose administration of parts or all of the game were suspect. (Landis, anyone? Ford Frick? Bud Selig? George Weiss? Tom Yawkey?) It doesn’t mean Hall voters are barred from considering character during or post-career. (Ponder how many still wish to remove O.J. Simpson from football’s Hall of Fame over his long-past-football-career crimes.) There’s no further absolute right to Hall of Fame enshrinement no matter your pure performance papers, really, than there is to play or work in professional baseball in the first place.

A lot of baseball players active and retired have had contentious relations and even shoving matches with members of the press. (“When you like us, we’re the press,” the late New York Times columnist/language maven William Safire once said. “When you hate us, we’re the media.”) A lot of journalists have been just as disdainful of a lot of players, for assorted reasons valid and invalid. But I can’t think of any player who ever suggested marrying even his least favourite journalist to a rope and a tree. Not even sarcastically, which was Schilling’s original defense.

If Schilling’s as sincere as Gammons suggests in regretting his wish for the marriage of journalists to ropes and trees, accept his apology, with the qualifier that you shouldn’t expect every journalist on any block to forget the sarcasm defense. “I don’t blame any journalist for eliminating Schilling from consideration,” Jaffe wrote this past November. “I’m done telling anybody to hold his or her nose and vote for such a candidate just because of stats and a highlight reel.”

Remind yourself, too, that whatever your particular political preferences, Curt Schilling’s worst enemy is the one he sees in the mirror when he shaves. If the Hall of Fame really was an institution to which was affixed and enforced, “Horse’s Asses Need Not Apply,” he wouldn’t belong. But that plane took off eons ago.

One vote samba

2019-11-23 DerekJeterFlip

Derek Jeter performing The Flip. A few Hall of Fame-voting writers seem to have flipped, too.

There’s a rather troublesome trend brewing among Hall of Fame voters in the Baseball Writers Association of America. Since the group now allows public Hall vote disclosure, some early voters are disclosing, all right. They’re disclosing one-vote ballots and the votes are going to Derek Jeter.

Jeter’s Cooperstown enshrinement was a given from the moment he doffed his Yankee pinstripes for the last time. There’s a swelling sense that, as Newsday writer/voter Anthony Rieber puts it, Jeter “deserves to stand alone at the podium as the entire Hall of Fame Class of 2020 on July 26 in Cooperstown.”

And, a parallel sense enunciated by another Newsday writer, Steve Marcus, that the Hall of Fame is getting a little too crowded, which he emphasises with his #keeptheHallsmall hashtag. Marcus also declared, a la the headline attached to a 2019 column in question, “Legends are my baseline for baseball Hall of Fame ballot.”

I’ll take the first argument first. It’s a relative to the old discredited argument that, if so-and-sos didn’t get elected on their first tries, then so-and-sos to come shouldn’t be elected first ballot, either.

Try this one on for size: How would you like someone arguing that if Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth, and Cy Young Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, and Honus Wagner didn’t get to stand alone when inducted into Cooperstown, then nobody else should, either? Didn’t think so.

As it happens, only 22 players in the history of the Hall of Fame were the only ones to be elected by the BBWAA in the years they got the call. That’s less than ten percent of all major league players in the Hall, whether elected by the writers or the assorted Veterans Committees:

Rogers Hornsby (1942)
Charlie Gehringer (1949)
Luke Appling (1964)
Ted Williams (1966)
Red Ruffing (1967)
Joe Medwick (1968)
Lou Boudreau (1970)
Ralph Kiner (1975)
Ernie Banks (1977)
Eddie Mathews (1978)
Willie Mays (1979)
Bob Gibson (1981)
Willie McCovey (1986)
Willie Stargell (1988)
Reggie Jackson (1993)
Steve Carlton (1994)
Mike Schmidt (1995)
Phil Niekro (1997)
Ozzie Smith (2002)
Bruce Sutter (2006)
Goose Gossage (2008)
Barry Larkin (2012)

You might have thought a few of those men deserved to stand alone among BBWAA choices, of course. Who’d argue against Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt, and Ozzie Smith? Not I, said the fly. Maybe Reggie Jackson, too. The man was one of a kind, even if some of his critics might follow saying so with “Thank God!”

Now, would you like to know whom among those BBWAA winners really stood alone? As in, standing at the induction podium with nobody else—not a Veterans Committee selection, not an executive, not a pioneer, not a Negro Leagues inductee, nobody—on their big day? Four—Hornsby, Stargell, Jackson, and Smith.

Rieber and Marcus and probably a few more writers, not necessarily confined to the BBWAA’s New York contingent, think Jeter belongs to that set and maybe even subset. Set aside for the moment that he was actually an overrated shortstop, overall, and you can still find the plausible argument that Jeter wasn’t quite in league with such position players as Williams, Mays, Schmidt, and Smith.

Come to think of it, there’s a better case that Jeter’s longtime “Core Five” Yankee teammate, Mariano Rivera, deserved the stand-alone BBWAA vote more if the circumstances granted it. Rivera was the absolute best in the business at what he did. Jeter wasn’t, quite.

Don’t go there about the postseasons just yet. Yes, like The Mariano, Jeter and the postseason were a long, happy marriage. His postseason OPS is comparable to Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson’s lifetime OPS per 162 games. Think about that for a moment: Jeter as a number two hitter in the postseason was equal to a Hall of Fame leadoff hitter on the regular season, even if the Man of Steal could beat Captain Clutch in a footrace with one leg amputated.

The player who makes the absolute difference between his team getting to or missing the postseason is extremely rare. Jeter’s Yankees getting there in the first place, never mind winning five rings, were total team efforts. (Jeter did win one World Series MVP, in 2000.) Just as Williams’s Red Sox getting to only one World Series, Mays’s Giants getting to only three (winning one), Schmidt’s Phillies getting to only one (and winning), and Smith’s Cardinals getting to three (winning once) were total team shortfalls.

But Jeter did shine in the postseason. And made it look so simple a child of five could have done it. (Thanks, Groucho.) If you thought he was already built to act as though the New York heat met its match in his charisma and his ability to duck every controversy that swarmed his Yankees, come the postseason Jeter played as if the big moment was just another day on the job, just another chance to play the game he loved.

(Just for the record: Lifetime, Jeter’s best performance was in medium-leverage situations, with a .321/.380/.464 slash line. His high-leverage performance was almost even with it: .311/.391/.418. Medium-leverage OPS: .844; high-leverage OPS: .809. When the stakes were lowest, so was Jeter: .299/.371/.426, with a Boeing OPS: .797. It’s no crime that a man saves his best for when it matters just that much more toward winning.)

Reggie Jackson once talked about “the magnitude of being me,” and for all his once-outsized ego he didn’t necessarily mean it as self-congratulation. Jeter lived the magnitude of being him as though it was as natural as coffee at the breakfast table and worth just as much discussion—none.

Jeter’s Hall of Fame election would make him the tenth Hall of Fame shortstop of the post-World War II/post-integration/night baseball era. The longer I watched him, especially in all those postseasons, the more I now wanted to see how he stacks against the nine others according to my real batting average concept.

In traditional BA terms, the terms I prefer to call the hitting average, he’s a lifetime .310 hitter. And he does have those 3,465 career hits. But there’s a problem there: the hitting average is an incomplete picture of a man at the plate, and 3,000+ lifetime hits by themselves tell you nothing about what they were actually worth.

Stop snarling, grumpy old giddoff-mah-lawners. Ask yourself how proper it is to declare all hits are created equal and divide them purely by official at-bats. And ask yourself whether 3,465 career hits are really better than 3,184 hits. Yes, that’s a ringer. The 3,184 belong to Cal Ripken, Jr., whose lifetime hitting average (sorry, I’m sticking with the program again) was .276. And as I’m about to show you, Ripken was actually a better man at the plate than Jeter was, without once suggesting that it means Jeter doesn’t belong in Cooperstown.

We should ask why we don’t account for everything a man does at the plate. We should ask why we don’t add his total bases (which do treat all hits the way they should be treated: unequal, unless you really think a single’s equal to a double’s equal to a triple’s equal to a home run), his walks, his intentional walks (why aren’t we crediting a guy when the other team would rather he take his base than their pitchers’ heads off?), his sacrifices, and the times he got plunked? (They want to put you on the hard way, let it be on their heads.) And, we should ask why we don’t divide that total by his total plate appearances.

And then, we should do just that. TB + BB + IBB + SAC + HBP / PA. That’s your real batting average. And this is how Derek Jeter stacks up with the nine incumbent postwar/post-integration/night ball Hall of Fame shortstops:

Shortstop PA TB BB IBB SAC HBP RBA
Luis Aparicio 11230 3504 736 22 177 27 .398
Ozzie Smith 10778 3084 1072 79 277 33 .422
Phil Rizzuto 6719 2065 651 35 195 49 .446
Pee Wee Reese 9470 3038 1210 67 176 26 .477
Alan Trammell 9376 3442 850 48 200 37 .488
Robin Yount 12249 4730 966 95 227 48 .495
Derek Jeter 12602 4921 1082 39 155 170 .505
Barry Larkin 9057 3527 939 66 126 55 .520
Cal Ripken 12883 5168 1129 107 137 66 .539
Ernie Banks 10395 4706 763 202 141 70 .565
HOF SS AVG .486

Jeter’s .505 is the fourth best among the group. It’s nineteen points above the average for the Hall of Fame shortstops, and only Barry Larkin, Cal Ripken, and Ernie Banks are ahead of him. He’s third in walks behind Ripken and Reese; he’s second only to Ripken for total bases; he’s third to last (ahead of only Rizzuto and Aparicio) for intentional walks; he’s fourth to last in sacrifices (Larkin, Ripken, and Banks are behind him), but boy did he take more for the team getting plunked. (Nobody else among the shortstops has more than 70.)

In other words, Jeter’s a bona fide, above the average, Hall of Fame shortstop, and collecting more hits than any Hall of Fame infielder counts even if the total picture offensive picture lines him up fourth among postwar/post-integration/night-ball shortstops.

It’s his defense that leaves Jeter a little overrated. He was Ozzie Smith-acrobatic at his best. His gymnastics happened often enough, even if the Wizard of Oz makes The Captain resemble an aspirant. Maybe the signature defensive play of Jeter’s career, among several highlight-filmers, was that barehand grab of a throw home from right that missed two cutoff men, Jeter running down the infield from shortstop, hitting the middle of the first base line as he grabbed the ball, and the backward shovel pass home as he stepped into foul ground, to nail Jeremy Giambi at the plate in the 2001 American League division series.

But Jeter did have more limited range at the position than you remember, and he wasn’t as good at saving runs as you expected him to be when you remembered all the dazzlers he performed, despite having a strong throwing arm and steady hands. Lifetime, Jeter at shortstop was 155 defensive runs saved below average, and he was 13 runs saved below average a year.

There’s the difference. Watching Jeter and Smith their entire careers was as entertaining as it got. They were both shortstop acrobats. But that’s where the comparison ends. The Wizard of Oz was a Flying Wallenda  and the greatest defender at the position. Jeter’s no less a Hall of Famer because for all his own flying he wasn’t even close to Ozzie Smith-great at shortstop. Nobody else really was, either.

Which returns me to Steve Marcus and his legend measurement. Jeter is one of eighteen Hall of Fame ballot premieres, with fourteen more making return engagements. Never mind the controversies attached to the following players, for now (including the one his one-time general manager described as “a horse every fifth day and a horse’s ass the other four”), but the ballot includes a few other legends: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, and Sammy Sosa.

Of course, not every legend is a Hall of Famer (hello, Roger Maris, for openers) and not every Hall of Famer is a legend, either. (Nice to meet you, Bobby Wallace.) If Marcus and others of his like think only bona fide legends belong in Cooperstown, then Bonds, Clemens, Schilling, and Sosa are as overqualified as Jeter. If they think those guys aren’t legends, they’ve been sleeping longer than Rip Van Winkle.