Emotional dignity at the Hall of Fame

2019-07-22 BrandyHalladay

Brandy Halladay represented her Hall of Fame husband Roy with emotion and dignity Sunday afternoon. (Hall of Fame photo.)

Brandy Halladay wasn’t the first widow to speak for her husband at his Hall of Fame induction, as she did Sunday. Vicki Santo did likewise for her husband, third baseman Ron, seven years earlier. Dona Vera Clemente did it for her husband, right fielder Roberto, in 1973. One and all would surely have preferred their husbands accept their honours for themselves.

I don’t know if Mrs. Santo or Mrs. Clemente were present Sunday, and Ron Santo died after a lifetime battle with diabetes (even during his playing career) and before the honour overdue him was finally bestowed. But Mrs. Clemente might have empathised with Mrs. Halladay even if only for a brief spell. Both their husbands perished in airplane crashes. But the similarities ended there.

Roberto Clemente was killed in 1972, on a humanitarian flight he arranged in an ancient Douglas DC-4 to deliver supplies to earthquake-smashed Nicaragua. He’d been through his own buffetings as a young Puerto Rican proving himself a major league baseball master, and he’d achieved his own kind of comfort in his own skin.

Roy Halladay was killed in 2017, four years after his retirement, while enjoying his favourite relief. He’d proven himself as a major league pitcher but he turned out to be fighting a war within himself that no success on the mound, no amount of love from his wife, children, and family, could negotiate successfully. Comfort in his own skin proved too elusive a quarry.

On Sunday afternoon in Cooperstown, newly-inducted Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez remembered getting hooked on baseball watching Clemente and assorted World Series highlights on television. “All I wanted to do was play the game and like most kids in Puerto Rico, I wanted to be like Roberto Clemente,” said Martinez, the designated hitter who was a study in scholarship at the plate. “What a great example Roberto Clemente was to all of us in Puerto Rico. What an honor to have my plaque in the Hall alongside with his.”

His fellow newly inducted Hall of Famer, Mariano Rivera, once remembered of Martinez, “I couldn’t get him out. My God, he had my breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” But Rivera, the arguable greatest relief pitcher the game has ever seen, also has a direct connection to Halladay that now reposes in the Hall’s museum, after Mrs. Halladay donated a talisman her husband carried with him the rest of his life once he acquired it.

The talisman is a baseball on which Rivera allowed Halladay to trace the grip of his fabled cut fastball, the pitch that broke more bats than classic movie stars broke hearts, and handed to Halladay during the 2008 All-Star break, after Halladay approached Rivera at that break asking to learn the pitch.

The Mariano, who loved to teach as well as to pitch, and who’s remembered from his clubhouses and elsewhere around the game for a Sandy Koufax-like interest in pulling everybody no matter whom up with him, marked the ball with lines showing the grip and gave it to Halladay. Mrs. Halladay gave the ball to the Hall of Fame before the induction ceremony. It reposes with a small plaque describing its significance in a display between two of Halladay’s uniform jerseys, one Blue Jays and one Phillies.

Also before the induction ceremony, Sports Illustrated profiled her husband, revealing he’d learned two things from his father: how to pitch, and how to fly. As the magazine so soberly phrased it, “One gave his son life. The other killed him.” Both were delivered by a father perhaps too determined to shape a son whose talents included nullifying parental displeasure with wit.

It may have done something else. “I feel like my brother lost out on a lot of his childhood,” his sister, Heather, told SI writer Stephanie Apstein. “I don’t fault [our father] for it anymore, but I think that my brother could’ve been just as good without being pushed so much and having all that responsibility.”

To Harry Leroy Halladay, Jr., Apstein writes, the process was the reward. To his Hall of Fame son, the process only led there. Major difference.

Maybe that’s how Harry Leroy Halladay III excelled as a mound workhorse who eventually pitched a perfect game and a postseason no-hitter in the same season, win Cy Young Awards in each league, but also admit while querying the University of South Florida about auditing psychology classes, “I would, however, like to take some general psychology courses, because I feel the root of many athletes’ struggles is a warped or underdeveloped self worth and identity.”

2019-07-22 HallofFame2019

Left to right: Harold Baines, Lee Smith, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera, and  Brandy Halladay for her late husband Roy. (Hall of Fame photo.)

He may have referred especially to himself. He was the son of a commercial pilot who’d once been an Air Force Thunderbird flier and who all but drilled him in the pitching and the flying arts. He refused to raise or coach his own two sons the way he’d been raised and coached. There’s a line between persistence and perpetual pushing, and the pitcher who once asked The Mariano for a cutter tutorial wouldn’t cross it.

When Halladay’s body was recovered from the crash of his Icon A5 airplane, the toxicology report showed that among the substances in his system (for some of which he could have been prosecuted had he lived) were a few associated with depression, including Prozac. Once, according to Apstein, he asked his sister whether he was lost or depressed. The sister replied, “I think it’s probably a little of both.”

And Halladay kept something else quiet for long enough: he was addicted to an anti-anxiety drug known commercially as Ativan. He finally advised his sister not to even think about accepting a prescription for it. “I think he felt like he needed to hide his mistakes because he didn’t want anyone to think he wasn’t as good as they thought he was,” she told Apstein. “He thought they wouldn’t understand that he was human. Just because you’re a good baseball player doesn’t mean you don’t make mistakes.”

Nobody in the stands at a game really knows what goes through the minds of the men who play the game, and everybody in the stands thinks they are or should be all alike, all mechanical, and all impervious to the flaws and buffeting that bring those who can’t play baseball professionally to the assorted racks of their regrets.

We watched Mariano Rivera, the elegant game-ending assassin; we watched Mike Mussina, the stoic-looking craftsman; we watched Edgar Martinez, the professor putting on a daily lecture in the batter’s box and practising what he preached; we watched Lee Smith, as bullish a bull as ever strode in from a bullpen; we watched Harold Baines, never spectacular but a quiet guy who was simply there with and for you. And we watched Roy Halladay, who dismantled hitters with deadly aplomb.

But we had no clue what animated or haunted these men. The Mariano—nicknamed “Mo” and “Sandman” in the game and on his plaque—kept an active faith in God and family; the Moose kept one foot planted firmly in his small-town root refusing to forget its value; Gar likewise kept one foot planted firmly in the Puerto Rican soil and mind that forged and supported him.

Lee Smith didn’t carry a nickname but, instead, a gratitude to a sibling who nurtured him and an awareness of what it meant to black children to see one of their own as a shutdown relief pitcher that was as calm as his presence on the mound wasn’t to many a hitter. Harold Baines also lacked a nickname, and he played the game the way he remembered his brickmason father supporting a family: “You work at it, you put your head down, you keep your mouth shut and work at your craft day in and day out.”

Roy Halladay pitched the way Baines played. He worked at it. He put his head down (or kept it up). He kept his mouth shut, most of the time. He worked at his craft day in and day out, from boyhood under the guidance of a perhaps too-overbearing father, too bent on turning his son into a pitcher and a pilot, until his shoulder finally told him it went to the enemy side.

He proved the most inwardly compromised of all six new Hall of Famers when baseball ended but the sky still seduced him. He’d been a solid husband, father, and friend seeking improvement as a man, peace in his inner being, desperate relief from his depression and the addiction it delivered. The one place above all where he found them if only for brief spells killed him.

When Brandy Halladay took the Cooperstown podium to speak on her husband’s behalf, in a speech that left few if any dry eyes including her own, she spoke for something more than a pitcher and his game, even as she thanked the living Hall of Famers present for being “such a good example” to her husband.

She spoke for a still-young man who lost his life looking for his freedom from an insidious inner condition that rudely and persistently interrupted the otherwise embracing husband, father, friend, student, man.

“I think that Roy would want everyone to know that people are not perfect,” said his widow, a woman whose pretty face is also as friendly looking as the day is long. “We are all imperfect and flawed in one way or another. We all struggle. But with hard work, humility, and dedication, imperfect people can still have perfect moments. Roy was blessed in his life and his career to have some perfect moments.”

The one man who couldn’t see the blessings for the curses was Roy Halladay himself.

Mo, Moose, and Cooperstown

2019-01-22 halloffamemontage

The BBWAA Hall of Fame class of 2019, left to right: Mike Mussina, Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, and The Mariano. (CBS Sports montage.)

On the day of the announcement, it came forth that Red Sox writer Bill Ballou of the Worcester Telegram-Gazette changed his mind. Charity says he saw the light; certain realities suggest he felt the heat. But after calling closing the low hanging fruit of baseball achievement and refusing to submit his ballot rather than snub Mariano Rivera, Ballou weighed the tonnage of heat he took “from writers and observers whose voices are important” and submitted his ballot—with a vote for Rivera.

It’s not exactly an unqualified change of heart, of course. “No baseball history would be complete without a serious mention of Rivera, of course, even if that mention is based upon a flawed statistic, the save,” Ballou writes. “It was gut instinct that convinced me to not cast a vote against Rivera originally, since he was a “know when I see it” performer. However, logic said his greatness was based on baseball’s most useless statistic, the save.”

Apparently, being great while doing a particular job under the specific perimeters of the job should still be held somewhat against the man who does it. If you care to read my original rejoinder to Ballou’s original plan of ballot non-submission and my concurrent analysis about why he was wrong about The Mariano, you can. I’m pretty sure that the last thing anyone cares about today is whether Bill Ballou saw the light, felt the heat, or fell somewhere between them. Rivera probably doesn’t. Nor should he.

The only thing Ballou withholding his ballot would have done was . . . absolutely nothing, so far as an impact on Rivera becoming the first Hall of Famer ever to be elected with one hundred percent of the Baseball Writers Association of America vote on his first ballot appearance. That was the only question facing him as his election approached. Anyone else who thought he wouldn’t be a first ballot Hall of Famer at all probably spent the last quarter century in the Delta Quadrant.

Mike Mussina wasn’t one of them. And Mussina, too, is going into the Hall of Fame, though it was his sixth try. As Rivera was renowned for his singular cutter (Hall of Famer Chipper Jones likens it to “throwing chainsaws”), Mussina was for his knuckle curve. And just as The Mariano exuded class and dignity while assassinating opposing hitters, Mussina exuded likewise while making a powerful career-value Hall of Fame case and still maintaining a little curmudgeon.

Maybe the classic example was a 31 May 2006 game against the Tigers. Mussina took a shutout into the ninth inning, until Magglio Ordonez swatted a two-out single to send Placido Polanco home with an unearned run. (Polanco reached on a throwing error with one out.) Yankee manager Joe Torre looked like he was about to step out of the dugout holding a hook with Mussina’s name on it. Watch the clip. You can’t tell whether Mussina said, “Joe, stay back!” or “You stay back!” Torre stayed back. And Mussina struck Carlos Guillen out to end the 6-1 Yankee win.

Only the second man in baseball to retire after a 20 game-winning season (after Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax), Mussina became a Yankee in the first place not because of big free agent dollars but because he had no intention of re-upping with the Orioles after they infuriated him during his walk year. Not because of anything they did to him, but because they traded  one of his best friends on the club, catcher B.J. Surhoff. Thomas Boswell, the Washington Post columnist who belongs in the Hall of Fame as a Ford C. Frick Award winner but hasn’t gotten it yet, unconscionably, told the story right after Mussina was elected to Cooperstown:

The Surhoffs had a child they believed could get better medical care at Johns Hopkins than anywhere else, and B.J. absolutely wanted to stay in Baltimore. But Mussina, and other Orioles, believed he was traded in part out of spite after petty tiffs with a member of ownership.

“That’s it,” spit out Mussina, who was in his free agent walk year. “I’m out of here.”

The next year, he was a Yankee. Cause and effect?

Some ask why Mussina and why not Andy Pettitte? The answer is simpler, really, than just dismissing Pettitte over his admission that he tried human growth hormone in a bid to deal with nagging elbow trouble. Mussina was a better pitcher than Pettitte, by a large enough margin. They both pitched in a time of inflated offense, and neither of them show up big for peak value, but Mussina was better at getting outs by his own devices than Pettitte and, while batters could get their hits off both, Mussina was a little tougher to hit against than Pettitte and a lot tougher to avoid the strikeout against. (Pettitte has a 2.37 strikeout-to-walk ratio; Mussina, a 3.58 K/BB rate.)

Who would you rather have on the mound if your team makes it to the World Series? Mussina—who pitched his entire career in the rough-tough American League East—went to two World Series and while his won-lost record in those Series is only 1-1, he has a 3.00 ERA and a 1.27 walks/hits per inning pitched rate, while Pettitte pitched in eight World Series with a 5-4 won-lost record but a 4.06 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP. Mussina’s overall postseason record is 7-8 but a 3.42 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP; Pettitte is 19-11 with a 3.86 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP. I submit that you actually have a better chance to win with Mussina on the mound than with Pettitte.

You don’t have to compare those two pitchers to make Mussina’s Hall of Fame case, but you might care to note that, by way of the Bill James Hall of Fame measurements, Pettitte met 44 of the Hall of Fame pitching standards and Mussina met 54, with the average Hall of Famer meeting 50. Mussina also mops the floor with Pettitte on the Black Ink (league leaderships) and Gray Ink (league top ten) Tests, Mussina showing 15 Black Ink and 250 Gray Ink to Pettitte’s 7 and 103, respectively. Mussina ranks as the number 29 starting pitcher of all time; Pettitte ranks 90th.

Edgar Martinez, who made it to the Hall of Fame at last and on his final BBWAA ballot try, says this about Rivera: “It was always a challenge to face him, but I enjoyed the competition and I think he did, too.” That’s putting it politely. As Rivera himself once put it, “It didn’t matter what I threw him. I couldn’t get him out. My God, he had my breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” The only thing he left out was dessert: Martinez’s lifetime slash line against The Mariano is .579/.652/1.053. The last is only Martinez’s slugging percentage against him; the OPS would be 1.705.

Think about that: The likely second greatest hitter who ever played the bulk of his career as a designated hitter (if you’re not giving Frank Thomas the number one spot, you need help) had a 1.705 OPS against the no-questions-asked greatest pitcher ever to work as a major league closer.

It makes you sad that Martinez’s teams weren’t as good as Rivera’s teams long range; the thought of seeing them tangle in more than just a couple of postseason games is just too delicious to bypass. It probably makes Mariners fans sadder that they couldn’t send a lineup of Edgar Martinezes up against a pitching staff of Mariano Riveras. And it makes you look forward to the pair of them needling each other affectionately on the Hall of Fame stage.

Roy Halladay once picked up a baseball that still showed the imprint of Rivera’s cutter grip and carried it in his travel bag on road trips for the rest of his career. It’s to mourn further that Halladay didn’t live to see himself go into Cooperstown with Rivera, Mussina, and Martinez. (Halladay died in the November 2017 crash of his Icon a5 airplane; his widow posted a statement of thanks after the election was announced.)

The best starting pitcher of the 21st Century so far (well, among those not named Clayton Kershaw, anyway)—who also made the Hall of Fame on his first try this time around, and who’s the only pitcher in the game’s history to pitch a perfect game in the same season during which he’d pitch a postseason no-hitter—Doc Halladay would probably love playing maitre d for whether Rivera or Martinez shake hands before or after Gar hands The Mariano three plates, one with breakfast, one with lunch (a Ballouney on wry, perhaps?), and one with dinner.

A Hall of Fame voter is full of Ballouney

TheMarianoAllStarGameBill Ballou, a Worcester (MA) Telegram sportswriter whose coverage includes the Red Sox, proclaims adamantly that he refuses to vote for Mariano Rivera for the Hall of Fame. He thinks closers may well be the most overrated men in uniform during a given baseball game, this side of designated hitters, if only because when they are brought into games they have it just too simple. Unfortunately, simple is also a polite way to describe Ballou’s full argument.

Quibble if you must about the save rule. As defined now and throughout The Mariano’s career, a save situation for a relief pitcher is when he comes into the ninth inning with his team leading by three runs or less; or, he comes in with the tying run on base, at the plate, or on deck, regardless of the score; or, he pitches for three innings.

It’s one thing to object to the save qua the save, but it’s something else to suggest a man who was the best at earning saves under the incumbent rules of his long career shouldn’t have a place in the Hall of Fame. The Hall is first and foremost supposed to be about greatness above and beyond the merely excellent, within the boundaries of the rules of baseball’s play, and by that definition alone Rivera should be a no-questions-asked, first-ballot, unanimous Hall of Famer.

Even Red Sox fans acknowledge as much. Which reminds me that even the most sour citizen of Red Sox Nation who thinks Rivera was nothing more than a single-inning save machine could not have seen him pitch in Game Seven of the 2003 American League Championship Series. When he came in for the ninth and pitched through the eleventh, keeping the Red Sox from misbehaving despite a single in the ninth (Jason Varitek) and a two-out double in the tenth (David Ortiz), and with four strikeouts including two in the eleventh.

The now-manager of the Yankees rewarded The Mariano’s work that evening in the bottom of the eleventh, with a first-pitch leadoff launch into the lower left field seats for game, set, and Yankee pennant. Rivera was credited with the pitching win. And if Ortiz hit a two-out double off him, so what? That’s what Hall of Famers do even unto other Hall of Famers once in awhile.

“What is different about closers? Why do they get a hall pass when it comes to the numbers?” Ballou asks. He then answers his own question: “Because what they do is the last thing you remember about a game . . . Chris Sale lived a dream when he was on the mound for the last out of the 2018 World Series, but it’s fair to say that David Price’s seven innings as a starter had a lot more to do with Boston winning than Sale’s one.”

It’s also fair to say that Price’s one-run masterpiece and Series MVP Steve Pearce’s mayhem at the plate (a two-run homer in the top of the first; a solo bomb in the top of the eighth), not to mention the solo bombs Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez ripped off—what do you know—future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw are and will be remembered far more than Sale’s spotless ninth. (For which the rules say he couldn’t be credited with a save, since he had a four-run lead to protect.) You’d think a Red Sox writer would have known that despite Sale striking out the side.

Ballou audaciously mentioned Craig Kimbrel, the Red Sox’s 2018 closer, in the same area code as Rivera. “[H]is performance in the postseason was an abomination,” Ballou begins. “When he pitched, Boston’s victories felt like defeats. In 10-2/3 innings he had an ERA of 5.90, and permitted 19 baserunners. He was also 6 for 6 converting saves — a perfect record.” Oy vey.

Argue all you wish that the save rule, if not the save concept, is overdue for an overhaul, but comparing Rivera’s work to Kimbrel’s is rather like comparing the millionaire who made his fortune from his own creation to the millionaire whose fortune came from organised crime. And if you can name a Rivera save about which it was fair to say a Yankee win felt like a defeat, well, as the old song says, mister, you’re a better man than I.

He wasn’t without his (very) occasional mishaps on the mound, of course. As often as not it required the dramatic to beat him. It took a game-set-Series-ending base hit floated over the infield into shallow center field for the Diamondbacks to beat him and the Yankees in the 2001 World Series; it took a pinch-runner’s stolen base and a prompt RBI single to tie Game Four of the 2004 American League Championship Series against him when the Red Sox refused to go gently into that good gray series-sweep night.

Game breakers and game changers like those have wrecked far lesser pitchers. Both times The Mariano merely picked himself up, dusted himself off, gave credit where due without apology or hesitation, and got right back on with his career. “The game that you’re going to play tomorrow,” he once said, “is not going to be the same game that you just played.” That’s the way a Hall of Famer thinks.

Reality reminds us that even Hall of Famers get beaten now and then by other Hall of Famers. Willie Mays hit eighteen home runs in his career off Warren Spahn, with a .305/.368/.587 slash line (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage), and nobody credible would suggest that makes Spahn less a Hall of Famer. (“If I could have struck you out,” Spahn often needled Mays about surrendering Mays’s first major league home run, “we’d have been rid of you in a hurry.”) Pedro Martinez couldn’t get Craig Biggio out with a restraining order (Biggio’s slash line against him: .302/.400/.488), but the credible wouldn’t be caught dead arguing that it makes Martinez less a Hall of Famer.

Jay Jaffe, the Sports Illustrated writer who is to Hall of Fame analysis what Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was to the Soviet Union’s totalitarianism, reminds us that Rivera was better at run prevention under his own devices and relative to his league than any other pitcher; and, that his teams missed only two postseasons while he held his job and was the last man standing on the mound four times, an unprecedented accomplishment. Jaffe also observes that The Mariano is in the conversation when it turns to signature pitches and the pitchers who threw them, his cutter in the same league as Sandy Koufax’s curve ball, Steve Carlton’s slider, Hoyt Wilhelm’s knuckleball, Bruce Sutter’s split-fingered fastball, and Martinez’s changeup.

Rivera’s lifetime ERA+ (205), the number that measures your run prevention adjusted to all the parks in which you pitched, not just your home park, is the highest in baseball history at this writing among pitchers whose careers involved their working 1,000 innings or more. “[He] allowed fewer than half the number of runs a league-average pitcher would have allowed over the same number of innings,” Jaffe says. Number two at this writing is Kershaw’s 157.

But since Ballou makes an incessant point about the single-inning closer, it’s wise to remind yourself, as Jaffe does, that Rivera’s record 652 saves include 119 in which he pitched more than a single inning, usually being brought in in the eighth with men on base to greet him. In the post-1992 expansion era, Jaffe records, Rivera’s 119 are well ahead of the two gentlemen tied for second with 55 each—Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman, and Keith Foulke, who just so happened to be the last man standing on the mound when the Red Sox broke the actual or alleged Curse of the Bambino but wasn’t a Hall of Famer on the best day of his life otherwise. The active pitcher with the most such saves is Kenley Jansen—with thirty. Forget putting the pedal to the metal, to catch Rivera they’ll need a supersonic jet.

What about Rivera’s 42 postseason saves? you ask. Jaffe is happy to answer along with the statistics: 31 of those involved Rivera being asked to get four outs or more. The old-schoolers who like to sneer on behalf of Goose Gossage and his multiple-inning assignments, including Gossage himself, forget that Gossage’s postseason saves (eight) involved four or more outs seven times—and he’s second to Rivera. (Gossage, too, had his moment or two of postseason disaster. Kirk Gibson, pick up the house phone.)

When he pitched with runners in scoring position, The Mariano kept batters to a .214 average and a .290 on-base percentage lifetime. When he pitched with men on at all, the batters only hit .210 with a .270 on-base percentage. When he pitched with men in scoring position and two outs, lifetime, the batters only hit .211 with a .300 on-base percentage. And he did it throwing a single pitch. How many pitchers with only one solid pitch at all can you name who made serviceable careers, never mind Hall of Fame careers, and kept hitters that feeble even though they knew what was coming? (Nolan Ryan doesn’t count. Speed-of-light fastballs aren’t taught.)

If you’re inclined to measure a relief pitcher by his wins above a replacement-level player, you might care to record that Rivera’s 56.2 WAR is the most of any relief pitcher earning WAR strictly in that role. (Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley earned more of his 63.0 WAR as a starting pitcher, including all 38.1 of his peak WAR.) Lee Smith, freshly elected to the Hall of Fame (by the Today’s Era Committee) and holder of the career saves record before Rivera obliterated him, has 29.4 WAR—eleventh among pitchers who accumulated half or more of their WAR out of the bullpen.

Remove Luis Gonzalez in the 2001 World Series and Dave Roberts (the stolen base)/Bill Mueller (the followup game-tying single) in the 2004 ALCS from the picture and, if you thought Rivera was deadly in the regular season, in the postseason he was a weapon of mass destruction. In 141 lifetime postseason innings his ERA is 0.70. No pitcher who’s pitched more than 26 postseason innings goes that low, not even Koufax or Lefty Grove. The Mariano in the postseason struck out 110 batters (a 7.0/9 innings rate), with a 1.3 BB/9 rate (he only walked 22 in those innings), and only two men ever took him over the fence in the postseason—Sandy Alomar, Jr. (Game Four, 1997 AL division series), not a Hall of Famer but not inconsequential, either; and, Jay Payton (Game Five, 2000 World Series), not a Hall of Famer and very occasionally consequential.

Payton teed off for a three-run homer with two out in the bottom of the ninth. So what did Rivera do from there? He caught Kurt Abbott looking at strike three to nail the only World Series in which the Yankees played the Mets, and that Series was actually closer than its brevity suggests. It proved that there are times in baseball when lesser assailants just don’t always know or care that they’re supposed to surrender to Hall of Famers, and that even Hall of Famers can be caught off guard by or make a mistake against the modestly endowed.

Rivera is as famous for his humility as he is for his mound deadliness. Imagine the blush across his friendly bronze face when he thinks that the number one argument over his Hall of Fame election is not whether he belongs on his first ballot but whether he should go in the way even numerous Yankee legends didn’t, not even Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, or Mickey Mantle went in—unanimously.

Ballou says he won’t even bother submitting a Hall of Fame ballot this time around, the better, perhaps, to avoid tainting other candidates, just because he thinks a closer, even the best who ever held such employment, has no business in Cooperstown except as a paying customer. It’s a foolish thing to reject a man simply because the rules and the prescriptions of his line of work are not to a particular judge’s liking. (Hey, did I just argue concurrently against rejecting designated hitters, too?)

Rivera didn’t create the rules of saving or closing games, and it would be craven injustice to deny his honour for doing his job under those rules and conditions better than anyone else who had the job before or while he did. Ballou’s silly position means two things, really: 1) The Mariano’s chance of becoming the Hall of Fame’s first unanimous election isn’t ruined, because Ballou’s will be an unsubmitted ballot. 2) There’s a stubborn integrity to a man who’s willing to stand without apology even if it exposes him as full of Ballouney.