Maybe Bill Ballou just showed up 30 years too late.
Ballou, the veteran Red Sox beat writer for the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, made news last month when he published a column explaining why he couldn’t and wouldn’t support Mariano Rivera’s Hall of Fame candidacy.
(Oddly, Ballou disclosed at the very end of the column that he wouldn’t submit a ballot at all, thereby preserving Rivera’s chance at becoming the first player to be unanimously elected by the writers. It would be like if Lex Luthor wrote 900 words on why Earth deserved to be destroyed, then wrapped up with, “But that Jimmy Olsen seems like a nice guy, so never mind.”)
If Ballou had written this piece in 1989, arguing that closers were as overrated as Milli Vanilli’s music and Mario Cuomo’s presidential candidacy, and folks had listened, then maybe we could have a conversation here. If Rollie Fingers (1992), Dennis Eckersley (2004), Bruce Sutter (2006), Goose Gossage (2008) and Trevor Hoffman (2018) hadn’t gained induction, with Lee Smith set for this coming summer, that would be different.
Yet objecting now to Rivera’s immortalization, when the Yankees’ legendary closer put up such a better career than all of the above guys besides Eckersley (who started for 12 years before shifting to the bullpen), just doesn’t work. Consider Rivera’s JAWS score of 42.5, a metric that factors in a player’s peak and longevity, surpasses that of the average elected reliever by 10.3 points, and that doesn’t even factor in Rivera’s otherworldly postseason dominance. Only two players on this Baseball Writers Association of America ballot, Barry Bonds (+64.3) and Roger Clemens (+41), registered larger gaps over their honored peers.
Which brings us to the parallel that must be drawn between the anti-Rivera case and the anti-illegal-performance-enhancing-drug-user case. Just as it’s intellectually inconsistent to keep out Rivera when so many inferior relievers already have their plaques, it’s silly to ban the enhancers when so many folks of looser morals (Cap Anson, Ty Cobb, Bowie Kuhn and Bud Selig, for starters) already got through the entrance.
Now that you know the logic behind my ballot, here we go:
1. Barry Bonds. Just as he broke Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record in the next-to-last month of his career and surpassed Mark McGwire’s single-season mark in the final weekend of 2001, the outfielder might take his candidacy down to the wire. He reached the 56.4 percent mark last year, his sixth on the ballot. Can he get to the required 75 percent by Year 10? For me, he’s a yes because he dominated an era during which many, many players got jiggy with pharmaceuticals.
2. Roger Clemens. Bonds’ fellow legendary person of suspicion, the right-hander brought great joy and personality to the game. His results have moved largely in lockstep with Bonds, as both men stopped playing after 2007. The Rocket’s 4,672 strikeouts and 143 ERA+ make him a slam dunk no matter what or how much he injected into his belly button and rear end.
3. Roy Halladay. The first-year nominee, who died in November 2017, when he crashed the plane he was flying, appears destined to cruise into Cooperstown, as per the data mining of Ryan Thibodaux. The right-hander deserves it by virtue of his epic run from 2002 to 2011, when he tallied 4.57 strikeouts per walk and a 148 ERA+.
4. Andruw Jones. He needs the support, as his 7.3 percent showing last year, his initial shot, didn’t give him much breathing room from the 5 percent necessary to stay on the ballot. One of the game’s finest defenders, the center fielder was a workhorse and above-average bat during his 1997-2007 peak.
5. Edgar Martinez. Last call on the writers’ ballot for Edgar, and Year 10 looks very promising for the designated hitter. His .418 career on-base percentage ranks 21st all-time, right between Hall of Famers Frank Thomas (.419) and Stan Musial (.417).
6. Mike Mussina. While Thibodaux has him over 75 percent based on public ballots, Mussina typically sees his final percentage trail the pre-announcement tally. So bet on the right-hander falling a little short this year then getting the big call next year, his seventh, as reward for his 123 ERA+ over 3,562 2/3 innings pitched.
7. Mariano Rivera. In addition to everything discussed above, he posted a WHIP of exactly 1.000. That’s just not fair.
8. Scott Rolen. The third baseman seems to be enjoying a nice bump in this, his second year on the ballot, although he still resides a long way from actually becoming a Hall member. He joins Jones as someone whose elite defense really elevates his candidacy.
9. Curt Schilling. The Hall already salutes some truly reprehensible human beings. What’s one more? Not only did Schilling, who once publicly advocated for the lynching of journalists, put up a 4.38 strikeouts-to-walks ratio, but he also pitched to a 2.23 ERA in 19 postseason games totaling 133 1/3 innings pitched. This marks Year 7 for the right-hander and the signs are encouraging.
10. Larry Walker. In his next-to-last year of eligibility, the outfielder has skyrocketed from 34.1 percent last year to over 60 percent in the early returns. Incredible. And wonderful. If you think he’s a product of Coors Field from his Rockies years, you need only look at the superb numbers he compiled at the start of his career with the Expos and even at the very end with the Cardinals.
Close calls: The ballot caps out at 10, so I had to exclude Todd Helton, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield and Sammy Sosa. Too bad.
Gridlock victims: In a more just world, with a limitless ballot, I could give more serious consideration to Jeff Kent, Fred McGriff, Roy Oswalt and former Yankee Andy Pettitte. With limits? They didn’t come close to this year’s cut.
Not for me: I just don’t think Omar Vizquel and his 82 OPS+ merit the ultimate recognition, no matter how beautifully he fielded the shortstop position. While Billy Wagner registered a better career than Hoffman and Sutter, he didn’t come close to Rivera. Lance Berkman is a delightful guy who swung a big bat. Not big enough, though, to become a giant of the game.
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