This is a unique period of intrigue and tumult for baseball’s Hall of Fame voters. The challenge from a year ago with the first real historical accounting for steroid era giants Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa, remained true this time but only to be compounded by the volume of new worthy candidates added to the mix.
Eligible members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America are allowed to vote for a maximum of 10 players, and a reasonable to persuasive argument can be made for 20 of the 36 names up for election. First-timers such as Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas are essentially impossible to argue against while fellow newcomers such as Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina also have strong cases.
For voters who wanted to include all five but already had more six or more names on their previous ballot, that meant someone had to get bumped. Such a scenario could stunt the momentum of some candidates, or hasten an exit from the ballot for others should they fall under the five per cent threshold needed to maintain their place.
For me, in my second year of voting, this dilemma meant pushing aside some of the previous candidates I want to reconsider (Alan Trammell, Fred McGriff, Curt Schilling) and one of the new ones I want to look at (Mike Mussina) to deliver a vote with the 10 names I felt most strongly about. They are: Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Jeff Kent, Greg Maddux, Jack Morris, Tim Raines, Frank Thomas and Larry Walker.
That list includes the five players I voted for in 2013 (Biggio, Bonds, Clemens, Raines and Walker), four debutants (Glavine, Kent, Maddux and Thomas) and one previous candidate I changed my mind about (Morris).
I explained the rationale in voting for Bonds and Clemens but no one else tied to steroids in an article for Sportsnet Magazine last year, so I don’t want to rehash that here. Also in that piece is my reasoning in voting for Biggio, who along with Kent stands alongside Alomar as the dominant second basemen of their era; Raines, who is judged unfairly for not being quite as good as Rickey Henderson, and Walker, who dominated for nearly a decade and contributed greatly to baseball’s growth in Canada.
Votes for Maddux, Glavine and Thomas need no rationalization, leaving my addition of Morris – a lightning rod candidate in his final year of eligibility – in need of some explanation.
I strongly considered Morris on my 2013 ballot but decided to leave him off for several reasons, one of them being that his 3.90 ERA would be the highest for a pitcher in the Hall, surpassing Red Ruffing’s 3.80. It was a decision I was uneasy with because I admired Morris’s durability, and the fact that he finished 175 of the 527 starts he made is remarkable, particularly given the era he pitched in.
Consider that there were 124 complete games in big-leagues in 2013, a total that is 51 fewer than Morris had in his entire career. The Tampa Bay Rays led the way with nine last season, and in only five of his 18 seasons did Morris have fewer than nine complete games, two of them at the start of his career before he was fully established, two at the end when he struggled through arm troubles.
Three points made by Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci further illustrated just how rare Morris’s durability was:
– Among starters who debuted between 1971-83, he won and completed the most games.
– He pitched eight or more innings in AL games 248 times, more than any other pitcher since the designated hitter’s introduction.
– Between 1979-92, he pitched eight or more innings in 52 per cent of his 464 starts.
Worth noting is that Morris wasn’t stuck in the back of the rotation – he was logging ace duties while carrying that load.
Telling too is that he started Game 1 in six of the seven post-season series he appeared in, the only exception coming in 1987, when he had to sit until Game 2 of the ALCS because the Tigers needed him to pitch the previous weekend to hold off the Blue Jays. When the stakes were highest, three different managers (he pitched in the playoffs for Detroit, Minnesota and Toronto) trusted him to set the tone.
All those reasons – plus the increasing value I place on players who can stay on the field – led me to change my mind and reconsider Morris, as opposed to someone else on the bubble.
Ballot-management for Hall voters will be a fact of life in the years to come, as new additions in the years ahead include: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Carlos Delgado and Gary Sheffield in 2015; Ken Griffey Jr. and Jim Edmonds in 2016; Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez and Jorge Posada in 2017.
In other words, voting for the Hall of Fame won’t be getting easier any time soon and candidates stuck in the middle may find it difficult escaping the grey zone.