Why Jeff Blair only has four players on his 2022 Hall of Fame ballot

Former New York Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez. (Kathy Willens/AP)

Barry Bonds. Roger Clemens. David Ortiz. Alex Rodriguez.

That’s it.

That’s my baseball Hall of Fame ballot for this year and — yeah — thank god the ballot isn’t being tested for steroids. Or morality.

So, fire away. It’s four, not the permissible 10, permissible being the operative word compared to, say, required. As in “no more than 10.” I’ve voted for Manny Ramirez in the past, but decided against it this year because I’m one of those voters who casts a small ballot and I wanted to make room for A-Rod. Man, talk about Satan’s choice. The good news is it’s an election, a free choice, which means I’m not obligated to defend my ballot (none of us are) or, for that matter, explain it. But what the hell: it’s the one Hall of Fame people care about enough to threaten bodily harm so let me put on the hazmat suit and wade into this.

I’ve voted for Bonds and Clemens every year because Bonds is the best player I’ve seen and because Clemens is the most singular pitching force I’ve seen this side of Pedro Martinez. Ortiz was a terrific post-season performer and once the Today’s Game Era Committee put in Harold Baines in 2019, the whole DH thing became a non-starter. A-Rod was and is a hugely flawed dude and one of the most brilliant train-wrecks in sports history. The young A-Rod re-defined the shortstop position. He was spectacular. He hit bombs and basically did all you can do. He’s a wingnut with a tin ear who is sometimes over-matched by life, which makes him the Candidate of Chaos. And chaos is good. Heck… I’d vote for him just to see who his date is at the induction ceremony!

Host Jeff Blair and former MLB player Kevin Barker breakdown the latest news surrounding the Blue Jays and across Major League Baseball. Listen to the show on Sportsnet 590 The Fan or wherever you get your podcasts.

Will any of them get in on this ballot? I doubt it, and that’s going to create some long-range issues because I can pretty much guarantee that Bonds and Clemens are going to face as much bitterness if not more from their peers once they get tossed into the sausage-making committee process. Neither were particularly loved as teammates. Curt Schilling? Woof. He might get in this time. Good pitcher. Bad guy, politically. So consider not voting for him my little contribution to the culture war. I know others feel that way. They just won’t tell you.

Steroids? Geezus, I feel the need to say this every year: As someone who should have been more skeptical when they covered the game as a reporter — who was, however, lied to by more than one player when asking them to their face whether they’d juiced — I’m just not comfortable declaring anybody ‘clean.’ Only an idiot would think everybody in the Hall of Fame is clean. But it doesn’t damage my appreciation of the game and the people who played it. Athletes do what they feel they need to do to win. Just give me effort. Show up. Be remarkable. Whatever it takes to make you remarkable? Have at it. I mean, the stuff worked and I can tell you: As someone who covered hockey and baseball at the same time, on the back acne and weird neck muscle scale I suspected as many NHL players of juicing as I did baseball players.

I’m not going to waste time on a statistical debate for or against anybody else because, well, I don’t feel the need to get overly forensic. If it takes a couple of minutes to “make the case” for somebody, I’m not interested in voting for them. But I’m happy for those who do, as they merrily vote for 10 players every ballot and add this guy and drop this guy and act like it’s an all-comers club like the Pro Football or Hockey Hall of Fame.

Make a call, for god’s sake. Embrace the elitism. Because know this: However the process looks in the future, whether the role of committees increases at the expense of the BBWAA vote (see the cronyism behind Baines’ election, and be careful what you wish for) the most important aspect is that the exclusivity of the Hall is maintained. Better to be arguing about who isn’t in than who is in.

Blue Jays ‘agressive’ but ‘discplined’ in free agency

Well if this doesn’t tide you over until the end of a wintry lockout, I don’t know what will: Jeff Passan of ESPN reported that the Toronto Blue Jays were very much players in the Corey Seager market, although at the end they were not willing to match the Texas Rangers’ 10-year, $325-million offer.

The immediate reaction, of course, is to put two and two together and assume that means they’d be players in the Carlos Correa market once the new collective bargaining agreement is in place. My guess is they have contacted Correa’s people as well as Freddie Freeman’s, but I don’t know where that leads. I do know from talking to folks familiar with the Blue Jays approach this off-season — including an agent whose client didn’t sign with them — that the Jays have been described as being “aggressive” yet “disciplined.” They held firm when Robbie Ray wanted extra money to balance out tax differences and considering Texas has no state income tax, my guess is their willingness to be creative had its limits.

“They’re not cheap, they value players in the same way other big markets value them,” the agent told me. “But they stick to that valuation.”

What has become apparent from talking to people in the industry is that the Blue Jays have been very comfortable selling themselves as a destination for free agents: the city, the lineup, the whole thing. It will be interesting to see how far this “you’re missing out on something special if you don’t sign with us,” message resonates when the off-season resumes. But, man, what a change from the way business used to be done.

Why MLB shouldn’t consider a free-agent signing deadline

Hey, I as much as anyone liked the frenzied week of free-agent activity leading up to the lockout and, for a moment, wondered whether it would be cool for Major League Baseball to institute a free-agent signing deadline. Seems to work for every other sport, right?

The idea seems to have traction among the chattering classes, who sure love themselves some deadlines! Nothing like the Twittersphere full of breaking free-agent news and speculation compressed into a brief time period. It’s like the trade deadline, but with money. It gives the sport a foothold in the news cycle at a time when it normally wouldn’t have one.

Except… I dunno. I thought the whole idea was to build better teams, not give reporters or fans a quick fix. It’s why the whole argument around the lack of action at the winter meetings has always struck me as simple-minded. What… it’s a bad thing that teams and players want more time to make franchise or life-altering decisions? Maybe do some extra medical due diligence?

Hey, look: I’ve had to explain to superiors why they needed to spend a couple of grand sending me to the winter meetings at Opryland to report on trades that didn’t happen or cover a team that didn’t do anything other than pick up an arm in the Rule 5 draft. That’s the baseball reporting version of the relief pitcher’s dreaded ‘dry hump.’ It sucks. But it’s also not what team building is all about.

Recent sports history presents many examples of unintended consequences resulting from decisions that seemed fine at the time. This was fun, but a deeper dive is needed as to the long-term ramifications of a deadline. Will players end up getting short-changed? Will teams end up getting screwed? Considering the fact this was all done with both players and teams knowing a lockout was imminent, I think we need to be a little more nuanced instead of running off like giddy schoolkids trading fantasy players. At any rate, the sport has enough to worry about.

One expert’s take on the lockout

Greg Bouris was formerly communications director of the Major League Baseball Players Association and is now president of power X communications and serves as graduate director at Adelphi University’s school of sports management.

He thinks the lockout will result in missed regular-season games.

Bouris, who worked for the MLBPA for just shy of 20 years and served under four executive directors, argues that not enough attention has been paid to what he sees as the ultimate “pressure point” for players: April 15, which is when their first paycheque is due.

Players are not paid salaries over the winter or during spring training.

 
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Bouris also had an interesting take on the role social media will play in the lockout, telling us on Blair & Barker that executive director Tony Clark’s most testing time will come as spring training gets closer and players get itchier to return to normalcy.

MLB fired the first social media salvo when it dropped any form of current player imaging from its website, MLB.com. Some players responded by dropping their faces from their Twitter avatars.

Bouris said the MLBPA’s philosophy on using social media has always been to “use it positively to support the efforts of the players… and not negatively towards owners.”

He also cautioned against reading too much into the date for the resumption of negotiations. Players and owners have scheduled more sessions for next week, and Bouris said there was much to be said for “letting the dust settle” and “re-committing to the process.” This is gonna be a process, folks. If players and owners haven’t dived into the weeds yet, no need for the rest of us.

THE CLOSER

People who know Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker believe that he is interested in becoming a manager eventually — as he should, frankly — so my guess is the New York Mets job isn’t the last one he will be linked to, either by reporters putting out his name or teams interviewing him. There used to be a predisposition against hiring former pitchers or pitching coaches as managers, but given the way coaching staffs are now constituted and workloads are distributed, that bias will more and more be overcome by a comfort with and ability to communicate the use of technology and analytics. I’m not certain the Mets job is the one I’d choose as a candidate for managerial training wheels, is all.

Jeff Blair hosts Blair & Barker: The Podcast — dropping every Thursday during the off-season — as well as Blair & Barker on Sportsnet 590 The Fan.

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