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I’ve been a pretty good deadline guy over the course of my career, so it wasn’t hard to get my Hall of Fame vote in the mail by December 31st, despite mixed feelings about some of the players on the ballot.
Every year, I feel like I’ve got to explain the process, which is pretty simple, but I’ll do it again for those of you with short attention spans. Longtime members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America are charged with selecting which retired major league stars get into Cooperstown during their first 10 years of eligibility, choosing from a ballot of about 30 finalists who have been off-roster for at least five years.
Voters may check a box next to up to 10 players on that ballot and anyone who is selected on at least 75 percent of those ballots will be inducted at Cooperstown, New York in late July.
It’s kind of an odd way of selecting the one or two players who are likely to gain induction, but who am I to argue. Some semblance of this voting system has been in place since long before I was the No. 1 fan of “Leave it to Beaver” and it seems to work pretty well.
The reason it seems odd to me is because there are seldom anywhere close to 10 legit Hall of Famers on any year’s ballot, so the ability to pick 10 players leaves open the opportunity for voters to throw a few bones to favorite players along with the four or five check marks that have a chance to matter.
In my case, that vote went last year to first-year candidate Francisco Rodriguez, who was named on only 10 percent of the ballots, and I voted for him again because he has the highest career save total (437) of any pitcher not already in the Hall of Fame. He also led my hometown Angels to their only World Series championship in 2002 and was so dominant early in his career that he acquired the nickname K-Rod.
He also reestablished that dominance near the end of the career by saving 126 games over his final three full seasons (2014-16).
I also voted for him, and have done so with other marginal bullpen candidates, because relievers are grossly underrepresented in the Hall of Fame. And I obviously voted for Billy Wagner, who was tagged by 68 percent of the voters last year and just might make it in his ninth year (out of 10) of eligibility.
Here is my full ballot: Todd Helton, Billy Wagner, Andruw Jones, Gary Sheffield, Carlos Beltran, Adrian Beltré, Joe Mauer, Francisco Rodriguez and Bobby Abreu.
Not coincidentally, the first five names in the paragraph above also were the top five unelected vote-getters from last year’s ballot, finishing behind lone inductee, Scott Rolen.
Helton, arguably the greatest player in the brief history of the Colorado Rockies, narrowly missed winning induction last year with 72.2 percent of the vote. Most players who come that close generally get in the following year, and he certainly is deserving, even if some discount the career stats of players who played most of their careers in the thin air of the Mile High City.
I already mentioned Wagner, who was chosen on 68.1 percent of the ballots, and next in line was Jones with 58 percent.
Don’t think I need to further explain any of those three, but have been a big recent proponent of Sheffield, who is in his final year of eligibility, made 55 percent of the ballots last year and probably will have to wait for one of the incarnations of the old Veterans Committee to recognize his fabulous talent and terrific career numbers.
With 509 homers and 1,676 RBIs, not to mention a .906 career OPS over 22 seasons, he would have gotten to Cooperstown long ago if not for admitting to using a steroid cream (which he claimed he didn’t know had steroids in it) and some guilt by association with Barry Bonds. He later became a big advocate for steroid testing, which allows me (and more than half of eligible HOF voters last year) to cut him some slack.
I really don’t need to justify Beltré, who should be a first-ballot guy. Not only does he have slam dunk HOF numbers (3,166 hits, 477 home runs, 1,707 RBIs), but he was so good defensively that none other than Cal Ripken said in 2016 that he might be the best third baseman ever. That’s good enough for me and should be good enough for him to get 90-plus percent of the vote.
Probably do need to justify Abreu, who doesn’t exactly jump off the ballot at first glance, but he was a terrific all-round player with a 60-plus career WAR who deserved to get more than 15.4 percent of the vote in his fourth year of eligibility last year.
Also agonized over Mauer, who never had a 30-homer or 100-RBI season and doesn’t have gaudy career run-production numbers but was one of the best-hitting catchers in the history of the game before the Twins decided to protect his bat by playing him at first base and designated hitter late in his career. Was the American League MVP in 2009 and finished with a .306 career average and .827 OPS. Probably not getting in on the first ballot but should get there soon.
Of course, I always find myself needing to explain my position on Alex Rodriguez, who did not make my ballot again this year. He has career numbers that dwarf every offensive player on the ballot and almost every offensive player period, but his performance-enhancing drug history was forgiven by only about a third of voters last year (35 percent in his third year eligible).
I won’t ignore his three MVPs, those 696 home runs and 2086 RBIs forever, but it will be a while before I forgive him for breaking up with JLo.
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