And we thought politics in 2017 was mostly a matter of dispositions toward Donald Trump, Roy Moore, and Al Franken.
Turns out the Baseball Hall of Fame is there, in the mix.
Ballots have just been mailed aimed at voters who must decide during December on who belongs at next summer’s induction at Cooperstown. Before some new and further-contrived political issues ordained by the Hall of Fame bosses are explained and discussed, here are eight names (alphabet determines order) who will go on my December ballot:
■ 1. Barry Bonds
■ 2. Roger Clemens
■ 3. Vladimir Guerrero
■ 4. Chipper Jones
■ 5. Edgar Martinez
■ 6. Mike Mussina
■ 7. Curt Schilling
■ 8. Jim Thome
That’s it. Eight greats. There is room for 10 names, even if a perverse 10-man limit has been at the heart of some ongoing personal wars with Cooperstown (and some boycotted past ballots). But this is a year in which the deepest study from another year of research and discussion, along with the heaviest discipline that could be mustered, led to eight gentlemen making the cut.
Trevor Hoffman does not make my 2018 group, and never has made my list. No, as well, on Larry Walker, Fred McGriff, Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, Omar Vizquel — and Jeff Kent.
Kent requires some explanation. Heavy explanation.
In fact, he had made some past personal ballots, very much as a fringe, nearly jump-ball, candidate. He was as minimally qualified as any person during the past 30 years who got a thumbs-up.
I spent the past year doing what most voters do. A lot of research and reading. Thanks, in great part, to two new books: “The Cooperstown Casebook,” by Jay Jaffe, as well as Keith Law’s, “Smart Baseball,” and aided by some new numbers-crunching, it’s simply too difficult to any longer make a clear-conscience case for Kent.
It doesn’t invalidate him. Lots of voters see him as legitimate, and those convictions are respected. But in this rarest of cases, with history’s perspective each year putting more light on numbers and comparisons, he could not, in a matter of conscience, be resubmitted for 2018.
Principle, within the context of a baseball vote, also applies in voting for Bonds and Clemens.
This personal policy is explained each year and will be explained once again:
Because the peak years of performance-enhancing lawlessness (late 1980s through 2003) were so pervasive, with big-league baseball aiding and abetting cheaters through weak laws and/or no serious prevention, the means for sorting wheat from chaff has been a no-win chore.
The imperfect answer here has been to look at careers, to try and assess who was a legitimate Hall of Fame player apart from any steroid or amphetamine help, and who might own numbers that could've slipped across the threshold by way of their admitted or suspected PED use.
That’s not the smoothest of processes. But in one voter’s book it beats the blind judgment, the conferral of guilt and innocence that in too many cases can’t be proved. It beats the hypocrisy or pure folly of saying certain guys indulged and certain guys didn’t. It also enables a level of necessary voter discretion in the cases of players I believe might well have had HOF numbers because of their mischief: Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro, to name three.
Bonds and Clemens would have smashed their way onto a HOF first ballot had they never dabbled for a day in PEDs. That’s the double tragedy of their wanton lawlessness. They hardly needed help. But in the same way I believe Pete Rose should be in Coopertown — with words at the bottom of his plaque saying he was banned for betting — Bonds and Clemens were too extraordinary for way too many years, minus PEDs effects, to shun them and their place in baseball history.
Others were easier votes. Somewhat, anyway.
Guerrero just missed my list last year, his first on the ballot, for reasons not regretted. I wanted more time to think and talk about his candidacy. It got a bit sticky, comparing his WAR (wins above replacement) with a player such as Walker. Rather than invite second thoughts about a vote cast too soon, it was decided here to spend extra time assessing his case. This year, he makes it.
Jones is an easy first-ballot pick, even if some of the Ned Flanders crowd wants to make past marital indiscretions a reason for lopping him. Others don’t appreciate his views on issues of simple human harmony that seemingly were resolved in the Stone Age. Jones isn’t always a subscriber there, but his career and his career WAR (85.0) are first-ballot good.
Martinez has been a steady resident on past ballots and is there again, for all the right reasons: 18 seasons,.312 batting average, .418 on-base percentage, a stunning .933 OPS. Doesn’t matter that he was a designated hitter because of shabby knees. He belongs in the Hall, but probably will need the Second Chance Committee to install him.
Mussina also regularly cracks the list. No hesitancy. He has a career WAR of 83.0, which, as Jaffe notes, is 23rd all-time for pitchers, higher than 41 pitchers already in Cooperstown.
Also in the fold is Schilling, who is right there with Bonds and Clemens and Jones as far as guys you might wish to jettison for offensive or insensitive ways. But he sticks, for reasons that should be more about baseball than about “character,” which, if it had been historically considered, would have led to some serious rearranging of Cooperstown's decor.
Schilling might be an easier inductee for the HOF’s Neanderthal wing due to his social-science barbarism. But his numbers are rigid and strong: 80.7 WAR, just behind Bob Gibson, and ahead of these gents already HOF-housed: Bob Feller, Juan Marichal, Jim Palmer, Don Drysdale, and Don Sutton.
As for the matter of Thome, like Jones he is making his rookie ballot debut and is an instant pick: 22 years, 612 homers, .956 OPS, 72.9 WAR.
Those who didn’t get one voter’s seal of approval missed for assorted reasons.
Hoffman: A reliever whose numbers made him an incredibly steady and prolific pitcher but don’t qualify him for the Hall of Fame. He’s closer to Billy Wagner, another reliever who doesn’t pass the final exam.
Walker, McGriff, Rolen, as well as Andruw Jones, also fall just shy as you dig deep into the digits and hold their bodies of work against guys previously placed within Cooperstown’s brickwork, including some who never made, or would have made, a personal ballot: Ralph Kiner, Jim Rice, and Bill Mazeroski.
Vizquel is locally popular because of his Tigers coaching celebrity. It added regional luster to a shortstop who was something of a defensive magic man during an amazing 24 seasons. But his range was not in the same galaxy as Ozzie Smith, and there is your difference. His career WAR is 45.3. Smith’s is 76.5. Neither was Vizquel’s offense (career .688 OPS) at an elevation to offer any Cooperstown boost.
These deliberations are never easy, nor should they be. Hall of Fame votes have the capacity to make people mad, which is as it should be. People take this game seriously and personally. And beliefs in who belongs and who doesn’t can be as deeply rooted as religious faith.
Which is why what Cooperstown is doing to the ballot is pure political mayhem.
To catch up on the latest trickery practiced by HOF office-dwellers, they have decided not to make public all voters’ ballots, a bit of overdue accountability the Baseball Writers Association of America decided a year ago would become policy for 2018. A voter can still disclose his or her ballot by choice (always the option here), but they’re not going to insist upon it. Which is cowardice in the extreme.
The unexpressed reasoning here is that Cooperstown’s brass sees this as another avenue to its quiet and endless quest: The suits don’t want Clemens and Bonds at an upcoming July lawn party where new inductees are formally consecrated.
This same deviousness was at work as two additional ploys were either designed or furthered, with Bonds and Clemens and the PED era as the HOF honchos’ target. They decided three years ago to slash a player’s ballot eligibility from 15 to 10 years, which is nonsense. Time is everyone’s best friend as candidacies are studied. With passing years, numbers and skills can take on greater, difference-making clarity.
The bigwigs also insist, against any remote attachment to sanity or simple justice, that there be a 10-player limit on any one year’s HOF ballot.
Most years, of course, this has worked, all because in past decades there generally were one, two, maybe three, and rarely more than three, players who merited true HOF consideration.
That all changed in the past decade as a simple convergence of heavier names and matching numbers flooded the HOF ballot. With a silly, anachronistic 10-man limit, too many of us began the disgraceful process of figuring out which Hall of Famer was less worthy than others.
It was an odious demand treated here in the only way personally digestible: No ballot would be submitted. Rather than be forced to delete a man from a vote he most definitely deserved, the decision here was to not vote at all. It was conscientious objection, HOF-era.
But the Cooperstown crowd’s grandstanding schemes had not yet ceased. Last week, Joe Morgan, who should be consummately ashamed of himself, allowed his name to be attached to a Hall of Fame-authorized plea not to vote for PED guys.
If this sounds a lot like some contemporary American political shenanigans — restricting votes, messing with electoral processes, etc. — welcome to 2017 and to a parallel universe headquartered at Cooperstown.
Some colleagues (Jeff Passan, Buster Olney, etc.) have seen present or past issues rise to a point they can’t in proper conscience vote.
The decision here, at least for this year, is to follow through with a ballot. The primary issue personally has been in having sufficient space to vote for sufficiently honorable careers. There was enough room this year to include eight lustrous stars deemed right for induction.
But the 10-man wall will inevitably be a barrier to future elections, maybe next year, when Mariano Rivera and Roy Halladay, among others, arrive for review.
It would be nice to think common sense and apolitical changes would become part of a voting process that for most of the past 80 years has helped make the Baseball Hall of Fame the best and most respected of all halls.
But then you see who’s in charge. And what they’re steadily doing. And it’s easy to lose hope.
MAKING THEIR DEBUT
Here are players on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in 2018:
■ Chris Carpenter, P
■ Johnny Damon, OF
■ Livan Hernandez, P
■ Orlando Hudson, 2B
■ Aubrey Huff, 1B
■ Jason Isringhausen, P
■ Andrew Jones, OF
■ Chipper Jones, 3B
■ Carlos Lee, OF/1B
■ Brad Lidge, P
■ Hideki Matsui, OF
■ Kevin Millwood, P
■ Jamie Moyer, P
■ Scott Rolen, 3B
■ Johan Santana, P
■ Jim Thome, 1B/DH
■ Omar Vizquel, SS
■ Kerry Wood, P
■ Carlos Zambrano, P