Completed ballots in baseball's annual Hall of Fame voting are due in New York by the end of the month, and having resolved to apportion more thought to the matter than I have the first 17 times I've voted, I extracted mine from the back of my bloody black backpack yesterday, intent on serious rumination.
Better part of an hour.
Yeah, I'm serious this time.
First thing I noticed about the 2006 Hall of Fame Ballot?
No Hall of Famers.
At least, well, all right, let me read it again.
Rick Aguilera's there; he's the reasonably accomplished reliever of whom Ralph Kiner once said on a Mets' broadcast, "All of Rick Aguilera's saves have come in relief."
Yeah. He should get into the Hall just for that.
In fact, let's just do it that way. Like the beleaguered Costanza, I will do the opposite of the way I've been doing this all along.
Will Clark is on the ballot. A fairly fearsome first baseman, Clark hit a home run in his first minor-league at-bat, and hit a home run in his first major-league at-bat, both times on the first swing.
This is the complete diametric opposite of the way I used to do this. The old paradigm was, when I saw the player's name, if I had to think about it, he didn't get in. Hall of Famers, went the philosophy, are players whose very names terminate all debates of worthiness: Ruth, Gehrig, Cobb, Mays, Clemente, etc., and next year Gwynn, Ripken and, of course, Derek Bell.
Yes, Derek Bell will be on the 2007 ballot, and the only solace in that is that if Derek Bell were elected to the Hall of Fame, Operation Shutdown would take on totally new implications.
Some essayists have fretted that the voters would pitch a shutout this year, with the 2006 lineup so unremarkable that no one will be inducted in July. This happened as recently as 1996, but that wasn't the only shutout I ever pitched. I've been pitching shutouts for years.
But eventually, this admittedly egocentric voting method -- it assumes a knowledge of the game that's susceptible to being eclipsed by arrogance -- began to fail, with such players as Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor getting to Cooperstown by acclamation without ever getting a vote from me.
Thus this epiphany that everyone should get some semblance of consideration, including Gary DiSarcina, a shortstop for the Angels I thought was a catcher for the Twins. He finished in the top 20 (actually 19th) in the MVP voting in 1995, which means he probably got one vote. Additionally, he hit .258.
Hmm, let's see. No.
Hal Morris is on the ballot, and he's the only hitter I've ever seen who would actually walk toward the pitch as it was coming in. Should I put him in the Hall strictly on that basis? Tough one.
For full disclosure, it's not as though I've never voted for someone who failed to be elected. I've voted for Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, Andre Dawson and possibly Jack Morris, and all remain on the ballot today. The next logical step in my own repentance would be to vote for someone I've never voted for, and who is still eligible, which brings us to Bert Blyleven.
Aside from former Steeler Chris Fuamatu Ma'afala (whom ESPN's Chris Berman called Chris Fuamatu (I'm a bad) Ma'afala, Bert (Be Home) Blyleven has the best Berman nickname of all time. That's huge. He also pitched 60 shutouts, more than Hall of Famers Don Sutton, Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, Gaylord Perry and Jim Palmer.
The seamheads on crystal math are running Blyleven through the software along the lines of Jay Jaffe, who points out on the Baseball Prospectus site that: "Clay Davenport's Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) figures make an ideal tool for this endeavor because they normalize all performance records in major-league history to the same scoring environment, adjusting for park effects, quality of competition and length of schedule. All pitchers, hitters and fielders are thus rated above or below one consistent replacement level, making cross-era comparisons a breeze. Though non-statistical considerations -- championships, postseason performance -- shouldn't be left by the wayside in weighing a player's Hall of Fame credentials, they're not the focus."
Here's my formula. If I'm managing a decent club that's going into Pittsburgh for a weekend series in July of 1979 and the Pirates are sending Bert Blyleven, John Candelaria and Bruce Kison to the mound, is there a pitcher among them that I think I might not be able to beat?
Yes, and it's Candelaria, who is not a Hall of Famer.
Blyleven was a very good pitcher for a long time, but he had only one 20-win season and lost 250 games.
In all seriousness, I'm voting for Sutter, who got 67 percent of the votes last year (75 percent gets you in); for Smith, whose 478 career saves are 178 more than Sutter's; and for Dawson, the elegant, knee-damaged outfielder who is the answer to that rare question, "Who is the only player other than Willie Mays, Bobby Bonds and Barry Bonds to hit more than 300 homers and steal more than 300 bases?"
I'm also enclosing a suggestion that any Hall of Fame inductee who raises a fuss over which hat he wears on his plaque should be depicted in a fez, a sombrero or if he's really a pain, fuzzy reindeer antlers.
Because I'm serious this time.