Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez were elected into the Hall of Fame last week, which seems right, if overdue in Raines’ case. In his 10th and final time on the ballot, Raines received 86% of the vote, or nearly 62% more than he did the first time.
Madison Avenue never effected such a change of opinion.
Jorge Posada and Magglio Ordonez, on the ballot for the first time, combined for 20 votes. They won’t be back, despite a career .848 OPS and four World Series titles for the former and a career .309 average, .502 slugging percentage and 125 OPS+, or two points better than Raines, for the latter.
Posada and Ordonez aren’t Hall of Famers, but they’re better players than their totals indicate, minimized by the PED-induced overflow of good candidates on the ballot. The voters certainly weren’t wrong about either.
Sometimes there isn’t much to separate a player whose candidacy accelerates like Raines on his way to steal second, vote totals increasing annually, and one who disappears from the ballot after a single referendum, picked off before he can get going.
It makes you wonder if it’s not the voters’ ballots which should be kept secret, but the identities of the candidates themselves.
Consider these two outfielders:
- A.) Batted .299, had a .372 on-base percentage, had 2,428 hits and batted .300 eight times (and .296 twice), stole 622 bases and led his league five straight seasons, scored 1,528 runs and 100 or more six times, and won four Gold Gloves. He batted .296 and stole 23 bases at age 40 in his final season. WAR was 68.2.
- B.) Batted .294, had a .385 on-base percentage, had 2,605 hits and batted .300 seven times (two were half seasons), stole 808 bases and led his league four times, scored 1,571 runs and 100 or more six times, and won no Gold Gloves, nor was often a candidate to. He batted .191 in his final 89 at-bats at 42. WAR was 69.1.
Or these two pitchers:
- A.) Had a 3.28 ERA (spending more than half his career in the AL, with the DH) and led his league twice, had five top-six Cy Young Award finishes, led his league in starts three times and innings pitched once, had a .655 OPS against, 1.222 WHIP and 127 ERA+. WAR was 68.5.
- B.) Had a 3.54 ERA (spending all his career in the NL, without the DH) and never led his league, won two Cy Youngs and had six top-three finishes, led his league in starts six times and complete games once, had a .697 OPS against, 1.314 WHIP and 118 ERA+. WAR was 74.0.
Or these two second basemen:
- A.) Batted .276 with a .363 on-base percentage and .789 OPS, hit 244 homers, scored 1,386 runs and drove in 1,084, walked 1,197 times, had a .117 OPS+ and won three Gold Gloves. WAR was 74.9.
- B.) Batted .281 with a .363 on-base percentage and .796 OPS, hit 291 homers, scored 1,844 runs and drove in 1,175, walked 1,160 times, had a 112 OPS+ and won four Gold Gloves. WAR was 65.1.
It’s not so easy to distinguish the three Hall of Famers (the three Bs: Tim Raines, Tom Glavine and Craig Biggio) from three players (three As: Kenny Lofton, Kevin Brown and Lou Whitaker) who received a combined 45 votes out of 1,565 cast, or 2.7 percent. If their stats were so close why were their vote totals so starkly different?
Admittedly, it helps to redact a stat to make each case: Raines had a 123 OPS+ to Lofton’s 107; Glavine won 305 games, 96 more than Brown, and pitched 1,157 more innings; Biggio played until he was 41 to get 3,060 hits while Whitaker retired with 2,369 at 38.
Glavine went in the Hall right away because he won 300 games and Biggio on his third try because he got 3,000 hits. Voters are captivated by milestone numbers, like first-time tourists to New York looking up at tall buildings.
But what is the fascination? Is it more important to reach 500 home runs or 3,000 hits or 300 wins, or how you played and pitched to get there? Is that reason for Biggio, who hit .251 and had a .666 OPS and -2.1 WAR as he finally pushed above 3,000, to get 454 votes on his way into the Hall, or 439 more than Whitaker? Is it reason enough for Glavine to get 525 votes as a parlay with Greg Maddux, or 513 more than Brown? Is it reason for Raines, with a scaled-down electorate in 2017, to get 380 votes, or 362 more than Lofton? (Even in their only year on the ballot together, Raines outpolled Lofton 297-18. Thanks to defense, he wasn’t that much better.)
Whitaker should be a Hall of Famer, and eventually will be thanks to some committee yet to be named (case made here). Kevin Brown might be not be a Hall of Famer, but neither yet is Curt Schilling nor Mike Mussina, both of whom are probably better pitchers than Glavine, whose advantage over Brown was durability, not efficiency. And Lofton might have been a Hall of Famer had he not been so restless in his career. He came up with the Astros, was traded to the Indians, played nine of 10 seasons for Cleveland before playing for nine teams in his final seven seasons, including the Indians for a third time.
Was Lofton so transient because he was a bad teammate? Or because so many teams wanted him?
Unfortunately for the 2017 voters, they didn’t have the power to right past wrongs. They were correct on Posada and Ordonez, disrespectful as it might be, and on Bagwell, Raines and Rodriguez. Give them credit for that.
It’s the history that’s curious. Raines got 24.3% of the vote in 2008, his first year on the ballot, seven-tenths more than Mark McGwire, who was in his second attempt. Raines didn’t clear 50% of the vote for good until 2015, his eighth time, and got a higher percentage in 2017 (86%) than he did his first three times combined. Is there any sense to that?
McGwire, who hit 583 career homers, topped 20% only twice more and not once in his final six candidacies.
Maybe voters resented Raines his addiction to cocaine, until the ballot became so populated with PED users, alleged or admitted, that sliding into second head first to protect the vial of coke in his back pocket seemed less offensive than a player having a needle stuck in his backside to make him bigger and better.
Figuring out what the voters intend sometimes is like trying to communicate with a cat. Who knows what they want.
And if it seems like past votes for the Hall of Fame didn’t always make sense, it’s because they frequently didn’t. They didn’t need alternative facts to baffle us.