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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: November 28, 2020 12:27 pm PDT
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There are many rewards to being a baseball writer.

Starting with the best of all, you have a good seat in any ballpark you visit.

Public relations staffs take care of most any request. You have tons of information at your fingertips. You visit with the players before and after games. This is all pre-Covid, of course. You hang out on the field during batting practice.

You get to be up close and personal with the game.

As a young writer I once asked Red Smith, perhaps the greatest sportswriter of all time: “Red, why’d you become a sportswriter?’’

His answer was right to the point: “I wanted to live like a millionaire, without the hassles.’’

Red nailed it.

In baseball you can build strong relationships with players and club executives, if you prefer.

After 10 consecutive years as a Baseball Writers Association of America member, you then gain entry to another level. You get to vote on the Baseball Hall of Fame. Every year. That is a privilege and it is something I never take lightly. You also have to understand that no matter how you vote, and I make my vote public, you are bound to piss off some people.

I don’t worry about it one bit. AMBS does not give a damn.

It’s my vote, not yours. Go out, get the job and cover 10 straight years of baseball with a BBWAA card and then you can vote too, and if you do all that I am certainly not going to tell you how to vote. Then, it is your vote. Good luck.

I tell you all of this because the 2021 HOF ballot went out this week and once again it will arrive with an endless brigade of opinions on social media.

The great thing about social media is that for the most part, there is absolutely nothing social about it. It is what it is and it all comes with the territory of having a Hall of Fame vote and doing the best you can with that vote.

My email will be filled with teams pushing former players and that information is always welcome information.

Information is never a bad thing. Opinions are welcome.

In the end, though, this is a ballot with my BBWAA name and number on it, and it is an election. It is up to the individual writer to make his decision. He or she can vote for 10 candidates or zero candidates. We are free to do what we want and that is also the beauty of the Hall of Fame. To gain entry into those hallowed Cooperstown halls and receive your HOF plaque, a player has to receive 75 percent of the vote.

No squeaking by here, you either earn it or you don’t from the writers. That is never easy to do. Getting 75 percent of baseball writers to agree on anything is quite the challenge.

In the end, this remains my ballot, my vote. With that in mind, I never hastily fill out the ballot, although just to be on the safe side, when it arrives, if there is a player on the ballot I have no doubt belongs in the Hall of Fame, I immediately put an X next to his name the moment I hold the ballot in my hands. I did that last year with Derek Jeter. I also did that with Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn and some others.

The never in doubt marking of that X is just something I prefer to do. You don’t want to be that guy who flubs and incorrectly marks a ballot, so I take care of the no-doubters right away, right out of the oversized brown envelope, the moment that ballot arrives every single year.

This year there will be zero no-doubt X’s marked.

Is this the year? Barry Bonds.

This year tough decisions will be made, but fun decisions, after all this is baseball, not real life. If baseball can’t be fun there’s no sense partaking in the game.

When I’m done marking my Xs I will mail my ballot sometime around Christmas. Ballots must be postmarked by December 31st.

Votes are counted jointly by BBWAA secretary-treasurer Jack O’Connell and Ernst & Young partner Michael DiLecce. Results will be announced by Hall of Fame president Tim Mead at 6 pm ET on Tuesday Jan. 26, 2021, live on MLB Network. I will be watching.

It’s a great process and a winter delight making you think ahead to a beautiful July weekend in upstate New York, something I’ve been lucky enough to attend for many, many years. One of life’s great pleasures is sitting on the grand back porch of the Otesaga Hotel overlooking beautiful Lake Otsego and talking baseball. It could be at breakfast, it could be in the evening, a glass of wine in your hand as you slowly rock back and forth in one of the big white rockers.

Baseball peace and quiet.

You also know that certain veterans’ committees get to make selections as well. That’s how Harold Baines was selected to the Hall of Fame after the writers passed on him all those years. Same for Jack Morris. I believed Morris was a Hall of Famer and again, I got to see him pitch live in the postseason and that made a big impression on me, especially the classic 1-0, 10-inning victory over the Braves in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

In my opinion, the veterans committee corrected a mistake made by the writers by selecting Morris. Baines, though, never got my vote.

Here is a look at some of the tough decisions I will have to make this year with the ballot. Again, no final decisions have been made. I am weighing my options. 

At the top of the list is the Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens tandem. They have worn the scarlet letter of PEDs and have not yet been elected to the Hall of Fame even though there is no question both players produced Hall of Fame careers and astounding numbers.

A little story: I had not been voting for Bonds or Clemens but one recent year I softened and voted for both Bonds and Clemens. That year I said to myself baseball didn’t do anything about these guys so why should I not vote for their numbers. The following spring training I walk into a certain team’s clubhouse and a Hall of Fame player I respect essentially read me the riot act the moment he saw me. This was a private conversation so I will not name the player. But the first thing he said to me was “How could you vote for those two guys?’’

Again, this is a Hall of Famer saying this to me. He did not want those two, Bonds and Clemens to join the club and he made that clear to me.

This will mark the ninth year on the ballot for the Bonds-Clemens daily double.

Last year Bonds received 60.7 percent of the vote, Clemens was at 61 percent. They are inching towards induction. If they don’t make it this year, next year will be the final chance with the BBWAA. Then it will be up to a committee vote down the line. This year, though, with no Jeter-like candidate on the ballot I would not be surprised to see Bonds and Clemens make a huge jump, maybe enough to make the Hall via the writers. Or maybe they have hit their ceiling with the writers.

If they don’t make it this year or next in the writer’s vote, it sure will be interesting to see how they are judged by a committee of their peers and others even though they were way better than most of their peers.

Roger Clemens

In 2013, Tom Verducci, a writer I respect and a writer I have had many press box conversations with about the state of the game and PEDs, wrote this for Sports Illustrated under the following headline:

Why I’ll never vote for a known steroids user for the Hall of Fame

When I vote for a player I am upholding him for the highest individual honor possible,’’ Verducci stated. “My vote is an endorsement of a career, not part of it, and how it was achieved. Voting for a known steroid user is endorsing steroid use. Having spent too much of the past two decades or so covering baseball on the subject of steroids — what they do, how the game was subverted by them, and how those who stayed away from them were disadvantaged — I cannot endorse it.’’

Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy is another writer I deeply respect. We have also talked about this Bonds-Clemens situation and in 2019 Shaughnessy offered this opinion on the two players:

“In my view they used and therefore cheated. I don’t buy ‘they were already Hall of Fame players.’ If you lead the Masters by 10 strokes and cheat on the 18th hole of the final day, you are DQ’d [disqualified]. You lose. Because of the cheating.”

The National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum tells the history of the game and Bonds and Clemens both have items in the Hall. Their records are noted. They have yet to receive plaques that will be put up alongside the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, Bob Gibson, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and all the others who line the oak walls in the Plaque Gallery. There is an arched entryway as you walk into the gallery. You pass marble columns and there are bronze plaques everywhere, telling the history of the Best of the Best of the game.

Curt Schilling

Each year has its own space so on the night before the induction it is so much fun to see the living Hall of Famers sitting in chairs around a small table where their plaques are on the wall behind them. The Hall really comes to life on that night. You expect to hear a reading from James Earl Jones as you walk down through the gallery grabbing hors d’oeuvres and drinks as you slowly move along.

Bonds and Clemens have not yet been invited to that party. Bonds owns a record 762 home runs and seven NL MVP awards. Clemens owns seven Cy Young awards.

Will this be the year they are welcomed into the club or will it happen in their final year of eligibility in Year 10 on the BBWAA ballot? Or will it not come at all or will the can – or plaque – be kicked down the road to a modern day veterans’ committee? Fascinating times ahead.

There are other interesting players on this ballot, including Curt Schilling, who sits at 70 percent and only needs a 5 percent jump to get invited to the club. Schilling owns three 20-win seasons and three seasons with at least 300 strikeouts. Only two pitchers have recorded more seasons with 300 strikeouts, Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan. That’s some company.

My guess is Schilling gets elected this year. I have voted for him in the past.

There are some other intriguing names on the ballot again this year like second baseman Jeff Kent, who never seems to get the baseball love he deserves and received only 27.5 percent last year in the voting. He is the all-time home run leader for second basemen with 351.

Billy Wagner has a solid Hall of Fame case and the Astros are doing a nice job of getting the word out about Wagner, who got only 31.7 percent of the vote last year.

Gary Sheffield is another intriguing player. I covered Shef for many years and he was the most feared hitter in the lineup. Opposing pitchers treated him with Hall of Fame respect but last year he only got 30.5 percent of the vote.

I get it. This is the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Really, Really Good Players.

Manny Ramirez is on the ballot as well and he was an amazing hitter and student of hitting. Teammates loved to talk about his knowledge of hitting and that carries weight with me, but the PED problem is huge for Ramirez who received only 28.2 percent of the vote last year

This will be a big ballot year for a couple of infielders who are both in their fourth year on the ballot. Third baseman Scott Rolen received 35.3 percent of the vote and needs to jump a lot to be a true contender. He was revered by teammates. Then there is super talented shortstop Omar Vizquel. He sits at 52.6 percent and is trying to climb the 75 percent mountain. Other names to note: Todd Helton and Andruw Jones.

There is a comment section at the bottom of Baseball or Bust for your HOF thoughts or you can shout it out on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram what you think about the Hall of Fame candidates.

At BallNine we care what you think.

The great thing about baseball is we all have opinions. Here’s hoping great players and people like Thurman Munson and Gil Hodges someday get a Hall of Fame plaque.

One of my favorite baseball books is Stolen Season, which came out in 1991 and was written by David Lamb. It is about the minor league journey, light years away from Cooperstown. Lamb noted: “Nostalgia is a dangerous obsession. It turns stumblebums into princes and dung hills into shining mountain peaks. It makes yesterday sweeter than tomorrow ever can be.’’

The sweetest of yesterdays is what the Hall of Fame represents. And that’s the way I look at my Hall of Fame ballot.

44+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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