BY KEVIN KERNAN
With New Year’s Eve right around the corner, let’s get this year off to a roaring start.
There is no better way to get the New Year Ball rolling downhill than revealing My Hall of Fame Ballot because, as we all know from past experiences, HOF voting brings out the best in people.
I just brewed a pot of coffee on the stove. Yes, brewed. AMBS does not take the easy way out and drop a pod into the Keurig, it’s the real thing here with percolated coffee from the stove, just like the vintage Maxwell House commercial says, good to the last drop.
It’s old fashioned but it’s real coffee and that counts for something, kind of like my HOF ballot.
This ballot has been percolating for quite some time because everyone I voted for I actually saw play many, many games live and in person. I’d watch the games, talk to these players, hear the sound of the ball coming off their bats, watch them move in the field and on the base paths and also knew what made them tick as ballplayers and people. To top it off, I had many conversations with other players and MLB executives through the years about these players I selected… so there is a combination of factors behind my vote.
Consider all that information my WAR, I call it AAR, AMBS Above Replacement.
That’s my yardstick, and of course numbers are involved in the equation, but I am not just going to sit behind an iPad screen and read off numbers. I sat behind a real screen behind home plate all those decades and watched these players play over their full careers.
That means more to me than any math equation.
And here is one of the great sayings in the history of mankind, “like it or lump it.’’
If you don’t like it, lump it. That’s the way I see it.
I am deeply grateful to be a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America for such a long period of time, so much so that my number this upcoming year on my BBWAA card will probably be below 50. That means there are only that many active writers still voting with more experience than I have and, to be clear, I actually started covering baseball in 1977 so I am more even experienced than my number shows when I started covering the Padres on an everyday basis in 1988 and got my card.
To recap, I have been paid to cover baseball since 1977 and I have been intently watching baseball since I was seven years old in 1960. Growing up I had two older brothers, George and Gary, who collected baseball cards and would play ball with me. George was perhaps the most powerful Wiffle ball hitter in the history of Wiffle ball. In one of our games in Kenilworth, NJ, where we lived on 7th Street, George actually hit a Wiffle ball over houses across the other side of 7th Street and onto 8th Street, a full block away from our driveway home plate. I also had the benefit of knowing about all the players from the 50s too because of my older brothers and had all their baseball cards to study, including many of a young Mickey Mantle.
McGriff may be on the stage alone this year as an inductee, but I gave it my best shot on my ballot.
My lost baseball cards story is different than most, my father, not my mother threw out boxes and boxes of baseball cards from our home when I went off to college and could not protect them, kind of a a Pat Conroy The Great Santini move by George Kernan II.
I’m sure that made my eagle-eyed neighbors extremely happy to see those boxes on the street in front of our split rail fence.
Again, my ballot, my vote – and it is counted amongst all the other BBWAA voters.
One other point: congratulations to Fred McGriff, a player I covered on an everyday basis with the Padres and then would see quite regularly during his Braves days and beyond. I voted for Fred, but not nearly enough other writers did. Glad to see that the Contemporary Era Committee put McGriff into the Hall of Fame this year and he will be inducted come July 23 on the grounds of the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown.
Congrats, Crime Dog.
McGriff may be on the stage alone this year as an inductee, but I gave it my best shot on my ballot. Here are the eight players – in no particular order – that I voted for and hopefully one or two of these picks will join the HOF party. Having been through many induction ceremonies in Cooperstown, I can tell you from experience you want to have a selection of Hall of Fame parties to go to that night, not just one, to make it an even more fun weekend. I will say the Trevor Hoffman party thrown by the Padres when Trevor was inducted in 2018 was one of the best I ever attended and as Padres owner Ron Fowler said that night, “The Padres may not win a lot of games but they sure know how to throw a party.’’
That year’s team finished 66-96 so Fowler knew from experience. This is a much different Padres world now. The Padres are winning games and seem to be in the swing of things come October.
So here goes, without further ado here is my HOF ballot for the 2023 Hall of Fame induction, the Great Eight I selected with a short explanation on why I chose them.
In his fifth year on the ballot Helton should be in the HOF. Don’t overthink this one: Helton owns a 17-year career with a .316 batting average, .417 on-base percentage and .539 slugging percentage and a .953 OPS. Played all his years in Colorado and critics hold that against him, yet don’t understand the adjustments that hitters also have to make going from Mile High to sea level. He was a dominant first baseman, a five-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner and a four-time Silver Slugger and hit .300 or better 12 seasons – and had six seasons with 30 or more home runs. Also wore my favorite number… 17, the number I wore in college.
That last sentence is just to irritate the Nerds.
I’ve come around on Jones because of his tremendous ability to play centerfield. At age 19 in 1996, he became the youngest player to hit a home run in a World Series game. He was Spider Man in centerfield for the Braves. The man saved pitchers and saved runs. He did manage to hit 434 home runs and has 1,933 hits as his career flamed out. Reached 20 home run plateau 10 times, blasted 51 home runs in 2005 to lead majors, scored 100 or more runs four times and drove in 100 or more five times. It was his defense in centerfield which was the difference maker as he collected 10 Gold Gloves. And this is interesting, among players with 10 or more Gold Gloves only Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Schmidt have more home runs.
I’ve also seen his house in Curacao, when I visited with Didi Gregorius.
I like real wins, especially real important wins. Pettitte produced 256 of them over his 18-year career with a 3.85 ERA – not bad for a 22nd round draft pick in 1990 – take a bow, Brian Sabean who was the Yankees director of scouting that season. There were another 19 victories in the postseason for the left-hander over 44 starts and Pettitte’s postseason ERA of 3.81 was lower than his regular season ERA. Holds all-time postseason record for wins (19), innings pitched (276.2) and games started (44). Five times a World Champion with the Yankees. As for those career wins, the active pitcher who is closest to Pettitte is Justin Verlander at No. 56 with 244 wins and he’s a Hall of Famer – and Pettitte has done better than Verlander in the postseason. Enough said.
Let’s keep it Yankees here and really irritate people. Yes, there is the matter of PEDs so that is part of the problem for A-Rod, who was a three-time MVP, 14-time All Star, a 10-time Silver Slugger award winner at shortstop and third base. Reached .300 nine seasons, 100 or more RBI 14 seasons, scored 100 or more runs 13 seasons, reached 30 home runs 15 seasons. He is fifth all-time in home runs with 696 and fourth all-time in RBI. I place him in that category like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, two players I voted for: was great before the PEDs so there is that.
Sorry, but not sorry.
This one is for the trolls. I’m going to start with anecdotal evidence, always my favorite over maneuverable measurements. Without a doubt, Sheffield was the most feared hitter of his time in his prime because of his bat speed; and I heard that many times when I covered him in San Diego before being shipped off to the Marlins in the fire sale that brought Trevor Hoffman to the Padres. Those who were in that organization at that time tell me he was the key player to lead those Marlins to a World Championship in 1997. Sheff should be in the HOF with Hoffy and it may take the veterans committee to get that done. Other highlights, a nine-time All-Star over his 22 seasons, a five-time Silver Slugger winner. Twice hit more than 40 home runs, eight times over 30 and 14 with 20 or more. He is 21st all-time in walks, 25th all-time with 509 home runs 35th in total bases all time and 30th in RBI. A joke he is not in the Hall of Fame and that he only got 40.6 percent of the vote last year.
One more thing, his body never changed.
Another guy who should be there and I have voted for him in the past. Two numbers to mention better than any other closers in the HOF: Wagner’s 11.92 K-per nine innings and .187 opponents’ batting average. Wagner’s 422 saves are sixth all time so save me the longevity issues because he finished with only 903 innings and retired to spend time with his family. I’m not about to penalize him for that. Billy the Kid will get to the HOF, hopefully the writers will vote him in this year, his eighth year on the ballot.
Here is another thing I love about Billy. As a kid he broke his right arm (twice) so learned to throw lefty, and eventually threw 100 mph, isn’t life all about making adjustments?
Best home run numbers for a second basemen. That should count for something in this, Kent’s 10th and final year on the BBWAA ballot. Kent owns 377 home runs overall, 351 at second base and there are no PEDs in his Giants closet. Clashed with Barry Bonds, that’s a plus. His slugging percentage of .500 is only topped by one HOF second baseman, Rogers Hornsby. Won the NL MVP in 2000 with 33 home runs, a .334 average and 1.021 OPS. A hitter… his 560 doubles are 30th all time. Posted eight seasons with 20 home runs and 100 RBI, the most by any second baseman in MLB history. Only received 32.7 percent of the vote last season. Wake up, people.
Not going to overlook Rolen who received 63.2 percent of the vote last year as he is in his sixth year on the ballot, one of those “you had to see him every day to really appreciate him’’ players and there is room for those type of players in the Hall of Fame – especially third basemen. You can easily make the WAR argument but I’m not going to do that here. Brooks Robinson, the Gentleman Third Baseman I loved to watch play and later loved to chat with at the Hall of Fame, and whose glove was magic, is a lifetime .267 hitter with 268 home runs. Rolen hit .281 with 316 home runs.
Time to get some more 3B in the Hall and those most dedicated and wonderful Cardinals fans would appreciate Rolen in Cooperstown.
That’s my Great Eight and whether you think they are great or not is not important. That is the great thing about baseball, so many different opinions but just one last reminder.
My vote. My ballot. So save it.