My 2019 IBWAA Hall of Fame ballot

Wherein the writer discloses his inaugural Hall of Fame selections, shamelessly self-promotes and otherwise gets lost in the tantalizing illusion of ushering ballplayers into immortality. Or, pretends to be a voting member of the BBWAA without the annual extortion dues and absurdly silly-long probationary period.

Syncretism is a liberal arts term describing the combining process of multiple schools of thought or viewpoints. Often times, a syncretism will unwittingly highlight the flaws or seams in those previously-thought-disparate perspectives, a compromise which often leaves both sides ultimately disappointed.

The Baseball Writers Association of America tasked itself with anointing baseball’s immortals, beginning with the original five in 1936. Since then, they’ve moved the goalposts and obscured great players, notably neglecting the important role of African-American ballplayers in shaping the game until a special election in 1971. Only one woman is in the Hall of Fame despite the elevated profile of women’s baseball in recent decades.

The BBWAA has done little until recent years to reform itself and further clarify who the body is or what they want it to be. It is a monolith, and for as much buzz as they generate this time every year around baseball circles, they still plod with the same inefficiencies and stuffy sense of self-piety that has permeated the institution and their Hall of Fame ballots virtually since its inception.

The IBWAA serves as a necessary counterbalance to the orthodoxy: not to defy it, but to provide the broader–and, often, more nimble–perspective of a baseball-minded digital media that loves the game as much (in some cases, far more), and is as thoughtful (second verse, same as the first) as those who have been on the beat for decades and for whom the BBWAA seems insistent on marginalizing via arbitrarily stringent–and indirectly lucrative–criteria for voting privileges.

There are good people and great writers in the BBWAA. They become anonymous, voiceless, behind the Moloch which comprises and subsumes them. For this reason, they publish their ballots, to absolve themselves of blame, to say ‘Hey! Some of us are on your side!’, while others have done silly things like cast a vote for Danny Tartabull, return blank ballots and yet another thinks we should de-immortalize others.

Ten years of dues and working a beat to earn voting rights only to not participate in the process makes the IBWAA’s vision of a more-egalitarian, more-passionate, baseball-minded, even!, electoral process particularly salient.

Without further adieu, my ballot:

Roy Halladay

The distinction between the traditional Hall of Fame pitcher and those eligible for the Hall now is becoming clearer with every year. 40 years ago, Roy Halladay most likely would not be a serious candidate for enshrinement. Before sabermetrics and advanced stats, the electorate would look at 203 wins and shelve him as they did Vida Blue (209) and Luis Tiant (229). Both Blue and Tiant had more strikeouts; each played one additional season and started more games.

Halladay was one of the best right-handed pitchers of his generation and he was mired for the majority of his career on Blue Jays teams that were perpetually on a lower tier than the New York Yankees and/or Boston Red Sox, in a ballpark that historically favored hitters.

Roy Halladay is a Hall of Famer.

Consistently considered a Cy Young Award candidate (top-five candidate in every year in which he pitched 200+ innings), the seven-time All-Star was the man in Toronto and became the ace of aces in his closing act as a Phillie, leading a then-vaunted rotation including Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt (and the Alan Osmond of the group, Vance Worley.)

Halladay led the league in K/BB ratio five times, complete games seven times and complete game shutouts four times. In his career as a rotation starter, he didn’t average a home run per nine innings until his age-35 season in 2012.

All of this, and he only cracked the 20-win plateau three times and never struck out more than 220 batters in a season (despite routinely being shown destroying hitters in ESPN highlight packages.)

Yes, he compares favorably to Tiant and Blue, guys who deserve a better fate than being stuck in the Hall of Pretty Good. Put Halladay in their career arcs and context, though, and that’s a guy who probably has much stronger counting stats than either of the aforementioned and is a probable shoo-in for Cooperstown. Having amassed a pitching bWAR putting him in the immediate vicinity of Bob Feller, Stan Coveleski and in the relative company of Jim Palmer and Juan Marichal, Halladay should have no problem getting the votes.

(Narrator voice: He’ll have problems getting the votes.)

Todd Helton

Except for Vinny Castilla, the Coors Field effect is a favorite red herring of those who prefer to have contempt for players for having the audacity to play major league baseball in a city that happens to be at a high altitude.

Castilla’s peak was shorter than many remember: he was a pretty underwhelming player anywhere other than Colorado (and his two later returns to Denver were as an overall-diminished player) and he wasn’t even the second-best hitter on those late-90s Rockies teams.

Todd Helton, on the other hand, was. (The other is below.)

Helton, a career .316 hitter with a .953 OPS, didn’t merely benefit from playing a mile above sea-level: Helton was a great two-way baseball player who likely would have hit the traditional 3,000-hit milestone had injuries not derailed the back end of his career. Ten straight seasons with a .300 average. Nearly 600 doubles. Only one season with more than 100 strikeouts. Three Gold Gloves. His resume is essentially what Johnny Mize‘s career would look like had Mize not enlisted for World War II.

Mize was not elected by the writers.

Jeff Kent

I wrote about Kent’s candidacy here earlier this year. There wasn’t a more dangerous offensive second baseman in baseball history. I won’t belabor the point.

Fred McGriff

In another life on another website, I wrote about McGriff. I apologize, you have to read it through the Internet Wayback Machine.

Mariano Rivera

The BBWAA seems to finally respect the closer. We don’t have Goose Gossage openly bitching about not getting in anymore, and the omission of Lee Smith from his role as a pioneering closer in the ’80s has recently been corrected by the Today’s Game committee.

Now, we have the very real prospect of the greatest closer of all time getting in on the first ballot.

This first ballot stuff is capricious and stupid all in the name of self-service. Some of the logjams that were created on years of ballots were precisely because great players were getting railroaded because of a ten-vote limit and a bloated, lethargic voting bloc.

Do we really need to rehash Rivera’s career? He wielded the Hammer of God and was (almost) invincible throughout his record book-rewriting, remarkable career.

He’s going to get in. Let’s move on.

Curt Schilling

Apparently, I was so unimpressed by the middle column of the IBWAA ballot that I completely glossed over Schilling and failed to include him. So, I include him here.

First, let’s be abundantly clear about this much: A guy’s politics or opinions is a terrible counterbalance to a career that frankly sets the stage for the new era of Hall-worthy pitchers (see Halladay above).

Second, Schilling is the perfect example of how a good career can be made great by legendary October performances (see below).

216 wins while spending the bulk of his career on a Phillies team hard on the decline, where he was charged with 78 losses. Let’s (perhaps charitably) assume 39 of those are hard-luck or by virtue of being on bad teams. Suddenly, Schilling’s career looks like a lock and helps explain a career with a 3.23 FIP against a 3.46 ERA. Context matters.

Speaking of context, Schilling never won a Cy, but he was also mired behind the end of Greg Maddux‘s brilliance and the beginning of Randy Johnson‘s reign. Meanwhile, in the four seasons when he pitched more than 250 innings, the lowest strikeout total he had was 293. The more he pitched, the more dominant he was. For this reason alone, Schilling is a bridge between the workhorse ace from the age before to the era of five-man rotations and pitch counts.

Add in the three World Series wins late in his career and the case makes itself.

A case so good, I managed to omit him from my ballot entirely.

Omar Vizquel

Vizquel is not a sabermetric darling. And he basically put up an Ozzie Smith career without the backflips and photogenic smile or being on a number of pennant-winning teams.

You can read my thoughts on Vizquel here.

Billy Wagner

Wagner’s eligibility isn’t as clear-cut as Rivera’s. (For the position, whose is?)

Wagner amassed 422 saves as one of the feared closers of his era. In 903 IP, he struck out nearly 1200 batters. In every season except one, he amassed over 10 K/9; in 2000, it was an uncharacteristic 9.1. Wagner had seven seasons with a sub-1 WHIP and never showed signs of wearing down over time; if anything, Wagner’s age-38 season in Atlanta might have been his most dominant: 37 saves with 69+ IP, 104 strikeouts against 22 walks.

He loses some luster in the postseason, where he really only had three good series (1999, 2001, 2006 NLDS) and was execrable in the others (that is, the rest). But, unlike the prevailing opinion in the old guard of the IBWAA, Hall of Fame resumes ought not to be torpedoed by what happens in October. October performances should act as extra credit, not the exam itself.

Wagner will probably get railroaded by fuddy-duddies who guffaw at the notion of electing Billy Wagner in the same class as Mariano Rivera. It doesn’t actually matter to anyone but them and the party they’re actively screwing. Let the kid in.

Larry Walker

The lack of love Larry Walker gets is beyond puzzling.

Walker showed all the signs of a burgeoning star as a member of Les Expos. A strong MVP campaign, and no less than the Expos franchise itself, were scratched by the 1994 strike.

We’ve already discussed the stupidity of holding Denver, Colorado against a major league player, so I won’t beat another dead horse. Larry Walker was one of the most feared hitters of his generation and a genuine five-tool talent: a career .313 average and .965 OPS, seven Gold Gloves and a cannon for an arm, 230 stolen bases. His 72.7 bWAR and JAWS scores are right there amongst Hall of Fame contemporaries.

The home and road batting splits are somewhat exaggerated, but certainly not Castilla-esque. Further, he hit consistently well throughout each season (which, to me, makes him more valuable than a career first-half wonder like Ken Griffey Jr.) and had an OPS of .899 or more at 16 different ballparks, eight of which would have been considered regularly-visited and within his division.

Flat out, Larry Walker deserves a better fate than he’s getting by the writers, who have seemingly redacted his accomplishments down to a rich man’s Carl Furillo (and I love Furillo’s body of work.)

Sadly, he’s not alone. The writers en masse have to start getting these things right.

Brent Sirvio is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.

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