Fictional Judgment on Very Real People (AKA My Hall of Fame Ballot)

Baseball’s Hall of Fame voting process has become one of the most discussed and debated topics of the offseason especially in recent years due to some of the stars of the Steroid Era becoming eligible for induction.

During that time people have hit from all angles of the morality and ethics pyramid and have left out some very deserving candidates with no attachment above suspicion of use of performance enhancing drugs.

My opinion on the subject has changed over time. At first, I was vehemently against including anybody with proof against them into the Hall. I love baseball. And the Hall to me was sacred.

I don’t feel that way anymore.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is exactly that: a museum. A place where the history of the game can be represented and taught to future generations and a place for those who are getting on in years to reminisce about the games and players they cheered for when they were once the younger generation.

What I’ve also come to realize is that you’ll never be able to identify all who cheated and may, at times, do a disservice to some honest players who maybe didn’t take PEDs, but were linked due to their appearance.

In order to properly represent the history of the game, the Steroid Era cannot be swept under a rug and buried under a floorboard never to be seen again. As such, the most elite players from said time period should be acknowledged as such. You don’t have to agree. This is just how my feeling on the subject has evolved over time. I’d rather put them all in and truthfully represent the times rather than keep out those who deserve it, but won’t meet the voting percentage because of suspicion.

That being said, the Hall released their official list of eligible candidates for this year’s vote, which can be read here. Using the actual rule of only being allowed to vote for a maximum of ten candidates, I’ve put together what my ballot would be if I had one (which I never will). I didn’t go out of my way to get to ten, but it happened rather easily.

At first run through, I identified 12 candidates on the list that I would place a vote for. The two players that I ended up pushing off were both first-year eligibles who – in theory – should gather the 5% of the vote needed to remain on the ballot for next year at which point I can reevaluate their case for inclusion. Since I know you’ll ask, it was Trevor Hoffman and Edgar Martinez. But enough about them! Let’s get to the ten that would get my vote:

HOUSTON - APRIL 29:  Infielder Jeff Bagwell #5 of the Houston Astros waits for a Chicago Cubs pitch during the game on April 29, 2005 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas.  The Cubs won 3-2.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

1. Jeff Bagwell

Won Rookie of the Year, an MVP, a Gold Glove and was a three-time All-Star at a position that is traditionally tough to crack. Was also a member of six postseason teams, though he was a diminished version of his past self by the time the Astros finally got to the World Series in 2005. Over 400 homers, 1500 RBIs and a career OPS+ of 149. Easy choice.

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2. Barry Bonds

You all know the deal. You either don’t dwell on the steroids stuff or you do. If you don’t he’s at the top of the list.

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3. Roger Clemens

See Bonds, Barry.

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4. Ken Griffey, Jr.

Simply put, one of the most exciting players to ever watch play. Junior just made everything look so damn smooth and easy and, if you were a kid watching him like I was, so fucking cool. It’s hard to think of anybody that ever looked as if they were having more fun playing baseball than Ken Griffey, Jr. and man, was he good. Lost a significant amount of time due to injuries as he got older and should definitely lose votes because he invoked his 10-And-5 rights to veto a trade to the Mets, but it wouldn’t be a real Hall of Fame without him there.

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5. Jeff Kent

I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with this one and I doubt he’ll ever get in because of his contentious relationship with the media, but when looking at his career, especially in the scope of second basemen in history, Kent is very deserving. Four top-10 MVP finishes including winning the award in 2000, five All-Star selections, 377 career homers and 1518 RBIs to go with a 123 OPS+ predominantly out of the 2B spot put him among the position’s elite. His case suffers because of how many teams he played for (6 in 16 years) thus never becoming a franchise-face or someone a singular fanbase can point to as “our guy”, but that’s hardly a reason to keep him out. Fuck, if Bill Mazeroski can be in, Kent should get in twice.

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6. Mike Piazza

My obvious Mets bias aside, Piazza is the greatest offensive catcher to ever play the game and was not-as-bad-as-you-think-but-still-not-winning-a-gold-glove on the defensive side. Piazza gets the Bagwell treatment for suspicion without proof (which admittedly is a big reason for my rethinking the subject) but has eye-popping numbers at a position that simply wasn’t built for them. If all things are equal, he’s another obvious, easy choice.

FLUSHING, NY - SEPTEMBER 1989:  Tim Raines #30 of the Montreal Expos batting against the New York Mets in September 1989 at Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York.  (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Tim Raines

7. Tim Raines

Most people probably remember Raines as a productive platoon player for the last portion of his career, but before that, Tim Raines was the fucking bee’s knees. I’m not kidding either. Tim Raines could do it all, dude. He hit, he hit some dingers (love the word “dingers”), he’d steal bases. He was exciting. You didn’t turn away from the game when Tim Raines was going to hit or run. He was THAT good. Rickey Henderson may have gotten more of the headlines, but Raines wasn’t far behind if at all. The issue of his drug suspension for cocaine is obviously in the conversation, but he paid his penance and his career numbers still stack up favorably.

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8. Curt Schilling

Schilling may not have the typical numbers for a Hall of Fame starter, but he does have over 3,000 strikeouts and 200 wins to go with a great postseason ledger which includes 3 World Series wins, an NLCS MVP in 1993 and a Series MVP in 2001. Schilling boasts around an 80 career WAR (depending on which source you use and if you like stats like WAR) which is slightly higher than the average Hall of Famer, but I do put the extra emphasis on his showing up in the bigger games and would vote him in.

Side note, I understand he’s an asshole and everything he says and tweets makes you want to hit him, but, as a player, he was great and that’s all I’m going on.

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9. Alan Trammell

Trammell is one of the most under-appreciated shortstops in history and a lot of it probably has to due with being in the American League shadow of Cal Ripken, Jr. during the 80s, but that shouldn’t be an excuse. A six-time All-Star, five-time Gold Glover and one-time World Series champion, he was an offensive plus at a position almost void of them for the time along with providing excellent defense up the middle for some good Tigers teams in the mid-80s. He stacks up favorably to other shortstops already in and using the Baseball-Reference JAWS tool, actually ranks as the 11th best at his position in history. That’s enough for me. He’s in.

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10. Larry Walker

Coors Field or not? That’s really the argument here. And similar to how it’s not my responsibility to judge what substances – whether legal or illegal – should be considered in a candidate’s election, neither should the environmental circumstances. An excellent right fielder and an absolute hitting machine, Walker won an MVP when doing so was not at all easy and also provided us one of the all-time great All-Star moments when he turned his helmet backwards and tried to hit Randy Johnson from the right side of the plate after being frightened like most other left-handed hitters during the time period. But Walker’s numbers are right there with any qualification of what a Hall of Famer is. If you think Coors Field was that much of a factor, well that’s your choice, but I can’t punish a guy for playing where he was told to.

So there you have it. Agree, disagree, whatever you will. If I had a ballot, this is what it would look like. If you hate it, don’t worry, I don’t have a ballot. It’s unlikely anywhere near ten candidates get in for all sorts of different reasons, but I didn’t put anybody on this list who I felt wasn’t deserving. I genuinely hope the writers of the BBWAA feel the same because there is plenty of deserving players (even beyond the 12 I’ve mentioned) and I do hope that a good number of them get to celebrate in Cooperstown next summer.

4Baggers: Four Reasons the Mets’ Dynasty May Be Already Over

This one hurt.

It’s taken me a few days to decompress and think rationally, but losing to the Royals on Sunday night absolutely destroyed me.

Sure, it was a great run in a surprising season and was a fun, exciting ride to a championship series that ended at the hands of a better team, but it also may have been the worst outcome possible for the Mets going forward.

I’ve taken a few days to collect and put together my own thoughts as well as reading and listening to bloggers, mainstream media and other Mets fans. The overwhelming feeling is that this is just the beginning of a long, sustained run of success for the team and that getting back to the World Series is all but guaranteed.

As for me? Well, I just don’t see it.

Now, now. Don’t rush to judgment! Hear me out first. I’m not trying to be “that guy” and troll for the sake of it, but when objectively looking at the situation the team is in, I can see it becoming very difficult for the Mets to have this opportunity in the near future.

Which is why a I took losing a very winnable World Series to a better team so hard. Had the breaks gone the Mets’ way, we could have been partying Sunday night instead of mixing booze with prescription medication in an attempt to forget what had just happened.

Sometimes you only get once chance. One opportunity. To do everything you ever wanted. One moment. Yo, Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” is fucking great. But, honestly, as much as it pains me to say, the Mets not only didn’t capture it, but the future does not necessarily set up favorably. We examine the reasons:

1. The Rest of the League Will Not Continue to Suck

The Mets were, at best, the fifth best team in the National League and that’s not even counting the Nationals who were superior on paper, but were a trainwreck and couldn’t get anything going in the right direction for any period of time.

The Pirates added another early exit in the Wild Card game. The Cardinals were the most consistent team in the league all season, but were beaten handily by a young and sure to improve Cubs team. The Giants couldn’t force their way into the dance, the Dodgers engaged in their annual disappearing act and the Cubs, who had gone 7-0 against the Mets in the regular season, fell victim to an historic offensive performance by Daniel Murphy, a collection of unhittable flamethrowers and, finally, the bad luck of being BABIP’d to death (which ended up haunting the Mets against the Royals).

Simply put, it’s unreasonable to expect the better teams to have repeat performances. Everything came up Mets-house from the Nationals folding, to favorable match-ups against the Dodgers in lieu of an opening round showdown against any of the Central teams, then finally getting past a young Cubs team that couldn’t catch up to the Mets’ arsenal of arms.

Call it fate, destiny, whatever you will. Whatever you choose, remember that getting all those ducks in a row twice is unlikely if not impossible.

2. “Terrible” Terry Collins

The Mets just gave their manager a two-year extension coming off the first postseason run of his managerial career. It’s not surprising. Getting your team to the World Series – on paper – does look like quite the achievement.

Except it was the way he got them there. His inability to manage innings for his starters, define roles for relievers, be able to set a competent and consistent lineup, stick to his own decisions or (in something that isn’t being talked about enough) position his fielders late in close games to prevent extra-base hits. (This is in reference to Collins and his staff not positioning Michael Conforto to “no-doubles” depth in the 9th inning of Game 5 which led to Eric Hosmer’s drive becoming an RBI double instead of the inning’s first out.)

Collins came into the job as a placeholder for when a serious manager could be identified. His history as a minor league coordinator and developer of talent seemed like it would be useful as the Mets were entering a period where they would depend on a number of young players to mature into everyday regulars at the big league level.

Pitching coach, Dan Warthen has, to this point done a terrific job with the young arms he’s be required to helm. Collins, Tim Teufel and Tom Goodwin have not exactly had the same luck with the position players. Consistent inconsistency and lack of progression have hampered more than a handful of players and led to a lineup dependent on mediocrity.

My feelings on Collins went from indifference his first two years to downright disdain over the last two. This team went on the run they did IN SPITE of their strategy-challenged manager and it’s very reasonable to say that they’re not World Series champions today because of him.

Did I mention that Michael Cuddyer got three at-bats in a World Series game instead of Juan Uribe? Because that happened.

3. Pitchers Get Hurt. It’s Science.

We all hate Scott Boras and the influence he exuded over Matt Harvey at the beginning of September when Harvey went from the Dark Knight to Two-Face overnight, but taking our fandom out of the equation…he wasn’t exactly wrong.

Because of all the mediocrity and failings around the rest of the National League, the Mets went on a deep playoff run probably a year (or more) ahead of Sandy Alderson’s even best expectations.

The result of this is that – with the exception of Steven Matz who missed a significant amount of time with injuries – the Mets’ young starters all saw very significant jumps in the number of innings they pitched this year. While we will have to wait and see the effects, if any, all these extra inning and pitches will have had on the staff, injuries to pitchers are now to be expected and not the cause of surprise.

Zack Wheeler is on schedule to return from Tommy John early in the 2016 season and he may be needed to help lighten the load on the rest of the rotation if they don’t react well to having a shorter offseason than normal to rest those troublesome elbows and shoulders.

Regardless of age, strength or mechanics, we’ve learned – especially over the past few years – that pitchers sometimes just break without warning and it would be unreasonable for the Mets (with their history of bungling injury prevention, diagnosis and treatment) to all of a sudden set the bar for pitcher health.

4. The Wilpons Are Still Broke

You would think that a World Series run and all the tickets, merchandise, food, beer and excitement money raked in by the team would be the jolt the franchise needed to get back to black ink to maybe even dream about sniffing green again.

The narrative that the Wilpons finally doubled-down and spent the money necessary at the trade deadline to bring in the pieces needed to solidify the roster is simply untrue. Sure, they did take on some salary commitments, but the money used to cover those was easily found in the money from the insurance payout the team received due to David Wright missed such a large number of games after being diagnosed with Spinal Stenosis earlier in the year.

Winning has a way of blinding the truth. Or at least being able to mask the taste of lies, but with a payment to the Madoff trustees of $30M looming for the Wilpons along with their regular debt payments to MLB and Bank of America, it’s hard to see the team going out and spending to improve upon a roster with some glaring needs and holes.

While the team will be forced to makes moves with the likely defections of Yoenis Cespedes, Murphy, Tyler Clippard, Bartolo Colon, Juan Uribe, etc, adding salary above anything already coming off the books could prove to be troublesome for an ownership group that should have been forced to sell in the immediate aftermath of the Madoff mess.

We also have to remember that every year that passes by brings that collection of starting pitchers one year closer to arbitration raises and free agency and, at some point, they’re going to need to get paid. All of them. And that just looks impossible by current Wilpon expenditure.

I’m not hoping for any of this to happen, mind you. I’m just uber-aware that all of these points exist and are distinct possibilities. I would love for this team to all of a sudden turn into some kind of superpower, but there just seems to be too much in the way for this to turn into something lasting.

I would love to be wrong. I hope I’m wrong. But if I’m not, it makes blowing this opportunity against the Royals even more distinct. Nobody is ever guaranteed a second chance. Eminem never had to sing “Lose Yourself Again” because he slayed Papa Doc the first time around.

There were entirely too many comparisons of this team to the 1986 team, but, in reality, this year’s Mets were – more likely – the 2006 team. On a date with destiny until they got in their own way. Hopefully, this team will get another shot at Papa Doc, but it is nothing close to a sure thing.

Murphtober Comes to Crashing Halt, Mets Pushed to Brink

  
As Halloween drew to a close, Daniel Murphy turned into a pumpkin. 

The second baseman committed a costly miscue in the 8th inning which brought home the tying run and then it was all downhill for the Mets who lost by a score of 5-3. 

When things begin to go bad for the Mets, the wheels don’t just fall off. Yeah, the wheels go, but then the car rolls off a cliff and bursts into flames. 

For some reason, manager Terry Collins (plenty to come on him), continues to rely on Tyler Clippard in the 8th inning despite him being largely ineffective during the postseason. 

Given a one run lead and asked to bridge the gap to closer, Jeurys Familia, Clippard retired the lead off man before issuing consecutive walks forcing Collins’ hand to bring in Familia to attempt a five-out save. 

Familia did induce a slow grounder from Eric Hosmer, but Murphy tried to rush the play and the ball rolled under his glove allowing Ben Zobrist to score the tying run and leaving runners at the corners with just one out. Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez followed with RBI singles and suddenly a 3-2 Mets lead had turned into a soul-crushing defeat.

The Mets did attempt to rally in the 9th against Royals closer, Wade Davis, but that was snuffed out when Yoenis Cespedes got caught up in no man’s land on the bases and was doubled up on a soft liner by Lucas Duda that was caught by Moustakas. 

Indeed, the Mets went full Mets and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. 

It may seem like I’m laying the majority of the blame on Murphy. He does deserve some of the blame, sure. He’s a major leaguer and that play HAS to be made especially in the situation. But this is what Daniel Murphy is and has been for his entire career: a streaky hitter who is prone to horrible lapses in the field and on the basepaths. 

And Cespedes has to get some blame there too for wandering so far off first base on a play that was right in front of him. He also kicked a ball in the outfield (again) earlier in the game that led to a Kansas City score. It has not exactly been a series to remember for him. 

But the majority of the blame (also again) has to fall on the shoulders of Terry Collins. Yes, players have to play and execute, but it is the manager’s job to put said players in the position to succeed and Collins simply is far from a skilled tactician. 

After starting strong, Steven Matz looked to be losing his stuff after giving up a run in the 5th. Fastball seemed to be losing bite and his curveball, which had been incredibly effective to that point, lost some of the snap it had. 

With Matz due to hit third in the bottom of the frame, logic dictated to pat him on the back and remove him for a pinch hitter. Collins said to hell with logic and tried to push Matz through a sixth inning in which he was removed after giving up a run and retiring nobody. Jonathon Niese came out of the bullpen to retire a pair and was then replaced by Bartolo Colon who struck out Perez in a battle of at bat to cling to the lead. 

Having burned both his long men by using both Niese and Colon it would have made sense for Collins to try to get more length from Bartolo who’s proven to be effective out of the bullpen during the playoffs. 

But if you were expecting Collins to make a good, critical managing decision, you were once again disappointed as he stuck to his script and tried to get by with his less-than-menacing 7th and 8th combo of Addison Reed and Tyler Clippard. 

Reed, acquired from the Diamondbacks in August, got hit hard, but was able to get through the 7th unscathed. Clippard was not able to repeat Reed’s success which set the table for the rest of the disaster. 

In addition to just plain catching the baseball, the Mets needed to limit the exposure of their bullpen which is a definite weakness. Anything between the starting pitcher and Familia was a question mark, but Terry Collins has been managing as he has the Cincinnati Reds’ Nasty Boys from 1990 out there. 

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating. This is not some ho-hum series against the Rockies in June. You cannot manage the same way in the World Series as you would during the regular season. Especially not when losing a game can put you in a 3-1 hole. 

Giving Colon the 7th (assuming he had a good inning) could have set you up for either another inning of Colon in the 8th or even a six-out save opportunity for Familia. 

Six outs from Familia probably would have been the preferred direction for most people, but after Collins used him for absolutely no reason with a six run lead in game three, two more innings in game four would most likely leave him unavailable for game five. 

So Collins went to what was not ideal to most anybody watching or playing along at home. He went to the script. The same script that said Kelly Johnson should get a pinch hitting appearance over Juan Uribe because he bats lefty. The same script that has him bunting at every opportunity. The same script that effectively cost his team the game and possibly the World Series. 

When you’re a Mets fan who has been through the heartbreak and the disappointment, your emotions tend to get overexaggerated because there’s simply not enough important games for you to temper your excitement or fear. The good becomes amazing and the bad becomes the equivalent of getting kicked in the balls while watching your dog run away. 

I love the Mets. And, I don’t think this series is over because of this game. But I also don’t think it should be this close to being over either. 

If there’s one thing to get you excited, it should be that the next three games will be started by Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. If that’s what the season comes down to, well, dammit, I’ll take my chances with those three. 

Under no circumstance do I think the Royals will be overconfident or act as if they’ve already wrapped this up. They are a damn solid ball club who was just in the position of needing only one more win last year. They will be coming to play. 

The Mets have spent the past four years under general manager, Sandy Alderson, rebuilding around solid, young starting pitching. The same solid, young starting pitching that kept them afloat when they couldn’t buy runs for what seemed liked weeks at a time during May and June and most of July. The same starting pitching that shut down the heavily favored Nationals when it mattered and then kept the Dodgers and Cubs in check to get to this point. 

The future is today for that starting pitching. The team is in an unenviable but not impossible hole and it’s time for the aces to come out acing. 

On paper, you can say that this looks like just the beginning of a run for the team. The Mets should be good and competitive for the next five, seven, ten years. I don’t buy that. 

I have watched enough sports and enough baseball and, especially, enough Mets to know that “on paper” doesn’t always pan out. Life isn’t fair. Sometimes, Goliath kicks the shit out of David. But sometimes, you get one chance to do something that can be remembered for generations. 

It’s why the 1986 team is still so special. For as great as they were, that group never returned to the World Series and there’s been books dedicated to all the “what-ifs” that followed. 

For the 25 guys in that locker room, this is the last week that they will ever all be teammates. Even in a minimal situation, there are always some kind of roster moves that go along with a fresh baseball season. This is their one opportunity to do something special as a group. 

The Mets will enter game five with their backs against the walls and their season teetering on the edge, but with the chance to do something great and memorable. 

I’m not ready for this season to end and I’m damn sure neither are they. It may be unlikely, but it’s not impossible. It starts with one. 

It’s time for Mets fans to get not just the hero they need, but the one they deserve. It’s time for Matt Harvey to stand up, put the team on his back and be the superhero he relishes in being compared to. 

No more innings limits, no more Scott Boras, no Rangers games or Russian supermodels. For game five, for the Mets and for Matt Harvey, there is only one word remaining. 

Rise.