(Some of you may have been expecting the second in a series of posts today where I rank the best combination player/managers in history. And that post is still coming. Relatively soon, I promise. The holdup is the data. There’s a ton of information that I need to consider for my manager formula and I just haven’t found the time to put that information together. I remain pretty jazzed about the project, so I can guarantee it’s coming. I just can’t be sure when right now).
Like many of our ilk, I get nervous and excited and tremendously concerned when Hall of Fame voting season comes around. That’s kind of the whole reason for this blog. As a baseball fan, I want to see the Hall constructed in the manner I see fit. We all want that sort of thing. Still, I have another problem. As someone who teaches communication skills for a living, I have a passion for persuasion and logic that nearly equals my passion for baseball. So every January, there are two things that haunt me, not just one. The writers fail to elect the right guys, and many writers offer ballots that are just illogical. The first of that type of ballot we’ll discuss today – a ballot with either Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens, but not both.
By any reasonable standard, Bonds and Clemens are two of the greatest players ever. Among position players, I rank Bonds fourth. He’s clearly behind Ruth and a shade behind both Cobb and Mays. To me, it would take some real twisting of numbers to drop him lower than fourth, and it’s nearly impossible to justify his exclusion from the top ten. As for Clemens, he’s third on my list behind Walter Johnson and Cy Young. Ranking him lower than third takes some mental gymnastics, and getting him outside the top-five means your calculator and mine simply don’t operate in the same way.
If you’re marking your ballot based on results, there’s no way you can leave these names off. But I do understand why voters may choose to withhold their checkmarks. Anti-PED voters won’t vote for Bonds or Clemens. That’s not my baseball choice, though it does make logical sense on many levels. What makes absolutely no logical sense at all, however, is voting for one but not the other.
With the help of the great Ryan Thibs, we know how more than two-thirds of the BBWAA has voted. And through their own posts, some writers actually justify their choices. So let’s dive right in.
The Right Vote
While I admit that there’s no such thing as “right” when it comes to voting, the character I play on this blog can determine the correct thing to do without hesitation. The right thing is the thing I would do. And if I were a voter, I’d vote for both Clemens and Bonds. That’s something 136 of the 296 public voters did this year, good for 45.9%. But Bonds received 46.6% of the public vote, while Clemens pulled 47.3%. That means some people chose to vote for one or the other, but not both. More on that coming up.
First though, there are fifteen voters who checked both of their names after having checked neither in 2015. Jerry Crasnick declared “a moratorium on hand-wringing” and said they would have been Hall of Famers had they only quit when they were ahead. Carlos Frias decided there’s “no way to tell who was/wasn’t using.” Ken Rosenthall speculated that users were already or soon would be in the Hall, and he couldn’t separate our duo from those players in good conscience. John Shea used much the same argument. Tom Haudricourt took the somewhat troublesome position that he could vote for you as long as “you never failed a drug test or admitted to using PEDs.” Marc Lancaster stopped trying to “read decades old tea leaves” regarding who used and who didn’t. Anthony McCarron now thinks they’re necessary to the Hall in order to tell the story of baseball. Roger Mooney cited the same. So some have come around. Makes sense to me.
The Wrong Vote
There were 154 (52% of the known voters) who voted for neither, including Richard Justice and Andy Mertz, both of whom voted for the pair last year. Unfortunately I couldn’t find explanations from either. And while I don’t agree with their voting decisions, I do admire their logic. Either they both get votes, or neither one does.
The Insane Vote
I know it’s wrong to lump the insane with this group of voters. I have far more respect for the insane than I do this group, I really do. Still, my limited vocabulary doesn’t allow me to come up with a more accurate term to describe Bonds or Clemens voters. Those guys are two of the very best players in the game’s history, so you must vote for both of them. On the other hand, they almost certainly used performance enhancing drugs, so maybe you don’t, or won’t. But the greatness and PED use are true of BOTH of them, not just one. Fortunately for my fragile psyche, there are only six such ridiculous ballots. Four voted for Clemens and not Bonds, while two chose the other side. So let’s examine.
A year ago I could buy MLB Network’s Jon Heyman’s position voting for neither Bonds nor Clemens. Now, he’s an official resident of crazy town. Let me try to explain Heyman’s attempt at logic. He posits that Bonds was already a Hall of Famer by the time his “transformation started”, which he pegs “around 1999”. Well I should say so. According to my numbers anyway, eliminating the last nine years of Bonds’ glorious career, and you still have the #21 non-pitcher in history, right between Mel Ott and Frank Robinson. So Heyman is right, Bonds is very clearly deserving of induction even without what he considers Bonds’ questionable time. As for Clemens, Heyman cites the integrity issue and suggests that Clemens is even more dishonest than Bonds. But what about trying to use the same standard, Jon? What if we just take Clemens’ time in Boston. For those who remember, Clemens was a pedestrian 40-39 over his final four seasons with the Red Sox. Then he won back-to-back pitching triple crowns in Toronto. Maybe that’s when he started using? Let’s cut off the final eleven years of Clemens’ career. If we did so, my numbers say that Clemens is still the #22 pitcher in history, a little behind Fergie Jenkins and a shade ahead of John Clarkson and Tom Glavine. Basically, Heyman is still making a ridiculous moral judgment (that nothing about Clemens can be trusted), or just refusing to follow his own logic – it’s not like a guy who only checked eight names didn’t have space on his ballot. Pathetic.
I don’t know what’s worse, offering the loopy explanation that Heyman did or choosing Barry Rozner’s path of no explanation. Well, maybe the writer from Chicago’s Daily Herald did explain, but I couldn’t find it with a quick search. I did find his explanation of a year ago, for the little that’s worth. He told us that Bonds was a 400-400 guy before he started juicing, and he added that his career WAR was 20th among position players through 1999. Hell, that’s a very strong explanation. That’s actual logic! Of course, it’s also where the logic stopped. He didn’t mention Roger Clemens once in the entire post. So I looked at his 2014 explanation. There was no mention of Clemens that year either. In 2013, there wasn’t a word about Clemens, nor was there in 2012. I can, however, find proof that he’s at least familiar with the existence of Roger Clemens. Late in 2007 Rozner wrote, “I put Clemens in a category with Barry Bonds, phenomenal talents who already were Hall of Famers before they appeared to start using…”. What we’re led to believe is that since Rozner knows that Clemens exists and that he once believed Clemens and Bonds were both Hall of Famers pre-PED, that he changed his mind and decided that Clemens actually isn’t qualified based on his Boston work alone. Or maybe he just lost all memory of Clemens. I think the latter is about as likely as the former because the complete elimination of Roger Clemens from your writing isn’t something that generates page-views. Then again, Rozner is anything but logical.
Last year Chris Elsberry had the same Bonds/Clemens combination as Heyman – neither. This year he added Clemens, but not Bonds. His paper, the Connecticut Post, has a weekday circulation of a shade over 50,000, which I think makes it the fourth highest circulating paper in the state. So not a lot of people read his stuff. He doesn’t have a Wikipedia page, and his newspaper doesn’t seem to include any biographical information. Perhaps I’m bad at researching, though the four kazillion hyperlinks in this post suggest I can find at least some stuff. What I did find is an explanation as to why he voted for Mike Mussina and not Pedro Martinez last year. Simply, he was looking for consistency over dominance. Pedro’s consistent dominance of being at least 63% better than league average in terms of ERA+ every year from 1997-2003 wasn’t enough – even though no other pitcher in history could match that streak. I’m sort of glad I didn’t find his foolish explanation this year. And I’m really glad this guy is likely to be purged from the voter rolls in the next few years. If I can’t even find evidence of his writing about baseball, it’s gotta be his time soon, right?
I don’t know who Mark Maloney is, though I do know he voted for Clemens but not Bonds. A Google search for “Mark Maloney journalist” led me to the Twitter page of a man who describes himself as a former sports reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader. His former paper has a 50% greater circulation than Elsberry’s current one, so there’s that. And there’s this: a guy with a Hall of Fame ballot most recently tweeted on January 8 about the final of a high school girls’ basketball game. If he were a kindly old man talking about his granddaughter, that would be one thing, but it seems to me that what he’s covering these days. A search of “Mark Maloney Hall” turned up nothing of use. And since Thibs got his ballot via e-mail, I’m kind of left to guess. More good news though: his time with a ballot must be numbered too.
Ray Buck is an honorary BBWAA member. His ballot appears on the BBWAA site, which is only barely navigable. From their site, we learn that his ballot was Bagwell/Clemens/ Griffey/ Hoffman/Raines/ Smith. But nowhere does he explain anything. I can’t find evidence that he has a Twitter account, and I can’t really find out anything about the guy. Well, there is one interesting thing. The descriptions I find of him are as a former writer for the Houston Post. For those who want fools like this guy purged, I have more good news in this post. His paper was bought by the Houston Chronicle in 1995. Buck’s paper shut down 20 years ago! His articles aren’t even available in the Chronicle’s archives any longer. The guy has to be purged soon, doesn’t he?
Finally, we have David Barron from the Houston Chronicle. He’s from the actual Houston Chronicle, not the defunct Houston Post that was bought up by the Chronicle. He voted for both Bonds and Clemens last year. But this year there was no room for Bonds on his ten-person ballot. So what I can gather is that he once decided it was morally acceptable to vote for Bonds. He had to have made that decision, since he once voted for him. I don’t imagine his morality has changed in the last twelve months, so I’m left to believe this year he decided that there were ten better players. That’s curious. Since he’s a Houston guy, maybe there’s a Clemens bias? Could be, I suppose. But the disconcerting thing to me is that Barron still writes but neither writes about baseball nor writes about his ballot. Even so he did team with colleague Reid Laymance to write about Jeff Bagwell’s support lagging in a few cities. I’m not linking it and I didn’t read it since I’m not a subscriber. Poop. Anyway, I’d bet that this piece is basically Laymance’s work because Barron isn’t actually a sportswriter any longer. He’s a sports media writer. Still, I learned about the very sad death of Monte Irvin from his Twitter, so I loathe him less than the other guys on this list.
People are bad at logic. I’m unnecessarily angry about it. And the purge of folks not covering the game can’t come fast enough. Bonds and Clemens, good. Neither Bonds nor Clemens, I get it. One but not the other, there’s no logic at all behind that call.