Four former Detroit Tigers are on the 2019 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. The class will be announced Jan. 22.
Ryan Ford, Detroit Free Press
As a longtime member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, Gene Myers has one of the roughly 400 ballots that will determine the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019. Myers retired in late 2015 after nearly a quarter-century as sports editor of the Free Press. His BBWAA ballot was due Dec. 31; the election results will be announced Jan. 22. Players must appear on 75 percent of the ballots to be elected. The Free Press, as it does each year, asked Myers to comment on his ballot.
When I filled out my Hall of Fame ballot for Cooperstown, I wasn’t wrestling with a “Big Picture” issue.
Such as, could I do anything to push the final-year candidacy of Jack Morris in 2014 and then Alan Trammell in 2016? Or, should I flip-flop my stance on never voting for PED pariahs?
I was thrilled — and relieved — that Detroit’s Roar of ’84 catalysts were elected by a veterans committee and inducted last summer — and, almost as importantly, had their numbers finally retired by the Tigers.
More: Who’s the top Detroit Tiger for each uniform number? Nos. 1-15
In 2016, Mike Piazza’s induction convinced me that to vote against Pudge Rodriguez the following year was blatantly unfair. So I decided that, in select cases, I would vote for suspected (and maybe even admitted) Performance-Enhancing Drug cheats. In 2017, Rodriguez snuck in by three votes — and I also began voting for the “PED Poster Children,” Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. With four more shots at induction, neither Bonds nor Clemens has managed to garner more than 58% of the vote.
The overriding issue in this year’s BBWAA election — in which candidates need to appear on 75 percent of the ballots for a ticket to Cooperstown, N.Y. — appears pretty simple to me: Edgar Martinez must make the Hall of Fame.
Related: Baseball Hall of Fame: Who’s on deck for the Class of 2019?
Some pundits consider the big issue whether Mariano Rivera will become the first player elected unanimously. Don’t think it’s possible someone will refuse to vote for Rivera? Already one voter, Bill Ballou of the Worchester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette, wrote a column in which he savaged the cult of the closer. He pointed out how Craig Kimbrel went 6-for-6 in save situations during Boston’s championship charge, despite the ugliest of playoff stats — a 5.90 ERA and 19 baserunners in 10 ⅔ innings. Only a Frankenstein’s monster composed of Tigers closers could replicate those stats — let’s call this right-hander Papa Grande Valverde-Henneman-Jones-Rodney-Benoit-Nathan-Rodriguez.
Ballou called the save “the lowest-hanging fruit on the game’s statistical tree” and closers “its naked emperors.” Ballou, though, decided he wouldn’t be the one to deny Rivera electoral perfection. Instead, he wrote that he would skip the election completely.
FILE – In this Sept. 26, 2013, file photo, New York Yankees relief pitcher Mariano Rivera acknowledges the crowd’s standing ovation after coming off the mound in the ninth inning of his final appearance in a baseball game, at Yankee Stadium in New York. Career saves leader Mariano Rivera and late pitcher Roy Halladay are among 20 new candidates on the Hall of Fame ballot for the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, joined by 15 holdovers headed by Edgar Martinez. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File) (Photo: The Associated Press)
Because the BBWAA voters (wrongly) still can keep their ballots a secret — a little less than half of the roughly 400 sportswriters with a vote choose this option — the cover of darkness could empower a scribe not to check the box for Rivera. He or she might carry a grudge against the longtime Yankees reliever or the Yankees. He or she might even think no one deserves 100 percent of the vote or entrance to the Hall on the first ballot.
I don’t much care, though, about Rivera’s final vote total, despite his all-time record of 652 regular-season saves and his 0.70 ERA, 0.759 WHIP, 42 saves and 8-1 record in 141 playoff innings. In my eyes, yes, he was the ultimate closer and the ultimate postseason weapon. But I don’t see why he deserves 100 percent any more than other legends of the game who fell a handful of votes shy. That list includes Ken Griffey Jr. (who missed by three votes in 2016), Ty Cobb (four votes in 1936), Tom Seaver (by five votes in 1992), Nolan Ryan (by six votes in 1999), Henry Aaron (by nine votes in 1982), Babe Ruth (by nine votes in 1936) and George Brett (by nine votes in 1999).
We have enough divisive politics in this country. We don’t need to waste our breath or tire our fingers dissecting whatever statement a few outliers think they are making by refusing to vote for someone with obvious Hall of Fame chops like a Rivera.
I do care, though, about Martinez, the longtime Seattle Mariners designated hitter who handled a bat like a surgeon.
I have voted for Martinez from the beginning, and this time will be his 10th and final chance on the ballot. He reached 70.4 percent last year, missing by only 20 votes. When I first started voting for him, his annual total hovered in the 30s and actually dipped into the 20s his fifth and sixth years on the ballot.
Martinez played 18 seasons, all in Seattle, but didn’t become a regular (as a third baseman) until his age 27 season. Five years later, in part to keep him healthy, he became a full-time DH. He won five Silver Slugger awards and two batting championships. He was selected for seven All-Star Games. He led the American League in on-base percentage three times and finished in the top five in 10 seasons. He led the AL in RBIs with 145 at age 37. He retired in 2004 as the sixth player with 300 homers, 500 doubles, a career average over .300, a career OBP over .400 and a career slugging percentage over .500. The first five were Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby and Stan Musial. Martinez, by far, played in the fewest games and made the few plate appearances. (This decade, Manny Ramirez, Chipper Jones and Todd Helton joined the esteemed club.)
The numbers alone warrant a Martinez plaque in upstate New York. Icing on the cake: He won the Roberto Clemente Award for sportsmanship and citizenship. Baseball has honored its top DH since 2004 with the Edgar Martinez Award. (Five times Martinez had won the award in its previous iteration as the Outstanding Designated Hitter Award.) Rivera (HOF Class of 2019) and Pedro Martinez (HOF Class of 2015) have called Martinez the toughest hitter they ever faced. Paul Molitor and Frank Thomas have shattered the barrier that a player can’t be elected after spending much of his career as a DH.
Plus, if Martinez isn’t elected, the universe would be giving a giant middle finger to a deserving designated hitter a month after Harold Baines’ inexplicable election to the Hall of Fame by the Today’s Game Era Committee (one of four veterans subcommittees on the landscape). In five BBWAA elections, before falling below the 5 percent threshold to remain on the ballot, Baines never garnered more than 6.1 percent of the vote.
Here’s the good news: Edgar Martinez should be on the brink of Cooperstown. According to the annual detective work of Ryan Thibodaux — follow him on Twitter via @NotMrTibbs — Martinez has appeared on 90 percent of the ballots made public thus far. That’s about a third of the electorate. Already Martinez has gained votes from 17 sportswriters who bypassed him last year, when he came up only 20 votes short of 75%.
The Hall of Fame allows sportswriters to vote for up to 10 candidates, a limit that many BBWAA members consider unfair and arbitrary and that has led to a backlog of top-shelf candidates. That backlog has eased a bit this year. Still, I voted the max, as I have since the 2011 election.
Four players from my 2018 ballot were elected: Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones and Jim Thome.
Detroit Tigers Alan Trammell talks about Jack Morris and Lou Whitaker and the Hall of Fame
Detroit Free Press
My 2019 ballot
• My six carryovers: Bonds and Clemens (seventh year on the ballot for both, 56.4 percent and 57.3 percent in ’18), Martinez (10th year), Mike Mussina (sixth year, 63.5 percent in ’18), Curt Schilling (seventh year, 51.2 percent in ’18) and Larry Walker (ninth year, 34.1 percent in ’18).
• Two first-year no-brainers: Rivera and Roy Halladay, the late two-time Cy Young Award winner and author of baseball’s 20th perfect game and second playoff no-hitter.
• One newcomer for me: Scott Rolen, the oft-injured third baseman with eight Gold Gloves, on the ballot for his second year.
• One old favorite for me: Fred McGriff, on the ballot for the final time. I also voted for the Crime Dog in 2016, but I never found room for him other years. He has never topped the 23.9 percent he attracted in his third year on the ballot. I always have felt sorry for McGriff, despite his 493 home runs (never more than 37 in a season), his eight 100-RBI seasons (never more than 107) and his .284/.377/.493 slash line. Those mighty stats, including 30-homer seasons with five teams and a Top 50 ranking in all-time RBI production, were dwarfed by the mega-stars of the Steroid Era. McGriff was never linked to baseball’s dark arts, unlike three others who debuted, like him, in 1986: Bonds, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro.
Thibodaux’s efforts suggest Rivera, Halladay and Martinez should be Hall of Fame locks, and Mussina has a shot. Walker should be the big mover, giving him a fighting chance in his final shot next year. Schilling also could be in position for a 2020 Cooperstown ticket. Bonds and Clemens find their candidacies stuck in the mud with the doomsday clock ticking.
Gene Myers retired in late 2015 after nearly a quarter-century as sports editor of the Free Press.