Thoughts on the Hall of Fame ballot
From the same folks who brought us those essential "Baby on Board" signs for our cars and the Pet Rock and the ultra-cool florescent necklace ... from those same no-hands pickpockets come the books, columns and gimmicks created to exercise the brain and keep it fit -- as if balancing the checking account, reading the occasional novel and operating the latest electronic wonder won't accomplish the same objective. But to each his own.
Confession: As names, phone numbers and birthdays escape my memory, I do need to perform some mental calisthenics. So rather than fiddle with Sudoku, I look at the ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame and try to determine next to which name(s) I will place my cherished check marks. The exercise tends to enhance the blood flow to the remaining gray matter and to introduce passion into thought processes that ideally occur without bias. The ballot is my personal brain sharpener.
I do fight the good fight against predisposition and my memories of candidates who treated folks in my business as if they had keyed the ritzy vehicles parked in the "players' lot" or plundered the clubhouse boxes marked "valuables." And I dismiss all the good vibrations fostered by pleasant conversations with Dale Murphy, Dan Quisenberry, Rondell White, Bob Tewksbury, Bob Watson and John Stearns. I try my hardest to be smart, analytical, consistent and fair.
After I had prepped myself in that way, I voted for Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and John Smoltz. That's it.
Actually, the ballot for the Class of 2015 presented few challenges for a brain that controls these slowing keyboard instruments. The three retirees who gained my support were automatics -- as Hall of Famers ought to be. Like Koufax, Feller, Frank Robby and Eddie Mathews. Like Lemon, Bench, Greenberg and Gehringer. Like Mick, Whitey, Yogi, Duke and Campy. Like Willie and Henry, Teddy Ballgame and Stan the Man. Like Palmer, Catfish, Gibson and Seaver, Carlton, Nolie, Morgan and Schmidt, Maddux, Glavine, Eck and the Hurt, like Kid Carter, Carew, Reggie and Gwynn. To name a few.
No need to look up the record of performance for Pedro, Big Unit and the third piece of the Braves' triumvirate of the 1990s. I may be unable to recite the specific numbers the three of them piled up -- I'm not playing Jeopardy! -- but anyone who's been around the game for 30 or 40 years knows the broad strokes of this troika. And those strokes form the most treasured monogram in North American sports: HOF. Specifically the Hall that salutes the best of baseball.
So what else is there, now that the envelope has been sealed and mailed, though not yet counted? Another year will pass before I need to study Kent, who I sense is HOF-worthy, and Mike Mussina, who is ... well, I'm not sure. I withheld my vote from Kent this year only because I don't care to see the Cooperstown stage sag under too much weight come July 26. Three's company, four's a crowd.
Kent can be a classmate of Junior Griffey in summer 2016. Nothing wrong with waiting. Ralph Kiner was as much a Hall of Famer as Lou Gehrig the moment he was elected -- in his 15th and final year of eligibility on the writers ballot.
More than three or four inductees is unnecessary, and 10 would be folly. Folks who feel obligated to check to the max have the right, but they've probably got it wrong. No ballot has that much. None has had that many. And to those who favor increasing the number of checks permitted ... oh, please! Have you ever heard of less is more?
And I received e-mail demanding I check Delgado and Garciaparra and, for the sake of one home-run swing, Aaron Boone. Preposterous!
Doesn't it mean something that the Hall is so select that Dick Allen fell short last week when the Golden Era Committee voted? Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat, too? And Gil Hodges slipped. We won't know for three years whether he slipped off the ballot altogether. I would have voted for Kaat if if I were on that committee. Not sure about the others. But they were terrific players. And 16 guys who've been around the game forever elected no one. That isn't preposterous. Gaining election is supposed to be difficult.
I always was taken by Oliva; Vada Pinson, too -- so sleek, so quick. He wasn't even put on the Golden Era ballot. Pinson could catch any fly ball and perhaps a cheetah or two. But I understand his being on the outside, looking in. He didn't measure up. He fell well short of automatic. I never voted for him when I could.
The one that troubles me most is Keith Hernandez, the everyday player who did more to help his team win than any player I ever covered regularly. A brilliant defender, as clutch a hitter as the game saw in his time, the on-field brain and primary source of energy for two World Series championship teams and teams that won regularly. And such a damn smart player.
To me, he was not automatic. First basemen are supposed to be sluggers, someone decided. Hernandez's candidacy needed to be studied by those who seldom saw him play -- voters from American League cities. I studied it even though I marveled at his contributions for the better part of 6 1/2 Mets seasons. Not a slugger. Yeah, so?
No big league player appeared in more victories from the beginning of the 1979 season through the end of 1988. And the objective of the game is to win. How could Hernandez have fallen off the ballot? Trying to justify that taxes my brain. Fifty overhand pull-ups would be easier on me.