On this year’s Hall of Fame ballot, there are 15 newcomers who the BBWAA has never gotten a chance to vote for. Only four of these guys, Ken Griffey Jr., Trevor Hoffman, Billy Wagner, and Jim Edmonds, have a reasonable chance of garnering the 5% of votes required to survive until next year’s ballot. But of course, ever year, there is that one voter who for whatever reason thinks that Aaron Sele or Armando Benitez was a Hall of Famer. Yes, the dreaded pity vote.
Now, there are some standards for a pity vote. It’s not just about falling off the ballot after one year. Despite not managing to get the necessary 5% last year, Carlos Delgado did not get 21 pity votes.. He was too reasonable a candidate with a significant amount of support. Hideo Nomo in 2014 was also not a pity candidate, despite only getting 6 votes, good for 1.1% of the picks. That’s more support than any third party had in the 2012 presidential election. We’re talking about guys that get 2 votes, maximum. Any more than that and it’s a trend, and we’re too edgy to vote for any mainstream candidates. So who are the deep-cut candidates of the 2016 Hall of Fame election?
There is Mark Grudzielanek, who is probably the guy least likely to get a vote. He was not particularly memorable nor did he stick around very long with any one team. If you feel like trolling the system, then just pick David Eckstein who was the exact same player with more gritty-gamer-clutch-Harold Reynolds-scrappy-played-the-game-the-right-way narrative working for him. Of course, Eckstein may get too much support. Would it shock you to see Eckstein get 3 votes, either from the old fogey crowd or from some edgy troll voting ironically?
Including Eckstein, there are a lot of 2002 Angels’ championship team on this ballot, which is funny because there are no legitimate Hall of Fame candidates from that roster. Troy Glaus was legitimately a star for a few seasons, so I could see an Angels beat writer or someone tossing him a vote. Same could be said for Garret Anderson, except he was much less good than Glaus.
Speaking of Anderson, let’s play a fun game! Here are two mystery players from 2002:
Player A hit .344/.354/.516.
Player B hit .306/.332/.539.
You probably guessed that one of them is Garret Anderson, and you would be right? You may have even guessed that he was Player B.
You probably did not guess that Player A was Mike Hampton.
Hampton is mostly remembered as a disappointment because of his poor, injury-muddled play after signing the largest contract in baseball history. He was probably a better player than either Garret Anderson or David Eckstein, but I doubt he’ll get a vote. I also doubt that Mike Sweeney will get a vote, mostly because I cannot recall anything interesting about him. Maybe he’ll get thrown a bone by some masochistic Royals writer longing for the good ol’ days of 2001, lamenting the current success of the franchise.
Randy Winn played like a Hall of Famer for like 2 months after being traded by the Mariners to the Giants in 2005. He wasn’t really special aside from that stretch. Luis Castillo and Mike Lowell combined to win 5 World Series rings, including one each with the 2003 Marlins. Good players. Lowell did win World Series MVP honors in 2007 with the Red Sox, so maybe he gets one vote for that. Other than that, I doubt any of these guys will manage to get pity. Brad Ausmus is probably the worst player on the ballot. He was the guy you were trying to upgrade from, not the one you actually wanted to start. Unless he made quick friends with someone in the Detroit press, he’s not getting a vote.
No, the best candidate would be Jason Kendall. He has at least some of the intangible goodness that Eckstein has wrapped up in a player who was actually pretty good. Kendall was a prototypical lead-off hitter who played catcher. A weird combo, but an interesting one. Kendall led off 50 times in 5 different seasons. No other catcher since deadball has done that even once. Kendall was actually a good lead-off hitter too. Had the Pirates utilized good players elsewhere in the lineup, he would have been batted in many times by them. Kendall may have had a real Hall of Fame case had he continued what he was doing for like a decade more instead of falling off a cliff. Alas, it was not to be.
So, if you happen to have both a Hall of Fame ballot and a desire to rebel against the conformity of the system and vote for someone unique, Jason Kendall is probably your man. Or maybe Troy Glaus, who was probably about as good, but less much interesting.
Or just vote for ten guys who actually, you know, deserve to be in the Hall. That’d be good too.