For the next month and a half, while you’re scouring the internet for hot Mark Melancon rumors, you’ll likely run into a number of people sharing their opinions about the Hall of Fame ballot. Most of the time, those opinions will concern the best players on the ballot, rehashing old arguments about Barry Bonds and Curt Schilling, or maybe they’ll focus on some of the newcomers with a chance like Ivan Rodriguez or Vlad Guerrero. And if you like that, great! You’ll have plenty of reading material. But this won’t be one of those opinion pieces. Here we are going to talk about the denizens of the ballot and let them ride off into the sunset.
Last year we talked a bit about the pity vote candidates, which is to say, the players on the ballot unlikely to come away with more than two of the four hundred votes cast. Jason Kendall was the best of the litter, with Troy Glaus as a runner-up. Sure enough, Kendall came away with two votes. (Mike Sweeney inexplicably got three votes, which by my own standards makes him a viable candidate. Oh dear.) But I must say, this year’s list of candidates is much stronger.
Now first the exclusions. Fifteen of the thirty-four players on the ballot are holdovers from last year. Of the eighteen newcomers, Ivan Rodriguez is probably the strongest candidate, and while I imagine he’ll have to wait a couple of years to get into the Hall, he’s definitely on the fast track. I have no clue how voters are going to treat Vladimir Guerrero, but he’ll surely reach the 5% mark required to continue on the ballot. Manny Ramirez is almost certainly not going into the Hall of Fame due to his, well, let’s not dive into that, but, you know. The last obvious exclusion to me is Jorge Posada. While I’d be surprised if Posada manages to clear the 5% mark, I think he’s about as well-regarded as longtime teammate Bernie Williams who hung around for one year, although on a much less loaded ballot. This leaves us with 15 players eligible to be pity vote candidates! That’s quite a few, so let’s give them their day in the sun.
The first thing I think of when I think of Casey Blake is the trade that sent him to the Dodgers at the 2008 trade deadline which brought the Indians Carlos Santana in return. While that might not have been the best trade in Dodgers history, it is a bit of a disservice to remember Blake just for that. Through his age-28 season he only had 49 plate appearances spread across four seasons and three teams, but Blake managed to secure a starting job with the 2003 Indians and blossom as a solid contributor in his thirties. In fact, his 20.8 WAR in his thirties ranks better than Ken Griffey Jr. or Vlad.
Pat Burrell is most legendary for his exploits in the bedroom, not the baseball field, but he was a quality player for the Phillies and Giants, and he also played for the Rays too. Burrell was a poor fielder and his bat probably didn’t live up to the potential that caused the Phillies to draft him number one overall in 1998, but he still had a quality career. He probably could have stuck around as a Harold Baines wannabe for a bit longer if not for injury problems, but as is he still had a memorable career.
After escaping the baseball wasteland of Montreal, Orlando Cabrera became a playoff magnet, appearing in the playoffs six times in eight years with five different franchises. He had a fine glove and could hit well enough that you could bat him sixth or seventh in the order and not feel bad. But he’s one of the weakest candidates in the field and also among the most boring as well. He wasn’t even the most interesting middle infielder named Orlando in his heyday, nor is he the best Colombian shortstop on the ballot.
A list of players traded for Mike Cameron: Paul Konerko, Xavier Nady, and Ken Griffey Jr. With his great defense, good offense and baserunning, and likeable personality, Mike Cameron was kind of a broke man’s Willie Mays, which is still a fantastic player. Like Mays, he hit four home runs in a single game once, which is pretty cool. He’s definitely one of the best choices for a pity vote. In fact, I think he was loved by enough people around the game that he could manage to get more than two votes.
J.D. Drew spent only one season in Atlanta, 2004, but it’s got to be among the best single-season efforts in history. He hit .305/.436/.569 with solid defense. He still only managed sixth in MVP voting due to an absolutely stacked National League. Adrian Beltre hit 48 home runs and provided his typically stellar defense, the Cardinals trio of Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds all had fantastic years, and Randy Johnson and Ben Sheets both dominated on the mound. And that was also the season Barry Bonds ascended to a higher plane of existence and reached base in 60% of his plate appearances. Getting back to Drew, the narrative around him for a while was that he was a disappointment due to his status as a fantastic, if controversial prospect, but I think most people have come around to the fact that he was a very good player, if a bit injury-prone.
For about three seasons, Carlos Guillen was arguably the best shortstop in baseball, but aside from that stretch (2004-2006) he was never much more than average, and even in those three years, Miguel Tejada, Derek Jeter, and Jimmy Rollins were just about as good. Nice career, but not worth a pity vote.
Derrek Lee is another one of those Pat Burrell/Harold Baines type guys who were dangerous bats but had no place in the field so they weren’t truly great players. Except that Derrek Lee was truly great for one year in 2005 when he hit .335 with 46 home runs for the Cubs. This all being said, even if Derrek Lee played a competent second base he probably wouldn’t be a legitimate candidate — Jeff Kent was a more productive hitter for his career and his candidacy is going nowhere. But unlike a lot of these guys who faded away, Lee did not go quietly into the night. In 113 PAs with the Pirates in 2011, he hit .337/.398/.584.
Melvin Mora hit this home run. He was a bright spot on some garbage Orioles teams that you didn’t watch and he was the batting title runner-up to Ichiro in 2004, when he (Ichiro) got 262 hits, and led the AL in OBP that year. He went to two All-Star Games and was the American League Player of the Month twice as well. He had a similar-ish career to Hall of Fame third baseman Freddie Lindstrom. The only better — definitively better — Melvin in baseball history was Hall of Famer Mel Ott. At the end of the day, when he ends up with zero votes, Melvin Mora can open up a cold one, smile, and think to himself, “I had a fine career.”
Oh look, its time to talk about Magglio Ordonez, another guy who could rake enough to cover up his defensive inadequacies. He was the AL MVP runner-up in 2007, although his production would decline quite quickly after that. Apparently, he is serving as the mayor of a city in northeast Venezuela right now, which isn’t a job I would chose to go to after baseball, so good for him I guess. He doesn’t really deserve a vote, unless you only watched baseball in 2007.
Edgar Renteria has two World Series-winning hits in his career with the 1997 Marlins and 2010 Giants. He’s the greatest Colombian player in MLB history, although maybe someday Jose Quintana or Julio Teheran will challenge him for that title. While I think that there might stronger candidates for a pity vote based on sheer production, there’s a solid argument that of all the candidates, no one else affected baseball history to the extent that Renteria did.
If you watched the 2011 World Series, you might recall Joe Buck and Tim McCarver talking a lot about how Arthur Rhodes played for both the Cardinals and the Rangers that season. He didn’t officially retire until January of last year, but I’m willing to bet that if someone called him up and offered him a major-league deal, he wouldn’t hang up the phone. Unless he does make a comeback, Rhodes is the worst player on the ballot. He still had a 21-year career in Major League Baseball.
Freddy Sanchez won the NL Batting Title in 2006, which for many people was possibly the season they started to doubt the value of batting average as the definitive baseball stat. He had a solid glove and won a ring in 2010 with the Giants (the third such player on this ballot to do so!). But that batting-title thing. If you listened to the opposing broadcast of any Pirates or Giants game he played in after that, you probably heard that said at least once during the series.
There must be some mistake on the ballot, because Matt Stairs is currently standing in the on-deck circle, menacingly taking some warm-up swings as a pinch-hitter in about three different major-league parks right now. Yeah, it’s the offseason, but it’s still true.
I hesitate to include Jason Varitek here, because I think there’s a pretty decent chance he gets a handful of votes, either from Boston people or the played-the-game-the-right-way people. I had similar worries last year about David Eckstein, who only got two votes, except he didn’t have the power of the Boston sports media behind him. If you give him some bonus points for catching and some more for leadership/clubhouse presence, and you squint and move him back and forth in front of your face, you might be able to see the faint shadow of a player who should stick around at the bottom of the ballot for a year.
And finally we have Tim Wakefield. By fWAR he was worth 27.4 wins, and as a knuckleballer, that might underrate him. He’s the Red Sox franchise leader in IP, which is the pity-vote version of the having-the-most-wins-in-the-eighties argument from the Jack Morris wars. If we buy into that, we’ll have to pity vote for the Rockies’ franchise IP leader next year in Aaron Cook, and that might be a bridge too far.
Now the ballot-makers could have made this a lot easier for me by including Javier Vazquez on the ballot, but he was inexplicably left off. Vazquez’s career fWAR is just shy of Vlad’s and better than any of the other pity-vote candidates. Vazquez was an incredibly underrated pitcher, but voters aren’t going to get the chance to review his non-existent Hall of Fame case. A very small injustice, but an injustice nonetheless.
Back to the ballot, now we must decide who is the right pity-vote candidate; who should you as a prospective voter choose? I think the choice probably comes down to Mike Cameron or Edgar Renteria, with J.D. Drew in a distant, but clear third. Cameron is clearly the best player among this group with 50.7 career WAR which puts him squarely in the amorphous Hall of Very Good, for which I don’t think anyone else from this part of the ballot really qualifies.
At the same time, if a Roman historian were to write a History of Baseball, I’m not sure that Cameron’s name comes up with the exception of the Griffey trade. But Edgar Renteria’s name surely would based on his postseason heroics and national heritage. And it’s not like Renteria is a slouch in the WAR department. Among the candidates, he ranks fourth after Cameron, Drew, and Ordonez.
In the interest of indecision, I will officially endorse both Mike Cameron and Edgar Renteria as the co-2017 Hall of Fame pity-vote choices. So if you are reading this and have a Hall of Fame ballot, just vote Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and eight other of the deserving candidates please. But if you refuse…I would be less upset if you voted for Cameron or Renteria as opposed to leaving a blank slot.