So I was talking it over with the BBWAA, the other day—we keep in touch—and if I'm reading this restraining order correctly it seems I've been denied a Hall of Fame ballot for the fifth year in a row. It's alright: I've been jilted before. No need to launch protests on my behalf, unless you'd really like to, or you are—or are someone close to—Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines, Bert Blyleven, Tommy John, Mark McGwire, or Alan Trammell. I can fend for myself. But look at the note someone's attached:
Dear Mr. Up,
You write about one team on a blog that often employs fictional characters and framing devices, which does not currently fit the criteria necessary for BBWAA membership. And if we were to count backward from our ten year eligibility requirement we would have to include the Chicago Bulls newsletter you wrote when you were eleven, with hand-drawn pictures of John Salley on it. We've already taken it up with the rules committee, and—as you're no doubt aware—they ruled 4-1 against.
Please stop contacting us. I've instructed the mailman to stop delivering letters written on Ray Lankford stationary.
P.S. We appreciate the Ripper Collins anecdote. It was delightful!
Would you look at that! I don't think I need to spell it out for you, but I will: they've offered me a ballot, so long as I fill it with nobody but Cardinals. It's an expertise thing, and I understand. Since it's Monday, and we've talked more about Aaron Miles than anybody needs to, I've decided to reproduce here the ballot I'm just about to send (anonymously, as per the terms of the order) to the BBWAA.
Since things seemed a little restrictive as is, I decided to make the ballot available to all players, regardless of their eligibility or active status, who are no longer members of the Cardinals. I hope my contact inside will understand. I'm going in order of time spent away from St. Louis. That means we start with...
"Parisian Bob", who earned his nickname from a bit of savvy trans-continental contract negotiation in 1885, played for Chris von der Ahe's American Association St. Louis Browns from 1884 to 1887, leading the proto-Cardinals to three straight pennants before the eccentric von der Ahe went bust and had to sell off his stars.
Of course, what do you do with these stats? Pitchers in his day threw from a pitcher's box fifty feet away from home plate and could basically take a running start. Teams had two starters—Caruthers platooned with "Scissors" Foutz, who was also sold to Brooklyn—and DIPS theory and everything else you've ever used to evaluate pitchers is more or less out the window in an era in which home runs were usually on balls in play and nobody struck out. Caruthers won a lot of games, had low ERAs, and was one of the four or five best pitchers in baseball for most of his career, which in this case means four years. Borderline Hall of Fame stuff, with such a short career, but any Parisian Bob fan knows there's a kicker due right about now:
Yep: Caruthers is the forgotten two-way player. He led the league in wins in 1885, OPS in 1886. His career OPS+ is 133, his ERA+ 123. Nine years is a short career, but it would've been a lot longer if he'd split his duties up the Rick Ankiel way instead of doing things all at once. Put together, you have a guy who, at his brief peak, had an arguable case as both the best pitcher and the best hitter in the American Association. (And while his nickname is not as cool as "Scissors", it's still kind of cool.) A definite Yes.
Famously kicked off the ballot in 1993, he might be the most concrete example, along with Fred McGriff and—gulp—Tim Raines, of a player who ruined his image by sticking around "too long." Simmons spending three years as Ozzie Virgil's backup on some awful Braves squads didn't make his peak any less impressive, but it pushed it three years further away from his first Hall of Fame ballot.
That's just about the only explanation I can come up with for how a player so well-regarded in his own time—an eight time all-star—can receive so little Hall of Fame attention, but Simmons was in a bad place anyway; he was a hitting catcher with a shaky defensive rep, and there really isn't any template for what that kind of player has to do to make the Hall of Fame. His numbers wouldn't merit induction if he were a corner outfielder, and for much of the Hall's history its voters have been basically unable to adjust its perceptions beyond that for offensive-minded players at other positions. Another Yes.
I had a lot of trouble with Ken Boyer. Basically, if he's a Hall of Fame third baseman, he's the line; his career isn't all that long, his peak isn't all that high, and his case is dependent on how highly you value his defense. I'm on the fence. Hopefully the BBWAA will send me another Secret Cardinals-Only Ballot next year, so that I'm able to keep pondering the question, but for now I've got to say No.
I put Scott Rolen here because I figured the Monday after New Years is a great time to make everybody sad. He has a higher peak than Boyer already, but his shoulder is going to be a big, crumbling question mark for the rest of his career. As the most astonishing defensive player I've personally witnessed, I always hoped he would continue gliding toward the Hall of Fame so that it would be easier to boast to my hypothetical children about watching him play. We could look at the plaque, on our hypothetical Cooperstown trip, and I could say: Yep. Arm like a cannon. He'd start diving before a ball was hit, and then he'd throw it to first base before he caught it. A hot corner robot, he was. But that's going to be a tough road now; barring a few more comeback years like 2006, he's going to hit the ballot on a Ted Simmons-y note.
Yes. To pillory McGwire and the other nineties sluggers for something nobody cared about at the time is moving the goalposts a little too much for my taste. Lots of people used steroids, we'll never know who did and who didn't, and that's the way baseball was at the time. People seem to want to let the dust settle, or wait for things to clear up, but it's not going to get any clearer than it is now: Major League Baseball tacitly accepted steroid use from the late 80s to the early aughts. That we feel guilty about it now is no reason to whitewash the things that happened in that decade. I hate to use a football analogy, now or ever, but if you're going to throw the challenge flag you should do it before everybody's moved on to the next play.
In that context, McGwire hit home runs at an unimaginable pace. He made single at-bats into appointment TV. He put baseball back at the front of the sports page, where it belongs. It was a lot of fun.
It's funny; when I started putting out my intermittent Jim Edmonds Hall of Fame apologia, I always had to deal with the specter of Andruw Jones, who was undoubtedly going to put up absurd counting stats on the back of his early start and overtake Edmonds, who at that point was beginning his swift decline from the incredible peak illustrated in the table. That seems kind of quaint, now that, to facilitate a trade, Jones and the Dodgers are arranging to have his salary paid out in the form of a lifetime subscription to the State Quarter of the Month club.
Anyway, a vote for Jim Edmonds is the ultimate vote for peak performance. He's played nine full-ish seasons, and they're all Hall of Fame caliber. Aside from that you've got two bad half-seasons in 1994 and 2007, a fragment in 1999, and two pretty good ones in 2006 and 2008. But the real case zooms in even further than that: for five years, his first five with the Cardinals, Jim Edmonds was one of the best center fielders ever. It's debatable whether or not he's a Hall of Famer on the whole, and it would help him to stumble over 400 home runs and 2000 hits before he hangs them up, but from 2000 to 2004 he was historically great. As I've been writing about since 2005: Yes.
So that's what I've got. I'd like to thank the BBWAA for giving me special voting privileges; these Cardinals for providing so many enjoyable moments over the years; and the Law Offices of Boyer, Boyer, and Boyer, for letting me know that I'll have the opportunity to appeal the BBWAA's order as soon as the Hall of Fame ceremonies are over.