Commentary : How One Man Voted on Hall of Fame Ballot

The Washington Post

The responsibilities of democracy are heavy. Voting, while a privilege, is still more a job than a pleasure. Especially when you're voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

All my life I've enjoyed berating the thousand-or-so dolts who vote for Cooperstown. Now, the shoe is on the other foot. And it pinches.

My Hall of Fame ballot came in the mail last month. Due back by Dec. 31. Seems I've been in the Baseball Writers of America so long I'm now eligible to vote. One day, you're not only on the wrong side of 40, but you've become a tribal elder.

For years I've mocked the ballot itself. How could you vote for a maximum of 10 new Hall of Famers at one time. Absurd. There aren't enough worthy candidates. As for "hard decisions," it never seemed so tough to me. Until now.

I just voted for 10 new Hall of Famers. And wanted to include an 11th.

I can't believe I voted for Roger Maris and Maury Wills, but not Dick Allen, Tony Oliva or Mark Belanger. How could I pick Jim Bunning and Luis Tiant, but not Mickey Lolich, whose career stats are almost identical? How could I distinguish between Ron Santo (yes) and Ken Boyer (no), who are like clones? I still want an 11th pick for Boyer. But you've got to vote the ballot.

It scares me how close I came to being charmed by Vada Pinson's 2,757 hits. Yet I dismissed Thurman Munson, Lee May and Bobby Bonds as quickly as I voted for Willie Stargell, Sparky Lyle and those old overlooked Pirates, Bill Mazeroski and Roy Face. I factored in the diabetes of Santo, the mystique of Maz, the humor of Tiant and the political success of Bunning, but I voted for Orlando Cepeda, despite jail. Was I a softie all around? Why not Stargell, maybe Lyle and nobody else?

If anyone wants to say I voted badly, go ahead. I agree. It's just that I couldn't figure out how to vote any better.

First, the easy calls. Willie Stargell is automatic: 475 homers and 1,540 RBIs. So is Sparkly Lyle: Fourth in saves behind Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage and fifth in relief wins-plus-saves with 337.

Almost as easy, for me, are Mazeroski, perhaps the best fielding second baseman in history, and Face, a pioneer reliever of the '50s. Maz had 2,000 hits, a solid .260 average and holds every season and career fielding mark worth mentioning. He made 10 all-star teams, turned the double play like nobody else and hit the most dramatic Series-winning homer ever. Face is still seventh in history in saves and had the best season winning percentage (18-1).

Now, my knees wobble. Bunning (224-184, 3.27) and Tiant (229-172, 3.30), but not Lolich (217-191, 3.44). Bunning won 100 games and pitched a no-hitter in each league. One was a perfect game. He won 19 or more five times and was in nine all-star games. His teams were poor; no pennants. So his records were hard won. His 2,855 strikeouts were second in history when he retired. He became a congressman. That counts. The ballot says "Candidates shall be chosen on playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, their contribution to the team on which they played and to baseball in general."

Tiant won 20 four times, had the third-best season ERA in modern times (1.60 in '68), had a top percentage (.571) for mostly drab teams and made one of the greatest comebacks from arm problems of his generation. It does not hurt that he fanned 19 in a game and had two ERA and three shutout titles. I think titles matter. El Tiante was also one of the most colorful, popular and admired men of his period. In boots, black cap, foot-long cigar and nothing else, he'd hold court with half-hour monologues Richard Pryor would envy.

Why not Lolich? He led the league in losses twice and had five losing seasons. His career stats are all a hair behind Bunning and Tiant. He seldom made all-star teams. He arrived nine years after Bunning (when strikeouts were easier to get), so his totals of 2,832 (career) and 308 (in '72) aren't quite as wonderful. I'm trying to forget the '68 Series.

It gets worse. I picked Maris, but not Don Larsen. So shoot me. Maris' 61 homers is a monumental record. But Maris has other contributing assets. He was AL MVP back-to-back. He won a Gold Glove. Seven all-star games is a lot. His veteran leadership helped the '67 and '68 Cardinals. He also got some terrible breaks in life and handled them stoically. Without 61, no way. But 61 exists. Plus a lot more. Larsen had one day.

I beg special dispensation for Wills. Yes, he was the worst manager in memory. But he was at the heart of a dynasty--the '60-to-'66 Dodgers--and he blazed the 100-steal trail that Lou Brock, Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman followed. Wills began the theft revolution at a time ('62) when 25 steals was serious speed and only Luis Aparicio dreamed of 50. Wills was also durable (2,134 hits), hit for a high average (.281) for a shortstop and won two Gold Gloves.

I won't apologize for Cepeda. If I ignore his 379 homers, 1,365 RBIs, nine .300 seasons and his reputation as one of his era's best leaders, then I've got to throw out other worthy guys, too. No deal. Go to Cooperstown, Baby Bull.

Finally, the perfect illustration of a voter's hangover: Santo vs. Boyer. Santo had more homers (342-282) and RBIs (1,331-1,141). But Boyer had more .300 years (five to four) and a better average (.287-.277). Boyer was NL MVP for a pennant winner, made 11 all-star teams and won six Gold Gloves. Santo, who broke in five years after Boyer, was an all-star 10 times and won five Gold Gloves. Yes, it's that close.

Santo wins on hidden factors. He holds every NL career fielding record that Brooks Robinson holds in the AL. His stats--and I like fielding stats for third basemen--say his range and ability on the double play were on the order of the luminous Clete Boyer rather than brother Ken. Santo also led the league in walks four times and was so durable he holds some consecutive game records. Finally, few players in history have overcome a disease as serious as juvenile diabetes. Santo missed few games because he knew he was racing against time. He retired at 34.

After this, voting for president will be a can of corn.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World