The Twitterverse was aflutter Tuesday with mention of ESPN news editor Barry Stanton’s Hall of Fame ballot. Stanton did not vote for either of the eventual inductees, and he was the only ESPN voter not to select Roberto Alomar, but he wasn’t entirely stingy with his ballot. He voted for five players: Jack Morris, Edgar Martinez, Tino Martinez, Don Mattingly, and B.J. Surhoff. While the individual picks may be hard to understand at first blush, his vote for Edgar Martinez is hard for a Fangraphs blogger to complain about, and it made me want to play devil’s advocate and justify the other players on the ballot.
After a number of bloggers and others called for Stanton to respond, he appeared in ESPN’s Hall of Fame Live chat on Wednesday to offer explanations for his picks. The bulk of his response was spent giving the background on his vote for Surhoff, a player he admits was “very good (though not great),” because he had watched Surhoff develop from a promising 12-year old to a major league star, and it was in honor of a promise he gave the teenaged Surhoff that some day he would vote for him.
The Surhoff story is touching, but what about the other four?
Votes for Mattingly and Tino Martinez would have to be predicated on peak value. These were two fine Yankee first basemen who in their prime were among the best players in the American League. Tino gets the dynasty vote, which has a long tradition in the Hall of Fame, going back to the days when many of the regulars on Ned Hanlon’s Baltimore Orioles and John McGraw’s Giants got inducted into the Hall by association with their championships.
Tino wasn’t the heart and soul of the World Champion Yankees in the way that Donnie Baseball was the heart of the ’80s Yankees — but Tino batted fifth for a team that won four rings, and dynasties like that tend to get a lot of people into the Hall. Tino might be less deserving than Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, and Paul O’Neill, but he was a major contributor to the dynasty and to the ’98 Yankees, possibly the best American League team of the last half-century.
Mattingly didn’t get to the World Series, but he was a better player, and his 1985 MVP and 1986 runner-up finish provide a convincing argument that he was seen as the league’s best player for a couple of years. (In 1986, Mattingly was the top vote-getter among position players, as Roger Clemens won the award.) He did nearly all of his damage in his first five full seasons, but they were brilliant, and he is one of the iconic stars of one of the iconic franchises. Legends have been made on such stuff — like Jim Rice, for instance.
This is Big Hall logic, supporting the election of star players who fall short of elite status but who would not be out of place in the Hall of High Pockets Kelly and Freddie Lindstrom. (In that Hall of Fame, though, as Tim Marchman notes, Kevin Brown would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, not a first-ballot dropoff.)
The cases for and against Jack Morris have spilled more virtual ink than virtually anything else that has ever happened in human history, but leaving Bert Blyleven aside for a moment, it’s worth remembering that Morris was a good pitcher for a long time. This is a slightly outlandish comparison, but you could think of him as the Don Sutton of the ’80s. Morris’s 3.90 ERA is much more unsightly than Sutton’s 3.26, but that’s mostly due to park and era effects — Don Sutton came up during the unparalleled pitcher’s era of the late 1960s and pitched most of his career in Chavez Ravine, one of the most extreme pitcher’s parks of all time.
Yes, Sutton was a better pitcher, both by traditional and advanced metrics, but using the traditional lingo, both Morris and Sutton were basic “compilers” who never won a Cy Young Award but pitched long and well. And though Morris’s 1992 World Series was awful, his performances in 1984 and 1991 were sublime. (Remember, in the 1984 World Series, he pitched two complete games, allowing just four earned runs; they won the series in five games.) Of course, Morris might be less deserving than Kirby Puckett, Dave Winfield, Roberto Alomar, Alan Trammell, and Lou Whitaker, but he was a major contributor to the Tigers and Twins and a deserving recipient of the Jays’ ring as well.
Edgar Martinez is hardly the most controversial of Stanton’s picks, as he received more votes than all but Morris, but he’s the only player among the five on the ballot that many statheads would support. Regardless of whether you think he deserves to be in the Hall, I probably don’t need to convince most of you of Edgar’s merits. But in addition to Edgar’s jawdropping rate stats, for better or for worse, he’s also perceived as being one of the era’s clean players, never having surfaced in any of the myriad rumors swirling around Jose Canseco’s books and the Mitchell Report. A vote for Edgar is not just a vote for the greatest DH of all time, it’s a vote for clean living.
Of course, if one followed the letter of the logic of the arguments given above, one would need to vote for a lot more players. Like Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy was a franchise icon with a short peak, and he’s also a paragon of clean living. Dave Parker was another franchise icon with a short peak, and his mid-’80s redemption from cocaine addiction is a story that could be celebrated just as well as scorned.
And other players were just as great yet had longer peaks. Larry Walker is arguably the greatest Colorado Rockie, so it’s hard to exclude him. (Todd Helton has had a longer career with the team, but Walker had a better career overall.) Roberto Alomar is probably the greatest position player in the history of the Blue Jays. Barry Larkin is the greatest Red since the Machine. Fred McGriff probably took the torch as the best first baseman in the AL after Mattingly passed it on, so he’d warrant a vote too. Tim Raines is the greatest Expo other than Gary Carter, so he’d warrant a vote — though he struggled with the same banned substance that plagued Parker. Jeff Bagwell is not just the greatest Astro ever, he is probably the fourth-best first baseman of all time.
If Morris was a good compiler, Bert Blyleven was a better compiler — every single one of his stats is better, with the exception of the number of championship rings on his fingers. And if Edgar Martinez is deserving despite having played most of his career as a Designated Hitter, then you must view the back of the bullpen as an equally valid place from which to build a Hall of Fame resume. And so two of the greatest compiler-closers ever, Lee Smith and John Franco, would deserve your vote as well. (Of course, Smith and Franco’s analogue on the other side of the bench may be Lenny Harris, the ultimate compiler of pinch hitters.)
That’s not to mention any of the possibly deserving players whose names have been more firmly attached to performance-enhancing drugs: Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and Kevin Brown, not to mention Juan Gonzalez, who after all has more MVP awards than Don Mattingly.
In fact, to vote for Jack Morris, Don Mattingly, Tino Martinez, Edgar Martinez, and B.J. Surhoff would require you to vote for virtually every player on the ballot.
Alex is a writer for The Hardball Times, and is an enterprise account executive for The Washington Post.