Column: Griff’s 2023 Hall-of-Fame Ballot
Seven votes for 2023 enshrinement at Cooperstown
Griff’s 2023 Hall-of-Fame Ballot
My Seven Hall-of-Fame Nominees (alphabetically):
Carlos Beltran, Mark Buehrle, Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, Andy Pettitte, Scott Rolen, Gary Sheffield.
Quote du jour: “If you are being chased by a lion, you don’t have to be faster than the lion, you just have to be faster than the next guy.”
For purposes of full disclosure and prior to discussing the thought process behind my seven selections for Cooperstown, it should be noted that this is my 18th year of participation in the Hall-of-Fame process and is always accomplished with great consideration, pride and an innate sense of responsibility to the history of the game. It should also be noted that for the past decade, I have personally witnessed performances on the diamond by all of the candidates on each of those ballots. Granted, fame and sporting immortality is not life and death, but it should be more than just an analysis of the numbers. Otherwise, let a computer make the picks.
I begin by saying that I have great respect for the process and the five-star committee of media members and executives that gathers each summer in Cooperstown to create the list of first year candidates that are added to holdovers — those that received between 5% to 74% of the previous year’s vote and have remaining years of eligibility. However, it should be acknowledged, and obvious to all, that some years the list of freshmen on the ballot is more compelling than others. That being said, this was not a banner year for the newcomers. Here are my Magnificent Seven for enshrinement.
Of 14 first-year nominees, the only one for whom I voted was Carlos Beltran. That left room to add players for whom I had not voted previously, given the guideline that there be a maximum of 10 players on each completed ballot. Here is my list.
Carlos Beltran. There is no turning away or ignoring the fact that Beltran was a member of the cheating 2017 Houston Astros that won the World Series, a victory forever tainted, By the time his role as a veteran leader with significant influence on details of the scheme was discovered, he had already been named manager of the Mets. That turning point of discovery was Nov. 2019 after The Athletic, in a deep-dive investigation, revealed the scope of the Astros surreptitious tech scandal. Beltran subsequently lost his Mets gig before ever managing a game, as punishment, after the club and MLB put their heads together to try and protect the sport’s image.
But just as I believe it had been with steroids back in the day (late ‘90s, early ‘00s), the MLB landscape with its under-regulated new technology was akin to the wild, wild west with copycat outlaws. Methodology of the cheat became the Astros version of the drums of WAR. In this brave new baseball world, which, for many, confirmed that winning was the only thing, the game had become ripe for technological nerd-jacking thanks to the countless, well-positioned and unchecked, live video aids. The Astros bent rules and compromised ethics, culminating in a stain that will never be erased.
But, with regard to individuals heading to Cooperstown and tech’s comparison to PEDs in creating unfair advantage, both have been corrected, to a degree. It’s not perfect, but… Once rampant PED abuse was reluctantly identified, pushed along by U.S. congressional investigations, MLB’s correction for what had become a long-term, self-destructive cheating via pharmaceuticals, was set in place in time for the ‘04 season, with clearly-defined suspensions and fines for positive tests. By comparison, new hi-tech guidelines regarding video cheating, were set in time for the 2020 season and continue to be edited and updated. Ever since mandatory PED testing (‘04) and no-tolerance penalties for the abuse of live-video (‘20) and similar clubhouse skullduggery, cheaters have became CHEATERS. It does affect how some voters view eligibility for inclusion at Cooperstown.
Third-baseman Scott Rolen earned my vote, as he has in each of six years on the ballot. The Rolen argument goes back to a classic “you just have to be faster than the next guy” case. Third basemen have always been under-represented at Cooperstown and the classy, slick fielding Rolen was forever an adult-in-the-room whatever unbiform he wore, including his brief time with the Jays in ‘07-’08. His teams went to six post seasons, including two World Series with the Cardinals in 2004-06.
Righthanded hitting slugger, Gary Sheffield is a player that, whenever I was at the same stadium, I would attempt to get down to the field to see him take batting practice. Identifiable without a program because of his unique and menacing bat waggle, glaring out at the pitcher, the Tampa native, counter-intuitively, had 1,475 bases-on-balls, while striking out just 1,171 times, never with more than 83 Ks in a season. Over a Hall-worthy 14-year stretch (1992-2005), Sheff hit 428 homers and stole 172 bases, with a .304 average and .962 OPS. Cooperstown comps, to me, are Jim Rice and Andre Dawson.
One of history’s most graceful defensive outfielders is Andruw Jones who entered the public’s consciousness with a bang, in Game 1 of the ’96 World Series. Playing left field for the Braves, with Marquis Grissom in centre, Jones, a 19-year-old rookie, stunned the Bombers in the opener with two home runs and five RBIs. The Braves took the first two in the Bronx, before New York stormed back to win the series, beginning a roll of four titles in five years. Jones won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves and ended up playing in 76 post-season games. In his 11 full seasons with the Braves, he logged at least 153 games played, averaging 33 homers and 100 RBIs.
Before describing the Cooperstown credentials of first-baseman Todd Helton, it should be explained that I have a soft spot for players who a) played for the same team their entire career; b) had more career bases-on-balls than strikeouts and c) played every day over an extended period of time, especially back in a league with no designated hitter. In Helton’s 10 prime years (1998-2007), culminating in his only World Series appearance, the lefthanded hitter averaged 154 games, 30 homers, 108 RBIs and a 1.017 OPS. For those that would diminish his stats for playing an entire career in a mile-high city, I point to the ridiculous short porch at Yankee Stadium and the looming Green Monster at Fenway. You can only play the cards you are dealt.
As for my final two choices in the class of 2023, there’s a pair of classy lefthanded starters, Mark Buehrle and Andy Pettitte that deserved consideration. Not the best in history, but good enough. I covered both men since they were rookies and even though there was always the voting chance they would be caught by the lion on their way to Cooperstown, there is an off-the-field component to the voting instructions regarding character and contributions within the clubhouse that is undervalued. Both Buehrle and Pettitte were shining examples for young pitchers on their own staffs, combining that with excellence on the mound. Yes, this was the first year I voted for either man, the reason being the awkward shadow of Curt Schilling, who had been on the ballot until this year. It’s clear that Schilling may have likely had superior numbers but, from this observation platform, inferior character. Plus, whenever it is that I am going to vote for CC Sabathia, when it is that he first becomes eligible, I wanted the comfort of knowing I had voted for the similar candidates, Buehrle and Pettitte.
As an interesting aside, among the 14 new candidates on the 2023 ballot, for those interested in such things, were three former Blue Jays -- R.A. Dickey, Jayson Werth and Mike Napoli (a Jay for what seemed like a day). Napoli was obtained from the Angels in the Vernon Wells deal and passed along to the Rangers in a Texas minute.
The induction ceremony will take place on July 23 in Cooperstown.