Numerous commentators have expressed divergent views on why certain players were elected to the 2019 Baseball Hall of Fame (two Yankees) and why others weren’t. There is a hidden explanation why the over 400 members of the BBWAA voted the way they did.
Yankees fans have a lot to celebrate with the selection of former Yanks Mariano Rivera and Mike Mussina to the HOF. The pair were joined by greats Roy Halladay and Edgar Martinez for inclusion in this year’s outstanding class.
In particular, for the very first time, The Sandman earned an astonishing and well deserved first-time unanimous vote into the HOF. As nearly everyone would agree, he is the best relief pitcher of all time, hands down.
The cool, calm, and unflappable Panamanian set the record for saves with 652, and prevented runs more effectively in MLB than anyone else. In 1,283.2 innings, he had an ERA of 2.21. Rivera’s JAWS (his career WAR averaged with his 7-year peak WAR) was 42.5. The average for current HOF relief pitchers is considerably less, 32.3.
During his 19-year-career, Mo was lights out when the stakes were the highest. He helped the Yankees win five World Series Championships. In fact, he got the final out in four World Series’ the Yanks won (1998, 1999, 2000, and 2009). He was equally dominant in playoff games.
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As a starting pitcher, Mike Mussina’s career statistics provided a strong argument for his inclusion into the Hall this year as well. His win-loss record was 270-153, and he had 2,813 strikeouts — both spectacular achievements, given that he spent his entire career pitching in the consistently mighty American League East. His career WAR was 83.0 and his JAWS 63.8, higher than the averages for all HOF starting pitchers.
These facts and statistics strongly support his worthiness for selection into the Hall.
In particular, Moose had been wisely building his support through a quiet, respectful, and reserved approach. This strategy enhanced his persona, increased his support significantly over time, and finally resulted in his 2019 selection.
As has been well documented, Roy ‘Doc’ Halladay was a two-time Cy Young Award winner — one of only a handful of pitchers to win the award in the American League and the National League.
At the same time, longtime Seattle Mariners designated hitter, Edgar Martinez was one of the most feared sluggers of the 1990s.
Both players received well over the minimum percentage of votes necessary (75%) by the baseball writers to be elected into the HOF (each received precisely 85.4% of the vote).
Players not elected
In contrast, other well-known former MLB players fell short in the vote by BBWAA writers, despite their numerous accomplishments during their professional careers.
Those who used performing enhancing drugs (PEDs) or who were strongly suspected of using PEDs did not fare well in the 2019 voting. Nor did they substantially increase their percentage of votes by members of the BBWAA from previous ballots.
In particular, Roger Clemens (59.5%), Barry Bonds (59.1%), Manny Ramirez (22.8%), and Sammy Sosa (8.5%) increased their percentage of HOF voting from the previous year by only a tiny amount.
This was the seventh year that Clemens and Bonds were on the ballot, and it has now become uncertain whether they will ever be elected to the HOF by the baseball writers before their eligibility runs out in three years. Given this year’s voting results, elevating their vote margins by at least 16% during this relatively short period will be a tall order.
Similarly, former starting pitcher Andy Pettitte, part of the spectacular Yankees “Core Four,” was on the ballot for the first time and only received 9.9% of the votes. As documented in the George J. Mitchell Report, he admitted to using a growth hormone (HGH). Although Pettitte had a strong show of remorse and apologized in public, a large number of writers likely hold his use of a PEDs against him, given his solid major league record.
Also, in recent years, numerous writers have refused to support exceptional ballplayers for inclusion into the Hall because of the controversial comments they have made on sensitive issues, as well as their engagement in unprofessional behavior.
Despite his excellent pitching record, Curt Schilling, for example, has thus far been kept out of the HOF because of his extreme views on moral, social, and political issues. Rightly or wrongly, such behavior has hurt evaluations of his character among the writers, particularly those who weigh a player’s character heavily when assessing his worthiness for inclusion into the HOF.
This year marked the seventh time Schilling was on the ballot, and he received 60.9% of the votes cast, a respectable increase from last year (9.7%) but still significantly short of the 75.0% needed for selection.
Schilling even received the strong public endorsement of President Donald Trump, while writers were casting their ballots. One wonders whether the President’s public support helped or hurt Schilling, given the current political climate.
The current nature of the times
I believe that the ongoing nature of the times substantially influenced whom the baseball writers chose to support and whom they wanted not to advocate for selection into the 2019 HOF class.
Most Americans, reputable news journalists, and political scientists agree that the country is sharply divided along political, ethnic, racial, religious, and social class lines. The vitriol is apparent nearly every day on the front page of major newspapers and in “breaking news” on the major network and cable news channels.
It has been decades since the country was so deeply divided, and fundamental moral, ethical, social, and democratic values and institutions have been questioned and frequently challenged by certain politicians. The incivility of the current discourse in Washington, DC and many states is undoubtedly striking.
Professional sports, including baseball, do not exist in a vacuum and are influenced by what is going on in public affairs today. The controversy over kneeling during the playing of the national anthem before the start of NFL games and the refusal of certain teams (e.g., the Golden State Warriors) and prominent athletes (MVP Mookie Betts) to visit the White House to be honored as champions are cases in point.
This is the profound backdrop that the HOF voting took place to this year. The prevailing atmosphere, in my view, led many if not most baseball writers to support particular players that have demonstrated undeniable superior integrity and shun those who have demonstrated character flaws in their minds.
Based on the voting results for the HOF, it appears that the BBWAA writers have become much more appreciative of players that not only performed well during their careers but who also exhibited universally accepted character traits throughout their lives. At the same time, they seem to have also become more unforgiving and less tolerant of players, despite their admirable success on the baseball diamond, who have not lived up to a higher code of conduct.
It is not an accident that Rivera received a unanimous vote in 2019, and that Mussina significantly bumped up his voter support over the years to gain entrance into the Hall. Both have impeccable values and have demonstrated great civility on and off the field, both during and after their baseball careers. Ditto for both Halladay and Martinez.
This was apparent during the news conference in which Rivera, Martinez, and Mussina participated following their selection to the HOF and the respectful way Doc carried himself on and off the field before his death in a private plane crash off the coast of Florida in early November 2017.