Boston Red Sox

By Sean Sylver and Matt McCarthy, 98.5 The Sports Hub

Hello, and welcome to another edition of what I’m going to call Seamhead’s Corner, in which 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Hardcore Baseball podcast host Matt McCarthy and I chat about America’s pastime. With the Manny Machado and Bryce Harper-led free agent bonanza at a standstill and temperatures in the single digits as I write this, today we turn to a topic that’s on everybody’s mind. And just to be clear, the Super Bowl does not fit the Seamhead’s Cornercontent guidelines. It’s the National Baseball Hall of Fame vote, expected to be announced this evening at 6 pm.

SEAN SYLVER: The ballot release and announcement are two of my favorite dates on the baseball calendar. Call me a nerd and you’re probably right. But there’s literally nothing else going on right now. I like looking back at some careers of a recent vintage – most of these guys were active in my teens and fantasy baseball-playing 20’s – I mean, who can forget Juan Pierre’s 2001 season? It’s also a nice excuse to think about Kevin Youkilis again.

When that honeymoon subsides, it’s time to debate the merits of the guys who actually have a shot. So at the outset of this exercise, let’s ask an essential question that will frame the entire conversation: are you a Big Hall or a Small Hall kinda guy?

MATT MCCARTHY: Small Hall, unquestionably. This is the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Very Good.  Let’s keep it that way. The National Baseball Hall of Fame is the most meaningful Hall in all of sports (to be honest, it’s the only one that truly matters). But in recent years, Cooperstown has become watered down with too many fringe guys while the best of the best have been kept out. This is hurting the Hall and it’s hurting the sport. Harold Baines? Harold Bleepin’ Baines? How are fans supposed to feel about the legitimacy of Cooperstown when some backroom committee puts the likes of Baines and Lee Smith in?

This is such a troubling trend. Baines, Smith, Alan Trammell, Jack Morris, Tim Raines…how many of these borderline candidates are we going to let in? At least credit the writers somewhat: The only one of these borderline-at-best Hall of Famers they put in was Raines. The rest made it via some dubious committee.

But the writers aren’t blameless in this either: They’re about to put another faux Hall of Famer in Cooperstown when they elect Edgar Martinez. Vomit. Enough. Put the best players in. Yes, that means the steroid guys. Let them in.

SS: I’m not sure I was prepared for such a visceral reaction, but given the subject matter, I probably should have been.

I’ll admit, there’s no perfect arbiter for this thing: stodgy old writers, the fans, a bunch of dogs playing poker, the WAR brigade – it’s a highly subjective exercise. So you’re a Small Hall guy. I’d probably let a few more players past the velvet rope than you would. From there, traditionally, we’d embrace the spirit of debate. But the past decade or so has really taken its toll on me with the “enlightened” analytics crowd going after the old guard electorate like a dog stuck to the pant leg of a mailman while there’s a multi-car pileup of Steroid Era candidacies ahead at the next intersection.

If anything, I loved the Baines selection because it was a big middle finger to The Internet, who for over a decade has been trying to make Hall of Fame election something you do with a graphing calculator, kind of like the MVP going to the guy with the highest WAR for the year. You used a Joe Murray-ism with respect to Martinez, and now I’ll use one: I was OUT on WAR as a Hall metric the minute it was used to tear down Andre Dawson.

I see analytics as helpful tools to shine light on a career, supplementing things like moments, memories and milestones. Instead, they’ve been used as fuel for hot takes and self-righteous bleating. We were told that being 38th all-time in walks is an important thing, and so Raines got in. At least Baines rates comparably to Raines by spending the majority of his career as a journeyman afterthought.

You brought up “the steroid guys.” In some cases, players were caught and/or admitted their indiscretions after the fact. In other cases, players have languished on the ballot without a recorded violation or an admission of guilt. Do you draw the line anywhere? Or is this simply about performance to you?

MM: I think it’s impossible to determine which players were on the juice and which players were off, so I’ve decided the best way to approach the Steroid Era is to simply let the best players in. That means Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Manny Ramirez all need to be there.

I think it’s ridiculous to keep those guys out when players who very well might have been on steroids have been welcomed into the Hall with open arms. There has been plenty of buzz surrounding Pudge Rodriguez and Mike Piazza. They’re in. Why didn’t they have the same stigma attached to them that Bonds and Clemens have? Why didn’t that keep them out of Cooperstown? Jeff Bagwell had biceps the size of a small European nation, Frank Thomas was built like an old school linebacker, Jim Thome was a moose. None of those guys were ‘roiding?

We’re about to let Martinez in. He didn’t hit 20 home runs in a season until his age 32 season and then all of a sudden went on a power surge for the rest of his 30’s. He wasn’t juicing? We can’t let some cheaters in and keep some cheaters out. At least elect the good cheaters instead of the borderline cheaters.

Jul 27, 2018; Cooperstown, NY, USA; The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

SS: I agree with your point about not knowing who was on or off. Manny didn’t do himself any favors by failing multiple tests, nor did Bonds or Clemens in respective sagas that found them guilty in the court of public opinion. But you can’t tell the story of the game in the 1990’s without the guys who populate the record books.

If the best players get in, where are you on these guys:
1. Mark McGwire

  1. Sammy Sosa
  2. Rafael Palmeiro (who, like McGwire, has fallen off the ballot)

I’m also with you on Martinez. He was the fourth best player on the Mariners, and despite playing to age 41, lacks traditional counting stats. An iron glove prevented him from gaining a regular role until age 27, and like you said, he was 32 at the start of his best run. Martinez was polling in the 30 percent range until a couple of years ago, and all of a sudden, 90 percent of voters think he’s a Hall of Famer?

I get it – not everybody can be Mo Rivera, whose sterling career all but guarantees a first ballot selection. Some guys have to climb.

Larry Walker, in his ninth year on the ballot, looks to be this year’s big mover. A former MVP, sure, but Dale Murphy’s not in, and he has two, so why the guy who thrived at Coors Field? Seriously, away from Denver, his career splits are .282/.372/.501. I guess he walked a lot.

Then you’ve got Mike Mussina, for many years the best Oriole. If anything, his mid-career move to New York hurt his candidacy because he became just another guy on a loaded roster. But there was a lengthy time where he was one of the legitimate aces of the American League. Nine times, he finished in the top six for the Cy Young Award.

It’s looking more and more like Mussina will make it to Cooperstown, if not this year, then soon.

MM: I’ll put it this way: if Bonds, Clemens, and Manny get in, and the calls grow louder for the second tier of ‘roiders like McGwire and Sosa to also get in, I’m all for it. I’m a Small Hall guy, but if those guys get in, so be it. Better them than some no-glove, little-power, glorified singles hitter like Edgar Martinez.

I liked Walker a lot as a player, and perhaps he never got his due because he played in Colorado, but I think he’s a Hall of Very Good guy. Doesn’t take away from what a great career he had.

Mussina is one of the hardest cases I’ve seen in a while. He was damn good for a long time and he was damn good in an era when it was tough to be a pitcher, but he was never the best pitcher in the game and never won a Cy Young. There’s something about him that makes me say no for now – maybe because he’s the only Yankee in history to never win a thing.

Talk to me in a year or two on him. I think I need more time to reflect on his career. I’ll punt for now and reevaluate. There are more obvious candidates who deserve election before him. I’m not putting 10 guys on my ballot, sorry.

Speaking of pitchers, Roy Halladay isn’t a hard case to me: He was a Hall of Fame pitcher. He was the best starter in baseball for many years, won a Cy Young in both leagues, threw a perfect game in October, finished his career with a stellar 3.38 ERA, and was a workhorse in an era when workhorses didn’t exist. He belongs in Cooperstown.

SS: Halladay represents the new breed of Hall of Fame pitcher. He’s not close to 300 wins, in fact, he barely has more than 200. Things unraveled when he was a year younger than Justin Verlander is now. But he had a 10-season run where his average year was 17-8 with a 2.97 ERA, and he threw 63 complete games in that span. And that’s accounting for a couple of seasons that ended early due to freak injuries. He was the real deal.

Another guy who pitched longer than Halladay but also failed to sniff 300 was Curt Schilling. The back of his baseball card is a mess, but he racked up some truly dominant seasons and is one of the greatest postseason performers of all time. He’s hovering up near the top of the ballot – his case wasn’t a slam dunk for many even before he became Angry Dad Online. I think he eventually gets in.

You’ve already established your Small Hall credentials by pumping the brakes on Mussina. I doubt any of these guys will ever find a way onto your ballot, but do you have any memories or a favorite out of the quartet of ex-Red Sox appearing on this year’s ballot for the first time? I of course speak of Derek Lowe, Jason Bay, Kevin Youkilis, and the space shuttle toothpaste of Major League pitchers, Darren Oliver.

MM: We’re going to have to reevaluate all starting pitchers moving forward. 300 wins used to be the benchmark stat for pitchers to lock up slam dunk Hall of Fame credentials, but it’s realistic to think we may never see a pitcher hit the 300-win mark again. What is our new number? 275? 250? 225? I don’t think there is a new number; we’re going to have to come up with a better way to look at starting pitchers moving forward.

I think Schilling eventually gets in via committee. The players who played against him will support his candidacy more than the writers (think Jack Morris). I don’t care what anybody says, his candidacy has definitely been hurt by his antics. Maybe that’s unfair, but that’s life. If you’re a borderline guy in any line of work, you can’t be crazy.

I’ll always love Derek Lowe for his performance in the 2004 playoffs, especially against the Yankees in Game 7. He is a very deserving Red Sox Hall of Famer. Cooperstown? Sorry.

SS: Gotta love Derek Lowe.

Seems like a good stopping point. No major disagreements, no “meet me in Temecula” tweets – are we doing something wrong? I guess if you want to argue about Mussina, Marshall Hook’s got that covered.

Sean Sylver and Matt McCarthy can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. You can follow them on Twitter @TheSylverFox and @MattMcCarthy985.