This is what Blyleven is up against

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Blyleven AP.jpgIt’s generally accepted that having fallen five votes short this year, Bert Blyleven’s induction in 2011 is a foregone conclusion.  That’s certainly the sensible position. And if I had to bet, I’d wager that he makes it. Part of me still wonders, however, if we haven’t seen his candidacy’s high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

A couple of reasons for this.  The first one is hearsay, but it’s plausible hearsay. Brooks, from SPORTSbyBROOKS tweeted the following a few minutes ago: “Guy in BBWAA told me today that if Bert hadn’t campaigned so hard, he’d have gotten in LAST year.”  Sure, that’s probably just snarky chatter, but there’s no denying the fact that (a) Blyleven and his surrogates have spilled an awful lot of virtual ink on his case in recent years; and (b) that kind of thing grates on people after a while.  Backlashes have been borne of less.

The second reason is best displayed by the Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell, who spent some time today explaining why he won’t vote for Blyleven.  It was mostly about how Blyleven doesn’t feel like a Hall of Famer in his gut, but he reached for this gem to support his position:

When Chuck Tanner got him in Pittsburgh the word went around that Chuck
had decided, over BB’s protestations, to take him out of late-and-close
games because he’d never had the stomach for it. “Take him out before
he can lose.” Tanner never said it in public.

And to be fair, Tanner and Blyleven had a famous dustup in Pittsburgh because Tanner slotted Blyleven into a strict five man rotation and would take him out of games in late innings for relief pitchers, which was still fairly novel in the late 70s. But here’s Chuck Tanner, interviewed by Jerry Crasnick two years ago:

“I loved Bert because he was a competitor,” Tanner said. “Other than
that one time when his feelings got hurt, I never had a problem with
him. That son of a gun never wanted to come out of a game.”

The “never wanted to come out of a game” line is usually used to support a guy’s Hall of Fame case, not denigrate it, and Tanner certainly believes that Blyleven is a Hall of Famer. When it comes to Blyleven’s competitive fires, are we to take his manager’s word for it, or are we gonna take Boswell’s “word went around” stuff?

Doesn’t matter, because Boswell believes what he thinks Tanner believed, and Tanner’s own words to the contrary won’t dissuade him. In light of that, why should we think that Blyleven being five meager votes short of induction will give Boswell any greater reason to change his mind? And why, for that matter, should we think that Murray Chass and Jon Heyman, who come up with new reasons to vote against Blyleven every year, are simply going to cave?

At some point people become entrenched in their opinions, and the more people fight to change a person’s mind, the more that person sticks to their guns.  Boswell will die with that “word went around” crap in his head. Chass is always going to think what Boswell did in his age 38 season outweighs everything he did over the previous 17 years.  Who knows what Heyman thinks, but he sure as hell isn’t going to change his vote next year.

Again: I think Blyleven makes it next year. But I don’t think, like so many other people, that it’s a foregone conclusion.

(hat tip to BTF commenter Guapo, who found the Tanner quote in this thread).

Marlins acquire starter Dan Straily from the Reds

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 3: Dan Straily #58 of the Cincinnati Reds throws a pitch during the first inning of the game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Great American Ball Park on September 3, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)
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The Miami Marlins have acquired starting pitcher Dan Straily from the Cincinnati Reds. In exchange, the Reds will receive right-handed pitching prospects Luis Castillo and Austin Brice and outfield prospect Isaiah White.

For the Marlins, they get a solid starter who logged 191.1 innings of 113 ERA+ ball last year. Straily has moved around a lot in his five big league seasons — the Marlins will be his fifth club in six years — but it was something of a breakout year for him in Cincinnati. The only troubling thing: he tied for the league lead in homers allowed. Of course, pitching half of his games in Great American Ballpark didn’t help that, and Miami will be a better place for him.

Castillo is 24. He split last season between high-A and Double-A — far more of it in A-ball — posting a 2.26 ERA over 24 starts. Austin Brice is also 24. He pitched 15 games in relief for the Marlins last year at the big league level with poor results. He seemed to blossom at Triple-A, however, after the Marlins shifted him to the pen. White was a third round pick in the 2015 draft. He played low-A ball as a minor leaguer last year, hitting .214/.306/.301.

A mixed bag of young talent for the Reds, but stockpiling kids and seeing what shakes out is what a team like the Reds should be doing at the moment. For the Marlins: a solid mid-to-back end starter who may just be coming into his own.

Have Hall of Fame Voters actually made the PED thing More complicated?

Sammy Sosa
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The story coming out of this year’s Hall of Fame balloting is that the BBWAA voters are finally easing their antipathy toward players with performance enhancing drug associations.

Jeff Bagwell — the subject of unconfirmed PED rumors — made the Hall! Pudge Rodriguez, who was named in Jose Canseco’s book and who had a . . . curious physical transformation around the time PED testing came online, made it on the first ballot! Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, whose PED use was well-documented, saw their vote totals advance above the 50% mark, making their future elections look more likely!

It’s an interesting development, and one I’m obviously pleased with, but I wonder if the BBWAA’s new approach to PED guys, while far more forgiving than it used to be, has actually become more complicated in practice.

I ask this because I look way, way down the ballot and I still see Sammy Sosa scraping by with around 8% of the vote. I ask this because I still see Gary Sheffield at 13%. I ask this because when Mark McGwire was on the Today’s Game ballot in December, no one really stumped for him at all. I ask this because, even though Bagwell and Mike Piazza got in eventually, they still had to go through a lot of hazing first and I suspect, if they hit the ballot for the first time again tomorrow, the same arguments and delay would occur with respect to their cases.

In light of that, what I suspect has happened has not been a wholesale surrender of the anti-PED voters. Rather, I think it has been a transformation. One in which a moral test — did he use PEDs or not? — has been discarded as a threshold question and a scientific/physiological test — would he have been great even without the PEDs? — has replaced it. In essence, voters are becoming “PED discounters” in the aggregate. Making calculations as to whether a guy was, in their mind, a creation of PEDs or not.

Such an approach explains these new voting patterns as well as those in recent years.

  • Ivan Rodriguez may have been called out by Canseco and may have noticeably shrunk over an offseason, but his calling card was his defense behind the plate and voters, I suspect, have told themselves that such a thing is not PED-aided.
  • Bonds and Clemens may have been PED users, but each of them was undeniably talented and, if you discount for the PED use, hey, they’re still all-time greats.
  • Sammy Sosa’s case rests disproportionately on homers and, as everyone knows, PEDs = instant dingers, so no, he’s not gonna cut it.

And so on.

As I said, I’m glad that the strict moral test — did he use or not? — is losing its hold on Hall voters. But I do not think the “did PEDs make him who he was test?” is a good approach either. Baseball writers are in no better a position to assess the physiological and performance enhancements caused by pharmaceuticals than they are to be judges of character and morality. Given the identities of players confirmed to be PED users, the old eye test implicit in these cases is famously faulty (Neifi Perez, anyone?). The idea that PEDs only affect home run totals — and not, say, the ability for a player to take the abuse of the catcher position for 21 seasons — is crude and ignorant.

I suppose it’s naive to expect voters to completely disregard PEDs in their assessment of players. It’s a bell that cannot be unrung. But while we may, thankfully, be moving away from a moral test with respect to drugs, it’s been displaced by a scientific test that is no more reasonable in practice.