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).

Bryce Harper reportedly wants a $400 million extension

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 13: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals reacts after hitting a single in the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park on October 13, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports the Nationals are “balking at Bryce Harper’s demands in early talks about a long-term contract extension” and are thus prepared to let him walk when he becomes a free agent following the 2018 season.

What would make the Nationals balk? According to Nightengale’s source it’s a deal that “will exceed 10 years in length and likely pay him in excess of $400 million.”

That might seem crazy given historical norms and given that Harper is coming off a disappointing season, but if Harper returns to anything close to his 2015 form in which he won National League MVP honors while hitting .330/.460/.649 and hit 42 home runs, $400 million is going to seem quite reasonable. That sort of production was not some crazy fluke for a guy with Harper’s talent, after all. And he’ll be 26-years-old when he hits free agency, which is far, far younger than your typical free agent. Indeed, he’ll be entering what have, historically, been the prime years of most superstars’ careers.

The closest comp to star hitting free agency at that age was Alex Rodriguez, who was 25 when he signed his first $250 million deal following the 2000 season. Top big league deals going from $250 million to $400 million in the space of two decades is not really all that crazy when you think about it. Especially when you realize that, between 2001 and 2018, baseball revenues will have increased by a factor of three, assuming current growth holds.

UPDATE: My first thought after reading all of this was “I wonder if the Nats leaked the $400 million thing, whether it was an actual demand or not, in order to turn the PR in their favor if they deal Harper?” Question answered:

At least one quarter of the Today’s Committee owed Bud Selig a solid

Bud Selig
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OXON HILL, MD — The 16-member committee that voted Bud Selig and John Schuerholz into the Hall of Fame — the “Today’s Game” Committee — consisted of the following members: Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar, Bobby Cox, Andre Dawson, Dennis Eckersley, Pat Gillick, Ozzie Smith, Don Sutton, and Frank Thomas, major league owners/executives Paul Beeston (Blue Jays), Bill DeWitt (Cardinals), David Glass (Royals), Andy MacPhail (Phillies) and Kevin Towers (Reds); and media members/historians Bill Center, Steve Hirdt and Tim Kurkjian.

That’s certainly a venerable list of names. A quarter of that electorate, however, could be characterized as having a pretty notable conflict of interest when it comes to Bud Selig. At least if anyone cared about things like conflict of interest when it comes to baseball.

Whatever the case, two of those 16 guys became owners — and even more wealthier as a result — due to his affirmatively choosing or approving them to join sports’ most exclusive club. Two others were personally chosen by Selig to assist him over the years, raising their profile and importance in the game and giving them resume pieces that will one day be part of their own Hall of Fame cases.

  • Royals owner David Glass: Became the Royals CEO and Chairman in 1993, right after Selig became the acting commissioner. Glass was a key ally for Selig’s efforts to impose a salary cap and take a financial hard line in negotiations with the union, which eventually led to the 1994-95 strike. In 1999-2000 he became the full owner of the Royals after Selig personally stepped in to stop a bid for the club by a competing ownership group and is thus widely refereed to as Selig’s handpicked man. Glass is on the Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors, on which Selig served for decades.
  • Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr.: Bought his club in 1995, after Selig had taken over and thus would not be a baseball owner without Selig’s approval. DeWitt was a point man for Selig on a host of his pet projects, including the Wild Card and interleague play. He likewise led the charge for revenue sharing and other potentially divisive financial matters which tended to be in the interest of smaller market clubs, the sort of which Selig himself championed when he was a mere owner. DeWitt chaired the committee to find Selig’s successor, which eventually served to validate Selig’s desire to have his hand-picked choice, Rob Manfred, succeed him.
  • Phillies President Andy MacPhail: Selig’s handpicked choice for the labor negotiating committee in 2002 which, at the time, continued speculation that MacPhail would one day be on the short list to succeed Selig. A few years before that MacPhail was public in saying that Selig would be the right choice to become permanent commissioner at a time when many were concerned that a team owner assuming that role was a conflict of interest.
  • Former President of the Blue Jays, Paul Beeston: In the late 90s, Beeston resigned as president of the Toronto Blue Jays following a successful reign to accepted baseball’s newly created position of president and chief operating officer. The move was widely seen as a means of giving Selig a top lieutenant — a defacto deputy commissioner — which would help him smooth his transition from acting commissioner to permanent commissioner. Many thought at the time that if Beeston was not hired for that gig, Selig may have declined the full-time commissioner’s role. Selig was described in the press at the time as a strong admirer of Beeston’s. In 2014, Beeston reflected glowingly on Selig’s legacy, saying, “I absolutely admire him on this steroid thing.” Beeston is on the Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors, on which Selig served.

Is there anything necessarily wrong with that? No. Baseball is a small world and Bud Selig existed in it for a long, long time, so having a relationship with Selig was pretty unavoidable for almost anyone with any sort of profile in the game. No technical rule or historical baseball norm was violated by virtue of this vote or the composition of the committee itself. Indeed, the old Veterans Committee to the Hall of Fame was widely seen as a group of good old boys voting their old friends. Worth noting, perhaps, that that iteration of the Veterans Committee was abolished precisely for that reason, but I suppose we’ll leave that go for now.

I wonder, however, what the vote totals would have been for some of the other candidates if 25% of their electorate consisted of people who owed personal and professional debts to them the way Selig’s electorate owed him. Maybe Barry Bonds’ agent could get a Hall of Fame vote? Roger Clemens’ mechanic? Mark McGwire’s interior designer?

I suppose we’ll never know.