Brace Yourself

The Hall of Fame ballot will be announced today

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Many of you hate Hall of Fame arguments. Many of you hate steroids arguments. If that’s the case, you may want to skip about half of all baseball content written between now and the end of the year. Why? Because the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot will be announced at noon today, and it represents a watershed moment for both the Hall of Fame and the subject of performance enhancing drugs in baseball. The arguments, they shall be epic. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

The main event, obviously, is the debut of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa on the Hall of Fame ballot.  All three were considered locks for the Hall at one point, their cases so obvious that detailing them here seems superfluous. But their associations with PEDS — or, less charitably, their perceived public relations deficiencies in handling their association with PEDS — makes all three extreme long shots at induction. Indeed, I would bet there is a non-trivial chance that Sosa gets such little support he could fall off the ballot in the next couple of years.

But it’s not just those three. Also making their debut today will be Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza and Curt Schilling. Biggio had 3000 hits and no one has yet to publicly accuse him of taking PEDS, so you’d have to think he stands a good shot. Schilling’s baseball case was less of a lock — he had big moments and great years, but not as many as other inductees — but he has many supporters. Piazza would seem to be a no-brainer inductee, but a whisper campaign about his alleged PED use has existed for some time despite there being no public evidence whatsoever that he used them. It will likely give many voters pause.

Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines are holdover candidates. Morris has been on the ballot since 2000 and is running out of time (players can appear for 15 years without being inducted before falling off). He received 67% of the vote last year, so he’s a good bet to receive the 75% necessary for induction this year, despite his on-the-merits baseball case being among the weaker ones in recent memory. In contrast, Tim Raines — who does not have PED associations and whose bonafides are ridiculously strong — has received short shrift and will likely fall short again. Bagwell was one of the best first basemen in baseball history, but unsubstantiated steroid allegations have kept his vote totals low. They will likely remain too low for induction.

If you’ve gotten the sense that the Hall of Fame voting process is in Bizarro Land, you are correct. The most worthy candidates like Barry Bonds are and likely will continue to be shut out. The more marginal candidates like Jack Morris are being ushered into Cooperstown. Cold hard facts of a stat sheet are being wholly ignored while gossip, rumor, innuendo and in some cases flat out slander are being elevated to imperative-creating gospel. In short, the Baseball Writers Association of America has damn near lost its mind when it comes to Hall of Fame voting.

The reason: an epidemic of puritanism in the Hall of Fame electorate, which seems to believe that examples need to be made of the Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens of the world despite the fact that (a) huge numbers of ballplayers in their era used PEDS, not just them; (b) despite rampant use, no one else came close to their production and greatness on the field; (c) Major League Baseball and the very media which forms the electorate turned a blind eye to their PED use at best and actively encouraged it at worst for about 20 years; and (d) every past era has seen players cheat and dope their way to greatness and ultimately into the Hall of Fame, and no one seemed to care.

Those who defend their exclusion of Bonds et al. will do so based on the clause on their Hall of Fame ballot which commands voters to consider, in addition to a candidate’s baseball talents, his “integrity, sportsmanship, character.” It should be noted that these words, commonly referred to as the “character clause,” did nothing to keep racists, segregationists, criminals, cheaters and drug users out of the Hall of Fame before Mark McGwire first appeared on the ballot a few years ago. Indeed, the Hall is home to some of the worst human beings to ever don a baseball uniform or wield an executive’s pen, most of them happily voted in by a baseball press who couldn’t care less about candidates’ moral shortcomings as long they had the numbers or the fame. But it has been dusted off for the PED crowd. Hall of Fame voters feel an odd sense of betrayal about these guys. A betrayal that is both lacking in coherence and intellectual consistency, even when they try their hardest to explain its nature.

But here we are.  The ballots will be released today. The arguments will commence. The voting will ensue. And on January 9, 2013 the results will be announced. For the next month and change, we here at HardballTalk will be making arguments for and against the candidates, will be engaging that lack of coherence in the Hall of Fame electorate and, hopefully, highlighting instances of the fever breaking and reason being restored in the case of some voters. If that is not your cup of tea, you should be able to easily avoid such content based on the headline of individual posts. Again, don’t say you weren’t warned.

In the end I suspect that Jack Morris and Craig Biggio will be the two inductees, with Curt Schilling falling a bit short and Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, Piazza, Bagwell and Raines falling considerably and damn near criminally short.  I’m hoping to be surprised, but I’m not at all optimistic.

Gentlemen, start your outrage.

Royals pay tribute to late Yordano Ventura during spring training opener

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 12: Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on August 12, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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The Royals honored former pitcher Yordano Ventura prior to their first Cactus League game against the Rangers on Saturday. Ventura was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic in late January.

Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre and center fielder Carlos Gomez paid their respects to the pitcher with a floral arrangement that was laid on the mound. Both teams stood along the foul lines during a pregame video tribute that highlighted Ventura’s tenure with Kansas City. Following the game, Gomez spoke to the media about his relationship with Ventura, describing their frequent conversations during the season and commending the pitcher for having “the same passion that I had early in my career” (via WFAA.com’s Levi Weaver).

A plaque dedicated to the 25-year-old was also presented to club manager Ned Yost as a more permanent commemoration of Ventura’s contributions to the sport. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the plaque will be mounted in the club’s spring training facilities alongside tributes to members of the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 playoff teams.

The full text of the plaque is below, via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:

A brother and a teammate, Yordano Ventura, passed away on the morning of January 22 in his native Dominican Republic, at the age of 25. He signed with the Royals as a 17-year-old, eventually making the big league team in 2013 as a 22-year-old. On most days, he could be found laughing and joking with his baseball family in the clubhouse. However, on days when he pitched, that smile was replaced by a quiet confidence and an intense fire, which he brought to the mound for every start. He had many highlights in his abbreviated career, not the least of which was throwing eight shutout innings in Game #6 of the 2014 World Series to force a Game #7 vs. San Francisco.

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.