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.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.