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.

Dusty Baker calls the Nationals “a baby making team.” Whatever that means.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 31: Manager Dusty Baker #12 of the Washington Nationals looks on before the start of a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on August 31, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
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When the Nationals fired Matt Williams a year ago, it might’ve been a safe assumption that they were going to go with that new breed of young, handsome recently-retired player-turned-manager who, despite a lack of experience, allegedly knows how to deal with modern players better and knows how to handle a clubhouse. Those assumptions have proved largely off with these guys — Williams was a disaster, Matheny wins despite himself and Ausmus looks like he’s perpetually on the verge of a breakdown — but that’s the all the rage these days anyway.

Instead, the Nats hired Dusty Baker. Though Baker had tremendous success as a manager everywhere he went, he was maligned by some for some pitcher handling stuff in Chicago (which said pitchers have long denied was an issue, but let’s let that lie). He was also, more generally, thought of as a “retread.” Which is what people who prefer younger folks for jobs tend to call older people, even if the older people know what they’re doing.

And yes, I will cop to thinking about managers that way a lot over the years, so I’m not absolving myself at all here, even if I was pretty OK with the Dusty Baker hiring. I’ve evolved on this point. In no small part because of how Dusty Baker has done in Washington. Flash forward a year, the Nats are division champions and Baker may be a top candidate for Manager of the Year. That, in and of itself, should show you how wrong the haters were.

But if it doesn’t, this sure should:

I have no earthly idea what that means and Castillo gives no further context. All I know is that it sounds cool as hell and of any current manager, only Dusty Baker could say that and pull it off.

Because he’s Dusty Baker and has nothing to prove to you. And if you don’t like it, shoot, he’ll just go back home to his winery or whatever and live out the rest of his days being cooler than you.

Who should win the manager of the year awards? Who Will?

PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 15:  Manager Dave Roberts #30 of the Los Angeles Dodgers looks on from the dougout during the seventh inning of a MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on July 15, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
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With the regular season ending on Sunday and most of the playoff spots locked up, there’s really only one big thing left to argue about: postseason awards. So let’s spend some time looking at who should win each of the four major awards and who will win them. Which are often totally different things. Next up: The Manager of the Year Awards

The Manager of the Year Award is pretty dumb. Numbers aren’t everything in any award, but there are literally zero numbers that gauge a manager’s effectiveness or performance apart from wins and losses and wins and losses are mostly a function of talent on the roster, for which the manager is not responsible. This is not to say managers aren’t important. Of course they are! They make important decisions every day and keep the clubhouse running smoothly and that’s important. It just so happens to be unquantifiable and subject to anecdote and projection.

For instance, Matt Williams won the Manager of the Year Award with he Nationals in 2014. He was run out of town on a rail in 2015. Did he suddenly forget how to manage? Or did he never really know but was blessed with good fortune and better players the year before?

Joe Maddon won the award last year, in large part because the Cubs outperformed expectations. This year the Cubs are the best team around. But everyone expected them to be because of all that talent! Does that mean that Maddon’s 2015 award was fraudulent? The product of poor expectations assessment on behalf of the media? At the same time, there’s a pretty strong vibe that he won’t win it this year, so are we to say that winning between 101 and 104 games is . . . a worse job than last year? Don’t even get me started on arguments that Bruce Bochy somehow became a lesser manager this year, because I suspect — and bear with me on this — something else is going on with the Giants.

Manager of the Year has always been about narratives and expectations of people on the outside looking in who nonetheless purport to know how the manager performed his job in the most inside baseball kinds of ways. It’s poppycock. It may as well be the Golden Globes.

So, rather than just break it down the way we did the other awards, let’s just thrown this out like the big mess that it is:

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Bill and Ashley say that Terry Francona should be the American League Manager of the Year. Bill’s reasoning: “The Indians went essentially the whole year without Michael Brantley and their pitching staff imploded in September. Francona deserves a lot of credit for holding the team together.”

Hey, works for me too! Let’s give it to Tito. Even if we can tell a compelling story about John Farrell and the Red Sox and even if Jeff Banister, the reigning AL Manager of the Year, improved by anywhere from 6-9 games in the standings this year over last in a division most people thought the Astros would win.

 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Bill says Dusty Baker, arguing that “The Nationals had all kinds of bullpen issues and Stephen Strasburg wasn’t able to pitch the final two months of the season. They could’ve easily folded but they didn’t, and I think that’s a reflection on Baker.”

Ashley says Dave Roberts. She didn’t give me her reasoning, but I bet she’d agree with me if I said “The Nationals Dodgers had all kinds of bullpen rotation issues and Stephen Strasburg Clayton Kershaw wasn’t able to pitch for two months of the season. They could’ve easily folded but they didn’t, and I think that’s a reflection on Baker Roberts.” You could throw in some stuff about how Yasiel Puig was managed by Roberts (i.e. better, though his come-to-Jesus demotion may have been the front office’s doing). I think I’ll go with Roberts, simply because I feel like it’d be bad precedent to give it to a Nationals manager every even numbered year simply because that dang franchise is inconsistent.

What about the Cubs? Here’s Bill again:

I considered Joe Maddon of the Cubs, but the team was so good I think the Cubs could’ve had a kitten manage the team to a playoff berth.

I say we give it to a kitten. Kittens are the best.