Two votes for David Eckstein and other downballot silliness

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One of my favorite parts of Hall of Fame day is looking down at the bottom of the voting results to see which obviously non-Hall of Fame caliber players garnered a couple of votes. They’re usually hat-tip votes. Token niceties to friends or the admired from journalists who wish to signal their goodwill to the player because, I dunno, the player doesn’t text and can’t receive such compliments the way everyone else does.

This year I believe the legitimate vote/tribute vote cutoff comes between Nomar Garciaparra and Mike Sweeney (the list and vote totals is here). Everyone above Garciaparra has, at some point, had someone actually arguing for his Hall of Fame worthiness at one time or another. Everyone below, nope.

Garciaparra got eight votes. I suspect that, among those eight, are some voters who actually think he’s Hall of Fame worthy in the way that, say, Dale Murphy was. A peak that could’ve stood as a Hall of Fame peak had his career not cratered so quickly but, rather, went on like everyone else’s. Most voters don’t make that hypothetical leap because, even if we’re not judging guys like Garciaparra personally or blaming them for their injuries, production matters and he just wasn’t around and productive for a long enough time. But I can see a couple going against that, making a Garciaparra vote a “real” vote.

Then we get to Mike Sweeney. He got three votes. We don’t know who voted for him, as only 29% of Hall of Fame voters allowed their ballots to be published on the BBWAA website (last year 42% of voters did). All who included Sweeney were anonymous. Which, given that Sweeney was a good but not great hitter who spent more time at DH than in the field in his 16-year career, probably makes sense. It’s pretty much impossible to construct a case for Sweeney as a legitimate Hall of Famer. Many, however, have sung his praises as a nice guy. And kind of forgot about that time he threatened to fight his teammates for giving a reporter an interesting story.

Then there’s Captain Grit, David Eckstein with two votes. One of his voters — honorary BBWAA member Chaz Scoggins, late of the Lowell Sun — made his ballot public. Scoggins, on record as a guy who has no problem voting for PED players, likewise voted for Bagwell, Bonds, Clemens, Griffey, Hoffman, McGwire, Piazza, Raines and Schilling. Given a full ballot, it’s hard to understand how he found room for a shoutout to Eckstein, but I presume he simply believes there were only nine worthy candidates, giving him space for the EckVote.

Jason Kendall got two votes. His voters likewise remain anonymous. Kendall actually has a better Hall of Fame argument than a lot of one-and-two-vote dudes. It’s not a GREAT argument, but overall he was better than you think. He may even have been better than some old-timey catchers the old let-everyone-in Veterans Committee put in back in the day. Still, I don’t think anyone ever considered Kendall a Hall of Famer and can’t recall anyone making a serious argument for him, suggesting to me that these were hat-tip votes.

Last but not least, Garret Anderson, who received a single vote. The voter, Earl Bloom of the OC Register, did not make his ballot public to the BBWAA, but did share it with Ryan Thibodaux back in November. Given the location of his newspaper and the team for which Anderson played, one suspects this was a “thanks for the quotes” vote. He likewise voted for former Angel Jim Edmonds, though as I have argued, Edmonds was a legitimate candidate, one for whom I probably would’ve even voted.

One sad bit of rando-voter news is that, this year, ESPN’s Pedro Gomez did not throw a token vote out there. He is perhaps the most high-profile voter to have made a habit of that, giving votes to Jay Bell and Bill Mueller in past years. Either he got tired of the criticism for that practice — which he called “favored son votes” — or else he had no friends or buddies on the ballot this year.

So that’s it for the also-rans this year. Tune in next year for J.D. Drew’s first year on the ballot. Which reporters will throw a vote in the direction of that well-loved, team-first ray of sunshine?

Young Blue Jays say they aren’t intimidated by top seed Rays

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) When the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays opened the pandemic-delayed season a little over two months ago, there was little to indicate the AL East rivals might meet again to begin the playoffs.

While the Rays launched the truncated 60-game schedule with expectations of making a strong bid for their first division title in a decade, the Blue Jays generally were viewed as an immensely talented young team still years away from postseason contention.

Tampa Bay didn’t disappoint, shrugging off a slow start to go a league-best 40-20 and claim the No. 1 seed in the AL playoffs that begin Tuesday.

Lefty Blake Snell, who’ll start Game 1 of the best-of-three wild-card series against Toronto at Tropicana Field, also isn’t surprised that the eighth-seeded Blue Jays earned a spot, too.

The Rays won six of 10 games between the teams during the regular season, but were outscored 48-44 and outhomered 17-11.

And while Toronto (32-28) lacks the playoff experience Tampa Bay gained last season when the Rays beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game before falling to Houston in the divisional round, the Blue Jays are building with exciting young players such as Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

“They’ve got a lot of young guys who can ball over there,” Snell said. “It’s going to be fun to compete and see how we do.”

Rays defensive whiz Kevin Kiermaier said Tampa Bay, in the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the second time franchise history, will not take the Blue Jays lightly.

“We know we’re playing a real good team,” Kiermaier said. “It’s not going to be easy, regardless of what a team is seeded.”

The Blue Jays, who’ll start right-hander Matt Shoemaker, aren’t conceding anything.

Bichette said he and his teammates respect how good Tampa Bay is, but are not intimidated by facing the No. 1 seed.

“I would say that we didn’t care who we played. I would say that we didn’t mind playing Tampa, that’s for sure. We’re familiar with them. We’ve played them well,” Bichette said.

“I think we’re confident in our ability against them. Our talent matches up well,” Bichette added. “We think if we play well we’ve got a good chance.”

NO FANS

The stands at Tropicana Field will be empty, leaving players to wonder what the atmosphere will be like for the playoffs.

Tampa Bay routinely rank at or near the bottom of the majors in attendance, but usually pack the stands in the domed stadium during the postseason.

“It will be different,” Bichette said. “Normally when you think of your first postseason you think 40,000, you think about not being able to think it’s so loud, stuff like that.”

The Blue Jays open the playoffs near where they hold spring training in Dunedin, Florida. It’s been a winding road for Toronto, which played its home games in Buffalo, New York, at the site of its Triple-A affiliate after the Canadian government barred the Blue Jays from hosting games at their own stadium because of coronavirus concerns.

CONFIDENT RAYS

Tampa Bay’s five-game loss to Houston in last year’s divisional round was a source of motivation during the regular season.

“It definitely lit a fire under everybody. It really showed us we belong. … We gave them a tough series,” second baseman Brandon Lowe said.

“We won the wild-card game. We belong in the postseason. I think that did a lot for us to understand that we should be in the postseason and we can go a lot farther. We know what to expect this time around. I think everyone in our clubhouse expects to be playing until the end of October,” he said.

CLOSE FRIENDS

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash has the Rays in the playoffs for the second time. His close friend and former Rays third base and bench coach Charlie Montoyo is in his second year as manager of the Blue Jays, who last made the playoffs in 2016.

“Pretty special,” Cash said of his relationship with Montoyo.

“I really learned a lot from him being around him. The way he carried himself. His hand print is throughout this organization,” Cash added. “A pretty big impact and a positive one. … When they clinched I talked to him, we face-timed at 1:30 in the morning. I’m so happy for him.”