Former Astros slugger Lance Berkman got just five of 425 votes in his first year of eligibility on the Hall of Fame ballot. Due to getting less than five percent of the vote, he fell off and can only later be considered by the Today’s Game Committee.
Fox 26’s Mark Berkman asked Berkman for his thoughts on dropping off of the ballot. Berkman said (slightly edited for clarity):
It’s hard to figure that a guy in Edgar Martínez, who had a great career, gets 85 percent of the vote and I virtually had the same career and I get less than five percent. So there’s something off about that. It sounds like sour grapes and maybe it is a little bit, but the only thing you can do is keep moving forward.
Berkman is right about one thing: offensively, the two were very similar. He retired with a .943 OPS and a 151 adjusted OPS (also known as OPS+), which accounts for league and park effects. Martínez retired with a .933 OPS and a 147 OPS+.
Martínez, however, accrued 68.4 Wins Above Replacement during his 18-year career, according to Baseball Reference. Berkman accrued 52.1 WAR. FanGraphs’ version of WAR puts Martínez at 65.5 and Berkman at 56.0. WAR accounts for quality of defense as well as the importance of positions played. Martínez spent 4,605 1/3 defensive innings at third base and had some above-average seasons with the glove, at least according to still-questionable defensive data. Baseball Reference put him at 17 runs above average with the glove. Berkman spent 6,345 innings at first base, 4,189 2/3 in left field, 2,898 in right, and 1,292 1/3 in center. Baseball Reference says Berkman was 15 runs below average with his glove overall. Additionally, WAR penalizes DH’s the heaviest, followed by first basemen and corner outfielders. Third basemen get a slight bump in the adjustment.
As for hardware, Martínez twice won a batting title and won five Silver Slugger Awards. Berkman never won a batting title or a Silver Slugger. Martínez led the league in runs scored once, doubles twice, RBI once, on-base percentage three times, and OPS once. Berkman led the league in doubles twice and RBI once, but otherwise never led the league in any other category. Part of that was playing most of his career in the same league as Barry Bonds, but still.
Berkman’s off-field work once his career was over could have impacted his popularity, not unlike Hall of Fame candidate Curt Schilling. In September 2015, Berkman spoke for a group — Campaign for Houston — opposed to a ballot initiative in Houston known as the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which would have provided equal protection for transgender people in public bathrooms. Berkman rightly received criticism at the time. He appeared as a guest on a Houston radio station a month later and said, “To me, tolerance is the virtue that’s killing this country. We’re tolerant of everything. You know, everything is okay, and as long as you want to do it and as long as it feels good to you, then it’s perfectly acceptable to do it. Those are the kinds of things that lead you down a slippery slope and you’ll get in trouble in a hurry.” Craig spoke with Berkman at length about his comments and made a post about it, which is worth re-reading.
It’s quite possible the support for Berkman wasn’t there, to some degree, due to his anti-LGBTQIA work. Hall of Fame voters are younger and more progressive-thinking than they used to be. Berkman has been mostly quiet since his 2015 foray into politics. But the Cardinals did invite him to “Christian Day” in 2017. The club immediately received criticism for that decision and defended itself. That wasn’t Berkman injecting himself back into the spotlight, but perhaps it helped the event linger in the memories of voters.
Lastly, Martínez was on the ballot for the 10th and final time and got in with 85.4 percent of the vote thanks to a sustained and energetic campaign by advocates. Berkman had no such noteworthy campaign.
If Hall of Fame voters strictly considered only offensive numbers for position players, then the disparity in votes for Martínez and Berkman wouldn’t have made sense. But there are plenty of other factors that led to his getting just 1.2 percent of the vote. He is welcome to feel salty about it, at any rate.