2021 Hall of Fame ballot: Vote None of the Above

Jul 24, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers first base coach Omar Vizquel (13) in the dugout prior to the game against the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 24, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers first base coach Omar Vizquel (13) in the dugout prior to the game against the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

Why I would cast a blank MLB Hall of Fame ballot in 2021

The 2021 Hall of Fame ballot has been released, making it time to declare which candidates you’re supporting.

Personally, I’m supporting None Of The Above.

Not that I have a Hall of Fame vote, but if I did that’s how I’d go.

I would be in a distinct minority. There hasn’t been a blank ballot cast since 2018, when there was only one. Of course, voters had obvious choices in 2019 and 2020, the most obvious being Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter.

There are no Riveras or Jeters on this year’s candidate list. The best of the newcomers include Mark Buehrle, Aramis Ramirez, and Torii Hunter, all quality players but unlikely candidates for immortality.

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Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds are up again, but I wouldn’t vote for them for reasons that need not be belabored. The nation is as split on them as it is on Trump v. Biden. I’m not going to persuade you and you’re not going to persuade me, so let’s just set that one aside.

The other leading candidate is Curt Schilling, who may very well win. Schilling has gained ground in recent elections; he got 70 percent last year, 20 votes short of election in his eighth time on the ballot.

The public knock on Schilling has been his outspoken political agitation, which some voters find off-putting. I don’t care about that. I do care about his performance.

Schilling’s three best seasons all came after he reached his mid 30s; for his first 14 seasons he was a 110-95 pitcher with a 3.43 ERA. Between 1990 and 2000 – the bulk of his career – he only once finished higher than seventh in either ERA, wins or pitching WAR, three hallmarks of pitching success then and to a great extent now.

His average ERA+ for that period was 114.8. That’s nice but hardly exceptional. In 2019, baseball’s last full season, 41 pitchers compiled an ERA+ above 114.  The Royals’ Brad Keller reached 114 on the number. Everybody who thinks of Brad Keller as a Hall of Fame candidate raise your hands. Seeing none, I’ll move on.

Basically the on-field case for Schilling revolves around those last few seasons, and particularly around his post-season performance. That included starring roles for the 2001 Diamondbacks and 2004, 2007 Red Sox, all World Series winners. That aspect is cheerfully conceded; I just don’t think it’s enough.

Beyond Bonds, Clemens, Schilling and the freshmen, what else is there? In no particular order, the ballot presents:

Todd Helton. If there’s a case to be made, this is it. He was a career .316 hitter with a 133 OPS+ and 369 home runs.  The problem, obviously, is reconciling those numbers with the Coors Field effect. Helton played his entire home career there. He was a .345 batter at home but a .287 hitter on the road. His on base and slugging averages also fell big-time when the Rockies traveled. Call me suspicious.

Omar Vizquel. A career .272 batter, Vizquel is touted largely for his stellar defensive reputation. He was virtually a perennial Gold Glove winner, taking 11 of them. At the same time, he played 24 seasons and made only three All Star teams, none of them as a starter.

It’s no knock on the All Star Game to suggest that making three of them is not a HOF indicator. If it was, Luis Gonzalez and Paul Konerko – who made five and six games respectively – would be locks. In fact, both have been DQ’d from the ballot for lack of support.

Scott Rolen. A career .281 batter, Rolen got 35 percent support last season. Now in his fourth year of eligibility, his share of the vote has more than tripled, so while he won’t make it in 2021 his candidacy could continue to gather momentum.

Rolen was a solid infielder who won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1997 and helped St. Louis to the 2004 World Series title. As a Hall of Famer, though, the case is suspect. Baseball-Reference identifies his closest offensive comps as Matt Holliday, Paul O’Neill, and Shawn Green. All are good players, but the Hall is not diminished by the absence of any of them.

Gary Sheffield. First let it be said that Gary Sheffield Is not going to get 75 percent support…not this year, not ever. He’s been on the ballot six seasons, but only in 2020 did his support move off of its previously solid 13 percent threshold; he got 30.5 percent.

The problem is that while Sheffield could always hit, he also always came across as a me-first player rather than a team guy. That hurts him in practical as well as esoteric ways. Sheffield played for eight different teams, never more than about four seasons worth of games for any of them. As a result he has no support base.

Viewed purely at the individual level, Sheffield’s numbers are good. He batted .292 with 509 home runs, a .514 slugging average and a career 140 OPS+. Unlike Rolen, his three best offensive comps are all Hall of Famers: Chipper Jones, Mel Ott and Reggie Jackson.

Overlaying all that individual data, though, is that recurring feeling that Sheffield was mostly in it for himself. Five times he was shipped out of town in deals that traded on his reputation; his old teams got a total of 14 players for him in return.

On the plus side, he did help three teams into post-season play, one of which – the 1997 Marlins – won the World Series.

Jeff Kent. The case for Kent is founded on his offensive production while playing a defensive position, second base. He was a .290 hitter with 377 home runs and an .855 slugging average.

Kent’s problem is that almost all of the voters actually saw him play, and – as evidenced by his vote total they did not believe they were looking at a future Hall of Famer. Thanks to hard lobbying by Chris Russo and a handful of others, he has gradually picked up support, finishing at 27 percent in 2020, his seventh year on the ballot.

So if you want to cast a principled vote for Kent, feel free. I’ll pass.

Andruw Jones. Jones’ candidacy is damaged pretty severely by the sharp decline in his performance over the second half of his career.

Through 2006 – his age 29 season – Jones was a career .267 hitter with a Gold Glove reputation in center field. He was also coming off back-to-back 51-128 and 41-129 home run-RBI seasons. That’s a Hall of Fame track.

The problem is that Jones played six more seasons during which he batted .214 with just 92 home runs.

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In 2020, his Hall of Fame support tripled. That would be very good news for the Jones candidacy except that the jump was from 7.5 percent to 19.4 percent. The great mass of voters simply do not picture Andruw Jones as a Hall of Famer, and neither do I.