Sorry for the big delay in posting, everyone. The Thanksgiving holiday really messes with timelines sometimes - not that I didn't have fun. I'll try to make up for it in the coming weeks.
Whenever the Hall of Fame ballot comes out (like it did last week), the conversation predictably becomes about the top names on the ballot: who are the shoo-ins (Alomar, Larkin), who should be a shoo-in (Raines, Trammell), who are the borderline cases (Morris, McGriff), who are the underrated/forgotten stars who really deserve the votes but probably aren’t going to get them (Brown, Olerud) and so on.
Rarely does the conversation turn to those at or near the bottom of the ballot. Sure, there’s the occasional mention of “the other guys”, but it’s almost always in the “How cute! The dog thinks he’s people!” kind of way. Which is perfectly understandable, of course - we are talking about electing members to the National Baseball Hall of Fame after all.
But it always seems unfair to me to completely dismiss the bottom of the ballot out-of-hand. True, these guys may not be Hall of Famers, but many of them had nice, long careers or had big peaks before injury or age or any of a million other circumstances took it all away. There’s a good chance that these bottom-of-the-ballot guys were someone’s favorite player at some point in time.
Last year, the bottom-of-the-ballot featured the likes of Robin Ventura, Eric Karros, Pat Hentgen, David Segui, Ray Lankford, Ellis Burks, Kevin Appier, Michael Jackson, Shane Reynolds, and Todd Zeile. A few of those guys (like Lankford, Ventura, Appier) definitely deserved a few more votes than they got, but, overall, it’s a pretty representative list. None of those players deserve the dismissive hand-wave towards their career that we tend to give the bottom of the ballot.
This year, the bottom of the ballot looks to be fairly similar. A few of the names, though, jump out at me - for personal reasons - more than others. Here they are, along with arguably their single best performance in a game.
Raul Mondesi - April 5, 1999 - 1.055 WPA
I've mentioned this before, but Mondesi is the author of the single best moment I ever witnessed at a ballgame: a two-out, ninth-inning, game-tying home run followed immediately by the game-winning, eleventh-inning home run on Opening Day in Dodger Stadium in a game started by the two huge free-agent acquisitions of the winter, Randy Johnson and Kevin Brown. There's no way I won't be retelling that story for the rest of my life. Mondesi may not be a Hall of Famer, but that moment reminds me he wasn't exactly peanuts either.
(Click "Read More" to continue reading.)
B.J. Surhoff - June 14, 2000 - 0.490 WPA
I was an Orioles fan growing up and that mid-nineties Orioles team was by far the best, most fun team I ever got to root for as a kid. I always liked Surhoff because, even though he wasn't Cal or Raffy or Alomar or Mussina, he always seemed to put up strong, above-average seasons. He was one of the solid second-tier players that a good championship team needs. The fact that his quality of play came as a surprise - really, was anyone excited when he came over after the 1995 season? - just made it all the better. (His best ever game WPA-wise only comes in at 0.490, though, after a game-tying, two-run single. Can't win them all, I guess.)
Marquis Grissom - July 25, 1990 - 0.948 WPA
Grissom's here not so much because I have a connection to him as a player, but more because he seems like the kind of player that is going to be forgotten in history pretty quickly even though he was always someone your team wanted. He had three really good seasons in Montreal before the strike derailed everything and probably lived off of those memories for a while. Still, he played in three straight World Series (with two different teams) and compiled a career .390 average and .908 OPS in the Fall Classic.
Grissom's best game came in a game he didn't even start. He pinch-hit for catcher Jerry Goff in the ninth inning and got on base with a single, and was then immediately driven in by a double from Junior Noboa. He stayed in the game and came to bat again in the tenth with two runners on and down by two. His home run on the eighth pitch of the at-bat from Stan Belinda ended the game and gave Expos fans something to cheer about while drinking their Molson's and chowing down on some poutine.
Charles Johnson - April 5, 2000 - 0.710 WPA
There was about a four or five year stretch, from 1995 to 2000 or so, where Johnson was considered the best defensive catcher in baseball, rivaling even Ivan Rodriguez. He won four consecutive NL Gold Gloves and was a part of the Mike Piazza trade between the Marlins and Dodgers. He was traded to the Orioles, via the Mets, in the offseason, ending his Gold Glove streak (as much as people loved his defense, Pudge's Gold Glove momentum - and his bat - kept Johnson from getting any more awards). The Orioles traded away Armando Benitez to acquire Johnson. That alone is worth celebrating. (Johnson's big night came in a game where he hit two home runs, one to tie the game and the other to take the lead in the late innings.)
Benito Santiago - July 16, 1987 - 0.573 WPA
Benito is a very interesting player. He started off his career so hot, winning the 1987 Rookie of the Year and winning three Gold Gloves, four Silver Sluggers, and making four All-Star appearances by age 27. But he fell of a cliff for the next ten years or so before making a bit of a resurgence with the Giants at age 37. He was the number one catcher on that World Series team in 2002 and even made it to the All-Star game again. Benito's big game came in 1987, on a 3-for-5 night when he hit a single, a double, and the walk-off home run off of Cardinals' closer Todd Worrell in the heart of his Rookie of the Year campaign.
There are plenty of other guys on this year's ballot who you might feel the same way about. Tino Martinez, Kirk Rueter, Lenny Harris, Carlos Baerga - I have no doubt that there are some wonderful memories about those guys. And just because they're not Hall of Famers doesn't mean we have to forget what they meant to us and our favorite teams. Take a minute to remember their highs before skipping over them on the way to your next Hall of Fame debate. I think you'll enjoy it.