The Spitter 2019 MLB Hall Of Fame Specialist Class
The ballot for the 2019 Major League Baseball Hall of Fame is out and the list is long of deserving players. It’s also long of players who might not receive a vote.
Topping the charts no doubt will be Mariano Rivera, simply the greatest combined regular-season and postseason closer of all time. Career numbers: 652 saves, 2.21 earned run average, 13 All-Star games. And his career in the postseason: 96 games, 0.70 ERA.
And if specialists like closers can get in, then certainly a designated hitter can get in too, especially a DH like Edgar Martinez.
Let’s deal with the knock against him: He didn’t play every day in the field and when he did he kicked more balls than Adam Vinatieri.
Guilty. His first full year in the bigs he had more errors than double plays turned. Fielding percentage: .928.
Second full year? Fielding percentage increased 34 points. He also hit .307 with more walks than strikeouts, which he would continue for the rest of his career. When Mike Blowers gave Seattle two third basemen, Martinez showed what he could do as a DH and the rest is history. Really, why would you move him back to third when you consider these numbers: .312 average, .418 on base percentage, .515 slugging percentage, and the speed of a cement truck without a third or fourth gear. He was sooooo slow. Yet, he put up excellent numbers every year. How? He was a hitting savant, and he deserves to be recognized for it. And, oh by the way, in four of his last seven years, when he did play in the field (albeit in limited duty): no errors.
In the American League the designated hitter is the thing. It’s not his fault. It’s not my fault. It’s not yours either. So why are we penalizing him for being one of the greatest hitters of his generation because the American League decided to have different rules? It doesn’t make any sense.
Neither does keeping Billy Wagner out of the hall. He has the sixth-most saves all-time behind Rivera Trevor Hoffman, Lee Smith, Francisco Rodriguez and John Franco. Like Franco, he’s a lefty which make his numbers even more impressive considering the number of right-handed batters he had to face.
His 2.31 ERA is a tenth below Rivera’s and his walks+hits/innings pitched is actually lower than Rivera’s. Fun fact: Wagner had just one balk in more than 900 innings. Rivera had three.
Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton is also on the ballot this year (.316, .414 .539) and will get dinged for being just a hitter in Coors Field. This is despite the fact he also won three Gold Gloves. Colorado’s home park shouldn’t prevent him from making it in. And if he goes, then Larry Walker should go too (.312 BA, .400, OBP., .565 SLG, seven Gold Gloves and one MVP). Walker gets lots of attention now for his gaudy offensive numbers, but he was a five-tool player (200 more stolen bases than Helton) for the Montréal Expos even before he got to Colorado. With both having .300 .400 .500 stat lines, they should both be in the Hall-of-Fame…Coors Field or no Coors Field. Also as we think back to the build of some of the players that are being considered, neither Helton nor Walker were overly huge. Neither had significant spikes in production nor did they have the violent mood swings and emotional outbursts like others on the ballot…ahem…Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, etc. Both Helton and Walker were class guys and among the best if not the best for more than a decade. They deserve recognition.
And last, but not least, hopefully, the writers won’t discount Omar Vizquel’s candidacy solely because he was always glossed as a “defensive specialist.” Even if that was true –which it wasn’t– his defense should be celebrated. He was literally the best at his position for a huge chunk of his career –11 gold gloves in 13 years from 1993 to 2006 with Seattle, Cleveland and San Francisco. He was essentially the successor to Ozzie Smith in a time when every shortstop was flying through the air trying to prove they were the next Wizard of Oz. Over the long haul, Vizquel was the one who succeeded.
The knock on Vizquel was his career offensive totals. He was a very good hitter in the second half of his career (most seasons between .275 and .303), but his overall numbers were weighed down by his first seven seasons, during which he failed to hit better than .257.
But writers recognized Smith’s defensive genius and sent him to the hall and Vizquel should go too. In fact, his numbers offensively are slightly better than Smith’s in many cases.
According to baseball-reference.com, his average over 162 games was nine points higher (.273), with two more hits, the same number of runs and 22 stolen bases compared to Smith’s 37. Vizquel also played significantly longer which drags those average numbers down a little, but he was still very consistent through his next-to-last season.
It should be noted Smith’s plate discipline was phenomenal: He was just shy of an out-of-this-world 2:1 walk-to-strike-out ratio. Vizquel’s was 1:1, which is still outstanding.
Fun fact: Vizquel had four more hits than Babe Ruth.
Another Yankee pinstriper in Rivera, three other “specialists” and two all-around gems are hall-of-fame worthy.. Hopefully, the writers agree.