SweetSpot: Edgar Martinez

Josh DonaldsonBrad Mangin/MLB Photos/Getty ImagesDid A's GM Billy Beane deal Josh Donaldson because he believes the third baseman has peaked?
As the recent Hall of Fame elections show us, evaluating baseball talent -- even Hall of Fame talent -- remains an imperfect, tricky science. John Smoltz, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez were all traded as young players: Smoltz while still in the minors, Johnson after his brief major league debut with the Expos and Martinez after his rookie season with the Dodgers. (Yes, the Expos could have had Johnson and Martinez in their rotation.)

Josh Donaldson is unlikely to become a Hall of Famer, but he's certainly in the midst of one of the most unusual careers I can remember. Look at where Donaldson stood entering the 2013 season. The one-time minor league catcher, who had been acquired from the Cubs in 2008, was entering his age-27 season and had appeared briefly with the A's in 2010 and then hit .241/.289/.398 in 75 games in 2012, playing regularly at third base down the stretch. Still, that batting line hardly indicated a player who was about to blossom into one of the best players in the league.

Donaldson became Oakland's starting third baseman in 2013 and hit .301/.384/.499 with 24 home runs and 93 RBIs while flashing outstanding defense at third base. He finished fourth in the MVP voting that season. Freed from the constraints of catching -- he's talked about how being a backstop in the minors was stressful because he worried about how to handle the pitching staff -- his bat finally developed. He showed surprising quickness and athleticism at third base. In 2014, he had another strong season, hitting .255/.342/.456 with 29 home runs and 98 RBIs, and finished eighth in the MVP voting.

The analytical methods loved Donaldson's two standout seasons. Baseball-Reference values Donaldson at 15.4 WAR over those two years, second among position players behind only Mike Trout; FanGraphs rates him third behind Trout and Andrew McCutchen. The MVP voters agreed that Donaldson has been one of the league's elite performers.

Then the A's traded him to the Blue Jays in November, a controversial deal considering that Donaldson is just entering his first year of arbitration and has four seasons remaining until free agency. Why would Oakland GM Billy Beane trade a still-inexpensive player, one of the best in the league?

The primary reason was that the A's wanted roster depth, so they acquired four players, three of whom could help in 2015. The second reason is more speculative: Does Beane think Donaldson has peaked? Some suggest that because Donaldson was a late bloomer he's also likely to decline more quickly. As the old Branch Rickey saying goes, trade him a year too early rather than a year too late.

The trouble with proving or disproving the hypothesis he has already peaked is that Donaldson's career arc is so unusual that there just aren't other players like him. I went searching for players since 1950 who were among the best in baseball in their age 27-28 seasons but who hadn't done much before that to see if there was somebody comparable -- and then to see how those players aged.

First, I was surprised to see where Donaldson ranked: His 15.4 WAR puts him tied for 13th in age 27-28 value with Chuck Knoblauch, just behind Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr. and Eddie Mathews and just ahead of Chase Utley, Mike Schmidt and Joe Morgan. Most of the players in the top 50 are Hall of Famers, future Hall of Famers or near Hall of Famers such as Dave Parker and Dale Murphy.

Anyway, I did find a few similar players. Let's take a look.

George Foster (14.3 WAR at 27-28): Foster is a bit of a stretch to include here. He actually made his debut with the Giants in 1969 when he was just 20 and got a chance to play regularly in 1971 when he was traded to the Reds. He didn't play well, played sparingly in 1972 and spent most of 1973 in the minors. He had his breakout season in 1975, when he was 26, not 27, and also had played well in a part-time role in 1974 -- thus my reluctance to include him. Anyway, he remained a good player through age 32, when he signed with the Mets as a free agent and went downhill (as Mets fans well know).

Alex Gordon (13.5 WAR at 27-28): Gordon did have his first big season in 2011 at age 27, but had spent all or parts of the previous four years in the majors and was worth 4.8 WAR over his first two seasons. So he didn't exactly come out of nowhere, although he had spent much of 2010 in the minors. Gordon has continued to play well at age 29-30, although has batting numbers haven't quite matched his age-27 level of production.

Edgar Martinez (11.6 WAR at 27-28): This is the best match on the list. A late bloomer in the minors, Martinez was then held in Triple-A for an extra couple of years as the Mariners played Jim Presley at third base because they didn't think Martinez had the arm to play there. Finally given a chance to start in 1990 at age 27, he hit .302 and then .307 in 1991 and then won a batting title, with a .343 average, in 1992. He was one of the best hitters in the league for many years after that.

Brian Giles (10.6 WAR at 27-28): Again, a bit of a stretch. He hit .355 in 121 at-bats at age 25 with Cleveland and then hit .268/.368/.450 at 26 in 451 plate appearances. He posted a .396 OBP at 27, got traded to the Pirates and had a stretch of monster seasons from ages 28 through 32 -- and several more good ones after that.

Ben Zobrist (9.5 WAR at 27-28): We're getting further away from Donaldson's WAR -- Zobrist ranks 134th on the list of age 27-28 value -- but this is a pretty good match. Zobrist hit .200 in 80 games at ages 25-26 and then played well in a part-time role at 27. He had his big breakout season for the Rays at age 28 in 2009 and has averaged 5.8 WAR per season from 29 through 33.

So, in the past 60-plus years, there have been two really good comps for Donaldson: Martinez and Zobrist. One guy (Martinez) went on to have a Hall of Fame-caliber career and the other has been an extremely valuable player the past five seasons, probably the most underrated player in the game. I didn't find anyone who was a big star at 27-28 after having done nothing before that and then flamed out rather quickly. (Note: I'm not saying there haven't been excellent players who declined after 28, just no player who matches Donaldson's career arc.)

This suggests that Donaldson should once again be a potential MVP candidate for the Blue Jays in 2015 and remain a very good player into his early 30s.
videoFor all the debates and arguments and anger spilled over the past few weeks over the Hall of Fame election and its process, this is a great day to celebrate the sport. For the first time since 1955, the Baseball Writers' Association of America has elected four members to the Hall of Fame: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio.

Johnson and Martinez never started a game against each other -- not even an All-Star Game -- but the two all-time greats will be seated next to each other on the podium in Cooperstown in July as members of the Hall of Fame class of 2015.

Really, the only question regarding the voting results was whether either pitcher would surpass Tom Seaver's record of being named on 98.8 percent of the ballots. Johnson came close with 97.3 percent of the vote, while Martinez surprisingly received only 91.1 percent. A few writers who publicly posted their votes had said they weren't voting for Johnson or Martinez since they knew they'd get in and wanted to use their 10-person ballots on other players. This likely prevented Johnson from beating Seaver's percentage. As for Martinez, it's probable that a larger number of voters didn't vote for him because he didn't win 300 games.

Johnson is arguably the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time, combining the longevity of Warren Spahn with the dominance of Sandy Koufax. Only Lefty Grove can offer up a strong case against Johnson. The Big Unit won five Cy Young Awards and finished second in the voting three other times, and he racked up all kinds of strikeout records. His performance for the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2001 World Series, when he won three games, including Game 6 and then Game 7 in relief, was the stuff of legend.

The amazing thing about Johnson's career is where he was at the age of 28. He was 49-48 with a 3.95 career ERA, a guy who threw 100 mph and had absolutely no idea where the ball was going. I grew up Seattle and saw just about every Johnson start in those days, in person or on TV. Believe me, there wasn't one Mariners who thought he'd turn into a Hall of Famer; we just hoped he wouldn't kill anybody. He grew so frustrated he contemplated quitting the game, but a talk with Nolan Ryan -- a man familiar with control problems -- in 1992 helped turn Johnson's career around, a reference point Johnson would make on Tuesday after his election.

He had his breakout season in 1993 and then helped save baseball in Seattle in 1995. Literally. The Mariners had never made the playoffs and were trying to get a new stadium built. Ken Griffey Jr. missed two months with a broken wrist and the Mariners were well behind in the pennant race. In early September, the state legislature voted down a new ballpark proposal. Baseball in Seattle appeared doomed. Then the Mariners mounted a miraculous comeback -- Johnson went 18-2 with a 2.48 ERA that year -- and Johnson beat the Angels in a tiebreaker for the AL West title, and Seattle had acquired baseball fever. The legislature later decided to fund a new ballpark.

As great as Johnson was, Pedro's peak performance may have been the best ever for a pitcher. From 1997 to 2003, Pedro went 118-36 with a 2.20 ERA and won three Cy Young Awards and five ERA titles. While Johnson relied on his blazing fastball and slider, Pedro had a blazing fastball and a devastating curveball and maybe the best changeup of all time. He was as unhittable a pitcher as I've ever seen -- batters hit .198 against him over those seven years -- and made things even scarier for hitters with an occasional ball that was a little up and in. Anyone who saw Pedro pitch in Fenway during his prime with the Red Sox will agree that there have been few places more exciting than that ballpark in that period, with the Dominican flags waving proudly and fans chanting throughout the game.

In the end, percentages don't really matter, but it would have been fun to see Johnson break Seaver's record and, really, both Johnson and Martinez are inner-circle Hall of Famers, guys who deserved to have been placed on every ballot.

After falling two votes short last year, Biggio got in with a comfortable 82.7 percent. If you dissect the numbers, he's probably a borderline Hall of Famer, a player who had a tremendous peak from 1995 to 1999 when he was one of the best players in the game and then held on long enough to get 3,000 hits.

John Smoltz, with 82.9 percent of the vote, is a deserving Hall of Famer, although I remain surprised at how much support he received his first year on the ballot in comparison to Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling, two similar pitchers with slightly more career value.

Now, let's look at some of the winners and losers of today's results.


Mike Piazza: He received 69.9 percent of the vote, up from 62.2 percent last year. That's great news, a sign that he isn't being held back by steroid rumors. Since seven players have been cleared off the ballot in the past two votes, and only Ken Griffey Jr. is an obvious first-timer joining the ballot next year, Piazza should continue to see his percentage increase and get elected next year.

Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina: Both saw their percentages increase from last year, although Schilling is still at just 39 percent and Mussina at 24 percent. The good news is that Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Johnson, Martinez and Smoltz have been cleared off the ballot. So Schilling and Mussina have no competition from other starting pitchers for the next five years and should see their vote totals increase. Hall of Fame election is often about timing; their timing now improves.

It's interesting to note that both Schilling and Mussina fared much higher from voters who revealed their ballots before Tuesday's announcement. Baseball Think Factory tracked public ballots (202 out of the actual total of 549) and Schilling was at 50 percent and Mussina 35. Most of the public ballots are from still-active beat writers and columnists compared to the former or retired writers who make up a large percentage of voters. These still-active writers -- who include big names in the industry -- have the forum to start stumping the cases for Schilling and Mussina.

Gary Sheffield: He at least stayed on the ballot. I was sure he would fail to receive the 5 percent needed to stay on. Then again, maybe it would be better if a guy like him got booted off the ballot and over to the Veterans Committee.

Everyone else, potentially: With four players getting elected and Don Mattingly now off the ballot, nearly 2,000 votes will be excised from this year's ballot. That could help some of the borderline guys, such as Jeff Kent and Larry Walker, to build some momentum or at least get their cases discussed.


Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa: The only surprise here is that Sosa managed to remain on the ballot with 6.6 percent of the vote.

Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines: Both saw small increases from last year -- Bagwell up to 55.7 percent and Raines up to 55 percent -- but they still have a long ways to go, and Raines has only two years left on the ballot. Bagwell is actually below the percentages he received in 2012 and 2013, so the lack of momentum is bad news. He's down to five years left. Maybe a slightly less crowded ballot will help him, but he needs to find a wave of support.

Edgar Martinez: He received 36 percent of the vote his first year on the ballot, a starting point from which many Hall of Famers have eventually been elected. But he’s been a big victim of the crowded ballot, stalling at 25 percent last year and now 27 percent. Pedro Martinez just called him the toughest batter he ever faced. Start stumping, Pedro!
I don't have a Hall of Fame vote since I've been a BBWAA member for only one year. Will there even be a Hall of Fame in nine years when I'll be eligible to vote?

Anyway, if I did have a vote, I've come around to using "wins above average" as a good starting point for examining Hall of Fame candidates. I'm a little more interested in peak performance than pure longevity. Obviously, the easy Hall of Fame choices such as Randy Johnson had both. Sometimes, a guy such as Pedro Martinez had such a dominant peak that he's an easy choice, as well.

By looking at wins above average instead of wins above replacement, we focus more on Hall of Fame-level seasons and give less credit or no credit to seasons where the player was more or less just compiling counting statistics. An average player is worth about 2.0 WAR per season, so we're looking at value above that level. Some guys -- such as Mike Mussina or Fred McGriff -- seem to be dismissed for being judged as "compilers" rather than big stars. But is that perception or reality?

Here are the wins above average totals for the 20 strong Hall of Fame candidates on this year's ballot, via Baseball-Reference.com. (Doesn't include Lee Smith, as relievers need to be judged differently.) I also included each player's career WAR, the difference between WAR and WAA, and then the percentage of each player's career value that could labeled "peak" value.

(In some ways, this is similar to Jay Jaffe's JAWS system, which combines two aspects of a player's career to arrive at a JAWS score: his best seven seasons and his career value.)

Anyway, what can we learn from this chart? The biggest compiler here is Craig Biggio, with only 44 percent of his career value coming from wins above average. Mussina did have a lot of "non-peak" value, but his career wins above average still ranks in the top 10. In fact, he should be viewed as less of a compiler than John Smoltz, who may get elected this year while Mussina struggles to get even one-third of the votes.

McGriff, on the other hand, rates low across the board, both in wins above average and percentage peak value. McGriff's proponents like to argue that he hit 493 home runs and did it clean. That's the difficult part of judging this era if you're going to factor in PEDs: Do you give McGriff extra credit because there are no steroid rumors attached to him, and thus he compares favorably to Hall of Famers like Willie Stargell and Willie McCovey?

The player perhaps most helped by this method is Larry Walker, which makes sense. He had a relatively short career, in part due to myriad injuries, but his career WAR is high, with 66 percent of that value coming from wins above average. I'm still skeptical about Walker due to the short career and the Coors Field boost. Yes, WAR makes park adjustments, but I don't believe it accurately accounts for how much a good hitter is boosted by playing in Coors. Edgar Martinez may have hit .400 if he'd played there.

So if I had a ballot, which 10 guys would I vote for? I would vote for PED guys and I'd vote for my top 10 players, regardless of trying to rig the ballot to help certain players: Bonds, Clemens, Johnson, Pedro, Bagwell, Schilling, Piazza, Mussina, Trammell, Edgar.

Others I'd classify as Hall of Famers: Smoltz, Biggio, Raines, McGwire.

On the fence: Kent, Walker, Sheffield, Sosa, McGriff.

Not a Hall of Famer: Delgado, Smith.
On Tuesday, I suspect we'll hear that Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Craig Biggio and John Smoltz have been elected to the Hall of Fame.

Aside from those four, however, this election may prove most critical for Jeff Bagwell. I've written about Bagwell's Hall of Fame case before, so I won't rehash all the numbers and arguments. Let's look at voting trends and focus on Bagwell's odds of eventually getting elected.

This is his fifth year on the ballot. In his first three years, he made good progress, increasing from 41.7 percent to 56 percent to 59.6 percent. That put him a direct path to the 75 percent total needed for enshrinement. Many players eventually elected by the Baseball Writers Association were under 60 percent after three years on the ballot. Jim Rice was at 37 percent. Gary Carter was at 49 percent. Andre Dawson was at 50 percent. Duke Snider, the great Brooklyn Dodgers center fielder of the 1950s? He was at 21 percent. Bert Blyleven was at just 17 percent.

[+] EnlargeJeff Bagwell
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesJeff Bagwell received 54.3 percent of the vote last year, his fourth on the ballot.
The good news for Bagwell: Every player who received at least 50 percent of the vote from the BBWAA -- and isn't still on the ballot -- has eventually been elected to Cooperstown, with the exception of Gil Hodges and Jack Morris. They weren't all elected by the BBWAA, but most of the recent guys were. (Joe Posnanski has a history of the 50 percenters here.)

The bad news for Bagwell: His vote total dropped last year to 54.3 percent. That was partially the result of a crowded ballot, a problem that still exists this year but will be slightly alleviated in future ballots. It could also suggest that the line has been drawn on Bagwell due to the allegations (without any evidence) that he used steroids. Bagwell's pool of voters may simply be extinguished and he'll continue to sit around 55 to 60 percent.

The other bad news is the rule change that now limits a player to 10 years on the ballot instead of 15. In rare cases, it takes years to develop Hall of Fame momentum. Rice got elected in his 15th year on the ballot, Blyleven on his 14th, Bruce Sutter on his 13th. Bagwell is already four years in and now has fewer years to regain back his lost momentum.

That's why getting back up to 60 percent is critical. Here are some recent non-first-ballot Hall of Famers with the year they first received 60 percent of the vote and how long until they got elected:

Jack Morris: 66.7 percent in 2012 (13th year on ballot), not elected
Barry Larkin: 62.1 percent in 2011 (2nd), elected in 2012
Roberto Alomar: 73.7 percent in 2010 (1st), elected in 2011
Bert Blyleven: 61.9 percent in 2008 (11th), elected in 2011
Goose Gossage: 64.6 percent in 2006 (7th), elected in 2008
Andre Dawson: 61.0 percent in 2006 (5th), elected in 2010
Jim Rice: 64.6 percent in 2006 (12th), elected in 2009
Bruce Sutter: 66.7 percent in 2005 (12th, elected in 2006
Ryne Sandberg: 61.1 percent in 2004 (2nd), elected in 2005
Gary Carter: 64.9 percent in 2001 (4th), elected in 2003
Tony Perez: 65.7 percent in 1996 (5th), elected in 2000

Leaving aside Alomar, who didn't get elected his first year because some voters only vote for inner-circle Hall of Famers on the first ballot, the average number of years from 60 percent to election has been 2.3, with a max of four (and excluding Morris). When you get to 60 percent, momentum seems to really ramp up, even more so than getting to 50 percent. I can't attempt to understand the collective psychology of the BBWAA here, but my prediction is if Bagwell gets to 60 percent he'll get elected in three years.

A few quick notes on some other guys on the ballot:

Mike Piazza: He's similar to Bagwell in that some don't vote for him due to steroids allegations, but his vote total actually increased last year, his second on the ballot, to 62.1 percent. I don't think he gets in this year, but he's a good candidate for 2016.

Tim Raines: He now has just three years left and he fell from 52 percent to 48 percent last year. I think he may get some push as his years on the ballot wind down, but he's definitely been hurt by the crowded ballot. Needs a huge spike this year to have any chance in the future.

Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina: I wrote about them on Friday. Both were under 30 percent last year and I doubt they get much movement this year. I'm not sure that's a big deal just yet. Last year they had to fight Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine for votes, and this year they're fighting Johnson and Martinez. Once those names are cleared (and maybe Smoltz as well), these two will start receiving more support as the lack of other starting pitching candidates increases.

Sammy Sosa and Gary Sheffield: My guess is they both fail to get 5 percent, and their more than 1,100 home runs combined will be booted off the ballot.

Jeff Kent: He received 15.1 percent of the vote in his first year. I suppose there's a danger of him falling off the ballot as he's one of those guys -- I'd throw in Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff and Larry Walker in this group as well -- getting lost in the crowded ballot, their Hall of Fame arguments relegated to the deep corners of the Internet.
Excuse me while I get caught up in a wave of nostalgia ...

The greatest moment in Mariners history. And this may be the second-greatest moment.

The first highlight was from Game 5 of the 1995 Division Series, one of the most exciting playoff games ever played. MLB Network has been re-airing its series from a few years ago on baseball's greatest games -- this one was No. 14 -- so, being a Mariners fan, I recorded it from the wee hours of Friday morning and just watched it again. Yes, Buck Showalter still leaves in David Cone to throw a gut-wrenching 147 pitches and Edgar's double is still a thing of joy.

The show on MLB Network had Cone and Lou Piniella in the studio talking about the game and Cone called Martinez the best right-handed hitter he ever faced. It's easy to see why he'd say that; many pitchers from that era would agree. Check Martinez's year-by-year on-base percentages from his first year as a regular in 1990: .397, .405, .404, .366 (injured), .387, .479, .464, .456, .429, .447, .423, .423, .403, .406, .342 (called it a career).

That's 11 seasons with an OBP over .400. You know how times a right-handed batter has posted a .400 OBP over the past five seasons combined? Twelve. Not different players, 12 times total. Yes, different era, less offense ... but ... still ... 11 seasons with an OBP over .400.

Martinez, of course, as you regular readers of the blog know, is my favorite player of all time. So I'm a little biased. He's on the Hall of Fame ballot for the sixth time and he's not getting in despite that career batting line of .312/.418/.515. After getting between 32.9 and 36.5 percent of the vote his first four years, he dropped to 25 percent last year, squeezed out by the 10-man limit and overstuffed ballot.

Yes, he was primarily a DH and because he didn't play his first full season until he was 27, his career was somewhat abbreviated even though he played until he was 41. Aside from those issues, however, one aspect I believe Hall of Fame voters consistently undervalue is greatness. That may sound silly in a Hall of Fame sense -- all these players we discuss as potential Hall of Famers were great players -- but there are two kinds of greatness. Players who are great for long periods of time and players who are GREAT, capital letters, those guys who have those multiple monster seasons, maybe win MVP Award along the way, the kind of players opposing pitchers years later will call the best they ever faced.

This is an area where Martinez excelled. It's why Pedro Martinez will deservingly get elected this year even though he won "only" 219 career games. It's why Curt Schilling should be considered a better Hall of Fame candidate than John Smoltz. But how do measure something like that?

Baseball-Reference has a measurement called Wins Above Average. It's similar to Wins Above Replacement except it compares players to an average level of production rather than replacement-level. (Average is about two wins about replacement-level.) A player who plays a long time and is merely average or slightly above can still rack up a lot of Wins Above Replacement. There's real value in that but when you think of "Hall of Famer" you're not really thinking of average. You're thinking of greatness.

Edgar Martinez had more Wins Above Average than Ryne Sandberg. Or Paul Molitor. Or Robin Yount, Tony Gwynn, Duke Snider, Reggie Jackson, Carlton Fisk, Roberto Alomar, Willie Stargell, Ernie Banks or Dave Winfield. Not exactly a group of cheap Hall of Famers there. More than Mark McGwire, Tim Raines, Pete Rose or Jim Thome. More than Derek Jeter -- quite a bit more than Jeter, actually, 38.4 to 30.5.

I can't express this any more simply: Edgar Martinez was great. If that's what you want in a Hall of Famer, than Martinez deserves more support than he's been getting.
Over the weekend, I saw "The Imitation Game," the story of British mathematician Alan Turing. Turing helped crack the German Enigma code machine during World War II, allowing the Allies to decipher German secret messages and help bring an earlier end to the war. The movie was sophisticated and compelling and is a definite Oscar contender.

It also wasn't completely true to history. One of the key plot points involves Turing designing and building a machine -- an early version of a computer -- to break Enigma. In truth, Turing's machine was an improvement on a Polish device. And Turing didn't collaborate solely with a small team to break the German code; there were thousands of people working on it.

What obligation does a movie -- even one "based on a true story" -- have to historical accuracy? After all, it's just a movie. As I researched Turing and thought of this, I realized a similar problem exists with the Hall of Fame and its voting process.

What's the obligation of Hall of Fame voters? We know the Hall of Fame is supposed to tell the story of baseball, through exhibits and artifacts and plaques honoring the game's best players, managers and important contributors. But that's where it gets complicated. Hall of Fame voters are allowed to tell the story they choose, with little to no direction on the ultimate objectives beyond the vague idea of electing the best players. But how many players? What makes a Hall of Famer? Can voters erase the careers of Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds? That's why we have these heated debates every year.

Anyway, I had vowed to stay away from writing about the Hall of Fame this year but ... well, people love to read about the Hall of Fame. Mostly, of course, people just like to argue. Here are six issues with the current system -- and a potential solution:

1. The 10-person ballot is clearly a flawed concept.

Think about it: What are Hall of Fame voters -- active or honorary members of the Baseball Writers Association of America -- asked to do? They are presented a ballot with a list of candidates, with the purpose of electing recently retired players to the Hall of Fame. Candidates who receive 75 percent of the votes will earn election. The voters are instructed to vote for the "candidate[s] of your choice." This year's ballot includes 34 names. Simple enough. Voters, however, are restricted to voting for a maximum of 10 players, implying a ranking or hierarchy of players must necessarily be involved. But no such wording exists on the ballot. Voters don't list their choices in order. Players are either "in" or "out."

The fact that the BBWAA has failed to understand and fix this flawed logic has led to ballots like this one:

I'm not knocking Mike, but he's decided to not vote for two of the most accomplished players on the ballot. If voters were instructed to vote for the best players, Mike would have voted for Johnson and Pedro. He's not the only one who has been forced to strategize his ballot because he wants to vote for more than 10 players. Others like Buster Olney decided to abstain from voting this year, hoping instead the 10-player limit gets changed in the future.

2. A lack of understanding of ballot history.

The reasoning for not changing the rule is, I suppose, that the limit on the number of players has always been there or that no more than a handful are ever elected in a given year anyway.

Consider this, however: Every Hall of Fame ballot contains more Hall of Famers than are elected that year. Some random examples:


In general, how many Hall of Famers would you like to see elected each year?


Discuss (Total votes: 1,922)

2005: Seven (two elected)
1998: Seven (one elected)
1991: Eight (three elected)
1990: Eight (two elected)
1982: 14 (two elected)
1973: 15 (one elected)
1964: 19 (one elected in a special run-off)

3. That said, the 10-player limit may not be keeping anyone out of the Hall of Fame.

Well, it may have kept Craig Biggio out last year, when he missed election by two votes. He will likely get in this year, however. But the average Hall of Fame ballot contains fewer than 10 votes:

2014: 8.4
2013: 6.6
2012: 5.1
2011: 6.0
2010: 5.7

Even last year's crowded ballot, with newcomers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas alongside all the strong leftover candidates and the steroid-suspicion-tainted guys, didn't quite approach 10 players per voter and was a big increase over recent averages. We may get a similar result this year, with high-profile newcomers like Johnson, Martinez and John Smoltz, but the list of automatic new candidates thins a bit after that.

But there is a potential ripple effect going on here. Clearly, with an average of 8.4 votes per ballot, many of the 571 voters last year did turn in a full ballot, and presumably some of those would have voted for more than 10. So that holds down vote totals for candidates like Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez or Curt Schilling, and those players fail to develop the "momentum" that helps propel disputed candidates forward to election.

4. Steroids.

The anti-steroids voters have won this debate so far, at least in the cases of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa, with some effect on the totals for Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell. Here are the two sides of the debate from two of the most prominent BBWAA members.

Buster Olney:
As written in this space many times, I think all players should be judged within the context of the era in which they played, and during McGwire's career, the sport was saturated with performance-enhancing drugs, largely because over the period of about 15 years, no one within the institution of baseball -- not the union leaders, not MLB owners, not the commissioner, not the clean players, nor the media that covered the sport -- aggressively addressed the growing problem. Through that inaction, what evolved was a chemical Frankenstein of a game. Like it or not, that's what the sport was in that time: no drug testing, lots of drug use, lots of drug users, lots of money being made by everybody. (And by the way, no team, baseball executive or player has offered to give back the money made in that time.)

The idea of retroactive morality is ridiculous, especially given that the folks in the sport had a strong idea by the mid-'90s that there was a growing problem, and nobody did anything about it. Here's Jose Canseco being asked about his steroid use on national television before the 1988 playoffs, right after Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson was stripped of his gold medal. And here's a Bob Nightengale story from 1995 in which then-interim commissioner Bud Selig was asked about the problem, making mention of a "private meeting" the year before. Yet serious testing and penalties really weren't in place until 2006.
Tom Verducci:
First, you must understand the voting process. A ballot is sent to me in the mail -- a personal ballot, just as it is sent to about 570 baseball writers eligible to vote. This is not an SAT test or a trivia contest. There are no "right" and "wrong" answers. This one ballot is my judgment. Yes, I am being asked to be "judge" or juror, in the parlance of some writers uncomfortable with responsibility, but I am only one of many hundreds.

When I vote for a player, I am upholding him for the highest individual honor possible. My vote is an endorsement of a career, not part of it, and how it was achieved. Voting for a known steroid user is endorsing steroid use. Having spent too much of the past two decades or so covering baseball on the subject of steroids -- what they do, how the game was subverted by them, and how those who stayed away from them were disadvantaged -- I cannot endorse it.

The Hall of Fame itself has refused to weigh in on the issue, leaving the voters to make their own judgment on history.

5. Are we even debating the right issue?

In a recent article on Bill James Online titled "Fixing the Hall," Bill James made an interesting point:
The first thing that should be noted, about the Hall of Fame's selection process, is that more than 99 percent of the shoddy work has been done not by the BBWAA, but by the various and sundry and mundry committees that have acted on the Hall of Fame's behalf.

It is an odd thing, that:

1) MOST of the people who are in the Hall of Fame were not actually selected by the BBWAA ...

2) ALL or virtually all of the unworthy selections to the Hall of Fame were not made by the BBWAA, and yet ...

3) Discussion about the Hall of Fame selection process is 90 percent focused on the BBWAA voting process.

James is right. The BBWAA has elected 115 players, but there are 305 men -- and one woman -- in the Hall of Fame. The various and sundry committees have elected 96 major league players (and 35 Negro Leaguers). The BBWAA hasn't helped itself in recent years, however, by electing some of its weakest members (Bruce Sutter, Jim Rice) while leaving out more worthy candidates.

6. The BBWAA doesn't elect enough players.

Aside from steroids, this is the issue that gets fans most riled up, that the BBWAA is simply too tough, that its standards are too high considering the caliber of players already enshrined, that their favorite player is getting passed over.

That's true; as a collective voting bloc, the BBWAA is tough. A low point came two years ago when nobody got elected. But look at the average number of votes per ballot. Individually, voters do want to see more players get elected. Other than obvious choices like Maddux and Glavine, they just have trouble agreeing on whom to elect. There were enough votes last year to elect 11 candidates, but only three got in.

This isn't surprising. If we look at the 115 Hall of Famers elected by the BBWAA, the midway point in career WAR is right around 70: Half the Hall of Famers are above that, half are below. (If we included all Hall of Fame players, it's way below 70.) Anyway, this year's ballot contains 15 players with between 55 and 85 career WAR. Pedro Martinez may seem like an easy selection, but it's the other 14 that we argue about, and while they are strong candidates, few are getting in right now.

Solution: Elect a minimum number of players each year.

It's the one thing most of us do agree on: We want more Hall of Famers. Yet the writers haven't elected at least two candidates in back-to-back years since 2005. Meanwhile, we managers and umpires and team owners and players from the 1800s keep getting enshrined.

Bill James again:
The first thing that needs to be done, to fix the Hall of Fame system, is: Terminate all of the side committees. Close all of the back doors and side doors and windows and air vents or however the hell it was that Alex Pompez and Travis Jackson and Dracula got into the building. Get rid of those, and promise us that there will never, ever, ever be any more of them. That's a good start.

Next, establish a rule that four persons must be selected to the Hall of Fame in each year; not four persons MAY be selected; four persons MUST be selected.

A regular flow of entries of a fixed and steady number -- coming out of a consistent and well-defined process -- creates standards. The Hall of Fame suffers from indefinite standards because inconsistent and incompatible processes are used to make the selections. Travis Jackson is in; Alan Trammell -- obviously a better player than Travis Jackson -- is out. This is because those passing judgment on Alan Trammell's career are different in every way than those who plucked Travis Jackson from the lost island of New York Giants history. If four candidates and only four candidates could be selected each year in a well-thought-out public process, Rick Ferrell, Alex Pompez, Eppa Rixey and Dracula would never have been selected because they could never have fought their way past the better-qualified candidates who have been left out.

James proposed a radical tournament-style election that would have 32 candidates running off against each other in a playoff, one candidate nominated from each team plus two at-large candidates from remaining players, managers and executives. I love the idea, in part because it asks voters to weigh in on history: Was Edgar Martinez better than Larry Walker? Was Jeff Bagwell better than Tim Raines? It forces voters to at least consider all the candidates and creates a more defined goal.

Of course, the idea is way too fun to ever be considered.

The important point is that the current process doesn't work. As James writes, "The BBWAA has little history of selecting unqualified candidates, but the BBWAA has passed on -- rejected -- a large number of well-qualified candidates. The BBWAA whiffed on Joe Torre, Ron Santo, Nellie Fox, Tim Raines, Luis Tiant, Dwight Evans and others. These are failures, too. These failures create pressure to open the alternative admissions process -- and the alternative admissions process is a dart board."

On Jan. 6, this year's election results will be announced. I expect Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Craig Biggio to get elected. While we'll celebrate their achievements and careers, we'll also criticize a system that failed to elect Raines or Bagwell or Schilling.

Then we'll start up again next December.

Let's finish up with the 14 players I consider strong Hall of Fame candidates. Of course, if I had a ballot, I could vote for only 10 ... well, that's another essay, my friends. Here is Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

The Hall of Famers

14. Tim Raines (69.1 career WAR, 52.2 percent of the vote last year) -- I’m a big supporter of Raines although it’s possible that the sabermetric crowd has overstated his case just a bit. Raines had a high peak from 1983 to 1987 while with the Expos -- his combined WAR ranks fourth among position players, behind Wade Boggs, Rickey Henderson and Cal Ripken, meaning he was arguably the best player in the National League over that span. He was also an outstanding player in the 1981 strike season and again in 1992 with the White Sox. Other than those seven seasons, however, he was merely good instead of great and spent his late 30s as a part-time player.

Still, as others have written, as he’s a very close statistical comp to Tony Gwynn -- Raines just happened to replace Gwynn’s hits with walks. He’s one of the best basestealers in history and the WAR is right in line with recent Hall of Fame selections. The good news is that Raines’ case is building, from 22.6 percent to 30.4 to 37.5 to 48.7 to 52.2. If he can avoid a collapse this year because of the crowded ballot, his momentum appears strong enough to eventually see election.

13. Craig Biggio (64.9 WAR, 68.2 percent) -- Results from public ballots have Biggio just crossing over the 75 percent mark. Biggio reached the magical 3,000-hit barrier, meaning the only surprise was he didn’t get elected in his first year on the ballot. In the past, 3,000 hits meant you were a mortal lock for Cooperstown. Of the 28 players to reach 3,000 hits, only Biggio, Paul Waner and Rafael Palmeiro failed to get elected on the first ballot (not including Pete Rose and Derek Jeter).

Of course, to get there, Biggio wasn’t helping his club at the end. He picked up 265 hits his final two seasons while being valued at minus-1.7 WAR. He posted poor on-base percentages and had poor range at second base, not surprising considering he played in his age-40 and age-41 seasons. That's the flaw in focusing on round numbers. Biggio only got there by hanging on.

At his peak, however, Biggio was a tremendous offensive player as a second baseman, with power, speed, on-base skills and the ability to steal bases. From 1994 to 1998 he ranked third, third, second, 12th, third and second, in the NL in offensive WAR and was right up there with the best all-around players in the game.

12. Alan Trammell (70.3 WAR, 33.6 percent) -- To me, it’s clear that the BBWAA threw its support behind the wrong Detroit Tiger. Trammell is basically the same player as Barry Larkin (70.2 WAR), except he played in the same league as Cal Ripken and Larkin played in the same league as Shawon Dunston.

The weird thing about this is that I'm pretty sure Trammell was more famous while active than Larkin, at least on a national level. Larkin did win an MVP Award but Trammell's teams were in the playoff race for most of his career while the Reds were a small-market club that was up and down during Larkin's career. I think what happened is basically this: Say the 33 percent who vote for Trammell also voted for Larkin. That leaves the other two-thirds of the voting pool. Say one-third were NL beat guys and columnists and the other third were AL beat guys and columnists. All the NL guys voted for Larkin because he was the best shortstop in his league but didn't vote for Trammell. But the AL guys didn't vote for Trammell either because he wasn't Ripken -- and then after Trammell retired, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Tejada and Nomar Garciaparra came along. Larkin gets the easy label -- best in his league -- that Trammell doesn't. Which is too bad. Trammell was a beautiful ballplayer who did everything well.

11. Mark McGwire (62.0 WAR, 16.9 percent) -- One of the things I’ll never forget as a baseball fan is watching McGwire take batting practice while covering a Cardinals-Tigers game at Tiger Stadium in 1999. Standing behind the batting cage as he launched ball after ball onto the roof or over the roof made me re-think the laws of physics (not that I know the laws of physics).

Why McGwire and not Sammy Sosa, when their career WAR isn't that dissimilar? Maybe it is a feel thing, a feeling that McGwire is one of the game's historic figures. I think that counts for something. He also has the best home run rate in history (higher than Babe Ruth).

10. Edgar Martinez (68.3 WAR, 35.9 percent) -- Bias alert! I wrote about Martinez back in 2009 and then again the other day. I rate him a little higher than the guys above because he had more high peak seasons -- five with 6-plus WAR, eight with 5.5-plus WAR and two more at 4.9 and 4.8. Simply, one of the best hitters the game has ever seen. Sadly, if the Mariners didn't waste three years of his career letting him unnecessarily rot in the minors, his case would be much stronger.

9. Mike Piazza (59.2 WAR, 57.8 percent) -- We'll learn a lot about Piazza's future Hall of Fame hopes this year. He achieved a strong showing in his first year. If that grows this year, it's a good sign. If it falls or remains the same, it could be that he's maxed out already due to PED concerns. About that WAR total: It's difficult for catchers to compile the same WAR as other positions, as they play fewer games and often have shortened careers. Piazza ranks sixth all time among catchers, behind Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk, Ivan Rodriguez and Yogi Berra.

8. Mike Mussina (83.0 WAR, first year) -- As I wrote back in November, Mussina is eminently qualified for the Hall of Fame.

7. Frank Thomas (73.6 WAR, first year) -- I wrote about Thomas the other day. It looks like he'll get in on his first year on the ballot. Will Thomas' election help Martinez? Once Thomas is in, doesn't it mean you can't use the "but he was a DH" argument against Martinez? Probably not. That suggests a consistent and logical line of thinking from the BBWAA, which ... well, that's like expecting a Cardinals fan to be treated with kindness and respect while sitting in the Wrigley Field bleachers wearing a Matt Holliday jersey.

6. Tom Glavine (81.4 WAR, first year) -- Not much to add about Glavine that you don't already know. Durable, consistent, got the most out of his ability. Like Greg Maddux, an absolute joy to watch (unless you were a Mets fan). He owned the outside corner of the plate -- and maybe a few inches beyond -- with that changeup. I think Glavine and Maddux have a bit of an unfair reputation of not showing up in the postseason. Compare their results to those of Andy Pettitte, who does have a reputation as being extra-special clutch in October:

Glavine: 14-16, 3.30 ERA, 35 GS, 218 1/3 IP, 1.27 WHIP
Maddux: 11-14, 3.27 ERA, 30 GS, 198 IP, 1.24 WHIP
Pettitte: 19-11, 3.81 ERA, 44 GS, 276 2/3 IP, 1.30 WHIP

Their records aren't as good because they didn't get the same run support, not because they didn't pitch well.

5. Jeff Bagwell (79.5 WAR, 59.6 percent) -- Other than not playing an up-the-middle position, the perfect ballplayer: power, speed, on-base ability, terrific baserunner, durable (at least until a shoulder injury cut his career a few years short), excellent defender. Here's something I wrote on Bagwell last January.

There are those who refuse to vote for Bagwell under the assumption he used PEDs; Bagwell has strongly denied using PEDs, telling ESPN's Jerry Crasnick in 2010:

I never used [steroids], and I'll tell you exactly why: If I could hit between 30 and 40 home runs every year and drive in 120 runs, why did I need to do anything else? I was pretty happy with what I was doing, and that's the God's honest truth. All of a sudden guys were starting to hit 60 or 70 home runs and people were like, 'Dude, if you took [PEDs], you could do it too.' And I was like, 'I'm good where I'm at. I just want to do what I can do.'

There's nothing abnormal about Bagwell's career curve, other than his freakishly awesome 1994 MVP season when he hit .368. He didn't suddenly start posting career-best numbers in his mid-30s like McGwire or Barry Bonds. He was good as a rookie, got better, remained great and then slowly declined in his 30s.

4. Curt Schilling (79.7 WAR, 38.8 percent) -- Why Schilling over Glavine, even though Glavine won 305 games while Schilling won just 216 games? OK, here's why:

1. Wins are overrated.

2. More career pitching WAR (80.7 to 74.0).

3. Schilling had more high peak seasons -- eight 5-plus WAR seasons with three at 7.9 or higher compared to Glavine's four and one.

4. Postseason dominance.

In the end, I just feel Schilling had the bigger impact on the game's history -- the 2001 World Series triumph for the Diamondbacks, ending the Red Sox curse in 2004 and winning another title in 2007.

Glavine was more durable and lasted longer and maybe you prefer that type of career arc. But I'll take Schilling and his big seasons and go to war with him in October.

3. Greg Maddux (106.8, first year) -- The smartest pitcher who ever lived. At his 1994 and 1995 peak, maybe the best pitcher who ever lived.

2. Roger Clemens (140.3 WAR, 37.6 percent) -- Let's say Clemens started using PEDs in 1997, the year he went to Toronto and went 21-7 with a 2.05 ERA. The popular mythology is that Clemens was fat and washed up in Boston. Actually, he had ranked second among AL pitchers in WAR and led the league in strikeouts in 1996. But whatever. Anyway, through 1996 he was 192-111 with a 3.06 ERA, three Cy Young Awards and 81.3 career pitching WAR. That's more career WAR than Glavine or Schilling. After two big Cy Young seasons with the Blue Jays, he went to the Yankees. And you know what? He wasn't that great with them -- 77-36 but with a 3.99 ERA. He won a sixth Cy Young Award because he went 20-3, not because he was the best pitcher in the league. He won a seventh with the Astros because he went 18-4 (he was seventh among NL pitchers in WAR). Other than the 1.87 ERA in 2005 -- thanks to an absurdly low BABIP -- his late career basically matches what Nolan Ryan did in his 40s.

1. Barry Bonds (162.5 WAR, 36.2 percent) -- Somebody tweeted this on Tuesday night, Bonds hitting a mammoth home run at Yankee Stadium in 2002 -- a blast so impressive that even Yankees fans cheered in awe.

On a basic level, I understand the no votes: Cheaters shouldn't be honored. My colleague Christina Kahrl made a great point about how we view the PED guys: It's a litmus test that tells us what we want from the game. As she told me, we have to remember the past is plenty grimy, full of stories and people every bit as wonderful as we want them to be -- people who also happen to be human.

From 1988 to 1994, Bonds was second in the majors in home runs (to Fred McGriff) and first in OPS and sixth in stolen bases. His WAR was 13 wins higher than the No. 2 position player (Rickey Henderson). From 1988 to 1995, he was 14.5 wins better than the No. 2 guy (Cal Ripken). Ken Griffey Jr. joined the league in 1989. From '89 to '98, Bonds' WAR was 84.1, Griffey's 65.6 (and the No. 3 guy, Barry Larkin, way back at 51.1). Bonds was the most devastating force in the game before he allegedly started using PEDs sometime after McGwire and Sosa went all crazy in 1998.

Ray Ratto just wrote a brilliant Hall of Fame column and he had two great points about Bonds (and Clemens): "1. The player did things on the baseball field that few others did. ... 6. I DON’T WORK FOR BASEBALL, AND I DON’T CARE WHAT IT PURPORTS TO BE. I CARE WHAT IT IS, AND THIS IS PART OF IT."

Bonds is arguably the greatest player of all time, and, yes, a man with many flaws.

What do you want out of the game?
When Frank Thomas first arrived in the majors, he was a force of nature unlike anybody baseball fans had seen in a long time.

[+] EnlargeFrank Thomas
Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty ImagesFrank Thomas, a two-time AL MVP, hit 521 home runs during his 19-year career.
There had been big guys before, of course, big guys who certainly intimidated opposing pitchers with their size and made third basemen back up an extra step or four -- players like Frank Howard, Dave Kingman and Dave Winfield. Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco were in their heyday as the Bash Brothers with the A's when Thomas joined the White Sox in 1990. Darryl Strawberry was still mashing.

But Thomas was different. He wasn't tall and lean or even tall and muscular, but instead tall and massive, built like the former Auburn tight end that he was. He wasn't merely a slugger, one who would sacrifice batting average for power. He was a hitter, right from his rookie season, a guy who matched Tony Gwynn's artistry with Ted Williams' plate selection. He hit home runs almost by accident.

From 1990 to 1997, his first eight seasons, Thomas hit .330/.452/.600. From 1946 to 1989 those numbers had been reached in an individual season just 11 times -- seven of those by Williams. My father's generation had Williams; we had Thomas. Thomas won an MVP Award in 1993 when he hit .317 with 41 home runs, 128 RBIs and 112 walks. He won another in the strike-shortened 1994 season, hitting .353 with 38 home runs and 109 walks in 113 games. He earned the nickname "The Big Hurt" and it was absolutely apropos.

Those eight seasons constitute the heart of Thomas' dominance, although hardly the end of his career. He had one final dominant season in 2000, hitting .328 with 43 home runs and 143 RBIs to finish second in the MVP voting as the White Sox won a division title. He hit 42 home runs in 2003 and with the A's in 2006 finished fourth in the MVP vote, as much for his leadership and Oakland's surprising division title as for his numbers (.270, 39 home runs).

Thomas finished with a career triple-slash line of .301/.419/.555, 521 home runs and 1,704 RBIs. He is, unquestionably, one of the 20 greatest hitters of all time and even fewer matched his peak level of offensive dominance.

He's on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time -- and he may not get in.

Edgar Martinez is on the ballot for the fifth time. He has his loyal core of supporters but he's not making progress to Hall of Fame election: he's received 36 percent, 33 percent, 37 percent and 36 percent of the vote in each of the past four years. He's a long way from getting to the 75 percent needed for election and while some Hall of Famers the BBWAA eventually elected did start with a lower vote percentage, Martinez appears to be stuck in mud. The crowded ballot isn't going to help his vote total increase; if anything, the appearance on the ballot this year of Thomas, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent (plus the final-year sympathy votes for Jack Morris), may actually cut into Martinez's total.

[+] EnlargeEdgar Martinez
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesEdgar Martinez finished his career with a .312 batting average and was a two-time AL batting champion.
Martinez's credentials don't quite jump out at you like Thomas' do. He didn't quite have Thomas' power (Martinez hit 309 home runs) and was often overlooked playing in Seattle and overshadowed by teammates Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez, but at his peak he, too, was one of the most devastating right-handed hitters ever seen. Like Thomas, he hit for a high average while drawing an enormous number of walks. He won two batting titles and reeled off seasons where he hit .356, .343, .337, .330, .327, .324 and .322. He sprayed line drives corner to corner; to me, he was a right-handed George Brett (although Martinez drew more walks, so he got on base more). He had eight seasons with an OPS+ of 150 or higher -- more than Reggie Jackson (7), Willie McCovey (7), Griffey (4), Brett (4), Carl Yastrzemski (4), Ernie Banks (2), Johnny Bench (1) and numerous other Hall of Famers. Thomas also had eight such seasons (and two more partial seasons). In terms of career WAR, Thomas is only slightly higher, 73.6 to 68.0.

As Hall of Famer Paul Molitor once said about Edgar, "He was one of the most feared right-handed hitters for a long time in this league. The amount of respect he has from peers speaks to the value of the offensive player he was."

Thomas and Martinez, of course, spent most of their careers as designated hitters. Thomas played 971 of his 2,322 career games at first base; Martinez played 592 of his 2,055 career games in the field, mostly at third base. Thomas was a bad first baseman; Martinez was an adequate third baseman, moved to DH after some injury problems in 1993 and 1994.

Voters have held that against Martinez, suggesting that he was merely a "specialist," as if being one of the best hitters in the game for 13 seasons somehow lacks value; some voters will withhold a check next to Thomas' name on their ballot with the same justification. Designated hitters don't belong in the Hall of Fame.

One reason the Hall of Fame voting is so contentious is because it's often a conflict between emotion and reason. The Jack Morris case is all about emotion; it's difficult to construct an analytic defense for him as a Hall of Famer. The PED disagreements are all about emotion ("Cheaters!") versus reason ("It was part of the game in that era, we don't know who did what, etc.").

This is why the DH argument annoys me; it's an inconsistent application of reason. In recent years, the BBWAA has elected three relief pitchers -- Bruce Sutter, Goose Gossage and Dennis Eckersley (who also started but was elected primarily on his merits as a closer). There is no more extreme version of a specialist than a closer. Lee Smith -- never considered the best closer in the game while active -- received more votes last year than Martinez. Who was the better player? It's not even an argument worth discussing. No general manager would have traded Edgar Martinez for Lee Smith.

Even more infuriating is that Sutter was an elite reliever for only eight seasons, Gossage for 10, Eckersely for five. You can't vote for closers and then dismiss Martinez or Thomas as specialists.

The Hall of Fame is about greatness. Few hitters achieved the level of Frank Thomas and Edgar Martinez (of course, getting some voters to understand the value of all their walks is another issue). They were great, the best in the game, the core definition of a Hall of Famer.

Maybe they were one-dimensional players. But what a dimension. Both are worthy Hall of Famers.
The Baltimore Orioles have played 54 games and Manny Machado has played in all 54. The amazing Machado fact, however, isn't that he hasn't missed a game but that he's hit 25 doubles -- he hit another one Thursday night, a grounder down the third-base line. That puts him on pace for 75; the all-time record was set by the not-legendary Earl Webb for the Red Sox in 1931.

Manny Machado
ESPN Stats & InformationIn his first full season, Manny Machado has been lacing doubles all over the field.
We can get carried away with early season "on pace" totals -- Jason Grilli is on pace for 66 saves! Patrick Corbin is on pace to go 24-0! -- but Machado's pace is pretty fun, in part because it seems possible, however slim, that he could challenge Webb's record. Machado's Orioles teammate Brian Roberts hit 56 just four years ago, proving you can hit a lot of doubles in Camden Yards and it's easy to jump to the conclusion that Machado could hit 11 more doubles than Roberts.

Still, the odds are he won't do it. Just last year Joey Votto had 22 doubles through the Reds' first 54 games, which put him on a pace for 66. He got hurt but had fallen off by then anyway. Roberts had only 16 through 54 games in 2009. Craig Biggio had a couple seasons where it appeared he could make a run at 67 -- he had 38 doubles in 87 games at the All-Star break in 1999 and 35 in 87 games in 1994. He finished with 56 in '99 and the strike hit in '94, but he'd fallen off pace by then. Lyle Overbay had 37 at the break in 2004 (finished with 53) and John Olerud had 37 in 1993 (finished with 54). Todd Helton hit 59 in 2000, the highest total since 1936, but was never on serious Webb pace.

The guy who appeared most likely to chase down Webb was Edgar Martinez in 1996. Through the Mariners' first 54 games -- Martinez played in all of them -- he had 29 doubles. At the All-Star break he had played in all 85 of Seattle's games and belted out 42 doubles, which put him on pace for 80 (!). Even if he slowed down just a bit it appeared that he would do it. ESPN.com started running an Edgar Martinez Doubles Watch (hey, we were based in Seattle then).

Then, on July 20, Lou Piniella had the brilliant idea to start Martinez at third base for the first time that season. He collided with catcher John Marzano on a foul pop up and bruised his ribs, landing on the disabled list and ending a streak of 293 consecutive games played. Martinez missed 22 games. Upon returning he wasn't the same hitter, batting .309 but with just eight doubles in 44 games. He finished with 52 in 139 games.


How many doubles will Manny Machado end up with?


Discuss (Total votes: 1,771)

Machado has one huge advantage over Martinez -- he can run, so has the ability to stretch singles into doubles that may generate a few extra two-baggers. Besides that, he has another advantage: He doesn't walk much. Martinez had 123 walks that year but Machado has just 12 so far, so he's putting a lot more balls in play.

Also, he has power but not too much power (yet), as with five home runs he's on pace for 15. That matches the Roberts mold as he had 16 home runs in '09. Plus, pitchers are still trying to figure out the best way to get Machado out. He's hit nine doubles off fastballs and those are the ones he lines into the gaps -- seven of the nine to left- and right-center. He yanks "soft" stuff down the line. Only five of his 25 doubles have been groundballs, meaning he's hitting line drives or deep flies for most of his two-base hits.

Odds are that Machado falls short, of course, that pitchers find a small hole in his swing or learn to take advantage of his aggressiveness. Still, this has become one of the intriguing little sub-stories of 2013, the breakout performance of another young star. Can he do it? What do you think?

On June 5, 2009, David Ortiz was hitting .187 with one home run and had struck out 48 times in 46 games. Just two seasons earlier, he had hit .332 with 35 home runs in helping lead the Boston Red Sox to their second World Series title in four seasons.

Ortiz got his eyes checked that day even though he said they weren't the reason for his season-long slump. There were predictions of his imminent release. Some maintained he was older than his actual age. Bill Simmons joked that Red Sox fans needed to mail some human growth hormone to Ortiz.

Instead, the Red Sox rolled the dice. General manager Theo Epstein and consultant Bill James concluded that such slumps were normal for a player of Ortiz's age. Ortiz hit .266 with 27 home runs the rest of that season. Since 2010, he has hit .298/.390/.562. The only hitters with a higher wOBA since then are Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, Jose Bautista and Ryan Braun.

On Tuesday night, Ortiz hit a three-home run off Matt Moore in the first inning, although Moore shut down the Sox after that in Tampa Bay's 5-3 victory. At age 37, Big Papi is still going strong, hitting .333/.370/.613. The guy who struck out in 21 percent of his plate appearances in 2009 and 24 percent in 2010 now strikes out less than 15 percent of the time and remains one of the most feared hitters in the game, not much different from his 2003-2007 peak, when he finished in the top five of the MVP voting five years in a row.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ortiz
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesKnown for his power and as the jovial face of two Red Sox championship teams, David Ortiz could well see Cooperstown before Edgar Martinez.
This post-2009 rebirth and hot start in 2013 has thrust Ortiz back into the spotlight: Is he the greatest designated hitter of all time? And how do his Hall of Fame chances stack up?

With apologies to Paul Molitor (more games in the field than at DH), Frank Thomas (best years came when he was playing first base), Jim Thome (ditto) and Harold Baines (great longevity), the greatest DH of all time is Edgar Martinez. Which I suppose some people would rank somewhere higher than greatest LOOGY of all time but below greatest utility infielder of all time.

Martinez and Ortiz were both originally signed by the Mariners and both had their breakout seasons at age 27 -- Martinez when he finally got a chance to play and Ortiz after getting released by the Twins and going to the Red Sox.

Here are their career numbers:

Martinez: .312/.418/.515, 309 HRs, 1,261 RBIs, 147 OPS+, .405 wOBA, 68.3 WAR
Ortiz: .285/.380/.549, 406 HRs, 1,346 RBIs, 138 OPS+, .392 wOBA, 40.2 WAR

That's Baseball-Reference WAR, by the way. FanGraphs has a similar difference. Why such a large split in career value? Some of that is simply career length; Martinez has about 900 more career plate appearances, so Ortiz will close the gap a bit -- but not all of it -- as he continues to play. A little bit of it is fielding -- B-R credits Edgar with plus-17 runs defensively from his days at third base and Papi at minus-13 runs. That's a 30-run difference, worth about three wins of those 28 wins. Martinez picks up a little more value in positional adjustments -- he played third base for a few years while Ortiz played first base.

But the big difference is simply that Martinez was the better hitter. Yes, Ortiz has more power, but Martinez was an on-base machine. He created runs while using up fewer outs than Ortiz, and that creates a lot of value. Martinez had 11 seasons with a .400-plus OBP, including three that led the American League and seven more that ranked in the top five. Ortiz has had only three -- including the partial season of 2012 -- and ranked in the top five only three times. On-base percentage is still king, and Baseball-Reference rates Martinez having eight seasons of 5.0 WAR or greater, Ortiz with three of 5.0 or greater.

Here's another way to look at it: Ortiz has created about 1,409 runs in his career while using up 4,970 outs; that's 7.6 runs per 27 outs. Martinez created 1,631 runs while using up 5,273 outs, or 8.3 runs per 27 outs.

Martinez was better, and it's not really a debate. I'm not arguing that just because I'm admittedly a huge Martinez fan; I'm arguing that because the numbers don't lie. And before you mention "BUT WHAT ABOUT CLUTCH! BIG PAPI IS THE CLUTCHIEST OF THE CLUTCH!" … well, Ortiz has hit .264/.376/.514 in "late and close" situations; Martinez hit .312/.449/.471. Ortiz is feared; Martinez was feared, just as respected by opposing pitchers as Ortiz is now.

Ortiz did fare better in MVP voting with those five top-five finishes; Martinez had only one. But perception of value is not the same thing as real value.

That said, Ortiz may end up being a better Hall of Fame candidate, depending on how the allegations of performance-enhancing drugs play out down the road. He'll have more home runs and RBIs, and Hall of Fame voters love those home runs and RBIs. The MVP voting results will help. The clutch hitting -- especially in the postseason -- will help define memories of him. He'll earn bonus points for being arguably the best player, or at least the face of the franchise, on two World Series winners. And, importantly, Ortiz was simply more famous than Martinez, one of the most famous players of the 2000s. Ortiz played for the Red Sox; Martinez for the Mariners. Ortiz is big and jovial and owns that big left-handed uppercut; Martinez was quiet, disciplined and overshadowed by Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez.


How would you assess David Ortiz's Hall of Fame case?


Discuss (Total votes: 4,285)

Of course, like Martinez, Ortiz will face the DH bias, and that might be a tougher hurdle than the PED stain. Personally -- and, yes, again, I'm biased -- Martinez is a pretty clear-cut Hall of Famer. Many people don't think DHs should be in the Hall of Fame, but I don't have an issue there. Edgar's 10-year peak as one of the best hitters in the game is Cooperstown-worthy, and his career WAR justifies his inclusion.

Ortiz is a notch below, and even giving him credit for his postseason heroics I have trouble getting him into Hall of Fame territory. He'll have trouble cracking 50 career WAR, even with a couple more strong seasons, which would make him a weak Hall of Fame candidate by that measure. But if he pushes past 500 home runs and 1,600 RBIs, I can see Ortiz reaching Cooperstown before Martinez.

Is this a sad day for baseball? Maybe not. There will be another election next year and one the year after that. I presume onward into the future players will get elected. But this year? The Baseball Writers' Association of America struck out.

Nobody can deny the current process is broken. This summer, the Hall of Fame will hold an induction ceremony that will honor three individuals who have been dead for over 70 years. Only one of those was a player, and Deacon White played so long ago he was a catcher without a glove.

The Hall of Fame is a museum, but there will be no Astros fans trekking to Cooperstown to see Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell inducted and take a tour of baseball history. There will be no Tigers and Twins fans going to see Jack Morris get in. No Expos fans cheering Tim Raines, Mariners fans driving 3,000 miles to see the great Edgar Martinez inducted or throngs of Mets fans making the short drive to see Mike Piazza's speech.

If you've never been to the Hall of Fame, maybe this summer is the time to go. The lines will be short.

Some quick thoughts:

[+] EnlargeCraig Biggio
Brian Bahr/ALLSPORTCraig Biggio's 3,060 hits -- good for 21st all-time -- were not enough to make him a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Craig Biggio (68.2 percent)
The BBWAA went against its history by not electing Biggio. Every eligible player with 3,000 hits except Paul Waner and Rafael Palmeiro was elected in his first year on the ballot (Pete Rose being ineligible). Somehow the writers didn't find room for a player who scored the 15th most runs in history. He'll get in next year.

Jack Morris (67.7 percent)
I almost feel sorry for Morris at this point. His vote total went up just 1 percentage point from last year, leaving him 42 votes short of election. He has one year left on the ballot, and while players as close as Morris often get the sympathy vote when they get this close, his candidacy will be hurt by the addition of Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine to next year's ballot, two pitchers in a higher class than Morris. I just heard Bob Costas on MLB Network mention that the sabermetric community has hurt Morris' case, unlike how it helped Bert Blyleven's case. I think Costas is 100 percent wrong with that statement. In Morris' first five years on the ballot, he received less than 30 percent of the vote. He was initially rejected because voters looked at his 3.90 career ERA as unworthy of Hall status. His totals have risen through the years despite the strong sabermetric evidence against him.

Jeff Bagwell (59.6) and Mike Piazza (57.8)
Bagwell's total increased 3.6 percentage points from last year, and Piazza fared well for a first-ballot guy. By historical measures, both are on an excellent Hall of Fame path. Barry Larkin, for example, received 51.6 percent his first year, 62.1 percent the next and was elected in his third year with 86.4 percent. Bagwell and Piazza are tied to PED rumors, so historical measures may not apply to them; Bagwell's total certainly didn't rise as rapidly as Larkin's did. Still, it's also true that Bagwell and Piazza are being viewed differently than Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

Tim Raines (52.2)
In his sixth year on the ballot, Raines' total increased from 48.7 percent. He still has nine years to get in; he'll get there.

Lee Smith (47.8)
While Smith's support isn't surprising in light of the fact that three of the past 14 members elected by the BBWAA have been relief pitchers, it continues to baffle me. Yes, he racked up a lot of saves, but I always put the Smith question this way: At any point in his career, even when he was at his scariest, most dominant peak, would he have been traded for a Dale Murphy, Larry Walker, Edgar Martinez, Curt Schilling or Alan Trammell? Of course not. Smith's general manager would have been laughed off the phone, yet he got more votes than any of those guys. His vote total did drop and it was his 11th year, so he's a guy who was affected by the crowded ballot. His chances took a big turn for the worse.

Curt Schilling (38.8)
While it's amazing that Schilling received almost 30 percentage points fewer votes than Morris, this is actually a decent vote total for a first-year candidate. It may be a slow trek for him, but I believe he's on the path to induction.

Roger Clemens(37.6) and Barry Bonds (36.2)
No surprise that these two received less than 40 percent. The most interesting fact is that Clemens received eight more votes than Bonds.

Edgar Martinez (35.9)
In his fourth year, Martinez lost a few votes. He is already fighting the bias against designated hitters, so even though he is just one of 16 players with at least 10 seasons with a .400 OBP (11 total), this wasn't a good day for him.

Alan Trammell (33.6)
Trammell also lost votes. His bandwagon didn't really begin until last year, but it's too late for him and the ballot is too crowded. He is every bit the Hall of Famer that Larkin is, but with three years left, it will be up to some future version of the Veterans Committee to put him in.

Sammy Sosa (12.5) and Rafael Palmeiro (8.8)
They stayed on the ballot, but they're not getting in, at least not through the BBWAA.

Bernie Williams (3.3) and Kenny Lofton (3.2)
Maybe the most discouraging result of the day is that Williams and Lofton -- admittedly, borderline guys -- will be booted off future ballots, their cases never given the opportunity to be argued. Whitaker'd.

* * *

So there we go. A crowded ballot gets even more crowded next year with the additions of Maddux, Glavine, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent. Good luck, voters.
Jeff BagwellPaul Jasienski/Getty ImagesJeff Bagwell looks certain to be elected to the Hall of Fame -- but not this year.

On Wednesday afternoon at 2 p.m. ET, the Hall of Fame voting results will be announced. It's possible that Jack Morris makes it in, and maybe Craig Biggio makes it in, and maybe nobody makes it in.

One guy who won't make it in is Jeff Bagwell, who received 42 and 56 percent of the votes his first two years on the ballot. There will be much consternation and many angry words written about his failure to get elected, but I'm here to tell all you Bagwell supporters: Relax. Your man is on an excellent Hall of Fame trajectory; he will get in soon enough.

Hey, I'm with you. I believe he had a Hall of Fame career; I wrote a post last year headlined "Denying Jeff Bagwell would be a travesty." OK, maybe that was a little strong, but sometimes we have to write headlines to stir things up and the good news is that Bagwell received a big bump in his vote percentage. Yes, there are some who refuse to vote for him because they suspect he used steroids and some who just don't believe he was a Hall of Famer (even though he's one of just 31 players with at least 1,500 RBIs and runs scored).

Anyway, here are the Hall of Famers elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America since 2000, the year on the ballot they first received at least 56 percent of the vote and the year they finally got elected:


Would you vote for Jeff Bagwell for the Hall of Fame?


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Barry Larkin: Second year, elected in third
Roberto Alomar: First year, elected in second
Bert Blyleven: 11th year, elected in 14th
Andre Dawson: Fifth year, elected in ninth
Rickey Henderson: First year
Jim Rice: Seventh year, elected in 15th
Goose Gossage: Seventh year, elected in ninth
Cal Ripken: First year
Tony Gwynn: First year
Bruce Sutter: 11th year, elected in 13th
Wade Boggs: First year
Ryne Sandberg: Second year, elected in third
Paul Molitor: First year
Dennis Eckersley: First year
Eddie Murray: First year
Gary Carter: Fourth year, elected in sixth
Ozzie Smith: First year
Dave Winfield: First year
Kirby Puckett: First year
Carlton Fisk: First year, elected in second
Tony Perez: Third year, elected in ninth

As you can see, Bagwell is ahead of the "pace" of several of these guys, including Jim Rice, Andre Dawson, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter and Tony Perez, none of whom have the Hall of Fame credentials of Bagwell.

Also, once a player gets up to 56 percent, his eventual election is a near certainty. The only three players in the past 30 years to get to that percentage and not get elected are Orlando Cepeda (who got to 56 percent in his 13th year), Jim Bunning (who got there in his 10th year, got to 74.2 percent in his 12th year, but then dropped off) and Gil Hodges (got there in his fifth year but peaked at 63 percent in his final year). Cepeda and Bunning were eventually elected by the Veterans Committee, while Hodges remains the player (other than Jack Morris) with the highest vote percentage never to make the Hall of Fame.

Bagwell isn't the only player on this year's ballot on a possible Hall of Fame path.

Tim Raines received 48.7 percent of the vote in his fifth year on the ballot last year. Here are some Hall of Famers who received less than that percentage at one time yet still got elected by the BBWAA: Blyleven, Rice, Gossage, Sutter, Carter, Luis Aparacio, Hoyt Wilhelm, Eddie Mathews, Duke Snider, Hank Greenberg, Early Wynn, Lou Boudreau and -- get this -- Joe DiMaggio (although I believe there was some confusion at the time about his eligibility). And that doesn't include the numerous Hall of Famers elected by the various veterans committees, including many players who never sniffed election from the writers (Rick Ferrell never received 1 percent of the vote, for example).

Even Edgar Martinez, who received 36.5 percent of vote on his third year on the ballot, has started better than some Hall of Famers.

Look, I can't explain why this happens, why a player's vote total can increase dramatically in a few short years. Sure, the roll call of voters changes over time, but it changes very slowly, since once voters have reached their 10 years in the BBWAA they get to keep voting until they die, whether or not they still cover baseball or have watched a game in 20 years.

There is a psychological phenomenon known as groupthink that perhaps applies here. This occurs when a group of people seek harmony or conformity in their decision-making. In social psychology, this is applied in a negative manner. Irving Janis, who wrote "Victims of Groupthink" in 1972, suggested events like the failure to anticipate the attack on Pearl Harbor or the Bay of Pigs fiasco were results of groupthink, cases in which opposing views weren't considered.

Is that what happens here? Eventually, the Hall of Fame voters form a consensus opinion. Basically, the voters want to elect somebody to the Hall of Fame, so it's natural that a form of groupthink develops. That seems to be the case with Jack Morris. Here's a guy who was under 30 percent of the vote his first five years on the ballot. To use the Malcolm Gladwell terms from "The Tipping Point," there were then "connectors" and "salesmen" -- leaders of sorts within the BBWAA with a heavy influence -- who started voting for Morris, helping to increase his vote totals by influencing others that Morris' narrative trumps the 3.90 ERA that voters had soundly rejected as Hall of Fame material in his early years on the ballot. As the vote total slowly builds, others climb on board -- groupthink. Jim Rice got in because he had connectors and salesmen on his side; the comparable Dale Murphy never had the right guys leading his cause.

Anyway, this gets us back to Jeff Bagwell: He was at 56 percent last year and should climb over 60 percent this year, putting him even closer to the 75 percent threshold. His election by the BBWAA appears inevitable.
At the age of 36, David Ortiz is having one of the finest seasons of his distinguished career. He's hitting .309/.399/.628 with 21 home runs and leads the American League in OPS and runs scored while ranking second in slugging percentage and total bases. Because he's putting up these numbers in a lower run-scoring environment then a few years ago, his season is comparable to 2006, when he hit 54 home runs, or 2007, when he hit .332 with 35 home runs.

Ortiz homered on Wednesday on an inside pitch -- his 11th such home run, tying Ryan Braun for the major league lead -- showing that he still has the bat speed to turn on a pitch when he's busted inside. Not bad for a guy some Red Sox fans wanted released a few years ago after hitting one home run through May of 2009.

The other day on the Baseball Today podcast, Eric Karabell and I briefly touched on Ortiz and Edgar Martinez, asking: Who is the best designated hitter? With the Red Sox opening up a series in Seattle, it's the perfect time to run through a comparison between the two ... especially since Ortiz was originally signed by the Mariners (he was traded to the Twins while still in Class A ball and still went by David Arias).

By the time he's done, Ortiz is a good bet to approach 500 home runs and he should easily top 1,500 career RBIs, both numbers well beyond Martinez's career marks. But you'll notice one significant difference between the two: Martinez's career WAR is nearly 30 wins better than Ortiz's. How can there be such a large spread?

1. Martinez's advantage in on-base percentage is more significant than it appears upon quick glance. Ortiz's career OBP is an excellent .379; Edgar's is a Hall of Fame-worthy .418. For sake of comparison, Ortiz has ranked in the top 10 in the AL in OBP five times (including 2012) while Martinez did so 11 times, including six seasons where he ranked first or second. So factor in that Ortiz makes more outs and Martinez was more productive -- over his career Ortiz has created 7.5 runs per 27 outs while Martinez created 8.3.


Who is the greatest DH?


Discuss (Total votes: 1,250)

2. Run scoring environment. Ortiz has played in a time where the league average has been a .340 OBP and .434 slugging. For Martinez, the figures are slightly lower: .336 OBP, .420 slugging. You also have to factor in home park. Throughout his Red Sox career, Fenway Park has favored hitters. Martinez played first in the Kingdome, which was essentially neutral (it was a good home run park, but hurt batting average and doubles), and then Safeco, which favored pitchers. So that makes Martinez's runs more "valuable" since they came in a more difficult run-scoring environment.

3. Positional advantage. Remember, before he became a DH, Martinez spent four seasons as a third baseman. The first three of those, 1990 to 1992, came before the offensive explosion. Martinez's numbers those years don't jump off the stat sheet -- he averaged .318/.402/.477 -- but those were extremely valuable seasons as he compiled 17.5 WAR.

Anyway, in my book, it's pretty clear that Martinez's career value has been higher and he's a deserving Hall of Fame candidate.


What do you think of David Ortiz's Hall of Fame chances?


Discuss (Total votes: 1,595)

What about Ortiz? His WAR total leaves him far short of Hall standards, but he'll have other arguments on his side:
  • The possibility of 500 home runs and 1,500-plus RBIs.
  • High finishes in MVP voting: From 2003 through 2007, he finished fifth, fourth, second, third and fourth.
  • Reputation as a clubhouse leader and clutch hitter, as exemplified by some big postseason hits.
  • Key member of two World Series champions with good postseason numbers.
  • He was famous, which is not irrelevant.

What do you think?
SweetSpot blogger Dave Schoenfield and I met in the bucolic Bristol studios to discuss the great game of baseball, with many ranging topics for Tuesday’s Baseball Today podcast , including:

1. After hitting Marco Scutaro in the head with a pitch, was Stephen Strasburg afraid to pitch inside?
2. From fast and young to slow and ... well, you know, Jamie Moyer found work, again.
3. Wade Miley, NL All-Star? Yep!
4. Why do I want Derek Jeter to get more hits than Peter Edward Rose?
5. How are the fans doing for the AL All-Star voting?
6. What should we expect from Anthony Rizzo as he’s set for his Cubs debut?
7. David Ortiz, Hall of Famer? Other than in nickname, how does he compare with Edgar Martinez?
8. Ozzie Guillen catches a big mistake and still loses the game.
9. What does the future look like for Justin Smoak?
10. Are the Orioles playoff-bound?

It really was a packed Tuesday edition of the Baseball Today podcast, so download and enjoy. Dave and I will return Wednesday!

A Mariners fan passes away at 103

April, 26, 2012
While a lot of headlines in sports these days focus on the ugly side of things, there is still plenty of good to be found. My grandma, Ruth Bishop, passed away today. She was 103. I’m not going to claim that she was the biggest Mariners fan in the world, but she did love the team. For the last 10 years or so she lived in a dorm-sized room. While she had paired down her possessions over the years, a good quarter of the items she retained were Mariners related -- blankets, bobbles, a stuffed moose, pillows and an autographed poster of Edgar Martinez.

[+] EnlargeTed Bishop
Ted BishopRuth Bishop attended her first Mariners game last year at 102.
Our visits rarely focused on her aches and pains. We instead focused on what Lou Piniella saw in Bobby Ayala or if Heathcliff Slocumb would ever record an out. Even when my grandma’s vision started to fail, she would argue balls and strikes if Dave Niehaus hinted that the pitch looked good. Her passion for the team was pure, very similar to the passion many of us felt as youngsters watching our favorite team or getting your favorite player in a pack of baseball cards. Contract talks and scandals didn’t mean that much to me then.

I don’t know if my grandma’s rest home was unique or symbolic of similar retirement communities. But the seniors lived for Mariners games. They watched religiously and in the very end, Mariners game times were a big part of how my grandma kept time. And for that I say thank you to the Seattle Mariners. I’m fairly confident that following the team kept her mind sharp as a tack and added at least a couple years to her life. At the very least, it made her final years much more enjoyable.

And while these types of stories never make the news, the Mariners were nothing but first class in their treatment of Ruth. She attended her first game at Safeco last year and they treated her like royalty: Bag of goodies, picture on the big screen and all. And Martinez went even further, calling Ruth on her 100th and 103rd birthdays.

Thank you, Mariners. Thank you, Edgar.

Ted Bishop is a senior director of digital partnerships for ESPN.com.