By In Stuff

Ballot 31: Casey Blake


Casey Blake

Played 13 years for five different teams

Lifetime 264 average with 264 doubles and 167 home runs. 24.9 WAR, 7.7 WAA

Pro argument: All-around good player.

Con argument: All-around good player.

Deserves to be in Hall?: No

Will get elected this year?: No

Will ever get elected?: No

Here is a list of the Caseys by WAR:

  1. Casey Blake, 24.9
  2. Casey Stengel, 20.1
  3. Casey Patten, 14.3
  4. Casey Kotchman, 7.5
  5. Casey Janssen, 7.5
  6. Casey Candaele, 2.2
  7. Casey Fien, 2.2
  8. Casey McGeHee, 1.2

Just as a point of reference, Sean Casey’s lifetime WAR was 16.3.

It is a bit of a surprise, to be honest, that Blake was on this Hall of Fame ballot. He had one of those admirable careers that said more or less everything EXCEPT Hall of Fame. He did not make an All-Star Game or win a batting title. He did not lead the league in anything or really come close to leading the league in anything (well, he did finish second in sacrifice flies one year). He did not do anything singular that would set him apart. He was a perfectly good player for a perfectly good number of years. There was never a moment that you watched Casey Blake play and thought: “Hall of Famer!”

But then, maybe that is the very thing that identifies him; he’s like Emmet from The Lego Movie, special BECAUSE there’s nothing special about him. It’s interesting doing the Hall of Fame balloting this way, ranking the players from No. 34 to No. 1, because slot No. 31 came down to two wildly different players with wildly different backgrounds: Casey Blake and Pat the Bat Burrell. One was a phenom with unlimited potential. The other was Casey Blake.

And, yet, Blake somehow ended up with a higher WAR than Burrell. I could have rated him in the higher spot. But, in a way, I thought it was more fitting to put him here.

Blake was a big-time high school athlete in Iowa, a four-sport star. He comes from a baseball family — his father, brothers all played (or would play) minor league baseball. He was drafted by the Phillies in the 11th round out of high school.

He decided to go play ball at Wichita State instead, where he was a good player, a terrific student (two-time Academic All-American) and a marginal prospect. The Yankees took hin in the 45th round when he was a junior, and the Blue Jays took him in the seventh round as a senior. He signed with Toronto, and the then began one of those discouraging minor-league careers familiar to many. He definitely hit. He hit .350 in high-A ball. He hit .372 during his brief time in double-A. He got up to the big leagues for 14 games as a 25-year old.  He didn’t hit much, and he was sent to triple-A.

And then he got waived.

Why did he get waived? No specific reason: He just wasn’t good enough. The Blue Jays saw at 26-year-old player who simply wasn’t going to help the team. He signed with Minnesota and in triple-A, again, he hit — .317 average with .529 slugging percentage in Salt Lake City. The Twins called him up for 26 total games. In the second stint, he actually hit OK, but it didn’t really matter. They waived him.

Baltimore was next. They played him six games, he didn’t hit at all, and they waived him.

Minnesota picked him back up. You getting dizzy yet? He played in triple-A Edmonton and hit .309 with 19 home runs. And the Twins, you guessed it, released him.

So, there you go — he was 29 years old and had been released four times, twice by the same team. There was no reason at all for him to think that he was going to play in the big leagues. But he would not quit. His father, Joe Blake, had been a minor-league pitcher, and not a bad one; he made it up to Class AAA by the time he was 24. But he started to have doubts. He began to talk to his wife about quitting this silly game and going home to Iowa, getting a real job and starting  a family. Shortly after that, he blew out his arm and did just that.

Joe Blake did not like talking about regrets. But Casey Blake’s mother Chris sensed them. She told her son: Keep going.

So he did. He signed with Cleveland, in large part because he knew manager Eric Wedge (who had played at Wichita State before Blake). Wedge told Blake that he would have a real chance to win the third base spot. That was all he ever wanted. Blake absolutely killed the ball in spring training to win the job outright. And at age 29, for the first time, he got his chance as an everyday Major Leaguer.

And he was … pretty good after pretty good after pretty good. He hit with a little power. He played a good third base. The next year, at age 30, he hit  little better with a little more power, and he still played a good third base. The next year, the Tribe moved him to the outfield, so he worked on that, you know, anything to help the ballclub. Not long after that they moved him back to third base, so he worked on that, you know, anything to help the ballclub, and all along he hit .271, .282, .270, and all along he hit 23 homers, 19 homers, 21 homers.

In 2008, at the trade deadline, Cleveland moved Blake to the Dodgers where for the next three years he, guess what, was pretty good. He hit with some power. He played good defense. He signed with Colorado at the end for one last shot, but he got released one last time and called it a career.

It was, for all intents and purposes, an eight-year career. But for those eight years, he put up a 108 OPS+, averaged 30 doubles and 20 homers, was a plus fielder and was a starter for three teams that reached the Championship Series. He probably won’t get a single Hall of Fame vote and he should not … but his name looks good on the ballot anyway. It means he had a good career. And he did.

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19 Responses to Ballot 31: Casey Blake

  1. Dale says:

    Casey was a perfectly fine ballplayer in Cleveland. Unfortunately, Wedge considered him a building block and consequently drew a lot of ire from Tribe fans. Not Casey’s fault; he was a slightly above average player who did his job very professionally. He would have been a good fit on the 2016 Tribe.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Yes, he seems average to slightly better than that. Until you start looking at the other 3rd basemen in the league. How many teams today would kill for a good fielding 3rd baseman that hit .264 with 20 HRs, 30 doubles, etc.? I guess the fact that he ended up on the ballot says he’s a little better than we tend to think.

      It makes me revisit one of my favorite underappreciated players. Ron Cey, who played in a low offense era. He got a couple of HOF votes, I know. But was he really that much less of a player than Ron Santo? I’m not saying he WAS Ron Santo, but maybe a half step behind.

  2. Donald A. Coffin says:

    I feel like I may be making this comment a lot…

    And Javier Vasquez couldn’t even get on the ballot?

    • KHAZAD says:

      I still haven’t figured out how he didn’t land a job in 2012. There must be something bad about him that none of us regular people know.

  3. DjangoZ says:

    I really enjoy these.

    How did you get all that info about his family and such? Did you interview him or find it all online?

  4. Fin Alyn says:

    I don’t think players like lake get enough credit. I don’t mean HoF credit, but just “Perfectly good professional ballplayer” credit. As someone mentioned above, half the teams in the league would kill for a 20-HR, good fielding 3rd baseman. I always enjoyed his time with the Dodgers, and had always wondered why it took so long for a team to make him a regular.

  5. Len Blonder says:

    Joe…Perhaps you could outline the trade the Dodgers made to get him.I believe they gave up Carlos Santana instead of about $1,000,000 during the McCourt era. By the way I feel your guy Bud Selig did us Dodger fans no favor by allowing a person with no money to buy the Dodgers

    • Dale says:

      It’s true that Blake was traded for Santana. Not sure if there were other considerations involved.

      • Len Blonder says:

        Dale…I might be wrong, but I heard the Dodgers and Cleveland agreed for the Dodgers to trade minor league pitcher Jon Meloan and either $1,000,000 or Carlos Santana for Blake and the Dodgers chose to keep the $ and trade Santana.

  6. birtelcom says:

    Most baseball-reference WAR by a 35-year-old third basemen:
    7.6 Chipper Jones (2007)
    7.0 Adrian Beltre (2014)
    6.9 Pete Rose (1976)
    6.0 Stan Hack (1945)
    4.6 Casey Blake (2009), Larry Gardner (1921) and Jimmy Collins (1905)

  7. Dan Silvia says:

    I covered Casey during his high school career at the local weekly newspaper, The Record-Herald and Indianola Tribune (quite a good weekly newspaper, if I do say so myself). Enjoyed the article, Joe. Casey did have a very nice Major League career. I was surprised by his WAR and batting average over his career. I think quite a few teams would be more than happy with that from their third baseman. Hall of Fame? Nope, but definitely a career to be proud of.

  8. KHAZAD says:

    It is always interesting to me when a player has a pretty legitimate career without being a regular until after his “prime”. How often does this happen? Who are the best of them? (I would guess Raul Ibanez might be #1)

    It is a real accomplishment, and a rarity I am sure, for a player to have over 5000 PAs in a career where only about 2.5% of them came before age 29.

    • birtelcom says:

      Of the 192 position players since 1961 to accumulate 20 or more b-ref WAR from age 29 on, the guys with the fewest WAR before age 29:
      Raul Ibanez
      Casey Blake
      Mike Stanley
      Jose Bautista
      Marco Scutaro
      Elston Howard
      Melvin Mora
      Carlos Ruiz
      Marlon Byrd
      Mark Grudzielanek

      • KHAZAD says:

        It looks like Scutaro, Mora, and Ruiz qualify. (Although they hit at 28.) The rest of those guys played way too much or were regulars during their prime.

        I have fond memories of Stanley in 93 from a fantasy perspective. .305, 26 home runs, and 84 RBI from a 1$ 2nd catcher I was expecting about 200-250 PAs from.

        • birtelcom says:

          How about Otis Nixon 422 PAs through age 28, 5,378 PAs thereafter? A very troubled guy, but very talented and eventually became a prominent ball player — most stolen bases in MLB in the decade of the 1990s, just ahead of Rickey Henderson, who was about two weeks older than Otis (both of them were over 30 by 1990).

  9. Cliff Blau says:

    He tops them all in WAR. Does that make him The Mighty Casey?

  10. Dano says:

    Not a bad career at all and he made over $32 million to boot.

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