Hall of Fame Time!

The Hall of Fame announcement comes out Tuesday! It’s always exciting when that happens. I’ll tell you who I voted for here and, at the end, I’ll make my Hall of Fame predictions. But first … let’s catch up a bit.

At The Athletic

The Baseball 100 continues on to the background music of joy and fury. That’s what you want, right? I realize that I’ve never explained the system Tom Tango helped me come up with because the rankings are not at all my focus for this series. Each of these essays really are lovingly crafted and the the entire point of this loony exercise.

But I will tell you that the system is WAR based — peak WAR and career WAR — thrown in with a bunch of other factors thrown in such as era, postseason performances, all-around skill, impact on the game and so on.

I tell you this for two reasons.

  1. For all those people who are furious about the rankings, most of the time you can just look at WAR and pretty quickly figure out why the player is ranked around there. It’s really not that mysterious.

  2. As we get closer to the top players, I think and hope it will become clear that I’m not so much ranking the players as assigning them numbers. That might not make sense now but I think it will very soon.

Anyway, to catch you up:

No. 72: Robin Roberts

No. 71: Bert Blyleven

No. 70: Sandy Koufax

No. 69: Monte Irvin

No. 68: Gaylord Perry

No. 67: Hank Greenberg

I also wrote a little something about the Browns new coach Kevin Stefansky and what we can learn from his press conference (spoiler: not much).

Magi-Fest

I had such a blast at Magi-Fest in Columbus over the weekend. I was there in part to sell my book, which I might have mentioned, called The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini. But mostly I was there because it is such a joy to be around magic and magicians. I even bought a couple of tricks that I’ll be happy to perform for you if I happen to run into you …

All right — Hall of Fame Time!

This was, in many ways, the oddest ballot that I’ve filled out in my 15 or so years of being a Hall of Fame voter. It was odd, illogically, because it wasn’t odd at all, it was what a Hall of Fame ballot SHOULD be.

That is to say that unlike the ballots of the past few years, there was not a glut of overqualified candidates. I had never really thought about how those overstuffed ballots actually made it easier to vote in so many ways — I didn’t have to think too hard about whether Sammy Sosa or Gary Sheffield or Omar Vizquel or others were Hall of Famers because to me they were clearly not among the Top 10 players on the ballot. The only real decision I had to make was whether this guy or that guy was No. 10 or No. 11.

But on this ballot, well, I see only five players who I would consider slam dunk candidates — and even those five include three controversial players who many others would not vote for.

My Slam Dunk Five include:

Derek Jeter. Yes, for people who appreciate WAR, it must feel strange that the two players elected unanimously will be a shortstop with 72.4 bWAR (88th all time) and a reliever with 56.2 bWAR (229th all-time). But, in a larger sense, Jeter should be elected unanimously — as should have probably 25 others from Aaron to Yaz. You can’t go back and right wrongs from the past, no, but there’s no viable reason I know to pass on Jeter as a Hall of Famer.

Barry Bonds. Yes, I know. I’ve written about this a jillion times. I think the Hall of Fame should include the greatest baseball players ever, flaws and cheats and personality deficiencies inclusive. I appreciate that others disagree and am not looking to convince anyone that I’m right. I know all the reasons to not vote for Barry Bonds. But to me, it’s simple: Bonds was the greatest baseball player of my lifetime. How much of that was real and how much wasn’t — none of us know for sure. His extraordinary play, that we do know.

Roger Clemens. Yes, I know. I’ve written about this a jillion times. Same as last guy. But I will add that I tend to believe that Clemens, in addition to being the greatest pitcher of my lifetime, is actually under-appreciated as a pitcher. If you take the career of Pedro Martinez and add it to the career of Johan Santana, you still don’t get to Roger Clemens.

Larry Walker. Yes, he got hurt a lot. Yes, his numbers were inflated by Coors Field. But he was a five-tool force of nature who should have been elected long ago. Will he get elected now? More on that in a bit.

Curt Schilling. With his incredible strikeout-to-walk ratio and his all-time postseason performances, I would have put him in the Hall before Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Roy Halladay or Mike Mussina. But I appreciate he only has himself to blame for people who don’t want to give him the honor.

After that, I’m left with five votes — if I want them. And, yes, I want them because I’m a big Hall of Fame guy. I’m more of a big Hall of Fame guy now than ever because of the way the Hall of Fame’s veteran committees are just electing players like it’s going out of style.

Look: While the BBWAA is dithering over superbly qualified Hall of Fame candidates like Walker and Edgar Martinez and Tim Raines (not to mention some of the greatest players in the game’s history like Bonds and Clemens), the Vet’s committees have elected Ted Simmons, Lee Smith, Harold Baines, Alan Trammell and Jack Morris in just the last three years, not to mention Bud Selig and Marvin Miller. We’re comically keeping a tight lock on the front door and the back door is WIDE OPEN.

I think in many ways the Vet’s Committee has it more right than the BBWAA does. I mean, no, I wouldn’t have voted in Harold Baines, among others, but think how cool it will be for the fan who grew up loving Harold Baines to see that name in the plaque room. How cool is it to think, “Wow, I got to see a Hall of Famer!”

So, to be honest, if I had an unlimited ballot — if it was a pure “Yes or No” vote like my friend Derrick Goold has suggested — I might vote Yes for 15 players on this year’s ballot. But alas, I have 10. So I voted for 10.

My other five votes went to:

Scott Rolen. He — like Kenny Boyer, Graig Nettles and, for the longest time, Ron Santo — faces the third-base conundrum. A great fielding third baseman is just not considered in the same way as a great-fielding shortstop. Up to this year, Omar Vizquel as a great fielding shortstop who couldn’t hit much, was getting twice the support of Rolen, a great fielding third baseman who was also a superb power hitter. Rolen’s 25-win advantage in WAR didn’t seem to sway people.

Todd Helton. Like with Walker, people will overlook Helton’s incredible numbers (.316/.414/.539 — this even AFTER he declined his last four seasons) because of Coors Field. They shouldn’t: He was a fantastic first baseman, he walked 160 more times than he struck out, he is 19th all-time in doubles and 40th all-time in extra base hits. Sure, he was much better at Coors Field than on the road, but that was HIS JOB. If you play for the Rockies you have to take advantage of Coors or you won’t last long.

Manny Ramirez. Yes, I see the argument that Ramirez’s case is different from Bonds and Clemens because he actually tested positive for PEDs — twice. I can see the argument that while what Bonds and Clemens (and Sosa and McGwire) did was wrong and clearly cheating, it was tacitly encouraged by MLB and the player’s union while what Ramirez did was defiantly against the rules.

But I do think there’s a counter-argument to be made: Ramirez paid a price for his cheating. He was suspended for 50 and then 100 games. There’s a principle that says that once you pay for your transgression, you are supposed to be able to go on. I think that’s one of the problems people have with Bonds and Clemens — they never had to pay a price for whatever they did, and so denying them the Hall of Fame seems like a suitable punishment.

Anyway, that’s all pretty complicated ethics, and I’m no ethicist. Manny Ramirez was one of the greatest hitters I ever saw, an absolute genius at the plate, and even if he was a defensive fiasco and a knucklehead his teams somehow ALWAYS won.

Gary Sheffield. He, like Ramirez, was a genius at the plate. He bashed 500 home runs and walked 300 times more often than he struck out and was just about the scariest hitter ever to face. He was a defensive liability, which just crushes his WAR total (bringing it down to 60.8), but I’m not entirely convinced that he hurt teams quite that much defensively. And as a hitter: Incredible. He’s 29th all-time in WAR runs batting, placing him just ahead of Chipper Jones and Ricky Henderson and Edgar Martinez and Mike Schmidt.

— Sammy Sosa. The last choice for me came down to Sosa and Andruw Jones. I hated having to make the choice. Jones’ incredible centerfield defense along with his home run power makes him a fascinating Hall of Fame candidate. But Sosa’s 600-plus home runs and the enormous impact he had on the game when matching homers with Mark McGwire in the Summer of ‘98 makes him a fascinating candidate. Sosa has been connected with steroids — his name was leaked as one of 104 players who tested positive in 2003 when the results were supposed to remain anonymous — while Jones’ has not. I can see how you would fervently argue for one over the other but to me I find it a virtual toss-up. I took Sosa because over four years, from 1998-2001, he AVERAGED 61 homers per season. No one else, not even Ruth, Bonds or McGwire, did that.

With an unlimited ballot, I would definitely vote for:

— Andruw Jones. The career was short and the hitting went South at age 30, but he was some kind of centerfielder.

— Billy Wagner. I’m simply not pro-reliever for the Hall of Fame. If I could go back and redo the Hall of Fame, I think the only relievers I’d want in there would be Rivera and Hoyt Wilhelm. But there have been numerous other relievers put in the Hall of Fame, and I’d probably take Billy Wagner as soon as I would take any of them. He was an absurd force of nature, and he retired at the very top of his game, and if I had enough votes I would give him one.

With an unlimited ballot, I might vote for:

— Bobby Abreu. I used to call him the MBGPIBH — Most Boring Good Player In Baseball History. And he WAS boring, taking all those pitches, fouling off all those pitches, etc. But he was really good too. Through age 32, he hit .302/.412/.507, bashed 205 homers while stealing 271 bases, he was good for 100 runs and 100 RBIs pretty much every year, and he was a dazzling fielder for many of those seasons. he did decline rapidly from that point on but I can see a good argument.

— Jeff Kent. I have never been in love with his Hall of Fame case, but he does have more homers than any second-baseman ever, and he did win that MVP (even if it should have gone to Bonds) and I certainly get it.

— Omar Vizquel. Vizquel is one of those players that many baseball fans want to wish into being even greater than he was. He was a dazzling defensive shortstop who made so many wonderful plays — nobody made the barehanded plays like him — and he cracked 2,877 hits and that FEELS like a Hall of Fame career. There are many complicating factors including his 82 OPS+ and 45.6 WAR but his enshrinement into Cooperstown would make so many people happy.

All of which leads us to the big question: Who WILL get elected? What will this ballot look like?

— We know Derek Jeter will get elected and I would be stunned if it isn’t unanimous.

— I think Larry Walker will get elected. If you are a devoted follower of Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame tracker, you know that it projects to be nerve-shatteringly close. It could come down to one or two votes on either side. But I actually believe he will make it with small margin to spare for two reasons.

  1. This ballot is so much leaner than the ballots over the last few years and Walker’s name stands out in a way that it didn’t before.

  2. It’s his last time on the ballot, which should bring along a few stragglers.

Anyway, we’ll see if I’m right.

— I don’t think Schilling will quite make it this year, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him break 70 percent, putting him on the doorstep for next year.

— I don’t think Bonds or Clemens will make much progress this year.

— I don’t think Bobby Abreu will get the 5 percent necessary to make next year’s ballot.

— I do think that Scott Rolen and Omar Vizquel will each take pretty giant leaps forward, followed by Sheffield, Helton, MannyBManny and Wagner.

— I wonder if Alfonso Soriano will get a vote. I mean — 400 homers, 289 steals, a 40-40 season, a .500 career slugging percentage, will that get him a single vote? Ah the mysteries of the Hall of Fame.

Hinch and HOF Part Deux

Lots to cover in today’s newsletter, so let’s get to it.


At The Athletic

The Baseball 100 rolls along. I don’t know if you like for me to individually link to each Baseball 100 story or would just prefer clicking on the Baseball 100 page, but I’ll keep on linking until you tell me to stop.

No. 79: Derek Jeter

No. 78: Clayton Kershaw — I was surprised to get more backlash about where I ranked Kershaw than where I ranked Jeter … but so it was.

No. 77: Miguel Cabrera

No. 76: Willie McCovey

No. 75: Justin Verlander

No. 74: Frank Thomas

No. 73: Brooks Robinson

I was glad that Brooks Robinson ran today … after that Astros mess yesterday. He might just be the nicest man to ever play Major League Baseball.

I also wrote a little something about the Browns’ giving the reins to Paul DePodesta and letting him try Moneyball II in Cleveland.


What I’m Doing

— I’ll be in Columbus from Thursday, January 16, through Saturday to take part in the awesome magic convention Magi-Fest. I believe the event is sold out, but if you’re in the area — it’s really a lot of fun. Magicians from all over the world come and talk about magic, performance, wonder, I love it so much. I’ll talk a bit about this book I wrote, don’t know if I mentioned it.

— Last week, I turned 53. I am not super happy about it but, yes, it is better than the alternative and I am supposed to be getting a ping pong table as my gift, which is awesome.


Hinch by Hinch

I’m not going to rehash the whole deal, but there is one thing about the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal that has me stumped. If you read the report — which is about as scathing as any of these kinds of reports I’ve read — you know that A.J. Hinch was suspended for a year by MLB (and later fired by Astros owner Jim Crane) though he, and I’ll quote, “neither devised the banging scheme nor participated in it.”

He was, however, well aware of every aspect of it. This is not in dispute.

And this leads to the part that I can’t quite figure: If he knew about it, how did he feel about it? According to the report, he strongly disliked it and “attempted to signal his disapproval of the scheme by physically damaging the (sign-stealing) monitor on two occasions, necessitating its replacement.”

OK, he disliked it enough that he was willing to do some vandalism. But the report goes on to say that he neither tried to stop his players from doing it or even took time to “notify players or (Alex) Cora that he disapproved of it.”

How does this work again? How can you make sense of BOTH of those actions? I mean, he was the team’s MANAGER. You’re telling me that he looked at his options and thought that the best he could do was destroy Astros equipment to express his disapproval of a widespread cheating program? What about the option of just telling his players to stop?

This vexing question has been bugging me a lot. Why would Hinch smash the monitor but not just order his players to stop? There’s something missing here. It is, you might say, a donut inside a donut.*

*Knives Out not getting an Oscar nod still depresses the heck out of me.

I have come up with three theories. I readily admit that any of them could be true, all of them could be true, and it’s even possible that none of them could be true though that seems unlikely. The point is, I don’t know. I don’t have any inside information here. I’m speculating because it’s driving me crazy.

Possibility 1: Hinch is lying.

Well, I use lying in the broadest sense — he could be hedging or covering up or not telling the whole truth. And he could be flat lying. It’s possible that Hinch didn’t smash the monitor at all, though that seems pretty easy to track.

A more likely scenarios is that, yes, he smashed the monitor but it was NOT to express disapproval of the cheating. Maybe he was mad after a loss and thought his players were too distracted by their cheating. Maybe he didn’t think his players were cheating hard enough. Maybe he was mad about Knives Out not getting an Oscar nomination.

There are countless reasons he might have smashed the monitor; so he absolutely could be fabricating the idea that he did it to show how angry he was about the cheating. You can’t write off that possibility: Hinch has hardly covered himself in glory in his public statements. He has lied and covered up in agonizing ways — I mean, look at this statement he made in 2019 during the ALCS when the Yankees charged the Astros with sign-stealing by whistling:

"Man, I'm glad you asked that question, and I thought it would come up today. We talked about this the other day, and in reality, it's a joke, but Major League Baseball does a lot to ensure the fairness of the game. There's people everywhere, if you go through the dugouts and the clubhouses and the hallways, there's like so many people around that are doing this. Then when I get contacted about some questions about whistling, it made me laugh because it's ridiculous. Had I known that it would take something like that to set off the Yankees or any other team, we would have practiced it in spring training, because apparently it works even when it doesn't happen."

That he said this after he KNEW the Astros had been sign stealing all during the 2017 World Series run by hitting garbage cans tells you that he’s capable of saying anything. There are so many people around baseball who admire Hinch, think he’s a great guy, and I found him to be charming when he played for the Royals and in various other interviews.

But as pal Michael Schur says: “Winning is one helluva drug.”

So, yes, it’s possible that Hinch basically invented the whole smashing monitors theme to try and make himself look better.

Possibility 2: The players didn’t respect or listen to Hinch.

There is one line in the report — already quoted — that kind of stopped me cold. It’s that part that states Hinch did not “notify players or Cora that he disapproved.” Why did they specifically mention Cora here? On the one hand, it’s obvious that Commissioner Rob Manfred has concluded that Cora is the ringleader here. Do not be surprised if, when it’s done, Cora is permanently banned from baseball.*

*Even if he isn’t permanently banned, I don’t believe Alex Cora will ever manage in the big leagues again.

But on the other hand there’s this: Cora was Hinch’s FIRST YEAR BENCH COACH. He had been a broadcaster before when Luhnow hired him.

You’re telling me that Hinch was out there smashing monitors but he would not have even one conversation with his own bench coach about it, not even one, “Hey, man, I think this sign-stealing system is out of control, we need to stop that stuff.”

Or was Hinch afraid of Cora? Was Cora the de facto manager the club? Did those two not like each other?

Or let’s take it one step further: Was Hinch so wildly disrespected and disregarded by his players (and specifically team leader Carlos Beltran, who is the only player mentioned in the report) that he knew he couldn’t actually get them to stop cheating? Did his ineffectiveness in the clubhouse leave him with no choice but to make a symbolic (and stupid) gesture of smashing the monitor?

And by the way, doesn’t smashing the monitor, in fact, tell the players that Hinch disapproved? Or did he do it secretly?

Possibility 3: The scheme was being run by the front office all along.

The report somewhat clears Astros GM Jeff Luhnow of any participation in the scheme — a point Luhnow made a bit too strongly in his defiant and generally terrible “I am not a cheater … they are” statement.

Luhnow insists he knew absolutely nothing about it (MLB did not back this as strongly, saying only that they found no evidence that he knew). He insists that if he had known “I would have stopped it.” You can write your own commentary on that.

But if it is indeed true that the Astros front office — which seemed to run every aspect of the operation — was unaware, then we have to go with one of the first two options: Hinch was almost certainly either lying or powerless. He either approved of the scheme (and made up stuff to say that he didn’t) or he did not feel like he had the sway in the clubhouse to stop it.

But we have to consider the third possibility — the thing that really fills the donut hole — that this whole thing was front-office sanctioned.

Add that one simple element, and suddenly you can understand why Hinch would have felt powerless. You can understand why he would only feel free to express his frustration by bashing the monitor. You can understand why he wouldn’t feel empowered to say anything even to his own bench coach, who was hired directly by Luhnow. You can understand why MLB would have suspended Luhnow for a year and why Crane would have fired him minutes later.

Obviously this is the most controversial theory because, as the report says, no evidence emerged that shows Luhnow knew anything, and Luhnow fervently denies knowing anything, and Hinch obviously didn’t say any of this to the commissioner and so on.

But if you’re a fan of Occam’s razor, the principle that the simplest answer is most likely the right one,” well, it’s clear what the simplest answer is here.


HOF: The Almosts

These were the players who had really fantastic careers but didn’t quite make it to the final round of on my ballot.

Adam Dunn: I just love the Big Donkey. Yes, even with 462 home runs, I knew that I would not vote for him. But from 2005-2008, he did one of the coolest things in baseball history: He hit exactly 40 home runs each year. This is a man who knew what he was about. He walked, he struck out, he hit home runs. That’s it. He practically invented the whole idea of the three-outcome player.

I once wrote a piece about how Adam Dunn and Willie Bloomquist were precisely the opposite player, and I should go back and find that.

Jason Giambi: He could have made it all the way to the final round — he’s one of the best hitters I ever saw — but in the end I knew that his career was not quite enough. From 1999-2002, he hit .326/.452/.612 and averaged 39 homers and 125 RBIs per season. What a force. In 2000, he won the MVP. He was better in 2001. But shortly after that he turned 32 and hit just .238 and slugged .474 the rest of his career.

His brother, Jeremy, looked like he might become a pretty special hitter (he didn’t), and it was kind of funny because neither of them had any interest in playing defense. We used to joke about how there must have been baseball bats in every room in the Giambi household when they were growing up but just one glove that they kept in a shoebox they could never find in the garage.

Raúl Ibañez: Well, I said it all here. He remains one of my favorite people in the world.

Paul Konerko: He ended up with some pretty elite numbers — more homers than Andre Dawson, more RBIs than Robin Yount, more total bases than Wade Boggs, more extra base hits than Roberto Clemente — and he did it by just going out there day after day after day and doing what he did. There was nothing at all fancy about Konerko. He just hit his 30 home runs — a few more some years, a few less others — drove in his 100 RBIs, did the best he could at first base and on the bases (he did not have a natural knack for either), and earned the enduring respect and admiration of everyone around him.

Cliff Lee: He’s one of the best I ever saw. He began as a hard-throwing and wild lefty thrower. He finished his career as a pitching guru. At his best, he hypnotized batters. I think the best thing that can be said about him is what his manager Charlie Manuel said after he threw a complete game against the Yankees in Game 1 of the 2009 World Series: "Most of the time when he starts a game, and he's in control of the game, and everything around it he's controlling -- he's throwing strikes and he's getting the ball, what I call he handles the flow of the game, if you know what I mean. Everybody about it. The flow of the game, the way the game goes. Not only does he have command of the game, but he has the flow of the game. To me he sets the tone by his rhythm, getting the ball back, and he knows what he's going to throw. I like the way he pitches. I like everything about how he goes about it. But that's part of his success, too, is the fact that's how he handles the game." I don’t know what any of that means, but I agree with thoroughly.

Andy Pettitte: He has some big fans among the Hall of Fame voters, and it’s easy to understand — he won 256 games against just 153 losses, he started more postseason games than any pitcher ever and was often fantastic in those starts, he was a key figure in EIGHT World Series, etc. He’s lower on the list for me than others, I admit. But it was unquestionably an amazing career.

Alfonso Soriano: What a strange and wonderful blend of talents and flaws. Soriano is one of just four players in baseball history to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases in a season (and he fell one home short from doing it in an earlier season). But do you know what team he did it for? You probably don’t: It was for a bad Nationals team, his one year in Washington.

He basically never walked. He had as many homers as walks in four different seasons, putting him the same company as famous non-walkers Dave Kingman and Juan Gonzalez. He was, by the numbers and reputation, an atrocious fielder except for a couple of years in the middle of his career when he was suddenly good and was being pushed for a Gold Glove. He made the All-Star team in seven of his first eight seasons and never made it again. He hit more than 400 homers in his career, stole almost 300 bases, is in the top 60 all-time in extra base hits and yet might not get one Hall of Fame vote.

Talkin' Some Hall of Fame

So, we’re going to begin some Hall of Fame stuff this week, but first I want to catch you up a bit on the Baseball 100. It is now coming back to me why it has been such a struggle to finish these lists — I don’t know why I keep forgetting. I suppose it’s the same brain function that makes you forget how hard it is to take care of a baby. Without that forgetter gene, nobody would ever have a second one.

So it is with these Baseball 100s. You know, when I first came up with the idea of doing a Baseball 100, I was going to write just a paragraph or two on each player. That was enough, I figured. But that was when I thought that it was the RANKINGS that mattered. Very quickly I realized that the rankings are unimportant except as a device to keep things lively and contentious.

It’s the stories that matter. That’s the only thing I really bring to the table.

Here’s what happens after figuring that out: The stories get harder and harder to write. For the first few, not too hard, but then I write a sweeping essay on Tony Gwynn. And if I’m going to do that, shouldn’t I write an even MORE sweeping essay on Phil Niekro? And if I do that shouldn’t I write an even MORE sweeping essay on Carlton Fisk. The expectations build on each other. If you’re going to spend that much time writing the perfect Reggie Jackson piece, how can you not do something even more in depth on Mike Schmidt or Rickey Henderson. And then what do you dow when you get to the gods — to Ted Williams and Henry Aaron and Satchel Paige and Babe Ruth?

It’s like that story about doubling the rice on the chess board.

So now is the time in the countdown where I am writing and writing and writing and thinking — “Oh no, how in the world am I going to finish this?”

I don’t know. But I will finish it. Just don’t be surprised if by the time I get to the greatest player ever, the entire essay goes like so: “He was good.”

The Athletic

Picking up the Baseball 100:

No. 86: Gary Carter

No. 85: Sadaharu Oh

No. 84: Cool Papa Bell

No. 83: Phil Niekro

No. 82: Kid Nichols

No. 81: Fergie Jenkins

No. 80: Carlton Fisk

Oh, I wrote another Browns diary item after they fired GM John Dorsey. What a team. I can’t wait to write about them blundering their coaching hire which they are 97.3% likely to do (margin of error +/- 2.7%).

The Soul of Baseball Audiobook!

The audiobook for Soul is finally coming! I got the cover. I’ll give you a date for when it will actually come out and, yes, I suspect there will be a couple of cool events for it.

It’s Hall of Fame Time!

Unfortunately, as you can tell from the top-line item on the newsletter, I simply don’t have time to do my day-by-day profiles of every player on the Hall of Fame ballot. But I thought I’d give you a three-part roundup that matches my three-step voting process. First, I eliminate those players I know I will not vote for. Second, I eliminate players I think were pretty darned good but not good enough to make my finalist list. And then finally I cut my finalist list down to the players I actually vote for.

So today, first step, I’ll give you a little the players who were good but not quite good enough to make it to the second round.

Josh Beckett: It was a fantastic career for Beckett. I mean, the guy beat the Yankees in the World Series. and he could have won the Cy Young Award in 2007 — who wouldn’t take that career? But didn’t it always feel short of his potential? Some guys are just cursed that way, cursed by the expectations. Beckett was the second pick in the 1999 draft after the star-crossed Josh Hamilton, and he had electrifying stuff. He was 23 when he shut out the Yankees in Game 6 of the 2003 World Series, and it looked for all the world like he would be the Tom Seaver of his generation. He did have his moments, particularly in 2007, when he looked like that. But there were injuries. There were lost seasons. And then, quite suddenly, the career was over.

Heath Bell: He was a 69th round draft pick of Tampa Bay — which looks like a misprint — and he did not sign. Instead, two years later, he wasn’t drafted at all and signed with the Mets as an undrafted free agent. He didn’t get a real chance to play until he was 29 when the Mets traded him to San Diego. He became the Padres closer at age 31, inheriting the job from Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman, and for three years he was Hoffman-like. He saved 132 games with a 2.36 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning. He did this cool thing when he came in from the bullpen. He would run at full speed to the strains of Breaking Benjamins’s “Blow Me Away,” — which was kind of like Hoffman’s “Hell’s Bells” — and then he would slide right in front of the mound.

Eric Chavez: I’d say from 2001 to 2005 — right in the middle of the Moneyball Era — Chavez played at more or less a Hall of Fame level. He hit .278/.351/.506, averaged 30 homers and 100 RBIs per season and won five Gold Gloves at third base (and deserved most of them). He couldn’t maintain that level, but not many have. Chavez had a bunch of injuries, but he stuck around for 17 years. Among Oakland Athletic players, only Rickey Henderson got more at-bats and only Mark McGwire hit more home runs.

Chone Figgins: In 2009, Chone Figgins was fabulous. I don’t know exactly what happened, but that year he simply would not swing at a bad pitch. He had never walked more than 65 times in a season, but in 2009, he walked 101 times. He scored 114 runs, stole 42 bases, played a good second base, made the All-Star team and got some MVP consideration. He wasn’t quite that good in any other year, but throughout Figgins was fast and versatile.

Rafael Furcal: There’s quite a lot to like about Furcal’s career. He won the Rookie of the Year Award in 2000, he was an often dazzling defensive shortstop, he led the league in triples one year, stole as many as 46 bases, hit .300 his first full season with the Los Angeles Dodgers and got a little MVP consideration. He was sort of on pace for 3,000 hits as he made it through his 20s. Furcal dealt with a plethora of injuries and couldn’t overcome them but at his best, he was pretty sensational. Plus, he was devoted to his hometown of Loma de Cabrera in the Dominican Republic and once got the Los Angeles Fire Department to give the town a fire engine.

Carlos Peña: OK, so Carlos has become a friend from working together at MLB Network — and as such I will occasionally go back to his Baseball Reference page just to stare once again at his 2007 season. What an absurd year. He hit .282/.411/.627 with 46 home runs, 121 RBIs, 103 walks. I mean that was one incredible season. Two years later, he led the American League with 39 home runs, but it was not the same. He struck out 21 more times and walked 16 fewer times, and that’s basically the difference between a legendary season and a very good one.

Brad Penny: He, like his teammate Josh Beckett, was fantastic in the 2003 World Series against the Yankees and there was the thought that he (like Beckett) would become a star. Penny was traded to the Dodgers the next year and had a couple of good seasons in LA, particularly his 2007 year when he allowed just nine homers in 208 innings. But then came the injuries and he finished his career playing for six different teams in his last six seasons.

J.J. Putz: He — like Peña and Penny — had by far his best season in 2007. He went 6-1, saved 40 games, had a 1.38 ERA and struck out 82 against just 13 walks. Most people liked having fun with his name — and it is a fantastic name — but he was a fine reliever. He had five or six good seasons, particularly during the comeback portion of his career with Arizona when he was in his mid-30s.

Brian Roberts: In my mind, I often confused Brian Roberts and Michael Young — I guess it’s understandable since they were both good-hitting American League second basemen at precisely the same time. Young led the league in hits twice and batting average once, but Roberts led the league in doubles twice and stolen bases once. Young was the one with the personality that teammates like Brandon McCarthy swore by. Roberts was the one who switch-hit and was the better defensive player. Separately, Roberts was named in the Mitchell Report and then admitted that he once took steroids but immediately regretted it and never did again.

José Valverde: Papa Grande led the league in saves on three different occasions, twice got pretty serious Cy Young consideration and nobody celebrated outs quite the way he did. He would jump around, wave his arms, do little dances, take off his cap, kick the air, point to the sky, go to one knee, well, we could do this all day because it seemed like a slightly different celebration each time. He didn’t exactly make friends celebrating the way he did, but it was pretty entertaining for the rest of us.

RIP Don Larsen

Don Larsen died on Wednesday. I wrote a little bit about him for The Athletic.

I spoke with Larsen on a couple of occasions, and it always impressed me how happily he embraced his role in baseball history. Sure, it’s a wonderful role, but just think — for more than a half century, he rarely had a public moment when he wasn’t being asked to relive one day in 1956.

Wouldn’t any of us get sick of going back to that one day, no matter how perfect it was?

I don’t know the answer to that, but as far as I do know Larsen never did. He seemed to understand how important it was for all us to believe in the possibilities that tomorrow might just be perfect.

Happy New Year!

OK, so we went to see “Knives Out” again the other day. I’ll talk about the movie in a minute when I list off five things that made me super-happy in 2019, but let me get this grump off my chest first: There were 20 minutes of commercials before the movie. Twenty.

I’m not talking about movie previews — as it turns out there were only three previews which felt like a ripoff. No I’m talking about commercials, awful commercials, a Levis commercial, multiple Google commercials, multiple M&M commercials, a flavored tea commercial, a dozen Regal Cinema commercials, a local real estate commercial, an impossibly terrible Cadillac commercial about how it is the perfect car if you have a crew, a truck commercial, I mean it just went on and on and on and on and on.

I realize that companies are having a hard time reaching people through advertising. Nobody watches commercials on television now except during live events. Most of us, if we can, pay extra so we DO NOT HAVE to endure commercials. Print newspapers are, tragically, near death so you can’t advertise there. Mailers are thrown out instantly. Internet ads are being blipped out by apps. I get it. It’s hard to get the word out.

But jamming us with commercials before movies is an absolute travesty. What, we’re not paying ENOUGH to get a commercial free experience? Those $339 buckets of popcorn are not paying the bills? It just feels so greedy, so utterly and shamelessly mercenary for movie theaters to trap us and hold us down and make us sit through an endless stream of commercials. ever after we paid a fortune to watch “Frozen 2.” I’m not sure what can be done about it, but we need a hero to stop this immediately.

OK, fine, that’s the end of the 2019 negativity. Onward and upward.

The Athletic

The Baseball 100 rolls along. I have no earthly idea how I am going to make it all the way through. But I must. I truly must.

No. 93: Ozzie Smith

No. 92: Bullet Rogan

No. 91: Mariano Rivera

No. 90: Max Scherzer

No. 89: Mike Piazza

No. 88: Curt Schilling

No. 87: Charlie Gehringer

I also wrote the season-ending Browns Diary entry — another season, another fiasco, another fired head coach. One thing about the Browns, they don’t give me much rest. Now I’m sure I’ll have to write about the coaching search and write again when they inevitably hire the wrong person and maybe write again when they fire GM John Dorsey, which is what usually happens around this time.

Other Stuff

I really do want to thank everyone who went out and got my book “The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini.” I know that it was an out-there topic. I know some of you bought it despite not caring one bit about Harry Houdini. Thank you. Writing it was one of the great joys of my life. I’m deeply proud of it, and I’m so thrilled with the reaction.

And now, yes, I’m thinking hard about how to write a baseball book that will blow you away. More on that as I figured it out.

— I can’t tell you how thrilled I was do the EconTalk podcast with my friend Russ Roberts. We talked about Houdini, about celebrity, about Springsteen, about parenting, yeah, we covered pretty much everything.

— I’m going to be in Columbus in a couple of weeks for the MagiFest Convention, and I cannot wait.

— Because the Baseball 100 is taking up pretty much every waking moment, I’m going to go a bit lighter on the Hall of Fame coverage this year. But I am going to try to give you here in the weekly newsletter a little bit on every player on the ballot, and I’ll announce my votes as we close in on the big day, January 21.

Five Happy Things

There were many things that made me happy in 2019 — even if it seemed like a bleak year on so many fronts. Here are just five of them in no particular order:

  1. Knives Out

Well, first of all: Knives Out is great. It’s funny, it’s smart, it’s a little big mind-bending, it has wonderful actors, you know, all of those things that joyous and superb films have. But there was something special about Knives Out for me. I realize this might not make sense but it’s simply this: It was just a good movie.

That’s all. It didn’t exist for any other reason. It wasn’t part of a series. It didn’t feature a world in danger or a war in progress or an alien attack. It made some subtle points about the times we’re in, but it wasn’t about grand injustices, heroes facing impossible odds or psychotic villains coming of age. There was no animation, no CGI effects, no slapstick comedy, no excessive violence to thrill.

I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with any of these things — indeed, almost every movie we see features some of that. But that’s the point: Knives out was just different.

The star of the film was the dialogue — brilliant, sharp, funny, deep.

The star of the film was the understated performances — every single character, even the most minor of them, made you feel something, no two people bled together.

The star of the film was the cinematography and the music and, yes, the way everybody in it seemed to be having the time of their life.

Here’s how much I loved it: Without giving away any spoilers — I think the less you know the more you’ll love it — you probably know that Daniel Craig plays a detective and he has a comically overblown Southern accent. I hear some Savannah in it, but it’s really just over-the-top. When he first did it, I laughed; it was so ridiculous to see and hear anyone, but especially Daniel Craig doing that accent.

But as the movie went on, I came to utterly adore that accent. It actually was perfect. The voice became its own character in this bright and exuberant movie, and to see the way it bounced off the glorious Ana de Armas, the edgy Chris Evans, the spectacular Jamie Lee Curtis and the sublimely goofy Toni Collette, it was priceless. Knives Out was by far the most fun I had in the theaters even in a year that ended the Avengers series, ended the Star Wars series, and had Spiderman far from home.

  1. Seeing Mike Birbiglia’s “The New One.”

There are two comedy specials on this list — there could be more. I thought this was an incredible year for comedy. The thing that made Mike Birbiglia’s show so fabulous and moving and hilarious is how beautifully written it is (you might find this writing thing to be a trend on this list). The show is about something seemingly so simple — the arc of becoming a parent. It was a particularly vivid arc in Birbiglia’s case for reasons that I will let him tell you (the special is now on Netflix).

The magic of the show is how he makes what is so personal universal … and what is so universal personal. The specifics of Mike’s life are very different from mine and from yours. Very different. And yet, everything he talked about — even things like sleeping in a special sheet to prevent him from sleepwalking and possibly hurting himself and others — felt utterly familiar because of the way he told the stories. I cannot tell you how many times my wife Margo and I turned to each other and gave that, “Yep,” smile even though none of it really matched our own lives.

I laughed about as hard as I have ever laughed at a show and I walked away feeling transformed somehow. I don’t know how a show can do much more than that.

  1. Going to see the Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals play with our daughters, Elizabeth and Katie.

Until a week ago, this was going to be “Watching the Netflix version of Bruce Springsteen on Broadway with Elizabeth.” I actually saw Springsteen perform on Broadway twice, once with one of my best friends in the world Brian, and once with Margo (and Oakland A’s general manager David Forst, though that wasn’t planned).

But it meant even more somehow to watch it with Elizabeth on television. It is strange how Elizabeth, just as she’s about ready to head off for college, becomes more and more like me. She suddenly became a big sports fan. She suddenly showed interest in journalism (despite my constant warnings). She suddenly loved Springsteen. I have no idea how any of this happened, but watching Springsteen sing his heart out and tell his stories and seeing the impact this had on Elizabeth, well, I didn’t think anything would surpass that.

Then, last week, on a lark, we decided to take her and her younger sister Katie up to Raleigh to see an NHL game. My thought was that it was a huge gap in their childhoods having never been to a hockey game. It was a huge gap in my childhood too; I never went to a hockey game as a kid. That has bummed me out ever since because while I like hockey a lot I wonder if I can ever love it because I never really saw it through the eyes of a kid.

Then we went to see the Canes and Capitals and, though I thought it would be fun for them, it was a hundred times better than I expected. The girls fell in love with the sport instantly. I mean INSTANTLY. It’s a funny thing about hockey — people who don’t know the sport are often intimidated by it. I was. All those rules. Offsides feels confusing. Icing feels confusing. The players shuffle in and out so quickly. The penalties can seem random. The puck can be hard to follow.

But the truth is that you don’t need to know ANY of that stuff to fall in love with hockey. The game moves so fast. The puck moves so fast. And the basic idea — trying to get a puck into a tiny net that is blocked by a giant goalie wearing giant pads — is so mind-twisting you don’t need to know anything else. How is it even possible?

When a hockey goal is scored, like when a soccer goal is scored, there’s no feeling quite like that. We happened to go to a game where 10 goals were scored. We happened to go to a game where Alex Ovechkin, maybe the greatest goal scorer ever, banged in a power-play goal. We happened to go to a game the Canes won, and that meant they did their funny and thrilling storm surge celebration, and the place felt electric, and the girls begged for their own Hurricanes jerseys, and they have not stopped babbling about their love of hockey ever since.

So maybe I can become a hockey fan after all, seeing it through their eyes.

  1. The Holiday PosCast

I have no idea how my life has been so lucky. But it has. In 2017, Mike Schur and I decided to have a holiday draft of holiday songs with some of our friends. The list that first year included then Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy, NPR’s pop culture correspondent Linda Holmes, television critic Alan Sepinwall and then show runner for The Tonight Show Mike DiCenzo.

It was a ridiculous and stupid draft, in large part because Brandon McCarthy with his first pick took “Christmas Eve / Sarjevo,” by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. This year, through my buddy Brian, we were able to send Brandon and his wife Amanda to a TSO concert. His review is on the latest PosCast and it it worth hearing.

Then, last year, we decided to do the draft all over again, this time adding the brilliant Nick Offerman to the roster. We drafted holiday characters.

It was a ridiculous and stupid draft, in large part because Sepinwall drafted Phil Connors from “Groundhog Day,” on the basis that by “holiday characters,” we had not limited him to the December holidays. This led him to the conclusion that Phil Connors — the Bill Murray character — was a perfectly legal and clever pick. He has not been nor ever will be forgiven for that or being a Yankees fan.

This year, we added the brilliant comedy writer Megan Amram to the group, and we drafted Holiday foods, and it is undoubtedly the most ridiculous and stupidest draft we have done yet. As Mike says, the one certainty about the PosCast is that it will get progressively dumber with every episode we do. It is both a scientific inevitability and a promise.

We had a bet, by the way, on this year’s draft. I put up a poll, and we all agreed to give money to charity of the winner. I’m proud now to announce those results.*

*Warning: These picks will make absolutely no sense at all if you have not listened to the PosCast. At the same time, these picks will make absolutely no sense at all if you have listened to the PosCast.

First place: Nick Offerman (stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn my way — special Offerman recipe), 28.1%

Nick’s charity is Would Works, a wonderful non-profit in Los Angeles that creates and sells wood products hand crafted by people in financial need. It’s awesome. Please join us in donating.

Second place: Alan Sepinwall (Potato latkes, brisket, chocolate chip cookies for Santa), 25.2%

Third place: Linda Holmes (sugar cookie, piecrust cookie which is apparently different, warm apple cider with booze), 12.9%

Fourth place: Brandy McCarthy (Duck á l’orange, Soylent Meal Replacement Shake, one black decaf cup of coffeee), 12.4%.

Fifth place: Mike DiCenzo (Pumpkin pie, gravy, peanut butter blossom cookies with Hershey’s kiss on top), 9.0%

Sixth place: Nobody (with winnings going to me), 6.2%

Seventh place: Megan Amram (Hot cranberry sauce, cold water (so refreshing), Hanukkah gelt), 3.7%

Eighth place: Michael Schur (Peppermint bark, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, eggnog).

Seeing these picks all in one place is a good reminds of just how spectacularly stupid this year’s draft was. What a joy to be part of it.

  1. Gary Gulman’s “The Great Depresh.”

I fell in love with Gary’s comedy the first time I heard it. We became friends years later, just after he went through the most devastating time of his life, a period of time when his depression was so debilitating that he couldn’t even read a book. He couldn’t get out of bed. His wife and family and friends wondered if he would ever make it out.

Gary did with this what great artists do — he wrote and wrote, delved as deep into himself and into the pain as he could go, and somehow turned it into a brilliant comedy show. The Great Depresh, which is streaming on HBO, is almost indescribable in that it is about pain and yet it is healing, it is about sadness and yet it’s impossibly exuberant, it is about feeling dead inside and yet it’s about all about the jubilation of life.

I think Gary is happy now to go on to the next thing. He’s got a whole new show that’s entirely different. I know it was hard on him, living and reliving his worst moments so that he could create this show. He is, at heart, someone who loves finding those funny things that the rest of us miss. He wants to let his mind go to those hysterical places so he can think up the best things about the old DiscMan (No. 1: Shuffle!) or ponder the mysteries of why grape and grapefruit have such similar names.

But we are all so much richer for him having made The Great Depresh. It’s about depression. And it will make you happy.

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