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Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame tracker doesn’t yet show a vote for Mark Buehrle, but Buehrle will at least receive two of them. His name has just yet to be selected on a complete and revealed ballot.
For evidence of the impending votes, Joe Cowley tweeted a checked box next to Buehrle’s name on his ballot …
Scot Gregor says he isn’t finished with his ballot, but he decided to share in advance why Buehrle will make the cut when he’s done. He summed up Buehrle’s career, which will only look harder to duplicate with each passing year, and said that Buehrle deserves at least 5 percent of the vote in order to remain in consideration.
Buehrle may or may not be a Hall of Famer, but I don’t think anybody can object to any support that aims to keep him in play. Two other pieces brought this notion into starker relief.
At MLB.com, Mike Petriello noted that it’s now harder than ever to get into the Hall of Fame. The conflict over performance-enhancing drugs has a lot to do with it, especially with the museum directors offering no guidance to the electorate. Guys with first-ballot numbers can linger for 10 years on the ballot if they have the PED stigma attached, proven or unproven. Combine it with the 10-player limit, and the circumstances created a logjam that forced a handful of Buehrle-like cases out of the running after one year (Johan Santana, Jim Edmonds, Kenny Lofton).
Neither factor applies to Buehrle’s case, but the third one does:
No one knows what to do with starting pitchers anymore. Thanks to the way the game has changed, the counting stats compiled by today’s greatest starters will never, ever match up to their historic ancestors. To pick but one example: Clayton Kershaw, who should be a no-doubter inductee when he becomes eligible, has 25 complete games and 15 shutouts over his career. Bob Gibson, inducted in 1981, had 28 complete games and 13 shutouts … in 1968 alone.
With the long-magical 300-win barrier no longer in play, what we’ve seen is that starting pitchers have generally been ignored. Or, to put that another way, only two pitchers born in the past 50 years have been inducted, and one, Pedro Martínez, has a credible claim to make toward being the best pitcher of all time. (The other, Halladay, made it in on the first ballot, sadly after his passing in a 2017 plane crash.) Schilling, this year, and Sabathia, soon, seem possible to join them.
As I mentioned before, Sabathia won’t be on the ballot for another four years, which seems a like a long time in between Hall of Fame starters even potentially surfacing. There are benefits in buying time for Buehrle, just to see if there’s any reckoning while he’s eligible. If there isn’t, then there isn’t, but it’d be a shame for him to miss out on one, especially if he isn’t preventing a more worthy player from garnering consideration.
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And then over at The Athletic, Joe Posnanski is going to embark on writing up the top 100 players outside the Hall of Fame. Buehrle won’t be included because Posnanski is omitting players who haven’t yet faced the voters, but his made a point that aligns with my most succinct way to sell Buehrle’s case — you could write him up one helluva plaque.
Posnanski points out that plaques used to focus more on a player’s impact than his statistical record.
Nowadays, they write a whole megillah for every player — Chipper Jones’ plaque, for example, contains more than four times as many words as Cobb’s or Johnson’s or Babe Ruth’s. I mean, OK, we get it. Plus now they include so many numbers. The old plaques were folksy, fun. Ruth’s plaque talks about how he was the greatest drawing card in the history of baseball.
And now? Again, not to pick on Chipper, but his plaque contains his batting average, homers, RBIs, how many homers he hit in his MVP year, what his batting average was when he won the batting title, the fact that he has a .300 batting average, .400 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage, etc. It’s gotten out of hand.
It’s true. I’ve wandered the Hall a couple dozen times, and what fans say in front of a player’s plaque is a whole lot more about style and story than stats.
If voters, writers and tweeters took a plaque-centric approach to voting, I wonder whether the stress over borderline cases would disappear, or at least diminish drastically. You could write up Harold Baines as a DH archetype who was above-average for 18 consecutive seasons and was arguably the best clutch hitter in his day. Omar Vizquel would be a stylish award-winning shortstop who lasted 24 years. Jack Morris’ plaque is as wordy as the others of recent vintage ….
Intense competitor with a spirited drive and determination who propelled his teams as staff ace. Three-time 20-game winner and five-time All-Star harnessed split-fingered fastball to become winningest pitcher of the 1980s. Won 19 regular season games — and each of his three postseason appearances — for Detorit’s 1984 juggernaut. Durable workhorse totaled 175 complete games, most of any pitcher since 1975, and made record 14 straight Opening Day starts. Winner of four world championship rings with three clubs. Earned 1991 World Series MVP honors, carrying Minnesota to title with 10-inning shutout in Game 7.
… but if you remove the third and fourth sentences, then you get the stuff that actually got him votes.
Intense competitor with a spirited drive and determination who propelled his teams as staff ace. Three-time 20-game winner and five-time All-Star harnessed split-fingered fastball to become winningest pitcher of the 1980s. Winner of four world championship rings with three clubs. Earned 1991 World Series MVP honors, carrying Minnesota to title with 10-inning shutout in Game 7.
Likewise, Vladimir Guerrero’s Hall of Fame description obscures what everybody remembers about him:
Dazzling five-tool talent from the Dominican Republic renowned for distinctive approach in batter’s box as well as aggressive style in the field and on the basepaths. Covered the plate with an attacking swing that produced a .318 career average and 449 home runs, reached 100-RBI mark 10 times and topped 30 homers eight times, drove in 126 runs to earn 2004 A.L. Most Valuable Player honors in first season with Angels after eight years as Expos phenom. Led all outfielders in assists over tenure in right field. Nine All-Star Game appearances and eight Silver Slugger awards.
He hit .318 and 448 homers even with a nose-to-toes strike zone, and he singled on a pitch that bounced. That’s what you’re telling your kid about if he or she pulls out his baseball card. There were better outfielders, but he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer on the strength of being cool as hell, and the plaque undersells that.
Posnanski uses some likely Hall of Famers to create modern-day examples of pithier plaques, and this one for Scherzer probably comes closest to one Buehrle could use.
A legendary competitor, hitters would shudder when facing power stuff. He won three Cy Young Awards, threw two no-hitters in 2015 and in 2016 struck out 20 in a game, tying the all-time record. His right eye is blue and his left eye is brown.
What would one for Buehrle look like under these plaque guidelines? Here’s my first attempt:
Rapid-firing lefty threw 200 innings and won 10 games in 14 straight seasons. Only pitcher to face the minimum 27 batters three times, including a perfect game in 2009 and a no-hitter in 2007. Threw baseball’s last 99-minute complete game. Earned four Gold Gloves with reflexes and lethal pickoff move. Staff leader of White Sox team that ended franchise’s 88-year championship drought in 2005.
There’s a little bit of artistic license there, in that we assume Major League Baseball won’t see another nine-inning game that wraps up in an hour and 39 minutes. Even if a judge strikes that sentence from the record, the rest gets to the heart of a career that, like Guerrero’s, was absolutely cool as hell. Buehrle just wasn’t as loud about it.
Plaques will probably remain verbose, if only because they’re now the norm, and shorter summaries might suggest fewer accomplishments. Concision just happens to befit Buehrle better than any of his peers. If he ever happened to gain entry to the Hall, wouldn’t it be perfect if his write-up wrapped up well before every other one around him?
(Photo by Warren Wimmer/Icon Sportswire)