If it were up to one Boston sportswriter, Mariano Rivera might not close out his career with election to baseball’s Hall of Fame.
It’s nothing personal against the Yankees' great reliever, Bill Ballou explains, it’s that he holds the role that Rivera so ably filled — coming in to the strains of “Enter Sandman” and shutting down opponents over a 19-year career — with more than a measure of contempt. So Ballou says he’s “doing a Switzerland” and just won’t vote.
Members of the Hall of Fame are elected by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) and voting offers members the chance to gain revenge for past slights. This, Ballou writes for the Worcester, Mass., Telegram and Gazette, has nothing to do with that or with the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry or a regional chip on the shoulder. He just really, really hates saves and plans to take action.
Ballou knows that Rivera will, in his first year of eligibility five years after retirement, be elected next month. The question is whether he will be the first unanimously elected player.
“[W]hether or not I vote for him is irrelevant,” he writes. Consequently, he will not deny Rivera the chance to be a unanimous Hall of Famer; rather, he plans to just not vote and, according to SNY, Rivera appears to have gotten votes on 100 percent of the ballots, with 21 percent of those known. The Hall of Fame class of 2019 will be announced Jan. 22 and the names of the voters — although not how they voted — will be listed. BBWAA members earn a Hall of Fame vote by maintaining 10 consecutive years on a baseball beat and must complete a registration form and a code of conduct. Many outlets, like The Washington Post, do not allow their reporters to vote for awards.
“With baseball becoming increasingly dependent on analytics, I think that closers will eventually evolve out of fashion, but the opposite could happen,” Ballou explains. “Maybe new research will determine them to be the most critical components of a pitching staff.
“I could be wrong about all of this, and everyone I have the debate with says, ‘I see your point, but Rivera is different.’ Maybe he is and I’m just missing something.
"Rivera could be the first Hall of Famer elected unanimously. I think I’m right about closers, but not so much that I would deny Rivera a chance to be the first unanimous Hall of Famer.
“Thus, I’m not voting this year. A submitted blank ballot is ‘no’ vote for every candidate, so I’m doing a Switzerland and not sending one at all.”
The stats show that, out of 1,115 games, Rivera appeared as a reliever in 1,105; his record was 82-60, his ERA 2.21 and his saves numbered 652. Ballou’s issue is that Rivera had it easier than most pitchers because he most often appeared in what he says were “clean innings. . . . He didn’t have to face batters a third, or even a second, time around. He rarely came in with men on base. He didn’t have to conserve energy and pitches to stay in the game for as long as possible to allow the closer to get a save.
“He was great in the ninth inning, agreed, but if he was that great why not bring him with the bases loaded and nobody out in the seventh or eighth? Why not use him as a starter?”
It’s the same argument Ballou would use about kicker Adam Vinatieri, no matter his longevity, accuracy and big kicks in big moments. Ballou chooses to look past the way that Rivera shut down batters for 19 years with his signature cutter, a pitch that very few batters ever solved. At least Rivera, isn’t likely to have had to wait as long as Lee Smith, who held the all-time saves record from 1993 to 2006 and yet could never to gain election despite lasting the full 15 years on the ballot and topping out at 50.6 percent support in 2012. (Seventy-five percent is required for election; Rivera should have no problems there.) He was elected by the Today’s Game Era, which consists of longtime baseball executives, media members and Hall of Fame players, earlier this month.
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