My Hall of Fame ballot arrived the day before Thanksgiving and, thus, began my annual process.
The ballot must be submitted by Dec. 31, and I wait until near the deadline. The ballot sits on my desk, and over the five weeks I make a file for each candidate — 35 this year — and go over their candidacy. I don’t mind doing the work on players such as Darren Oliver or Juan Pierre, though I know they will not get my vote nor even receive the 5 percent to stay on the ballot a second year.
I like sizing up those careers, remembering that those players had to be major leaguers at least 10 years with some heft to just get on the ballot. It means they are in the top few percent of players ever, which is something when you consider how many children begin the journey hoping they reach The Show.
To simply make the ballot is a great accomplishment. You can make fun that Placido Polanco is on the ballot or wonder how much you might have given up to be good enough to play 1,927 major league games and amass 2,142 hits — one less than Ken Griffey Sr., eight more than Moises Alou.
Most of the reason I hold the ballot so long is because of borderline candidates that I keep mulling and digging on such as Andruw Jones and Fred McGriff. Voters are being asked to decide immortality, and there should be sweat equity in that.
One other tradition for me is not to reveal my ballot until the actual announcement. I appreciate the work that mainly Ryan Thibodaux does on Twitter in accumulating the ballots made public by individual voters — it creates buzz and debate leading up to the announcement. But I do feel there should still be mystery that day, and some of it is drained by hundreds of voters releasing their ballots early. I believe in accountability, so I will make my ballot public, but not until the day the Hall announces the 2019 class on Jan. 22
I will break my tradition, though, with a “d’oh” moment. I am voting for Mariano Rivera, who I thought was better at his job than anyone else I have ever seen on a baseball field. He is this sport’s Tim Duncan — understated, unflappable, dignified, consistently brilliant, enduring and a five-time champion. Rivera was the best reliever ever and arguably the best postseason performer ever. He had the desirable combination of never having a bad year, yet also having longevity. Rivera did this all as a beloved teammate and as a role model on how to handle success and failure.
I know a lot of the conversation is going to be about whether Rivera becomes the first unanimous Hall selection. My assumption is no, that a voter or two remains who, for whatever reason — anti-reliever or wanting to make sure that if Joe DiMaggio and Hank Aaron didn’t get in unanimously, no one shall — will withhold a check mark next to the name of the genius Yankee closer.
And I know rather than fully celebrate Rivera getting 99 percent-ish of the vote, we are going to get our torches and pitchforks in search of the one or three who prevent unanimity. Such is life in argument America — where we are only happy when we are miserable, and we must constantly feed our ache for victimhood and finding villains.
This played out recently when Jacob deGrom got 29 out of 30 first-place NL Cy Young votes. There was fixation on the one, not the baseball miracle that a college shortstop who needed Tommy John surgery in the minors had risen to get 96.7 percent of a Cy Young vote in a season with 10 wins.
DeGrom actually reminds me of Rivera — from being a shortstop who needed elbow surgery in the minors to being a late-blooming major leaguer who thrived with athleticism, unflappability and grace.
Rivera was a shortstop who volunteered to pitch in an amateur tournament in his homeland of Panama because the top pitcher was so bad, and that led to a chain of events of first one, then two Yankees scouts seeing him and Rivera signing for $2,000 on Feb. 17, 1990, in the living room of his house in Puerto Caimito — a fishing town in which Rivera’s father tried to ward off poverty by captaining a shrimp boat owned by another man.
Rivera already was 20 — old for an international sign. He threw just 85-87 mph. He would need elbow surgery after this first year at High-A and not even be protected in the expansion draft after the 1992 season, so the Marlins or Rockies could have had him for nothing.
That a poor kid who used a cardboard box for his first baseball glove and was signed at 155 pounds out of a non-baseball hotbed by the only organization that had ever showed interest in him would play one day in the majors was improbable. That he would one day get 99 percent of the Hall of Fame vote is pretty much impossible.
One person contributing to that 99 percent will be me. I appreciated watching the totality of Rivera’s career, have joy to give him a checkmark and I am not going to worry for one more second about who might not give him the same checkmark.
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