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Bernie Bits: Voters Still Building a Wall Around Cooperstown, Rolen’s Crawl to the Hall, Happy 40th to Larry Hughes

Bernie Bits for Jan. 23, 2019 …

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: St. Louis-born-raised basketball star Larry Hughes is 40 today. After a stellar career at CBC, Hughes played for a season at St. Louis U, and led the Billikens to the 1998 NCAA Tournament. The No. 8 overall pick of the 1998 NBA Draft (by Philadelphia) Hughes went on to play 13 NBA seasons, winding down in 2011-2012. He finished his NBA career with 10,242 points and an average of 14.2 points per game… Cardinals’ utility man Yairo Munoz, who played six positions as a rookie last season, is 24 … Hockey Hall of Famer Brendan Shanahan — who scored 156 goals for the Blues over four seasons from 1991-92 through 1994-95 — is 50… Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerry Kramer — who led the famous Green Bay power sweep as a mobile and tenacious pulling guard — is 83.

DIED ON THIS DAY: Baseball Hall of Fame shortstop Ernie Banks, the beloved Chicago Cub, passed away in 2015 at the age of 83 … retired Tonight Show host Johnny Carson died in 2005 at age 79.

THIS DAY IN SPORTS HISTORY: Stan Musial was named GM of the Cardinals in 1967. He’d stay in the post for only one season, but it was a great one. The ‘67 Cardinals won the World Series … Joe Medwick, a Cardinal for 11 years, was inducted into the Baseball Hall Fame in 1968.

TRENDING UP: Former Cardinals Larry Walker (primarily a Colorado Rockie) and Scott Rolen made progress in the annual Baseball Hall of Fame voting by the baseball writers. That’s especially true of Walker, the superb right fielder who received votes on 34.1 percent of the ballots cast a year ago. But this time around, Walker was supported by 54.6 percent of the voters, moving a lot closer to the necessary 75 percent for induction. But Walker’s 10-year eligibility on the standard writers’ ballot expires a year from now; he’s down to his last shot. There’s hope for Walker for three reasons (1) the new-blood voters are more knowledgeable about performance evaluation;  (2) in recent years Tim Raines and Edgar Martinez each made it on their final year on the ballot; (3) there won’t be as much competition for votes next year; first-time eligible Derek Jeter is the only sure thing.

As for Rolen — with eight Gold Gloves, one of the greatest defensive third basemen in MLB history — his vote percentage (17.2%) in his second year on the ballot may seem weak on the surface. But it isn’t so. That rise to 17.2 was a noticeable increase from the 10.2% that Rolen received in his first year of eligibility. In fact, among the candidates who will return on the 2020 ballot, only Larry Walker and Curt Schilling saw a more substantial improvement in their votes share since last year. And consider these recent examples: In 2014, Mussina was named on only 20.3 percent of the ballots — but made it this year, with more than 81 percent of the vote. Also in 2014, Walker received only 58 votes (10.2 percent). Look at how far Walker and Mussina traveled in a short time.

With the ballot thinning, Rolen has a chance to get on the fast track. And Rolen still has plenty of years (eight) to build support. Rolen (and, as noted, Walker) will garner more votes next year considering that the ballot will have a first-time list topped by Jeter — with an unimposing collection of other first-timers that includes Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, Eric Chavez, Rafael Furcal, Cliff Lee, Marco Scutaro.

Jeter is a lock for Cooperstown in 2020, meaning that he’ll be out of the way for the 2021. The best first-timers in 2021 are Mark Buehrle, Tim Hudson, Dan Haren, Torii Hunter and Barry Zito. In other words, Rolen will have a chance to make a big jump in the balloting in 2020 and ‘21.

TRENDING DOWN: Longtime Houston Astros cornerstone Lance Berkman, who played a major role in the 2011 Cardinals’ run to a World Series title, dropped off the Hall of Fame ballot. Berkman received only five votes, good for only 1.2 percent. Players that fail to collect at least 5 percent of the votes are removed from the ballot. So Berkman was a one-and-done– gone after just one appearance on the ballot. That seems out of whack to me, given that Berkman’s status among the best switch-hitters in MLB history. The dude played 15 seasons and finished with a terrific batting line of .293 / .406 / .537. Offensively Berkman performed 44 percent above the league average over his 14 seasons.

READING TIME SEVEN MINUTES:

The BBWAA did an excellent job in voting in Mariano Rivera (100%), Edgar Martinez (85.4%), Roy Halladay (85.4%) and Mike Mussina (76.7%). That fabulous foursome will be inducted — Halladay posthumously — in Cooperstown on July 21. Lee Smith and Harold Baines, both chosen by the Today’s Game Era committee, will also be inducted that day.

Takeaways:

1. Baseball’s 425 Hall of Fame voters were unanimous in their selection of Rivera, the retired Yankees closer extraordinaire. As you know, that makes Rivera the first unanimous pick in the history of Hall of Fame voting.

Rivera’s 100% score, plus the the increasing influence of advanced metrics and social media, should give the so-called steroid-era players and large-hall advocates reasons for optimism going forward.

Voters feared being shamed and ridiculed on Twitter if they snubbed Rivera on the first ballot in some hopelessly idiotic adherence to an old-timey, old-fart sportswriter code of NEVER giving a candidate 100% approval … out of respect to yesteryear immortals who never received 100% … and the icons from more distant eras didn’t get 100% of the vote.  Following the logic here? So peculiar. Goes something like this: Just because the sportswriters of the past were truculent, foolish and quite possibly loony in their refusal to give the greatest of the great players their unanimous consent — well, then … we must uphold that crazy standard, and continue this cycle of insanity into perpetuity, and continue to stain our profession.

For example: Stan Musial received 93.2 percent support on his first time on the ballot; Willie Mays came in at 94.7% on his first time through. Yep. Actual human beings who wrote about Major League Baseball for a living  and who were supposed to be smarter than everybody else refused to vote for Musial or Mays as first-time candidates.

2. Advanced metrics, opening doors: Mussina, a great pitcher who was overlooked for way too long, was finally elected this year — in large part because of the increasing presence of younger and more enlightened voters who study advance metrics and apply their findings to Hall of Fame ballot decisions. The same could be said of Edgar Martinez; many younger and more evolved voters didn’t care that Edgar started only 532 games in the field, and 1,403 at DH.

Thanks to those 425 voters for taking the process seriously and showing Rivera the respect he deserved.

3. The “Big Hall” backers are winning. From 2001 through 2013, a span of 13 years, only 19 players were voted in by the writers. From 2001 through 2012, no more than two players were voted in. The parsimony hit an absurdly low level in 2013 — when no one was elected.

In 2013, when some of the most prolific hitters and pitchers in baseball’s modern history hit the ballot for the first time, voters did something they hadn’t done since 1996: They failed to elect anyone. The reaction was impressive; the BBWAA and Hall of Fame did a cleanup by cutting dozens of voters who were long retired, in active, or who no longer covered the sport. A reconstituted and more informed voting pool got to work, and put their heads into the data at FanGraphs and Baseball Reference, and began making corrections — using sabermetric tools to rescue players (like Tim Raines) that were were excluded because of old-timey, old-fart voter ignorance and laziness.

Results? Well, 20 players have been voted in by the writers since 2014. That’s only six elections.

All but one class (2016) had more than two inductees; three classes had four inductees. And this doesn’t even include special committee selections of players such as Alan Trammell, Jack Morris, Lee Smith, Harold Baines — and managers Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa.

The logjam was broken. Deserving players are being rewarded.

The nonsense of the past is slowly dissipating.

4. The final test, of course, is to see what becomes of the steroids blockade. Obviously there are many holdout voters — they have built the wall … and Mexico didn’t pay for it … and they are determined to keep the “bad” people out of the hallowed Hall … well, except that these same inconsistent, moralizing buffoons have been voting in “bad” guys — including players burnished by performance-enhancing drugs — for years. I wonder if there is a drug test for hypocrisy?

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are the “bad” guys that are being kept out by the wall. So far the wall is holding up. Even though there’s been some evidence of crumbling, Bonds and Clemens aren’t close to getting through the wall. They’ve been moving up, at least moving in the right direction to reach the 75 percent barrier. But the progress is slow. Here’s a three-year snapshot:

Bonds: 53.8% in 2017, up to 56.4% in ‘18, and 59.1% this year.

Clemens: 54.1% in 2017 up to 57.3% in ‘18, and 59.5% this year.

Bonds and Clemens didn’t make much of a jump this time around, but it’s premature to declare they’ll never make it. Why?

We’ve already cited the reasons when discussing other candidates such as Walker, Rolen and — let’s throw them in — Schilling and Omar Vizquel.

The logjam has eased, the overload of candidates is getting lighter, upcoming ballots offer plenty of room for Bonds and Clemens to pick up more votes, and the voting delegation is getting younger, smarter and more open-minded each year.

Bonds and Clemens have been on the ballot for the last seven years. They have three more years to complete that climb to 75 percent. The 2022 vote would be their final chance.

CLOSING TIME AT BERNIE’S PLACE …

Three shots…

Drink up you happy people…

1. After outplaying New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees in the NFC Championship, Los Angeles Rams QB Jared Goff will take on New England’s Tom Brady in Super Bowl 53. Quite an age difference there. When Brady and the Patriots defeated the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl 36 — the game was played Feb. 3, 2002 — Goff was a lad of 7 years, 3 months and 28 days.

2. With the vital addition of billionaire financier Ron Burkle to fund a potential franchise, Sacramento has re-emerged as significant threat to St. Louis in the competition for the 28th MLS franchise. Two things: let’s try to avoid doing the usual STL thing by screwing up a positive project. Carolyn Kindle-Betz and Jim Kavanaugh have taken care of business, including the commitment to privately finance an MLS-ready soccer venue. They’ve put St. Louis in strong position to secure the 28th team. But with Burkle becoming a game-changer in Sacramento, any delay caused by political shenanigans on the St. Louis end will lead to victory for Sacramento.

3. However … I don’t see why the MLS has to stop at 28 teams; the league has tentative plans to add more franchises later, anyway. There are at least 10 cities vying for an MLS team, and the league should take advantage of the desire for its product by expediting expansion to 32 teams. That way the league can make sure to add both St. Louis and Sacramento — two attractive markets with outstanding ownership groups. By choosing just one over the next six months, the league risks losing a great set-up in the market that doesn’t receive the 28th franchise.

Thanks for reading…

-Bernie