By IAN WILSON
The ballots have been cast and we’ll soon know who will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Of the 34 candidates, five players spent time playing on Alberta minor-league teams.
Edgar Martinez and Omar Vizquel were teammates on the Triple-A Calgary Cannons in the 1980s, while lefty Johan Santana fine-tuned his game with the Edmonton Trappers before winning two Cy Young Awards in the mid-2000s.
Another Cy Young Award winner, Chris Carpenter, cut his teeth with the Medicine Hat Blue Jays in 1994 and second baseman Orlando Hudson also got his start with the Baby Jays.
Here’s a look at the Alberta hopefuls and their chances of finding immortality in Cooperstown, New York:
Of the Alberta candidates, Edgar has the best shot of having his likeness enshrined in the Hall of Fame (HOF).
Martinez is no stranger to Calgary baseball fans. Between 1985 and 1989, he played 276 games for the Cannons, hitting 21 home runs, collecting 167 RBI and scoring 176 runs. He never had a batting average worse than .329 or an on-base percentage (OBP) that fell below .434 during his time in the Stampede City.
Already a member of the Pacific Coast League (PCL) Hall of Fame, Martinez would make history if he makes the cut at Cooperstown, becoming the first Calgary Cannon to achieve the honour.
“He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. He was a great hitter,” said Mario Diaz, a former shortstop with the Cannons and Seattle Mariners who roomed with ‘Gar in the minor leagues and believes Martinez belongs in the HOF.
“When it came to hitting, he knew his craft and he perfected it.”
All-Star second baseman Bret Boone – another Calgary Cannon grad and ex-Mariner – also thinks the third baseman turned designated hitter should hear his named called on Jan. 24th, when the HOF inductees are unveiled.
“I’d put him up against anybody as a pure hitter at his peak. The only thing I think that’s hurting Edgar is the shear numbers. He doesn’t have those magical numbers. The 3,000 hits and 500 homers. But you look at his numbers and the .312 career (batting average) and over .400 on-base percentage, those are really big-time numbers,” Boone told Alberta Dugout Stories during a recent interview.
“To have that body of work, 15-plus years in the big leagues and you’re career average to be .312, is bigger than people can imagine. To be .312 career and play that long in the big leagues is just off the charts to me. It’s just really remarkable.”
The hitting prowess of No. 11 has never been in doubt. The knock on Martinez is that he spent too much time playing as a designated hitter (68%) and not enough at third base (27%). While the DH has been in effect in the American League since 1973 and MLB’s Outstanding Designated Hitter Award was named after Martinez in 2004, many baseball purists don’t value players in that role as highly as players who take the field game in, game out.
One of Edgar’s managers with the Mariners, Lou Piniella, has no doubts about his Hall worthiness.
“One of my last missions in baseball is to get him in the Hall of Fame. From 1990 to 2001 there wasn’t a more lethal right-handed hitter in baseball,” Piniella wrote in his 2017 book Lou: Fifty Years of Kicking Dirt, Playing Hard, and Winning Big in the Sweet Spot of Baseball.
For his part, ESPN baseball analyst Dan Szymborski doesn’t think Edgar’s time at DH should hurt him either.
“Edgar ought to be in the Hall, and I suspect he’s gained enough support that he will make it before he falls off the ballot, but I think he’ll fall a bit short this year,” said Szymborski, a non-voting member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA), the body responsible for electing members to the HOF every year.
If he is to gain 75% of the vote – the standard required to gain HOF status – Martinez will have to do it soon. This is his ninth year on the ballot and players lose eligibility if they don’t garner enough votes after 10 years.
Edgar has received a major groundswell of support through social media, and with over 40% of the ballot results known (via Twitter’s @NotMrTibbs), Martinez currently has the support of 80% of the voters. He is trending in the right direction, but his induction is anything but a lock. And while the New York-born slugger has always been comfortable with full counts in the late innings, Edgar’s fans may be a bit more nervous about his fate as Jan. 24th draws near.
Until then, you can read what Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated thinks about the Hall of Fame candidacy of Edgar Martinez.
On the other end of the spectrum from Edgar Martinez, is the case for shortstop Omar Vizquel.
Both men played together for the Cannons and Mariners, but the similarities seem to end there. Martinez earned a reputation as a ruthless batsman, but the long-tenured DH will never be remembered for his glove work.
Vizquel, on the other hand, is highly regarded as a defensive whiz, but a lightweight with the lumber. His numbers with the Cannons appear to support that perception.
The Venezuelan played 94 games for the Cannons between 1988 and 1992, posting a batting average under .250, while his OBP never climbed higher than .333. Vizquel also collected 31 runs and 25 RBI in Calgary. Nothing about his plate appearances at Foothills Stadium hinted of a HOF-calibre player.
Vizquel’s fielding statistics, however, indicate an elite defensive player could be found crouching between second and third base. The 5-foot-9 infielder, who played 24 major-league seasons and made his last stop in Toronto, was in on 54 double plays with the Cannons, he recorded 269 defensive assists and he never posted a fielding percentage lower than .957 with Calgary. Those fielding metrics would only get better at the MLB level and ultimately earn Vizquel 11 Gold Gloves.
“His body of work speaks for itself on the defensive side,” noted Boone, who patrolled the middle infield with Vizquel in Seattle, but considers Hall of Famer Barry Larkin the best shortstop he ever played with.
Szymborski thinks Vizquel’s case is “a tougher one” that ultimately may not be decided by the BBWAA.
“Undeniably a great defensive shortstop, he probably wasn’t quite at Ozzie Smith’s level with the glove or, when you take into account eras, the bat. It’s really tough to get votes
for him simply because of the logjam on the ballot right now,” Szymborski told Alberta Dugout Stories.
“While I can argue he’s a borderline candidate that should be in the Hall – I’m on the fence – I can’t get him into the top ten of the players that are on the ballot.”
Szymborski, who developed the ZiPS player projections system, thinks Vizquel’s fate will eventually be determined by the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Eras Committees (formerly Veterans Committee). These committees consider candidates that are no longer eligible for election through BBWAA ballots.
We’re a long way from that point. This is Vizquel’s first year on the ballot and with more than 40% of the votes declared publicly, the shortstop has 29.5% of the vote. It’s not enough to gain induction but it is enough to keep him in contention another year (players need a minimum of 5% of the vote to stay on the ballot).
For more on the pros and cons of Omar’s candidacy, check out this article by Gabe Lacques of USA Today.
Oh, to have had season tickets to the Edmonton Trappers in 2002. Not only did they win the PCL championship that season, the Trappers had a star-studded lineup that included Michael Cuddyer, Casey Blake, Grant Balfour and Johan Santana.
Santana was a major leaguer by that point, but in 2002 he was on the cusp of some truly impressive prime years.
During 11 games and 48.2 innings pitched for Edmonton, the southpaw went 5-2 with a 3.14 ERA and he struck out 75 batters.
“He wasn’t with us very long … but he was almost unhittable,” recalled Todd Sears, who played first base on that Trapper team, hitting 20 home runs and 100 RBI.
Santana would not return to the minors again until 2011. By that point, the Venezuelan had assembled five straight 200-plus strikeout seasons and he won two Cy Young Awards with the Twins in 2004 and 2006.
“I am a little biased, so I say, yes, he deserves to be in. He had about six to seven years where he was one of the top pitchers in the league,” said Sears.
Sears is not alone in his support of Santana. Many advocates have compared the former Met to the legendary Sandy Koufax, a pitcher celebrated more for his brilliant peak years than his longevity.
“The writers don’t seem to care about peak performance. And while Koufax measures out as a bit better and has a great postseason record, I don’t accept that Koufax can be an inner-circle Hall of Famer by reputation, and a player who was 90 per cent of Koufax is one-and-done,” said Szymborski.
The goal for Santana this year isn’t about HOF induction – it’s about staying on the ballot. He sits at just 1.7% of the vote (with 40% of the results revealed) and requires more support to reach the 5% mark needed to remain in the Cooperstown discussion.
“It’s unfortunate,” added Szymborski. “Santana‘s almost certainly a victim of the clogged ballot, with now five or six deserving inductees just struggling to stay above 5 per cent … I think he’s going to fall off the ballot.”
With Santana’s election hopes fading, Szymborski said the starting pitcher will likely need the help of the Modern Baseball Era Committee to make the HOF.
(Find out why FanSided’s Stephen Jackson does NOT think Santana belongs in the Hall).
Alas, if a pitcher as accomplished as Santana isn’t going to make the cut, what chance does Chris Carpenter have?
Well, it doesn’t look good.
Medicine Hat baseball fans may remember the right-hander from his 15 starts with the Blue Jays in 1994. The first-round pick had a strong season in the Hat, going 6-3 with a 2.76 ERA and striking out 80 hitters over 84.2 innings.
After that, he put together an injury-riddled but impressive 15-year career and won the National League Cy Young Award in 2005.
“Carpenter may pick up a stray vote,” said Szymborski. “Carpenter’s problem is that his case is that of a poor man’s Santana. His career and peak were both even shorter.”
The outlook is bleak, but Jessica Kleinschmidt of Cut4 makes a case for Carpenter here.
Say it ain’t so, O-Dog.
Fellow Medicine Hat Blue Jay alum Orlando Hudson – who batted .293 over 65 games there in 1998 – should also not expect much love on Jan. 24th. The four-time Gold Glove winning second baseman had a fine 11-year MLB career, but a quick look at the numbers indicates something other than a HOF career. A poor man’s Omar Vizquel? Maybe, but even that seems like a stretch.
“I suspect Hudson gets shut out,” noted Szymborski.
A more charitable Michael Clair, also of Cut4, points out Hudson’s merits here.