By IAN WILSON
National Baseball Hall of Fame hopefuls are once again doing their best imitation of expectant fathers, nervously pacing back and forth while awaiting the thumbs up to break out celebratory cigars.
The birth of a baby is not on the line, but a berth among baseball’s immortals is at stake for players on the ballot.
Much of the focus of the 2021 voting by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) is on players who are nearing the end of their 10-year term as candidates for election to the Hall of Fame. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Curt Schilling are all in their ninth year of consideration, but if steroid allegations and other controversies prevent them from reaching the 75% of BBWAA votes required for induction they will have a final opportunity to be voted in next year.
Alberta baseball fans will notice a trio of familiar names in the running who showed off their talents at the Triple-A level in Calgary and Edmonton. Let’s take a closer look at those three players, their time in Western Canada, and their chances of earning a plaque in Cooperstown, New York.
The smooth-fielding shortstop’s chances rely mainly on his accomplishments with the leather. Vizquel was an 11-time Gold Glove winner during his Major League Baseball (MLB) career, which spanned 24 seasons and saw him collect 2,877 hits.
This is Vizquel’s fourth year on the ballot. While he is unlikely to surpass the 75% mark this year – recent allegations of domestic abuse do little to help his cause – the Venezuelan will receive significant support and his selection will continue to be up for debate into next year.
Vizquel played 94 games for the Calgary Cannons between 1988 and 1992, splitting time between the Pacific Coast League (PCL) club and the Seattle Mariners during that time.
We took an extended look at the three-time All-Star and his time with the Cannons last year. Read up on Vizquel in that article, entitled If The Glove Fits.
Outfielder and corner infielder Michael Cuddyer makes his debut on the Hall of Fame ticket following a sterling 15-year MLB career, the bulk of it as a member of the Minnesota Twins.
Based on the ballots that have already been revealed publicly (via @NotMrTibbs on Twitter), Cuddyer cannot receive enough votes to be included in the 2021 Hall of Fame class. But players who do not receive at least 5% of the vote will be dropped from the ballot, so there is still plenty of motivation for Cuddyer and his fans to keep an eye on the results.
The final MLB statistics for the Virginia-born slugger include 1,536 games played, 197 home runs, 794 runs batted in (RBI), 809 runs and a career batting average of .277. Cuddyer was the 2013 National League (NL) batting champion when he played for the Colorado Rockies and he is a member of the Twins Hall of Fame.
Prior to his time as a regular in the big leagues, the ninth overall pick in the 1997 MLB amateur entry draft turned heads in the minors. A 30-homer campaign with the Double-A New Britain Rock Cats earned him the distinction of being named Minnesota’s minor league player of the year in 2001. That title and his draft pedigree made Cuddyer a highly-anticipated prospect when he arrived in Edmonton to suit up for the Trappers the following year.
Cuddyer didn’t disappoint. He smacked a three-run blast in his PCL premiere, an 11-3 loss to Lyle Overbay and the Toros in Tucson on April 4, 2002. It was his first of 20 home runs (including a 500-foot bomb over the 34-foot-high wall in centre at Telus Field in mid-June) for the Trappers that year, during an 86-game stint that included 12 stolen bases, 70 runs, 53 RBI and a .309 batting average.
The then 23-year-old, who was drafted as a shortstop, discussed his versatility as an outfielder and an infielder that summer with Edmonton Journal reporter Norm Cowley. His positional flexibility would later extend well into his MLB career.
“In my first year of pro ball, I committed 61 errors at shortstop,” Cuddyer told Cowley. “That’s an astronomical amount. Any time you make 61 errors, it’s going to weigh on your mind a little bit but I was able to separate the defensive side of my game from the offensive side.”
Cuddyer spent most of his time playing in right field for the Trappers, but he continued to take ground balls at third base in Edmonton.
“If they ask me to catch, I’ll be more than happy to go up there and catch as long as it’s in the big leagues,” he said in the Journal, adding he was guilty of lacking concentration from time to time in the outfield.
“You have to really keep yourself into the game, whereas at third base you’re always in the game … in the outfield, your mind can wander a little bit and you really have to stay focused out there.”
Cuddyer, who was named a PCL All-Star and honoured with his own Trappers bobblehead promotion at Telus Field, helped two ball clubs qualify for the postseason in 2002. The Trappers won the PCL championship while Cuddyer was aiding the Twins in their playoff run. The 6-foot-2 slugger played 41 regular season games for Minnesota and made 16 plate appearances for the Twins during their five-game win over the Oakland Athletics in the American League (AL) Divisional Series. He batted .385 with a .500 on-base percentage in that series. The rookie also suited up in three games during the AL Championship Series, which Minnesota dropped to the Anaheim Angels.
The former first rounder is a long shot for selection to the Hall of Fame, but we’ll soon see if he achieved enough in the eyes of baseball writers to remain on the ballot another year.
Allen James Burnett ticked a lot of boxes over the course of his 17 years in the majors.
No hitter … check. He did that early in his career, tossing a no-no as a member of the Florida Marlins on May 12th, 2001 against the San Diego Padres.
AL strikeout leader … check. Burnett did that in 2008 as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays when he punched out 231 batters.
World Series champion … check. He helped the New York Yankees defeat the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2009 Fall Classic.
Burnett’s stats reveal a pitcher who was capable of dominating hitters. The 6-foot-5 right-hander pitched in 435 MLB games, posting a record of 164 wins and 157 losses. He threw 24 complete games, collected 2,513 Ks and recorded a lifetime earned run average (ERA) of 3.99.
One footnote in the Arkansas native’s baseball journey was his Triple-A debut, which came on July 15th, 2000 during a rehab road start for the Calgary Cannons. Recovering from a torn ligament in his right thumb, Burnett was limited to no more than 95 pitches when he took the mound at Cheney Stadium for a tilt against the Tacoma Rainiers in front of 5,937 fans. Burnett lasted five innings and didn’t surrender a hit in the outing, a no decision that ended with a 4-2 Calgary victory. He did yield three walks and uncork a pair of wild pitches, while striking out six batters, but Burnett was well on his way back to the Marlins.
There was discussion of two more starts for the Cannons, however, an injury to Marlins starting pitcher Brad Penny prompted a late-night call to Calgary, where Burnett was told to pack his bags and hop on a midnight flight for south Florida. As his Marlins teammates were losing the first half of a doubleheader to the Atlanta Braves, Burnett had a quick nap at his apartment before taking the mound for part two of the twin bill. Making his first MLB start of that season, Burnett pitched six strong innings in the 6-1 win for the Marlins. Other rehab trips to the minors followed, but Burnett was a fixture in major-league rotations from that point on.
With respect to his Hall of Fame aspirations, Burnett finds himself in a similar situation to that of Cuddyer. The votes already made public indicate he cannot qualify for the 2021 class, so he can only hope to receive the 5% of checkmarks that will keep him on the ballot moving forward.
Stay tuned for the BBWAA Hall of Fame voting results, which will be announced on Jan. 26th on MLB Network.