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Commentary: Why I voted for LaTroy Hawkins on my Baseball Hall of Fame ballot

Hawkins epitomizes the character clause for the Baseball Writers’ Association of America: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played.”

Pitcher LaTroy Hawkins got at least one vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Pitcher LaTroy Hawkins got at least one vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Patrick Semansky/AP

There’s no need for any witch hunt or investigating Twitter timelines for clues.

I’m the one.

I voted for LaTroy Hawkins for the Hall of Fame.

Go ahead, mock, ridicule, tease and jeer.

Of the 164 public and anonymous voters identified so far, according to Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame Tracker, no else one has cast a vote for Hawkins.

The reason I voted for a pitcher with a 75-94 record, 4.31 ERA, 127 saves and career 17.8 WAR?

Well, let me take you back to 1993.

It was the year Reggie Jackson was elected into the Hall of Fame, the only one to make it, although five others on the ballot — Phil Niekro, Orlando Cepeda, Tony Perez, Ron Santo and Joe Torre — would later join him.

When the ballot was revealed, there were five players who didn’t receive a single vote.

One broke my heart.

Hal McRae.

There was no player I respected and admired more as a young beat reporter covering the Kansas City Royals than McRae. I was in awe of the passion and fervor with which he played the game, and to this day I’ve never seen a greater clubhouse leader than this man.

But this man, a six-time .300 hitter and three-time All-Star with two top-five MVP finishes, didn’t get even one Hall of Fame vote.

I was ineligible to vote for the Hall of Fame, not having enough years of baseball writing experience to qualify, and I was sickened to see that no one voted for him.

I vowed that if a time ever came again that someone meant that much to me and was that respected by his teammates, peers, coaches, managers, and yes, writers, I would vote for him — no matter how his numbers looked on a Hall of Fame ballot.

Well, 28 years later, that man is LaTroy Hawkins.

Hawkins, raised by his mother and grandparents in Gary, Ind., epitomized grace, class and dignity throughout his 21-year career, and you won’t find a soul who will argue. Look, you don’t survive 21 years in the game, pitching for 11 different teams, and appearing in 1,042 games — the 10th most of all-time and the most by a Black pitcher in history — without those attributes.

Really, Hawkins epitomizes the character clause for the Baseball Writers’ Association of America: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played.”

Hawkins, godfather to Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, took teammates to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum whenever in Kansas City, decades before MLB officially recognized the leagues.

Players will tell you it’s an extraordinary honor to be on a Hall of Fame ballot, I wanted to make sure that Hawkins can always say he received at least one vote for his contributions to the game.

There’s absolutely no reason for people to be offended. Hawkins didn’t take anyone’s spot. I picked eight players, and had two vacant spots on my ballot.

One went to Hawkins.

The other went to center fielder Torii Hunter.

Hunter shares those same characteristics as Hawkins, and was beloved and deeply admired throughout the game. There was never any concern that Hunter would be shut out. He’s an eight-time Gold Glove winner, a five-time All-Star, hit 353 home runs, and was a media darling.

Hunter was a powerful clubhouse leader and incredible mentor. Just ask Los Angeles Angels MVP Mike Trout and Boston Red Sox All-Star J.D. Martinez what Hunter meant to them. There was no more powerful Black voice in the game than Hunter, who along with Hawkins, spoke to the inequalities in America and in baseball, when so few had the courage.

So, go ahead and scream at me. Call for my head. Send me vile messages. But considering what Hawkins and Hunter mean to me, personally, and what they did for the game, I’ll never apologize for my ballot.

The only other new name I checked this year was closer Billy Wagner. Score one for advanced analytics and peer opinion. Wagner never set any saves records, let alone led his league once in saves. He didn’t pitch 1,000 innings (903), and his postseason record (10.03 ERA in 14 games) was atrocious.

Yet, when you realize that no pitcher with at least 800 innings struck out 11.9 batters per nine innings, or yielded a lower batting average (.187) since 1900, well, it’s a little hard to ignore.

The rest of my ballot are holdovers, led once again, by Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, two of the greatest players in the history of baseball.

Certainly, I understand why they haven’t been elected, with just one year left of eligibility remaining after this one. There are voters who believe that Bonds and Clemens cheated the game, and they can’t be rewarded by receiving baseball’s ultimate honor.

Still, having covered the entire steroid era, performance-enhancing drug use was out of control on every team and every clubhouse in America. There were managers and GMs encouraging steroid use. Owners would look the other way. GMs would be infuriated if they traded or signed a player, and then they suddenly stopped using performance-enhancing drugs.

Sure, Bonds and Clemens had some pretty major smoking guns at the end of their careers but while they have been denied entrance to the Hall of Fame, we have inducted several players suspected to have used steroids. What happens next year when Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz are on the ballot? Will they get support while Bonds and Clemens are snubbed one final time?

Look, whether you condone or castigate Bonds and Clemens, the fact is that they helped their teams to greatness, and were beloved by their fans.

They were not punished, let alone suspended, for steroid use, never once hurting their team.

Simply, before 2005, there was no enforcement to stop steroid use. It was like speeding on the freeway knowing there wasn’t going to be a cop on the road to pull you over.

It was the Wild, Wild West. No one cared what you did, as long as you performed and were able to use performance-enhancing drugs without breaking down.

My line of demarcation is clear:

If you were suspended for steroid use after 2005, once MLB actually implemented a rule it was going to enforce, you don’t get my vote. You got suspended and you damaged your team’s chances of winning.

So, I voted for four players linked to steroids, but were never suspended: Bonds, Clemens, Sammy Sosa — who tested positive during the 2003 anonymous player testing, according to the New York Times, but has denied steroid use — and Gary Sheffield, who admitted to using a testosterone-based cream while working out with Bonds, but insisted he did not know it was a steroid.

I did not vote for Manny Ramirez, perhaps the most feared right-handed hitter of his generation, because he was twice suspended for steroid use

I also voted for Jeff Kent, arguably the greatest run-producing second baseman in history.

And I voted for Curt Schilling and Omar Vizquel, too, understanding the collection of Schilling’s offensive social media posts, and the serious domestic violence allegations against Vizquel by his ex-wife.

If Twitter was around during Schilling’s tenure as a player, whose views would have divided a clubhouse, he wouldn’t be getting my vote. Vizquel has denied the allegations since they were reported just last month, but MLB has launched an investigation and I certainly plan to re-evaluate my vote as more evidence comes to light.

I recognize the anguish and uneasiness of my Hall of Fame voting brethren. Some like ESPN’s Buster Olney gave up their vote years ago. Some like The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal are contemplating it. Some, like a dear friend of mine, refuses to make their vote public because of the vitriol on social media. And some newspapers prohibit their writers from voting altogether.

To me, it’s an absolute privilege and tremendous honor to have a vote.

I’m proud to be a Baseball Hall of Fame voter.

And I’m proud to cast a vote for LaTroy Hawkins.

Read more at usatoday.com