Baseball Writer Bill Ballou Doesn’t Think Mariano Rivera Belongs in the Hall of Fame

mariano-riveraAs a Red Sox fan, I can understand the desire to dislike every single Yankees player. It’s why I got a kick out of Robert Bradford writing a story for WEEI about how Manny Machado going to New York would be good for Boston as it’d give folks someone to hate on the Yankees’ roster. But even this Boston fan knows claiming Mariano Rivera doesn’t belong in Cooperstown is simply ridiculous.

Rivera is arguably the best reliever in Major League history and will likely receive almost unanimous support while making his first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot. He’s received the vote of everyone who’s already cast their 2019 ballot, but I have to say almost because Bill Ballou of the Worcester Telegram has created quite a stir in the baseball community by announcing he doesn’t think the Sandman should be enshrined in the Hall.

While trying to justify his position, Ballou makes all sorts of claims that have been largely mocked by other, more well known and respected, baseball writers. First, he claims that “closers are naked emperors” and that the save “is the lowest-hanging fruit on the game’s statistical tree.” In other words, he thinks closers have huge egos but aren’t really anything special and the save is overrated.

In what was probably the most direct attack on Rivera, Ballou claimed the Sandman’s stats were overly inflated because he primarily only pitched one inning and came in with nobody on base. The scribe suggested that if he was really a great pitcher, the Yankees would have brought him in when the bases were loaded and no outs in the seventh inning. Or had him being a starter — a move that Ballou suggested mockingly because he thought batters would “figure out [his] weaknesses.”

As part of his reasoning behind why closers and the save are supposedly overrated, Ballou points to Craig Kimbrel’s performance during last year’s playoffs. I can see where he’s going with this since Kimbrel didn’t have his best stuff in the postseason and still went a perfect six for six in save opportunities, but that doesn’t diminish the role of the closer. Boston’s closer was still able to get out of jams and make sure the Red Sox won.

If you need an example of how a closer who can’t get out of jams is a big negative, just look at the devastating impact Drew Storen’s epic collapse in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS had on Washington’s playoff dreams. Storen’s a solid reliever and was one of my favorite players when he was with the Nationals, but he simply couldn’t fully step it up when the pressure was on. It’s a shame, but illustrates how you need someone who’s clutch and can be counted on in the pressure filled ninth inning — especially in the postseason.

Perhaps trying to gain some support among Boston fans and realizing that simply bashing Kimbrel won’t convince many people, Ballou went on to use some quotes from former Red Sox manager Terry Francona in a desperate attempt to backup his argument. During the 2017 Boston Baseball writers annual dinner, Francona apparently said he thought teams might change how they use relievers if the rules around the save changed. The skipper additionally said he doesn’t “blame guys for wanting to close games” due to “the way salaries are structured.” All that might be true, but it still doesn’t take away from the fact that Rivera was one of the best (if not the best) pitchers in baseball.

Ballou tried to use comments made by a few other players, executives, and analysts to further argue that closers are important, but none of them were convincing and they failed to show why Rivera shouldn’t be on his way to Cooperstown. In fact, it simply made him look like a cranky old man who longed for the days when starters pitched a bunch of complete games and players he deemed irrelevant didn’t receive attention.

What makes you really throw up your hands in disgust is that after making such an effort to diminish the impact an extremely classy and talented man had on the game of baseball, Ballou ended his article by saying he wasn’t going to cast his ballot at all because he didn’t want to “deny Rivera a chance to be the first unanimous Hall of Famer.” In other words, he wanted to bash the guy but apparently didn’t have the courage to officially be on record supporting his claims. It’s an utter shame Ballou covers the Red Sox for a newspaper in Massachusetts and therefore might taint Boston fans with his severely misguided sentiments.

Manny Machado Wanted to Play for Red Sox or Yankees

Although Manny Machado said he won’t announce who he’s signing with until after the new year, there’s still a lot of chatter about where he’ll end up. The latest development comes as Fancred’s Jon Heyman reported a few days ago that a baseball executive claims the superstar wants to return to the AL East — preferably to the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees.

“I think he ends up in New York,” one rival exec says. “He wanted to be with the Yankees or Red Sox. We’ve known that for a while. And it’s not going to be Boston.”

This isn’t completely out of the blue as the Red Sox were reportedly in discussions with the Baltimore Orioles last offseason about a trade that would bring Machado to Boston. The discussions could have taken place in part because Boston’s Dave Dombrowski and Dan Duquette (who was Baltimore’s GM at the time) have a relationship that dates back to their time with the Montreal Expos three decades ago, but even that relationship didn’t allow them to amount to anything in the long run.

With that being said, it’s fairly obvious that Machado can scratch Boston off his list of potential destinations. Not only have the Red Sox shown little interest in him this offseason and weren’t among the three finalists he met with, but he’s had some public spats with Boston’s players and fans.

He got a lot of heat, for instance, for sliding hard into Dustin Pedroia at second base during a game down in Baltimore back in April of 2017. Pedroia brushed it off and said “it’s baseball, man” in a postgame interview, but folks like manager John Farrell had a much stronger reaction to the move. The situation didn’t get any better when he went off on the Red Sox the next month during a postgame interview with a media scrum that had to be bleeped several times when it aired on TV and the radio.

Machado further added to the feud when he spiked first baseman Steve Pearce during the bottom of the ninth in game four of the 2018 World Series (this was one of the few times he decided to be “Johnny Hustle” and run down the first baseline). He claimed it was unintentional and that he’s “almost best friends” with Pearce, but the move definitely stirred up a lot of emotion among both fans and players.

On the other side of things, the Yankees appear to be a real possibility for Machado. They had a 90 minute meeting with him on Wednesday (and reportedly took his family out to dinner that night), can afford to pay the huge contract he’ll demand, and have consistently been among the teams wanting to sign him. On top of that, Machado grew up a Yankees fan and managing partner Hal Steinbrenner was quick to say questions about his attitude could be easily be settled with a simple conversation during the interview process.

A lot of pundits were already saying Machado was leaning towards going to New York and this new tidbit of information seems to lend credibility to those claims. As Robert Bradford of WEEI recently pointed out, him going to New York would have the benefit of giving Red Sox fans someone to hate on the Yankees. So with all that in mind, smart money is on him joining the Evil Empire and Red Sox fans should be perfectly content with it.

CBS Sports Ranks Red Sox Number 1 in MLB Power Rankings

One of the main reasons I was able to look past the Red Sox having to pay the luxury tax is the organization’s executives seemed to think last season was worth the cost and remained committed to largely keeping the team together. It appears as though baseball pundits agree with those tactics as Matt Synder over at CBS Sports put the Red Sox on top of his MLB power rankings list for the 2019 season.

Now there were some caveats that went along with the list, mainly that there are still big name free agents out there (like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado) who could change things around depending on where they sign. This is significant since the Yankees and Dodgers are ranked number two and three on the list respectively and both are heavily rumored to be in the mix for Harper and Machado.

Furthermore, you can’t ignore Boston’s bullpen situation. They definitely have to replace Joe Kelly and Craig Kimbrel could potentially be leaving as well — though there’s discussion about how this might result in Kimbrel signing with Boston late in the offseason after he’s forced to realize his contract demands are too high (kinda like J.D. Martinez last season). With that in mind, Synder wrote that if the Red Sox “don’t add anything to the bullpen, they probably don’t stay here to start next season.”

After the Yankees and Dodgers, the top 10 on the list is rounded out by the Astros, Cubs, Indians, Braves, Nationals, Cardinals, and Rays. It’s worth noting that this means three teams from the AL East (Red Sox, Yankees, Rays) are in the top 10 and could make the pennant race there very interesting. Synder also left the Brewers and Rockies out of the top 10, which means he thinks they’ll fall short of their 2018 playoff runs next year.

Of course, all of this should be taken with a grain of salt as power rankings lists are fun to watch and take a lot of information into account but are no substitute for how the season actually plays out. Just ask any Washington fan, for instance, as prominent pundits have projected the Nationals as World Series champs several times but they’ve yet to make it out of the first round (when they even make it to the playoffs). Even considering that, I still prefer seeing Boston at the top of the list instead of the bottom.