Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. I know he won’t make it, but I’m glad to see my guy Andy Pettitte remain on the Hall of Fame ballot.
In today’s SI:AM:
🌟 Why Scott Rolen deserves a Hall of Fame spot
🎙️ Lisa Guerrero on her awful “MNF” experience
✈️ The best destination for Aaron Rodgers
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Welcome to Cooperstown
For the second straight year, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America has elected just a single player to the Hall of Fame.
In his sixth year on the ballot, Scott Rolen narrowly cleared the 75% threshold necessary for induction and will be honored this summer in Cooperstown. Rolen appeared on 297 of the 389 ballots (76.3%).
Todd Helton came close to earning induction (72.2%) but fell 11 votes short. The only other players who appeared on more than 40% of ballots were Billy Wagner (68.1%), Andruw Jones (58.1%), Gary Sheffield (55.0%), Carlos Beltrán (46.5%) and Jeff Kent (46.5%). The two players whose candidacies are most clouded by steroid use—Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramírez—fell well short, with 35.7% of the vote and 33.2%, respectively. You can see the full voting results here.
Rolen’s election comes as somewhat of a surprise. As Tom Verducci wrote earlier this month, support for Rolen increased substantially after he appeared on just 10.2% of ballots in his first year. Before him, the player with the lowest amount of support on his first ballot who was eventually elected by the writers was Duke Snider (17%). Since 1967, none of the 670 players who got less than 15% of the vote eventually crossed the 75% threshold.
So what changed? Verducci suggests voters started looking beyond box score stats and began to appreciate what made Rolen truly great: his baserunning and defense. Rolen’s batting statistics are impressive but not otherworldly. Verducci points out that his career slash line (.281/.364/.490) is awfully close to that of Aramis Ramírez (.283/.341/.492)—and no one would consider him a Hall of Famer. Well, no one aside from the four voters who put him on their ballots in 2021.
But Rolen did much more than just hit like an All-Star. Here’s how Verducci puts it:
If you appreciate how the game is played, and not just batting stats, Rolen played it like a Hall of Famer. The subtle beauty was in how he made plays on the run at third base or the perfect cut around a base as he went first to third or second to home.
Watch this highlight reel of his defense at third base and tell me a player who can do that while also being among the best hitters at his position doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame.
You can see Verducci’s full ballot here, with explanations for why he voted for each player. After not voting for Helton in his first four years on the ballot, Verducci did put the former Rockies slugger on his ballot this year after coming to a realization about his home/road splits. Like Rolen, support for Helton has increased significantly over the years, jumping a full 20% from last year to this year. After appearing on 72.2% of ballots this year, he has a good chance of clearing the 75% threshold next year.
If we’re already penciling in Helton for the 2024 ceremony in Cooperstown, who might join him? We’ll see whether Wagner and Jones can get over the hump after falling short this year. Sheffield will need to make a big leap in his final year on the ballot. Beltrán’s case is an interesting one. His stats scream Hall of Fame, but Verducci left him off his ballot due to his role in the Astros’ cheating scandal, and other voters surely feel similarly conflicted. (“I could not stomach voting for Beltrán in his first year of eligibility because of his key role—a leadership role—in the 2017 Astros sign-stealing scandal,” Verducci wrote.) Of the players who will be newly eligible for the Hall next year, only one is a lock to be inducted: Adrián Beltré. Other players likely to appear on the ballot for the first time include David Wright, Chase Utley, Joe Mauer and Bartolo Colon.
The best of Sports Illustrated
- Today’s Daily Cover is an excerpt from Lisa Guerrero’s upcoming book in which she details her personal struggles during her one season as a sideline reporter on Monday Night Football.
- Conor Orr argues the Jets should trade for Aaron Rodgers this offseason.
- The focus for the Chiefs this week, Michael Rosenberg writes, is avenging last year’s loss to the Bengals.
- Alex Prewitt has the story of the football think tank that’s keeping former NFL coaches and executives engaged in the game.
- Andrew Gastelum takes stock of the biggest stories in world soccer ahead of next week’s transfer deadline.
- 49ers defensive end Charles Omenihu was arrested on domestic violence charges.
- The NBA is adding an interesting wrinkle to this year’s All-Star draft.
The top five...
… things I saw yesterday:
5. The Sabres’ two goals in a 25-second span against the Blues.
4. Donovan Mitchell’s windmill putback dunk. (Even though it didn’t count.)
3. LeBron James’s 46 points against the Clippers. (He’s now scored at least 40 against every team in the league.)
2. Joshua Kimmich’s long-range laser beam for Bayern Munich.
1. Ronald Acuña Jr.’s electric home run trot in the Venezuelan winter league. (Acuña announced almost immediately after that he was retiring from winter ball.)
On this day in 1989, Michael Jordan scored his 10,000th career point in just his 303rd game. Of course, Wilt Chamberlain scored his 10,000th point faster, but who did Jordan surpass to become the second-fastest player to reach the milestone?
- Oscar Robertson
- Moses Malone
- John Havlicek
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Yesterday’s SIQ: When the Panthers took record-breaking former Michigan running back Tim Biakabutuka with the eighth pick in the 1996 draft, he became the first modern NFL player from which country?
- Democratic Republic of Congo
Answer: Democratic Republic of Congo. Biakabutuka’s family moved to Canada when he was a child, and he was raised in Montreal, where he first began playing football as a 16-year-old. It was in high school that he picked up the nickname Touchdown Tim, but his full name is Tshimanga (pronounced tee-MON-gah).
“I don’t mind, because I know it’s easier to pronounce,” he told SI in 1995 of being called Tim. “But it’s not my name.”
As a senior at Michigan in 1995, Biakabutuka ran for 1,818 yards—a record that still stands today. In the rivalry game against Ohio State, he ran for 317 yards (the second-highest single-game total in Michigan history) and four touchdowns as the Wolverines took down the previously undefeated No. 2 Buckeyes and denied them a shot at the national title. Biakabutuka then played six seasons in the NFL, all with the Panthers.
Biakabutuka is one of six NFL players born in Congo. The first was Wilkie Moody, whose parents were Baptist missionaries in the country when he was born in 1897. He played 15 games in four seasons between 1920 and ’25. The others are Muadianvita Kazadi (a linebacker who played 12 games for the Rams in ’97), Henoc Muamba (13 games at linebacker for the Colts in 2014), Andy Mulumba (22 games at linebacker for the Packers from ’13 to ’15) and Jonathan Kongbo (a defensive end who played three games for the Broncos this season after a couple of years in the CFL).
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