No snubs at this inn

It’s time for this year’s Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame Players division ballot, and in a few weeks we’ll know who my colleagues and I have elected.

As an immigrant in Japan, I’m fairly sensitive to how imports are treated, and want to see them all get their due respect for the contributions they made to the quality of Japan’s game. As many old players will remind us, it is Japan’s game–but it wouldn’t be as good without these guys who leave their homeland in pursuit of careers abroad and made this game better. Saying they don’t belong is like saying the competition is not worthy of belonging to.

We get seven votes on a ballot which now includes by my estimate 10 to 11 guys who fit right in with the bulk of players currently enshrined in Tokyo.

We only get seven votes, so people who really care are forced to leave Hall of Fame-caliber players off their ballots, while those who don’t care are free to fill up theirs with guys they like for some reason other than that they are the best available candidates.

I apologize for misspelling Nobuhiko Matsunaka’s name on the sheet I used for this photo, I don’t think it’s because he took a dislike to me after a failed attempt at humor about the Phiten necklace he wore in spring training one year that could have been mistaken for an ox collar.

I left Masahiro Yamamoto, Alex Ramirez, Hiroki Kokubo, Norihiro Nakamura and Shingo Takatsu off not because they don’t belong, but because I only have seven votes.

I’m not certain about Takatsu, because he was a successful closer at a time when few closers in Japan were effective more for more than a couple of years, and got started in that role when complete games were still part of managers’ game plans.

In a move from zero transparency to mere opacity, the Hall of Fame ballot committee this year decided to publish the names of its voters, without saying who they voted for. I’ve been publishing my ballots since the first time I’ve had the right.

But with my name now out there along with those who don’t care, publishing my vote has gone from simply an exercise in transparency to an effort to protect whatever crappy shreds remain of my reputation.

Not casting a vote for a player isn’t a slight or a snub. The same can be said for not considering a player worthy of a vote. Those who weren’t MVP-caliber players were, at worst, very good players for a long time.

A team with pitchers Masumi Kuwata, Shinji Sasaoka, and Daisuke Miura with Motonobu Tanishige catching, an outfield of Yoshitomo Tani, So Taguchi and Norihiro Akahoshi and an infield of Masahiro Kawai, Takeshi Yamasaki, Shinya Miyamoto and Takuro Ishii, would never lose a pennant race, and those are the least qualified players at their positions on the ballot.

It would be a little light on power, but the defense would be elite, and most of those guys never made outs — if you leave out Miyamoto’s and Kawai’s sacrifice bunts.

Tuffy and Alex

I know Alex Ramirez is popular, and he’s a friend. His career stacks up very nicely against Tuffy Rhodes‘. They each drove in around 1,270 runs, and had 3,509 total bases. Alex had 225 more hits and hit for a better average.

The principle differences are: Alex’s batting average — he hit singles and triples much more often, Tuffy’s home runs — he hit 84 more in 434 fewer at-bats, Tuffy’s walks — he drew 650 more, Tuffy’s runs — he scored 234 more, Tuffy’s steals — he was a good percentage base stealer with 87 steals.

Tuffy struck out more, but grounded into fewer double plays and contributed more on defense as a center fielder than Alex did as a left fielder.

But being in the same discussion with Tuffy is pretty darn amazing, and I can imagine people voting for Alex because he got 2,017 hits in Japan and Tuffy only came close.

Yamamoto and Kuroda

Another really hard choice was between Masahiro Yamamoto, who was named on 68 percent of last year’s ballots and first-timer Hiroki Kuroda. Both had great careers, Kuroda’s largely under valued because for most of his time in Japan, the Carp were really bad.

Yamamoto had phenomenal longevity, and his peak was pretty impressive as well. Both deserve to be in without a doubt, and I’m guessing that both will be in within a year or so.

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