Jays From the Couch sits down with Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News to chat Blue Jays, the MLB Hall of Fame vote and more!
There is a baseball world going on outside of the Toronto Blue Jays. In fact, the Hall of Fame vote is heating up, with the results to come in January. Those charged with that vote, writers and journalists, are immersing themselves in player histories and stats to bring storied career baseball players into the immortal realm of the Hall of Fame. Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News is one such writer who has a ballot for the first time.
Harrington, in his sports writing career, has covered both the Blue Jays and the Buffalo Bisons for many years and has quite the history in baseball writing, earning his own place in the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame in 2013. JFtC had the chance to bend his ear about the Blue Jays, the Bisons and what goes into a Hall of Fame vote.
JFtC: You are coming into your 30th year in the biz which is an amazing accomplishment, is there a favourite moment or event that stands out?
MH: I’ve been really lucky with both hockey and college basketball as well but we’re sticking to baseball for purposes of this conversation. Game Seven of the World Series this year was pretty incredible to cover, as was Game 7 in 2014 (the Bumgarner game in KC) and the entire Red Sox-Yankees ALCS in 2004. And locally, the Bisons’ 1997 championship, the first in their modern era and first since 1961, was something I’ll never forget either. Amazing things like 10-inning thrillers really do happen sometimes in Des Moines.
But the ultimate answer is the 2001 Yankees-Arizona World Series. It was a seminal time in the country, just over a month after 9/11. The drama of the games in New York, with President Bush’s pitch followed by the dramatic home runs that shook the upper deck where I sat, are blazed into my head. But so are all the missing person posters in Grand Central Station and my visit to the Ground Zero site. Sadness everywhere. It almost didn’t seem fair what happened in Arizona in Game Seven. Incredible finish. Quite a change-on-the-fly story.
JFtC: You’ve been there from the beginning of the Blue Jays franchise and there have been many faces of the team throughout. Who would you pick as the ultimate face of the franchise?
MH: I still want to say Tom Cheek. To be there for nearly 30 years and more than 4,300 consecutive games is mind-boggling. But I get it. He’s not a player. The face has to be Roberto Alomar. He won two World Series and he’s their only Hall of Famer. He’s one of the greatest ever at the position. It was interesting to me in 2015 when everyone hopped on the bandwagon how many people were too young or not around for the glory days of ’85-93. Those seemed like yesterday to me!
JFtC: On the cusp of losing two important players, how important is it to retain fan favourites for the growth of the fan base or is winning the only way to do that?
MH: Winning does that. Look at the differences from ’92 to ’93. Lost Winfield, Henke, Morris, Key, Gruber, Maldonado. People were fuming. They replaced them and won again. I’m all for not retaining Bautista anyway. He’s clearly in decline. Perhaps he should have bet on himself to bounce back and taken the qualifying offer. And they offered EE 4yrs/$80M and got turned down. That’s on the player and his agent misreading the market. Not on the team. They still have a lot of work to do. Fans are nervous for sure. But no team should keep guys just because that’s what the fans want.
JFtC: In a recent interview with Dalton Pompey, he talked about how different the new regime is in how they communicate. Was there the same sort of uproar when AA took the reigns or has history and a great timely trade softened his actual term?
MH: Go back to mid-July, 2015. It seemed like AA was on borrowed time. Team was going nowhere. Good chance he might have been toast until he got Tulo and Price and the turnaround started. His term was easily softened by how it finished and how he exited. Until then, it was mediocre.
JFtC: How well do you think the Buffalo Bisons are doing with their association with the Blue Jays? Has the commitment strengthened with Shapiro and Atkins given Shapiro ‘s history with the team?
MH: From a business standpoint, it’s a boom. Tons of fans crossing the border, lots of merchandise sold, attendance boosts on weekends or when rehab guys are in town. It’s exactly what they hoped for. They want more wins. They have the longest playoff drought in the IL (since 2005). Shapiro understands winning here from the Cleveland days, when Buffalo went to nine playoffs in 11 years from 1995-2005. He believes it translates to the big leagues. Jays haven’t gotten there here yet.
JFtC: You’re in the midst of HOF voting for the first time, what are the factors considered on your vote?
MH: It’s a lot of personal observation over the last 20 years. A lot of stat comparison, both real and analytics. And I’m still formulating my opinions on the steroid guys. Things change over time. You reflect differently. You learn more information. Then Bud Selig gets chosen and it makes you think deeper. It’s an evolving process.
JFtC: Does the length of time on the ballot become a factor?
MH: It will for me this year. This is Tim Raines‘ last chance. So if I’m going to vote for him, it’s the only chance I’ll have. I will be poring over his candidacy. He was a great player who deserves the longest look possible. As for anyone else, I don’t really care if it’s first year, third year, fifth year. I’ll vote for them how I see fit.
JFtC: What is the process for getting on the ballot in the first place?
MH: Anyone reading this interview should go to this link for all the information on the process. It’s definitive. As for getting on the ballot, there’s a screening committee. They never miss anybody worthy. I know there’s some crabbing this year that Javier Vazquez was left off. But jeez. He’s Javier Vazquez. He’s not getting in the Hall of Fame without an admission ticket.
JFtC: Is there a player not on the ballot you think should be there?
MH: Pete Rose. But the rules are the rules. He’s not eligible. He’d get my vote if he was.
JFtC: A voter came right out and said he wasn’t voting for Curt Schilling due to his anti journalist post this year, how much do matters like these factor in? Is it possible to let go of personal feelings about a player?
MH: My personal feelings won’t enter into it at all. Barry Bonds is the most reprehensible player I have ever dealt with. That’s not part of his Hall of Fame resume in my eyes.
JFtC: Who would you say deserves the title of GOAT in the baseball players’ world?
JFtC: Has the game changed too much to be able to compare players from another era to the game as it is now?
MH: It’s made it difficult to compare due to PEDs and due to specialization of relief pitching. Offense was down in the 1980s without PEDs and because of big ballparks so those players often get ignored. When you’re voting for the Hall of Fame, you should be accounting for the eras.
JFtC: With the addition of more and more technology to the game, will that change how the HOF is regarded by era?
MH: People have to understand that training methods are much better now. That travel is easier. Ballparks are more hitter friendly. Video is more prevalent to study pitchers. My feeling is a lot of guys from the 70s and 80s got left behind and will need to be rescued by the veterans committees. Most players of the current era will be properly judged because we see everyone so much these days.
JFtC: Being a BBHOFer, you know first hand the excitement of being awarded this kind of honour, what are your feelings on having a vote this year?
MH: It is a huge honor that I will take with the utmost seriousness. I went through the 10-year waiting period to get a ballot and will vote with my conscience each year. I will be fully transparent this year once the ballot is sent in. It will be publicized on Twitter and in a full story in The Buffalo News and at Buffalonews.com. Starting next year, every ballot will be revealed by the BBWAA, as per a vote last week at the Winter Meetings. A long overdue move in my opinion. You don’t want your vote revealed, then don’t vote. This isn’t the backdoor deals of the Hockey or Pro Football Hall of Fame. This is Cooperstown. Step up and answer to your vote.
As much as a conversation with Mike Harrington could go on for days – he really does have decades of stories to regale a listener with – when asked, with all of these stories and anecdotes floating around his head when does a book become part of the equation? Harrington didn’t have a solid answer, though “never say never” was better than no….
*Featured Image Credit: C Stem- JFtC
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Catherine Stem is a Blue Jays fan and writer who has combined both of these great things by writing for Jays From the Couch. Through all the ups and downs of baseball, all aspects of the game are explored. Keeping a close eye on the Blue Jays Triple A team, the Buffalo Bisons has also become part of her make-up.