Thursday, January 28, 2016

Movie Review: Best of Enemies, a documentary directed by Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville, starring William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal (2015)

Poster for the 2015 documentary Best of Enemies, directed by Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville.

Vidal and Buckley in the makeup chair, 1968.

William F. Buckley, threatening to do bodily harm to Gore Vidal, 1968.
Best of Enemies, an excellent 2015 documentary directed by Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville, takes a look at the relationship between authors William F. Buckley, Jr., and Gore Vidal. Specifically, the film examines the ten debates between Buckley and Vidal during the 1968 Republican National Convention, held in Miami Beach, and the Democratic National Convention, held in Chicago. Buckley and Vidal were hired by ABC News to provide commentary on the happenings at the conventions, and also to debate with each other on the various issues facing the country. 

Buckley and Vidal hated each other by the time they met on camera in 1968. In fact, the one person Buckley said he would not debate with was Gore Vidal. But ABC News hired Vidal anyway. Buckley and Vidal had previously sparred in 1964 at the Republican National Convention in San Francisco. That convention was the moment that Buckley’s right-wingers officially seized control of the Republican Party, as the nomination went to Senator Barry Goldwater rather than moderate Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Rockefeller was heckled by the crowd with shouts of “lover!” as he attempted to address them. The taunt was a reference to his recent divorce and quick remarriage. Rockefeller told the audience, “It’s still a free country, ladies and gentlemen.” And while Goldwater went down to ignominious defeat in the fall, the seeds of a new Republican revolution were being planted. Just days before the 1964 Presidential election, actor Ronald Reagan gave a nationally televised half hour speech called “A Time for Choosing,” in support of Goldwater. The speech was responsible for Reagan’s entry into politics. When prominent California Republicans saw the speech, they immediately thought that Reagan might be a good candidate for the 1966 California Governor’s race. Never mind that Reagan had been a Democrat until 1962. Buckley was a good friend of Reagan’s, and one of the last books Buckley wrote was The Reagan I Knew, an ode to their friendship. 

Best of Enemies does a great job of showing us Buckley and Vidal’s lives and careers, and putting them in the context of their times. They were two of the leading American public intellectuals in 1968, back in the day when we actually had public intellectuals. Buckley was really the only choice ABC had for a conservative pundit, as he was the only conservative who was nationally known and was also an excellent speaker.

Vidal was partially to blame for Buckley’s rise as a media star, as he had mentioned Buckley in 1962 on Jack Paar’s Tonight Show, and Buckley was given time by Paar to answer or clarify statements that Vidal had made about him. When Buckley appeared on Jack Parr’s show, Paar was expecting to come face to face with an ignorant bigot. But Buckley proved to be a handsome, well-spoken intellectual. And then there was his voice. Mellifluous and rich, Buckley’s unique plummy accent was a mixture of his mother’s Southern drawl, the typical rich East Coast establishment accent, and a brief spell at a British boarding school. With his intense blue eyes and toothy grin, Buckley looked like a lost Kennedy cousin, perhaps from another line of the family that had turned conservative rather than liberal. Buckley’s obvious ease on camera led to him starting his own public affairs television show, Firing Line, in 1966. Firing Line ran for 33 years and more than 1,500 episodes. 

Gore Vidal also knew how to best present himself on camera. Vidal was also quite handsome, and like Buckley, he had a typical East Coast establishment accent. (It’s sometimes difficult to tell Buckley and Vidal’s voices apart. Also, no one on television in 2016 would be caught dead with such an “elitist” accent!) Vidal was a polished TV performer, and he prepared extensively for the debates with Buckley, hiring a researcher and rehearsing his seemingly ad-libbed insults to Buckley. Vidal was out for blood, and in the earlier debates in Miami Beach Buckley seems slightly flustered, having not correctly anticipated Vidal’s venom. It doesn’t take long before things get personal, with Vidal saying that Buckley was the inspiration behind his transsexual character Myra Breckinridge, which was one of the most scandalous novels of 1968. 

One of the best quotes during the debates was when Buckley said, “Freedom breeds inequality.” When prodded by Vidal, Buckley expounded further: “Unless you have freedom to be unequal, there is no such thing as freedom.” That struck me as a very true statement, but one that few people would actually own up to, since we like to think that freedom makes people more equal. You can have a society where everyone is equal, but that means you won’t have any freedom. And of course that’s never happened, because there’s never been a society where everyone is truly equal in every way.

The most infamous moment of the debates occurred in Chicago. Vidal and Buckley were discussing the anti-war protests and the extreme police response to them. Moderator Howard K. Smith said something about if the protestors raising a Viet Cong flag would be like raising a Nazi flag during World War II. Vidal then moved in for the kill, saying to Buckley, “As far as I’m concerned, the only sort of pro or crypto-Nazi I can think of is yourself.” Buckley responded, “Now listen you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in your goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered.” You can tell from the clip how pissed off Buckley was, as he leaned over towards Vidal and it seemed for a moment that he might make good on his threat. Reid Buckley, Bill’s younger brother, said in the documentary, “I think Gore Vidal was fortunate that Bill didn’t punch him in the nose.” The moment quickly became notorious, as the usual decorum of a debate had devolved into vicious name-calling on both sides. 

Best of Enemies makes it clear that Buckley was troubled by the incident. I think Buckley was chagrined that he had resorted to the personal attack. As time went on, it became clear that the exchange with Vidal was the one time that Buckley ever lost his cool during a debate. In an effort to examine his feelings, Buckley wrote an essay for Esquire magazine, “On Experiencing Gore Vidal,” which was published in the August, 1969 issue. Vidal was allowed to respond, and his own essay, “A Distasteful Encounter with William F. Buckley, Jr.” was published in the September, 1969 issue. Both essays generated much controversy, and Buckley sued Vidal for libel, on the grounds that Vidal had implied that Buckley was gay. Vidal promptly countersued Buckley. The case ground through the courts for years, and eventually all the suits were dropped, with Esquire footing the bills for Buckley’s legal fees, and apologizing to Buckley in the pages of the magazine. Part of the settlement also stipulated that Vidal’s essay would not be republished in any future book. (It’s one of the rarest Vidal essays; it’s only been republished in Smiling Through the Apocalypse: Esquire’s History of the Sixties.) Buckley took the opportunity to declare legal victory, which of course irked Vidal. 

In the years following their encounter, the two men took different approaches to the incident. Buckley rarely mentioned it again, whereas Vidal never missed an opportunity to bash Buckley. To me, that speaks to the difference in character between Buckley and Vidal. My own politics are more in line with Gore Vidal’s than William Buckley’s, but from everything I’ve read about both of them, Buckley was by far the nicer person and better man. Vidal was an amazingly talented writer who wrote sentences of incomparable beauty. His range of gifts was immense, as he authored screenplays, essays, plays, and novels. And yet, at the same time, he was a rather nasty person. If you look at Vidal’s life, it’s full of feuds and fights. As Vidal once wrote, “Every time a friend succeeds, something inside me dies.” That quote sums up Gore Vidal so well that it’s actually the British title of Jay Parini’s 2015 biography of Vidal. (The title in the United States is Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal.) A quote that venomous would have never passed the lips of William F. Buckley, who was extremely generous and thoughtful to pretty much everyone he dealt with. Buckley could even strike up friendships with those on the opposite side of the aisle from him politically, like his famous friendship with the liberal economist John Kenneth Galbraith. One has only to read some of Buckley’s more personal non-fiction, in books like Cruising Speed, Overdrive, and Miles Gone By to get a sense of his zest for life, and the friendships and relationships that made his life worthwhile. Buckley had a generous spirit, and Gore Vidal did not. Buckley had hobbies and passions, like sailing, painting, and playing Bach concertos on the harpsichord. Gore Vidal’s only passion was for himself. 

Buckley was even generous towards Gore Vidal’s talents as a writer. When asked in 1978 if he thought there were any good liberal writers, Buckley said, “Philip Roth and Norman Mailer. And Gore Vidal-in his essays-has great style.” (Conversations with William F. Buckley, Jr., p.79) Buckley could have easily used the question as an opportunity to attack Vidal, but he didn’t. In an incident described in Best of Enemies, after Buckley taped the last episode of Firing Line in 1999, Ted Koppel interviewed Buckley and showed the clip of him calling Vidal a queer. Buckley said nothing. When there was a break in taping, he hurried over to Sam Tanenhaus and said, “I thought that tape had been destroyed.” Buckley was still unwilling to say anything bad about Vidal, but if that clip had been shown to Vidal in a similar setting, I feel quite confident that he would have used it to attack Buckley.

Gore Vidal proved again what a jerk he was after Buckley passed away in 2008. Vidal wrote an essay in which he savaged Buckley, writing, “RIP WFB-in hell.” Well, that’s subtle and clever. Gore Vidal never had a kind word for anyone. There was no forgiveness possible in his egocentric world. Christopher Buckley, WFB’s son, wrote of Vidal in 2012, after Vidal’s passing, “…one was left to wonder what it was within him that animated such hatred in him, at such a late stage?... Why was Vidal’s cauldron of bile still set, not on ‘simmer’ but on high in his final years? WFB had—to my knowledge—not once opened his mouth or uncapped his pen against his old adversary since the early 1970’s. I was present, on a number of occasions when WFB was accosted by an interviewer or lunch guest, asking for comment about Vidal. Without exception, he demurred—and demurral was emphatically not WFB’s default position.” 

One of the saddest moments in Best of Enemies is a clip of William Buckley being interviewed by Charlie Rose in March, 2006, less than two years before Buckley’s death.

Rose: “Do you wish you were 20?”
WFB: “No, absolutely not. If I had a pill which would reduce my age by 25 years, I wouldn’t take it.”
Rose: “Why not?”
WFB: “Because I’m tired of life.”
Rose: “Are you really?”
WFB: “Yeah. I really am. I’m utterly prepared to stop living on. There are no enticements to me that justify the weariness, the repetition.” 

Even as Buckley says this, his eyes still sparkle. The indefatigable William F. Buckley still managed to write four more books in the less than two years he had left on Earth. 

Best of Enemies is a superb documentary, and it is essential viewing for fans of Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley. My vote for the most entertaining person in the documentary goes to Reid Buckley, Bill’s younger brother, who looks and sounds just like Bill. It’s clear that Reid had the same joie de vivre that his older brother did. 

One final quote on the whole matter, which the directors used at the very end of the movie, and seems an apt summing up: “There is an implicit conflict of interest between that which is highly viewable, and that which is highly illuminating.”-William F. Buckley.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Book Review: Conversations with Tom Wolfe, edited by Dorothy Scura (1990)

Conversations with Tom Wolfe, 1990. This is my Tom Wolfe book shelf, which is rapidly growing. (Photo by Mark C. Taylor)

Tom Wolfe, looking dapper as always at his desk, 2012.
I’ve been on a Tom Wolfe kick lately, so after finishing The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, (reviewed here) I decided to read Conversations with Tom Wolfe, part of the University Press of Mississippi’s excellent series that compiles interviews with well-known authors. Conversations with Tom Wolfe, edited by Dorothy Scura, is an excellent look at one of the most important American writers of the last fifty years. The only drawback to Conversations is that the book is now rather dated, since it came out in 1990, and therefore only covers the first half of Wolfe’s writing career. That caveat aside, Conversations is a great book if you’re interested in learning more about the ideas behind some of Tom Wolfe’s books.

The second article in the book is a very good 1966 Vogue interview by Elaine Dundy, the ex-wife of drama critic Kenneth Tynan, and an accomplished writer herself. I quoted that piece several times in my recent review of The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. 

Another interesting interview is the transcript of a 1975 episode of William F. Buckley’s television show Firing Line, during which Wolfe discusses his book about the New York City art scene, The Painted Word. (If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can watch nearly every episode of Firing Line.) Watching the episode of Firing Line is even more entertaining than reading the transcript, and worth it just to hear the dulcet tones of William F. Buckley as he caressingly pronounces the title of Wolfe’s book, “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby.” 

Of course, most of the articles and interviews make note at some point of Wolfe’s clothes, as his familiar white suit became his trademark look. In a 1980 interview, Wolfe used his clothes to make a larger point about his writing. Wolfe said, “In the beginning of my magazine-writing career, I used to feel it was very important to try to fit in…and it almost always backfired…I realized that not only did I not fit in, but because I thought I was fitting in in some way, I was afraid to ask such very basic questions as, what’s the difference between an eight-gauge and seven-gauge tire, or, what’s a gum ball, because if you’re supposed to be hip, you can’t ask those questions. I also found that people really don’t want you to try to fit in. They’d much rather fill you in.” (Conversations with Tom Wolfe, p.148-9) In a 1981 interview, Wolfe said, “You just discover after a while that people like to be asked questions they know the answers to.” (p.165) That’s terrific advice for anyone trying to have a conversation with another person. 

Throughout much of the time period that Conversations with Tom Wolfe focuses on, Wolfe was contemplating making the jump from non-fiction to fiction. Wolfe had long argued that the non-fiction of the 1960’s and 1970’s was capturing the zeitgeist in a way that the fiction of those decades was not. Wolfe was also an adherent of naturalism in fiction, and he decided that he should finally put his theories about fiction to the test with his first novel. Wolfe wanted to write a book that captured the feel of New York City, and he toyed with calling it Vanity Fair. Wolfe’s first novel was eventually published in 1987 as The Bonfire of the Vanities, and it became a huge bestseller. According to Harper’s magazine, Wolfe used 2,343 exclamation points in The Bonfire of the Vanities! (p.255) 
One of the best pieces in Conversations with Tom Wolfe is the long 1987 Vanity Fair article by Toby Thompson, “The Evolution of Dandy Tom.” Thompson is one of the only authors who used Wolfe’s reportorial technique of having different scenes in the piece, and he also interviewed several people close to Wolfe, which allows the reader to get a more personal look at Wolfe.

There are a couple of humorous anecdotes that Wolfe relates about the “other” Tom Wolfe, the novelist Thomas Wolfe, author of Look Homeward, Angel, and You Can’t Go Home Again. Wolfe said, “I was always convinced, incidentally, that Thomas Wolfe was kin to me, and it was very hard for my parents to convince me that he wasn’t.” (p.169) In another interview, Wolfe spoke of his father, Thomas Wolfe Sr., and he said, “I always thought of him as a writer. He kept the novels of Thomas Wolfe on his bookshelf, and for years I thought he’d written them.” (p.201) 

Throughout Conversations with Tom Wolfe there are many examples of Wolfe’s sharp observations on American society and life. Speaking about Watergate in a 1988 interview with Bill Moyers, Wolfe said, “This is a very stable country politically, very stable. Richard Nixon thrown out of office, forced out. Not only was there no junta rising from the military to take over the situation, there wasn’t even one demonstration by Republicans or anybody else. In fact, as far as I know, there wasn’t even a drunk Republican who threw a brick through a saloon window.” (p.248) 

If you’re interested in learning more about Tom Wolfe, Conversations with Tom Wolfe is a great place to start.

Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie (1947-2016)

David Bowie had such a beautiful face. Here he is on his 1978 tour.

David Bowie, rocking out on what would be his last tour, 2004.
Before I had heard of David Bowie’s death this morning, I had already been thinking of him today. I was thinking of him while I took my shower. That sounds odd, I know, but I was looking forward to listening to Bowie’s new album “Blackstar” on my way to work. I was thinking, “What will this album sound like? What will I think of it? Will I review it for my blog?” I also thought about how Bowie hadn’t spoken directly to the media in years, and if he would ever change his mind and give another interview again. It was odd, since in the early 2000’s Bowie was a fairly ubiquitous presence in the mass media, and he had suddenly disappeared from view. And it made me a little sad, because Bowie was a smart, funny guy who was a great interview. And then I opened up my computer and learned that he was dead.

David Bowie is one of my favorite musicians. I’ve spent countless hours listening to the music he created. Bowie was the soundtrack to my college years (1999-2003) and much of my life afterwards. When I had my own radio show on the campus radio station, I played Bowie a lot, and in 2003 I did a two-hour all-Bowie show. I’ve still got the tapes of it, and I’m glad I could pay that little tribute to Bowie’s music. It’s tough to think that we’re now living in a world without him. It’s so odd and bizarre to think of David Bowie in the past tense. David Bowie was always so forward looking, there’s no way he can ever be just in the past.

Where do I start with Bowie? What do I say about an artist who has been so important to me over so many years? How do I sum it up in words? It’s a cliché to say that he was constantly reinventing himself, but it was also true. He hardly ever stood still. Once you thought you had his style pinned down, he would change it again.

I saw David Bowie in concert twice, once in Chicago in 2002 and at the Target Center in 2004, on what proved to be his last tour. Those shows were both fantastic, Bowie was one of the most charismatic rock stars ever. And his voice just seemed to get better with age-he was still able to hit those high notes in “Life On Mars?” I’ll always have great memories of those two concerts.

It was fun to see Bowie become part of the pop culture conversation again in 2013 with the release of his comeback album “The Next Day.” He had been gone for so long, and it was great to see how much people still appreciated him. I haven’t written about Bowie much on this blog, (if I would have started blogging in 2000 instead of 2007, it would have been nothing but Bowie!) but I did write about “The Next Day” here, and in 2009 I reviewed his “VH1 Storytellers” DVD.

I got “Blackstar” in the mail from Amazon on Friday afternoon. Then it was Bowie’s latest album. By the time I listened to it on Monday morning, it had become Bowie’s last new album. It was a surreal experience to listen to it today, and while Bowie’s work has always been preoccupied with death, there were so many lines that hit an emotional chord. The most vivid was the opening line of his song “Lazarus”: “Look up here, I’m in heaven.” It was an emotional drive into work today hearing that song.

Bowie’s gift for writing beautiful and haunting songs ensures that his legacy will live on. Few rock stars had such a huge influence on their times, and David Bowie will be remembered as one of the great musicians of the 20th century.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The 2016 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot

The 2016 Hall of Fame class. Ken Griffey Jr. on the left, and Mike Piazza on the right.

Ken Griffey Jr. unleashing maybe the smoothest swing ever against the Minnesota Twins at the Metrodome.

Mike Piazza, one of the best hitting catchers ever.
The only real drama surrounding Ken Griffey Jr.’s election to the Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this week was whether or not he would become the Hall’s only unanimous selection. Griffey got closer to perfection than anyone has before, as he was named on 437 of 440 ballots. Personally, I think if any player from the last 30 years deserved to be a unanimous selection, it was Griffey. A true five tool player, Griffey also had a sunny, friendly demeanor, and there’s never been even a hint of scandal about him. If he can’t become a unanimous Hall of Famer, then I don’t think anyone can. I always enjoyed watching Griffey play, and it was pretty obvious from early in his career that he was a special player who might become one of the all-time greats.

Mike Piazza is the other inductee for 2016. Piazza came close to being inducted last year, as he garnered 69.9% of the vote. This year he moved up to 83%. I’m pleased that Piazza got in; he’s one of the best catchers ever. I forgot how good his numbers were in the 1990’s, from 1995-97 he hit .346, .336, and .362, and led the league in OPS+ in 1995 and 1997.

The big change in the voting this year is that the BBWAA gave the heave-ho to members who haven’t covered baseball in the last 10 years. Previously, once you became a voting member of the BBWAA, you were a member for life. I think it was a smart change, as the whole purpose behind having the writers vote is the idea that they actually saw these players play the game. The change in the membership meant that the number of votes dropped. In 2015 there were 549 ballots and this year there were 440. However, nearly everyone’s vote totals went up, so these writers think more of the candidates on the ballot are Hall-worthy.

Three players are now within 10% of the 75% required for induction, so they will presumably be inducted in the next year or two. Those three players are Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and first-timer Trevor Hoffman. I think Bagwell and Raines should get in, and I’m fine with Hoffman being inducted as well. It’s nice to see Tim Raines finally getting more support, and with next year being his last year of eligibility, he should get above 75%.

Trevor Hoffman is an interesting case, as the BBWAA never seems to know quite what to do with closers. The role of the closer has changed a lot in baseball over the last 30 years, and so far the BBWAA has only voted for closers who were extremely dominant during their careers, like Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, and Bruce Sutter. John Franco, an excellent closer throughout his career, got less than 5% of the vote his first year of eligibility, and was dropped from the ballot. Billy Wagner, a closer similar to Franco, got just 10.5% of the vote this year, in his first year on the ballot, so his election seems pretty unlikely. Lee Smith continues to hang out in the awkward “getting way more than 5% of the vote, but not climbing towards 75%” zone that he’s always occupied. Smith started strong, with 42.3% of the vote in his first year, but the highest percentage he’s ever gotten is 50.6%. I think Smith is a player who might be somewhat hurt by not playing for the same team his whole career. Guys like Trevor Hoffman, who played nearly his entire career for the San Diego Padres, do have an advantage, because in your mind you think, “Oh, Trevor Hoffman, yeah, he was with the Padres forever.” Whereas with Lee Smith you think, “Oh, yeah, he was with the Cubs for a long time at the beginning of his career, then he was with the Red Sox, had some good years there, was with the Cardinals, was good with them, then he went to the Yankees for 8 games? I don’t remember that. He pitched for the Reds in 1996?” Their career just gets more segmented and seems less unified. 

Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, whose vote totals have been extremely close all four years they’ve been on the ballot, saw their percentages increase to 45.2% and 44.3%, respectively. However, their total number of votes went down. I would assume from the data that means that most of the voters who have supported Bonds and Clemens are younger, as they didn’t lose much support from the older BBWAA writers who lost their votes this year. It will be interesting to see how the BBWAA deals with the steroid problem in the years to come. Several players linked to steroids have fallen short of the Hall of Fame, and this year Mark McGwire dropped off the ballot after 10 years. He got 12.3% of the vote this year, which was 2.3% more than he got last year. Other hitters who are suspected of using PEDs, like Sammy Sosa and Gary Sheffield, are in danger of falling off the ballot. 

Time finally ran out on Alan Trammell’s Hall of Fame candidacy, he was one of the players who had been on the ballot for more than 10 years when the rules were changed for 2015, and he was grandfathered in so he could stay on the ballot for 15 years. Trammell had his most successful year on the ballot this year, garnering 40.9% of the vote. I’m glad that voters finally embraced his case more, as I think he’s one of the best shortstops in the game and deserves to be elected. The question now is will the Veterans’ Committee elect Trammell? The VC has been pretty stingy of late, so I wouldn’t bet on it. Trammell’s double play partner Lou Whitaker was another player who was grossly overlooked for the Hall of Fame. Whitaker is one of the best players to not even get 5% of the vote in his first year on the ballot.

Mike Mussina saw a huge jump in his percentage, moving from 24.6% last year to 43% this year. That’s encouraging, as I think Mussina should be voted in. As I noted last year, Mussina’s lifetime winning percentage is the same as Jim Palmer’s, and Mussina has a higher winning percentage than Juan Marichal, Tom Seaver, Phil Niekro, Steve Carlton, Don Sutton, Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine. Mussina put together an excellent and steady career that is worthy of Cooperstown.

There are some players on the ballot that I just don’t feel very strongly about, like Edgar Martinez and Larry Walker. Sorry, Mariners and Rockies fans. I know Martinez had a great career, putting up a .312/.418/.515 slash line, and a 147 OPS+, and I’m fine if he gets elected, but for whatever reason I just don’t get excited about Edgar Martinez. I like Fred McGriff more. I know, the stats say Edgar was a better hitter, (even though McGriff crushed 184 more home runs and has nearly 300 more RBI than Martinez) but for some reason I just really like Fred McGriff. I think it’s how reliable he was. He was never flashy, he was never the best player in the game, but you could pencil him in for 30 home runs and 100 RBI’s pretty much every year. He’s stuck at 20.9% of the vote though, and he only has three more years on the ballot, so it seems unlikely he’ll ever get in. I’ve been surprised that McGriff’s candidacy hasn’t energized voters who are looking for power hitters who aren’t connected to PEDs. Of course, no one but Fred McGriff knows for sure if he was clean or not, but McGriff has never been connected to PEDs. If you’re looking at the ballot and want to vote for a power hitter unconnected to any messy steroid allegations, McGriff is your guy. 

Among players who didn’t get 5% of the vote, the most notable was Jim Edmonds, who got just 2.5% of the vote, despite winning 8 Gold Gloves and putting up 60.3 WAR. Edmonds was an excellent player, and I think he deserved to stay on the ballot. I’m not saying he should be a Hall of Famer, but you could at least have a conversation about him, rather than lumping him in with obvious first-time rejects like Troy Glaus and Luis Castillo. Nomar Garciaparra dropped off the ballot in his second year, which was not a surprise. I was surprised he got more than 5% last year to stay on the ballot. Jason Kendall was an excellent defensive catcher, piling up 13.2 points in defensive WAR, but he wasn’t enough of an offensive threat to stay on the ballot. Garret Anderson got just one vote for the Hall of Fame, and he’s a good example of a really good player who just doesn’t feel like a Hall of Famer. You could make an argument for Garret Anderson, I suppose, which would be based on the fact that he has 2,529 hits, 522 doubles, 1,365 RBI’s, and a lifetime batting average of .293. Those are all really good stats; the dude was a good hitter. But his OBP is .324, and his OPS+ is just 102. Anderson wasn’t one of the best players of his generation, and really, to be a Hall of Famer, you have to be one of the very best. I used to make fun of the argument “he just doesn’t FEEL like a Hall of Famer,” but now I think I understand it more. There is kind of a gut feeling of “this guy belongs/this guy doesn’t,” a simple yes/no dichotomy that works for most players on the ballot. Where it gets tricky are the guys like Edgar Martinez and Fred McGriff who are somewhere in the middle. And that’s why thinking about who belongs in the Hall of Fame is so interesting.