Jonathan Papelbon: I wouldn't give writers one Hall of Fame vote
In an exclusive interview with the Betway Insider, the saves leader for Boston and Philly discusses the value of closers, and the lack of relievers in the Hall of Fame.
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When you think of Jonathan Papelbon, you may remember his dugout brawl with teammate Bryce Harper, or his ejection after throwing a fastball at Manny Machado’s head.
What many don’t think about is a six-time All-Star, World Series champ who leads two of baseball’s most storied franchises in saves, and sits 11th all-time in that category.
When asked whether he thinks his career is underappreciated, the former closer, who spent 11 years in Major League Baseball for the Red Sox, Phillies, and Nationals, is uncharacteristically considered in his response.
“Yes and no,” says Papelbon. “I feel like the closer's role was always underappreciated. It's taken a little bit for the role to grow and mature.
“At the end of the day, a closer is almost like a place kicker in the NFL. If he goes out and it's a close game, and the place kicker hits the game-winning field goal, he's a hero. But if he misses it, he's a zero. It's the same with the closer.”
While Papelbon understands why the closer’s role is seen that way by many within the game, it doesn’t mean he feels that way himself.
“For me, it’s a lot harder to go through a season and have 70-something appearances go well, versus 30 or so starts, and have 20 of them go well,” he explains.
“It's a lot harder to go through that grind of 162 days, being ready every day. But that's what I liked. I loved it, I loved feeling like I was an everyday player.
“I loved getting in the clubhouse and fucking with the guys, getting ready for the game, not just sitting on the bench going over scouting reports. To me, that was a slow death. I could not do that.”
Baseball’s reluctance to fully appreciate the value of relief pitching is reflected in the lack of relievers in the Hall of Fame.
Just eight players have been inducted into Cooperstown primarily for their achievements as relief pitchers: Goose Gossage, Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, Dennis Eckersley, Lee Smith, Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera.
Four of those recorded fewer saves than Papelbon’s 368, yet he was cast off the Hall of Fame ballot at the first time of asking this year, receiving just five votes.
Obviously, there is more to a Hall of Fame argument than one statistical category, and Papelbon isn’t going to let the disappointment get to him.
“Do I want to be on the Hall of Fame? Of course. Is it going to change my life? No,” he says. “I don't really look at it as something that's gonna make or break me.
“Although, I also do feel like if you're in the top 10 of a major sport, I do feel like you should be in the Hall of Fame. I feel like that's pretty fucking legit, you know?
“It was a tough pill to swallow, but you move on. I still view myself as a world champion, the saves leader for Boston and Philadelphia, two franchises that have been around forever, and I take that with me.”
Aside from the lack of recognition for relievers in the Hall of Fame, Papelbon has a pretty good idea why he was overlooked so quickly by voters.
“The thing is that most of [the voters] are writers,” he explains. “And I didn't necessarily get along with the writers too well. I told a lot of them to kiss my ass.
“A lot of it is, do the writers like you, or do they not like you? Which I think needs to change. I think it's pretty ridiculous that the writers even have one vote.
“If it was up to me, I wouldn't give all the writers in the world one vote. I wouldn't even give them that. Yeah, you watch the game, but you've never played the game. They all have egos themselves, don't let them tell you that they don't.
“I guess that's maybe why I'm not pissed off I'm in not the club, because it's a club that's run by outsiders.”
Despite the lack of reliever representation in Cooperstown, Papelbon does believe there are two current closers who are on course to be enshrined after retirement.
“[Craig] Kimbrel and [Kenley] Jansen are the two that I would expect to get in,” he says. “They've done it for a long time.”
“If neither one of them get in, I’ll really be asking myself questions about how relievers get into the Hall of Fame. Me, Jansen, and Kimbrel, none of us get in? That would be kind of fishy to me.”
Another player who has voiced concerns about the Hall of Fame voting process in recent years is a fellow former Red Sox and Phillies pitcher, Curt Schilling, whose case for election has been hindered by the ‘character clause’ following a series of incendiary comments on a variety of issues.
Looking purely at his career, Schilling – a six-time All-Star, three-time World Series champion, member of the 3,000-strikeout club and one of the greatest postseason pitchers of all time – should be a shoo-in for Cooperstown, but his 10 years of initial eligibility have now passed, and he will rely on one of the Hall’s various committees for selection in the coming years.
And Papelbon cites his former teammate’s Hall of Fame plight as he doubles down on his criticism for the current voting procedures.
“Maybe me and Curt Schilling should start our own damn Hall of Fame,” he suggests. “He says the same thing, why do you want to be in a club where you have outsiders that have influence? They're not in the club.
“Another thing is writers getting in the Hall of Fame. Come on. All you did was study the game a little bit and watch baseball games and eat your free popcorn every night. Get the hell out of here. What is that? That's ridiculous to me.”
“Let's put a club together where only the players vote. That's the kind of club I want to be in.”
Whether Papelbon would get in such a club is another question, but what is clear is that there are others within the game who believe that the selection process needs to change.
Even Hall of Fame President Josh Rawitch has admitted to ESPN he may assess the possibility for a better, less controversial process to be put in place.
Until that happens, Papelbon, Schilling and co. will not be the last to speak out on one of the most contentious issues in American sport.