The 2017 Hall of Fame ballot was released this week. On it were familiar and deserving names of former Cleveland Indians like Omar Vizquel and Manny Ramirez. Also listed, because technically it’s true, is Casey Blake. It’s not a long conversation as to whether he belongs on there, but the fact is, he’s eligible.
It’s hard to say he’s had anything other than a fine career as a player, being in the league 13 years and worth 24.9 wins above replacement, and whose first image that comes up on Google is him in a Colorado Rockies hat. He got to baseball for a long time and did it well. Seeing his name on the ballot just reminded me, it’s players like Casey Blake that make a team truly great.
Maybe that’s wrong. It’s actually players like Mike Trout that have the propensity to make a team great. But you can’t have a whole team of Mike Trouts. That would be a crime against humanity. You’d be playing God. Spitting in the face of all that is right and good. But damn if that wouldn’t be a great team, at least offensively. I bet Trout would be a decent shortstop.
But I digress hideously. In a realistic sense, where we don’t flout nature for our own sake, guys like Blake are what it takes to go from Stars and Scrubs to contenders. Blake was a perfect piece on that mid-2000’s team that made a run to the ALCS. He is the kind of player I love to have. Him, Ryan Garko, maybe Shelley Duncan on his good days. Your scrappers, your scramblers, your dirt dogs and grinders and goofballs. Making do with what you have when what you have isn’t all world talent. He allowed Sizemore and Martinez and Hafner to dominate because he was there to stretch out the lineup, tire out the pitcher and let them feast the second time through the order. Not that I know much about him as a person, but he always seemed like a steadying type of influence. Rarely fired up, just level all the time. A clubhouse needs guys like that. Plus he hit pretty well for a few years there He hinted at something more than he was with a 28 home run season, good for a 122 OPS+ in 2004, but since he was a late bloomer and that was his age 30 year we never got to see what might have been.
Plus, Blake kept on giving. For six years he provided a steadyish glove at third and sometimes outfield, along with a slightly above average (108 OPS+ as a Tribesman) bat. In 2008, while everything else except Cliff Lee was crumbling to dust, he was in the midst of one of his best seasons. Due to the 121 OPS+, the double-digit home runs, the versatility and "veteran presence", he was able to be used to pry John Meloan AND Carlos Santana from the Los Angeles Dodgers. If ever there was a gift that kept on giving in baseball, it’s the hoodwinking of a desperate GM on a near-rudderless team. In the Indians’ case, that led to Santana. In every swing, every home run and chain pop from Santana, I am reminded of Blake. Two diametrically opposed players in terms of approach, talent level and basically career, forever linked. And I think that’s pretty neat.
Do the Indians even have a Blake-type on the team now? Someone who does things decently, makes everyone else's lives easier and is just kind of a fan favorite? I assume Blake was a fan favorite to more than just myself. Perhaps Brandon Guyer? A man who is amazing at one thing and just generally good at the game of baseball. His facial hair game isn’t very on point, however. Mike Napoli, despite the prodigious power, did produce this year almost exactly Blake’s Tribe career OPS+ at 104. Plus he had that veteran savvy and dope beard. I’d have to give it to the two of them, though Guyer is likely the one who has more earned the crown. Napoli is likely gone, and Guyer has a place in the outfield if Davis is gone as well. He’s someone I’d like Cleveland to sign for criminally discounted prices and wring out of him way more value than you could honestly expect.
Perhaps I romanticize slightly above average players, hence the love of Casey Blake. I like to think it’s because that’s the kind of player I’d end up being if I had major leaguer talent. We all wanted to be Ken Griffey Jr when we were kids, or Barry Bonds for the more narcissistic of us, but the league is full of just pretty good players. The best of the "pretty goods", Ben Zobrist, has been a linchpin player for two champions. He’s incredible in his own right, but merely for his ultra-utilityness. Blake was like that for the Indians, just as Guyer hopefully can be going forward. Players like that win you some ballgames.
As for the Hall of Fame, Blake had most of half a Hall of Fame career. Maybe we could get him into the Prorated Hall of Fame. Now that would be an amazing place.