Jon Garland is a name you almost certainly don’t know.
No one would blame you, even most active baseball fans don’t remember or ever really needed to care about him either. Jon Garland is however, one of my dudes. Not because I’ve ever met the man but because he was one of those players we draw inexplicable, natural affections for regardless of skill or in a lot of these cases lack thereof. Players like Mike Trout, Jacob Degrom and Bryce Harper are sexy and rightfully dominate the majority of baseball discussion but guys like Garland are the soul of the game. The kind of guy fans relate to, no overwhelming god-given talent just a “hustler.” Never mind he is only considered forgettable among the best of the best or that he is at least 10 times the athlete the average fan is. You might not have heard of him and after last week’s hall of fame results in which he failed to receive any votes you might never again but he is an indirect contributor to at least one fan’s level of obsession with and love for the game.
All that romantic, Joe Everyman about fans relating to Garland mentioned before, you didn’t expect that to be my reasoning for dudeing him did you? True to form for this site it’s way nerdier than that. Having only started to enjoy baseball a few years prior, 2005 was the year Garland came on my radar. Few things happened to cause this: A) he lead the eventual World Series champions in wins, B) the best baseball game of all time was released and C) I graduated High School. With my new found time and freedom I did what every 18 year old kid did, buried myself in a baseball sim. MVP taught me nuances and drove home points that broadcasts couldn’t, from pitch sequencing to roster management.
This is how Jon Garland was duded. Starting with MVP ‘05 and eventually more complex sims I found the appreciation for cheap and average talent like the sabermetricians before me. These games all had a financial aspect and if I wanted the big stars I needed to save money elsewhere. Enter Garland, from 2005-2009 his average FIP was 4.43 while the league’s was 4.39. In all of these games none of the virtual GM’s appreciated him and it showed, every new season or new game I would make a priority of acquiring him. It was never hard. When ordinary is consistent it becomes reliable and Garland taught a younger me who had yet to learn there is value in reliability. Someone had to be the 3rd-4th starter why not get one with a career 4.37 ERA, 4.69 FIP and 4.57 xFIP who minimized the times you want to scream.
The ordinary righthander’s dudedom then transcended the virtual space, I found myself rooting for him in real life despite my distaste at the time for the Chicago White Sox. Seeing him in a pitching matchups would inspire internal “Get ‘em Jon” soliloquies and reading box scores where he'd kept his teams competitive warmed my little baseball heart. The guy who constantly performed for my pretend teams inspired me to look at baseball in a new way. It would be a least a couple of years before I would learn who Bill James was or pick up Moneyball but these were the baby steps toward where my fandom would eventually go. Without Garland I wouldn’t have started to obsess over leaderboards and explore baseball like no other sport.
The point of this piece is not to convince you the BBWA has done him or you a disservice by not considering him or to grandstand about how bloating their ballot with a backlog of deserving players has caused players to be less celebrated at the end of their career, even though it has. No one should have tossed him a vote because Mariano or Halladay were a lock. I doubt even he thinks he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, we often can not see the greatness within ourselves. His name may be forgettable but the type of player he is is what the league is built on. League average guys like him allow us to take for granted the skill it takes to “play a game for a living” while also allowing star players to stand on their shoulders an achieve levels of greatness we can only imagine, without our dudes there would be no Hall of Fame.