Blogs and columns about Baseball Hall of Fame ballots from those of us who will never have an actual ballot are popular this time of year, and with good reason. The tie to the past, through memories, photographs and statistics, is greater in baseball than in any other sport. The numbers are there for fans to compare, and though the game has changed some in the past century, it is essentially the same and its statistics look much like those of, say, the 1920’s.
Hall of Fame consideration is one of my favorite parts of being a baseball fan. Not only does it help me remember the players on the current ballot, all of whose careers I have now seen just about in their entireties over the past 30 years, but it also gets me back in touch with the game’s past. It gets me looking at memories, photos and stats of past Hall of Famers – deserving ones like the greats of the game, as well as the Rabbit Maranvilles and Fred Lindstroms who, while fine players, were beneficiaries of kindly ex-teammates on Veterans Committees.
The 2010 ballot doesn’t have what would be universally considered a “slam-dunk” candidate like Rickey Henderson’s appearance provided last year. Roberto Alomar comes the closest, and while I am confident he’ll be elected, I think he’ll be far from the 94.8% that Henderson received on his first ballot.
Here are the top 2010 candidates and a few thoughts on each.
Tim Raines: I point to Joe Posnanski’s column a couple of weeks back as the clearest argument in favor of Raines’ election. Most fans missed out on Raines’ prime years because he was playing in Montreal, but Raines was as close to the N.L’s version of Rickey Henderson that you can get. I think he’s an easy call.
Roberto Alomar: Despite a precipitous drop in production at age 34, Alomar was simply the best second baseman of his generation and one of the best ever. Some of his career totals (2724 hits, 210 home runs) don’t necessarily look that imposing, but his defense was at the top of the game and he had a rare combination of power and speed from second base.
Alan Trammell: Every year there are a few guys whose support doesn’t seem to match their abilities and impact. Trammell was a six-time all star and was the early prototype for the stronger shortstops with more pop who hit in the middle of lineups. Trammell was a leader on the good Tigers teams of the mid-80’s and a well-above average defender. I don’t see him getting the requisite 75%, but I think a closer evaluation of his numbers and impact would garner some more votes.
Bert Blyleven: I have heard the arguments that Blyleven was never the “ace” of a staff and that he’s a “compiler” (whatever that means; isn’t the idea of the game to “compile” hits, runs, outs, victories?). It could be said that John Smoltz and Tom Glavine weren’t aces as long as Greg Maddux was on the same team, and those two are easy, no-doubt Hall of Famers. He had a feared, signature pitch which helped produce 287 victories and 3,701 strikeouts and sustained excellence over more than 20 years. Easy choice.
Hall of Very Good
Barry Larkin: I loved watching Barry Larkin play, in the limited opportunities that I had to see him. And he’s a great ambassador for the game. He’s one of those guys that just comes up short for me because of the injuries that limited his career to 2180 games and 2340 hits. He’s a player who, like Don Mattingly, Albert Belle and so many others, burned brightly at their best and looked like certain Hall of Famers, but when you add it all up, didn’t sustain it for long enough.
Andre Dawson: For me, Dawson was an excellent player for a long time, who also gets unfairly penalized for playing some of his prime years in Montreal. As a young player, he combined power, speed and a strong arm as a complete player. But his legs, perhaps beaten up by the nasty Olympic Stadium turf all those years, gave way, making him a somewhat one-dimensional player the last few years of his career. And, as has also been pointed out, his on-base percentage (.323) was so low (read: he made so many outs) that only 10 non-pitchers elected for their on-field play have a lower career mark.
Edgar Martinez: What a feared hitter, even near the end of his career. My lasting memory of Edgar is the straightaway center field home run he hit off John Wetteland in Game 4 of the 2005 ALDS – in particular the “puff” the ball made as it hit the drape hanging beyond the fence. It was like the ball was absorbed into it. That hit, more than any other in that series, altered the course of the New York baseball scene. Buck Showalter was afraid to use Wetteland to protect a one-run lead in Game 5, instead opting for Jack McDowell, and everyone remembers Edgar’s winning double that ended the series and ushered in the Joe Torre era in the Bronx. For a DH, though, his career totals (2247 hits, 309 HR) come up just a bit short.
Fred McGriff: I never really thought of McGriff as a Hall of Famer when he was playing, but his credentials seem better and better as time goes on. Sure, hitting for power and for some average were his best skills, but he wasn’t an atrocious fielder in the Mo Vaughn or Jason Giambi mold, and was a little below average, perhaps, as a runner. But as a hitter, which, face it, save only a few guys, is the prime factor in Hall of Fame and MVP consideration, McGriff could mash. For the past few years, he’s been considered a test case for whether a “magic” power number (not quite 500 homers at 493) get you into the Hall. I guess we’ll find out soon.
Jack Morris: Yes, he won more games than anyone in the 1980s. He also had the third-most losses in that arbitrary 10-year period, and was never in the top four in ERA in any single season. Not once. Morris is an interesting case, though. His Baseball-Reference top 10 comparables are a varied group, including in the top five Dennis Martinez (no support), Jamie Moyer (still going, probably a one-and-done when he’s eligible), Bob Gibson (no doubter), Luis Tiant (had little support in his time on the ballot) and Red Ruffing (solid HOFer).
Other strong candidates:
Mark McGwire: I just can’t handle him going from .201/.330/.383 in 1991 and basically a broken-down shell of himself in 1993 and 1994 to four straight 50-plus homer seasons (including the ridiculous 70 in ‘98) on his own. Check with me in five years when we learn everyone who was on steroids and my thinking might change.
Dave Parker: almost Hall of Very Good, a really complete player, just not as many big impact years.
Dale Murphy: Another guy who should get more support but whose dominant time – including two straight MVP honors – was too short to overcome the lack of overall numbers.
Harold Baines: Kind of a mix between McGriff and Edgar in terms of HOF. He’s the numbers test, in hits, and the DH test for lack of defensive prowess. I think in 6 or 7 years we’ll be talking about David Ortiz this way.
And then there’s:
How tough is it to get in the Hall? MVP’s who dominated the game like Murphy and Don Mattingly aren’t even close to getting voted in. And Lee Smith, with 478 saves – no matter how faulty the stat, it’s still 478 saves — won’t likely sniff it either.