To be a Hall of Famer — the 2008 ballots (Part 3)

In the first two parts of this series, I took a look at the pre-1942 nominees ballot and the post-1943 ballot.  Part 3 covers the BBWAA vote, which this year features only 23 players.  First, a brief summation of the results of the first two elections…

Boo.

However, in the case of the post-1943 ballot it’s a “I’m not surprised” booing situation, because it is by no means shocking that no one was elected.  The natural tendency of some of the Hall of Famers to favor exclusivity in admitting new members to their club, plus the restrictions on voting (the you-can-only-vote-for-up-to-four rule) combined to make it practically impossible for any candidate to get the required 75% of the vote.  Ron Santo came closest, with 39 of the 48 votes he needed, but that’s not really that close.  Santo’s reaction was predictable, as he would like a return to the system that elected Bill Mazeroski.  Of course, it was the election of Mazeroski that led to the current system.

At this point, it seems doubtful to me that Santo will ever get elected, at least in his lifetime.  The same is true of all the other men on the ballot, with the exception of Joe Torre, who will presumably be enshrined whenever he decides to quit managing.  As I’ve stated before, the failure of the VC to already elect Torre shows a complete disregard by the voters of the Hall’s own rules for considering nominees.

The pre-1942 committee did elect someone, Joe Gordon.  I have no problem at all with Gordon’s election, as he is a solid choice.  I am concerned that the voters came very close to electing Allie Reynolds, who in my opinion was one of the weaker choices on the ballot, and that the most qualified of the nominees, Bill Dahlen, got less than three votes.

Since it appears that the committee is not inclined to support the candidacy of any player who started his career prior to 1920, perhaps the Hall should consider a special committee (similar to the Negro Leagues Committee from 2006) for those players, to wrap up that era and make it easier on the VC to focus on post-Dead Ball era players.

On to the BBWAA ballot…

Harold Baines:  He played forever, but if I’m going to support the candidacy of a DH-type he needs to put up a little more than a career 120 OPS+.  Baines led the AL in slugging in 1984.  That’s the only time he ever led the league in a significant statistical category.

Jay Bell:  I don’t think he will get 5% of the vote (you need 5%+ to remain on the ballot), but he was a good player for quite a long time — underrated, really.  What I remember most about him was there was a two-year stretch where Jim Leyland would have Bell sac-bunt in the first inning whenever the leadoff man reached base.  I mean he did this every time.  I never understood that.

Bert Blyleven:  He’s up to almost 62% in the balloting, so he’s probably going to get elected in the next few years.  It appears that the bulk of the BBWAA membership has come around on his candidacy, which is good.  I understand the problem with trying to evaluate him (I think he has one of the more unusual pitching careers in MLB history), so I’m not going to criticize the writers for not electing him yet.  If you’re still not sold on him, just consider all those shutouts.  He’s ninth all time, and he’s going to stay in the top 10 for many, many years to come.

David Cone:  The “hired gun” is on the ballot for the first time.  He might get to 5% and hang around for another year, although he’s not going to get in the Hall unless some future Veterans Committee elects him.  I think he would be getting a lot more votes if he hadn’t moved around so much, and if he had managed to get to 200 wins.  His closest comp is Dwight Gooden, which is interesting, although I think Cone had a better overall career than Doc.  Gooden, incidentally, got 3.3% of the vote in 2006 and fell off the ballot.

Andre Dawson:  He’s up to almost 66% in the balloting and is going to get in.  I support his candidacy, despite the .323 OBP.  I think people sometimes evaluate him as a corner outfielder and forget he won four of his eight Gold Gloves as a centerfielder.  He’s a very close case, but he also gets bonus points on the character issue and for having a cool nickname.  When he was active, I think the majority of baseball fans thought of him as a future Hall of Famer.  Of course, you could also say that about Steve Garvey…

Ron Gant:  He’s not a Hall of Famer, obviously, but he did finish in the top 6 in the MVP voting twice, which I bet would surprise some people.  Gil Hodges never finished in the top 6 of the MVP voting.

Mark Grace:  It wouldn’t surprise me if some Veterans Committee of the future elected him, since Mickey Vernon got serious consideration by this year’s VC, and Grace was a similar player.  That’s not saying it would be a good decision, of course.

Rickey Henderson:  Everyone awaits with great anticipation his enshrinement speech.

Tommy John:  This is his last year on the ballot.  I go back and forth on his candidacy, to be honest…he was a very good pitcher for a long time, but for me his playing career tends to be a borderline-no situation.  Then you have the operation that bears his name, for which some people give him extra credit, while others quite reasonably suggest that the credit belongs to Frank Jobe.  However, it’s also true that the rehabilitation (obviously unprecedented at that time) came through John’s hard work (and was mostly developed by him, apparently), and that aspect of the surgery and recovery may be underappreciated.

If he were elected, it would in part be as a pioneer, which means no one else could really compare his career to John’s as a way of saying “if him then me” when it comes to the Hall.  I think that works in his favor.  He’s not going to be elected this year, but a future VC is going to seriously consider him, and rightfully so.

Don Mattingly:  Some of the people supporting his candidacy have been known to argue that if Kirby Puckett is in the Hall, so should Mattingly, because their batting statistics are similar.  Of course, they never seem to mention that Puckett was a centerfielder and Mattingly a first baseman.  Comparing a first baseman’s batting stats to those of a borderline Hall of Fame centerfielder is not the way to get your man in the Hall.

Mark McGwire:  I would vote for him.  The rules were the same for him as they were for everyone else, which is to say, there were no rules.  You have to evaluate him by the era in which he played.  In that era, he’s a Hall of Famer.

Jack Morris:  One game doesn’t make up for a career ERA+ of 105.  He was a workhorse, but he was never an elite pitcher.  Guys like Tommy John and Bert Blyleven (just to name two pitchers also on the ballot) pitched a lot longer and were more effective.

Dale Murphy:  Like Dawson, a lot of people forget that Murphy played the majority of his career as a centerfielder, including the bulk of the six-year period (1982-87) during which he was arguably the best player in baseball.  Murphy’s career was short, which hurts him, and the argument against him is that his peak wasn’t long enough to offset that.  I think it’s close.

There is something else about Murphy that doesn’t get discussed much, but I think is worth mentioning.  Murphy was a Superstation Star, perhaps the first.  Everyone around the country could follow the Braves via TBS, even when they were bad, as they were through much of Murphy’s time with the club.  Because of that, along with his reputation as an individual of high character, Murphy has to be one of the most popular players of his era, and maybe of any era.

Personally, I think it’s possible that the success (and in some cases, existence) of programs like East Cobb Baseball can be traced to kids following and being inspired by the Braves, and the main, if not only, reason to follow the Braves in the mid-to-late 1980s was Dale Murphy.  It’s worthy of study, at least.  That type of influence on the game should be recognized.

Jesse Orosco:  He was his league’s oldest player in each of his last five seasons.

Dave Parker:  There is a five-year doughnut hole in his career which is basically going to keep him out of the Hall of Fame.  It’s nobody’s fault but his, though.

Dan Plesac:  I’m not familiar with his TV work, but I understand it’s good, so I’m looking forward to seeing him on the new MLB Network.

Tim Raines:  Raines got less than 25% of the vote his first time around with the writers, in part because he played his best years in Montreal, the Witness Protection Program of baseball, and in part because he is compared to Rickey Henderson.  That’s a tough comparison for just about anybody, so Raines loses out.  Never mind the fact that Raines was better than Lou Brock, who is already in the Hall.  Raines was a truly great player, and belongs in Cooperstown.  I think he will eventually get there, but it’s going to take a while.  I’m hopeful the BBWAA votes him in sometime in the next decade.

Jim Rice:  In my opinion, he would already be in the Hall if he hadn’t annoyed enough writers (or carried a rep as being difficult) so that a significant percentage of them won’t vote for him out of spite, as opposed to not voting for him because his career is borderline for a Hall of Famer.  I am inclined to support his candidacy, because I think his peak was very high, higher than some saber-stats would suggest.  I don’t feel that strongly about it, though, which evidently differentiates me from a lot of folks in the online baseball community, some of whom think the world will end if Rice is elected.  It won’t, trust me.  Now if Mo Vaughn is elected, all bets are off…

Incidentally, I am less sure than most about Rice’s election this year being an inevitability.  I think it will be very close.

Lee Smith:  Trying to define a Hall of Fame relief pitcher is difficult.  Of the relievers already enshrined, I would rate all of them above Smith except maybe Bruce Sutter, who is a questionable selection to say the least.  On the other hand, among other eligibles and active pitchers, I would only rate Mariano Rivera as being clearly ahead of Smith.  Ultimately, I can’t support Smith’s candidacy, mainly because he never “seemed” like a Hall of Famer to me.  I reserve the right to reconsider…

Alan Trammell:  The biggest injustice in the balloting the last few years, easily, is Trammell not even being close to election.  His problems are at least twofold:  he played at the same time as Cal Ripken Jr., essentially, and then after his career ended the ARod-Nomar-Jeter triumvarite appeared on the scene, closely followed by Miguel Tejada.

He suffers in comparison to Ripken, and his batting stats don’t measure up to the new wave of shortstops that followed him.  He also got jobbed of the 1987 MVP award, which would have helped his case (he did win the World Series MVP award in 1984).  In the New Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James rated him the 9th-best shortstop of all time, which struck me as a reasonable placement.  In the last BBWAA election, the 9th-best shortstop of all time got 18.2% of the vote.

The 10th-best shortstop, according to James, is Pee Wee Reese.  Curiously, Reese was not elected by the BBWAA, but by the Veterans Committee.  The BBWAA also failed to elect another great shortstop, Arky Vaughn.  This doesn’t bode well for Trammell’s chances on the BBWAA ballot, not to mention those of Barry Larkin, who becomes eligible for election next year.

Greg Vaughn:  What I remember most about Vaughn is in that magical year of 1998, before everyone decided 1998 didn’t really happen (although royalty checks for several books about that season were cashed anyway), he hit 50 home runs and got a place in a really good article by Gary Smith in Sports Illustrated.  Smith decided to go watch the great home run chase, and got super-lucky, because in three consecutive games he attended games in which Vaughn, McGwire (in the same game), Ken Griffey Jr., and Sammy Sosa all homered.

Mo Vaughn:  He’s not going to make the Hall of Fame, but at least he has Albert Belle’s MVP award.

Matt Williams:  Would he have hit 62 homers in 1994?  We’ll never know.  Could he have stayed at shortstop and put up similar offensive numbers?  We’ll never know.

I don’t have a vote, but if I did, my ballot:  Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Bert Blyleven, Andre Dawson, Dale Murphy, Mark McGwire, Jim Rice.

What I expect:  Rickey and probably Rice will make it.

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