The next baseball Hall of Famer and…the Pittsburgh Steelers

Neil Best of Newsday had a blog post on Monday about Luis Tiant and the new ESPN documentary about Tiant, The Lost Son of Havana.  Best asked Tiant about not being a member of the baseball Hall of Fame and got an “I don’t care, except I really care” response from the former pitcher.  This got me thinking about the Hall, but not really about Tiant (a very good pitcher in his day, but not quite Hall-worthy, although he certainly has the right to wonder how Catfish Hunter got in and he didn’t).  Of course, it doesn’t take much for me to riff about the Hall, as anyone who peruses this blog can tell (just a few examples:  here, here, and here).

Anyway, I took a quick look (not for the first time) at potential eligibles for next year’s ballot.  First, here are the returnees and the percentage of votes they got in the last election:

Andre Dawson (67.0%); Bert Blyleven (62.7%); Lee Smith (44.5%); Jack Morris (44.0%); Tim Raines (22.6%); Mark McGwire (21.9%); Alan Trammell (17.4%); Dave Parker (15.0%); Don Mattingly (11.9%); Dale Murphy (11.5%); Harold Baines (5.9%)

The list of newly eligible players likely to appear on the ballot:

Roberto Alomar, Kevin Appier, Andy Ashby, Ellis Burks, Dave Burba, Andres Galarraga, Pat Hentgen, Mike Jackson, Eric Karros, Ray Lankford, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mark McLemore, Shane Reynolds, David Segui, Robin Ventura, Fernando Vina, Todd Zeile

Last January I wrote that “… the only one of those players with a shot [at getting elected next year] is Dawson.  He’s going to get in eventually, but I’m not sure if his support will jump from 67% to 75%+ in one year.”

Well, I still think Andre Dawson is the only one with a shot at making it next year, but I now believe that he’s got a very good chance.  Why?  Because I have come up with a theory about the baseball Hall of Fame that revolves around…Lynn Swann.

Lynn Swann was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his 14th year of eligibility.  It was (and is) a controversial selection, as there was (and is) considerable disagreement about whether or not he deserved enshrinement.  Swann was famous in his day, and played for a well-known franchise.  The casual fan probably rated Swann higher than many who followed (or studied) the sport with more intensity.  This is due in part to Swann not having A) a particularly long career, and B) an overwhelming statistical record.

Now, does that description in the preceding paragraph remind you of a certain baseball player recently elected to Cooperstown?  Jim Rice, maybe?

Rice was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his 15th year of eligibility.  It was (and is) a controversial selection.  Rice, like Swann, was famous in his day, played for a prominent club, did not have a long career, and has a Hall of Fame argument that is more about visceral reaction than bottom-line accounting.

In 2001, Lynn Swann got his bust in Canton.  The very next year, his teammate and fellow wide receiver, the outstanding (but lower-profile) John Stallworth, was elected.  Stallworth, it has been said, had to wait for his own enshrinement because Swann’s candidacy essentially stood in the way.  Once Swann finally made it over the line, however, the voters apparently came to the conclusion that you couldn’t have a Hall of Fame with Lynn Swann in it that didn’t also include John Stallworth, because Stallworth was at least as good as Swann, if not better.

In 2009, Jim Rice finally has his plaque in Cooperstown, and who do we find leading the list of returning candidates?  Andre Dawson, who like Rice was an outfielder who debuted in the mid-1970s, and who arguably was just as good a player as Rice, if not better.  Like Stallworth, Dawson was a star, but not as big a star as Rice or Swann were at their respective peaks (although Dawson did win an MVP with the Cubs, his best years were spent in Montreal, more or less hidden from many casual fans and a few sportswriters).

Now, there are good arguments to be made that Dawson is not a Hall of Fame player, with his career .323 OBP foremost among them.  This is not unlike Stallworth, whose career totals, while solid, do not scream “automatic Hall of Famer”.  However, Jim Rice is now in the Hall.  Dawson, to most observers, was at worst equal to Rice, and was probably better (particularly if you account for defense — Dawson played over 1000 games in center field and won eight Gold Gloves).

Stallworth went to Alabama A&M.  Dawson went to Florida A&M.  Both A&Ms, both HBCUs — I think my little theory should get a bonus for that…

There is a difference when it becomes time to tally Hall of Fame votes, though.  Canton’s legends are determined by a relatively small group of less than 50 voters.  Last year 539 members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) cast ballots for the baseball Hall.  It’s generally easier to reach a consensus among smaller groups, especially since the pro football voters actually meet and discuss candidates as a group, as opposed to the baseball voters (who mail in their ballots).

Despite this, I think the “Rice is in, so Dawson has to be in” point of view will still take hold, at least enough to sway the additional 8% of the electorate Dawson needs for enshrinement.  It helps that there is no “lock” among the new candidates, although Larkin, Alomar, and McGriff will all draw significant support (as might Edgar Martinez).

Next year will be Dawson’s ninth year on the BBWAA ballot.  Stallworth was elected to pro football’s Hall after being named a finalist for the eighth time.

I’m rooting for The Hawk to make it.

One Response

  1. The Hawk will get in next year, I just blogged last week on Andre Dawson’s thoughts on next year’s chances and his probability. Two weeks ago I compared some of Jim Rice’s stats to Andre’s. If you read that post, I think you’ll agree it’s a no-brainer, there is no way Andre can’t be voted in. Enjoyed the post, keep it up!

    Charley
    Andre Dawson for the Hall of Fame
    http://hawk4thehall.blogspot.com

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