Bill James’ Hall of Fame predictions from 1994

A baseball Hall of Fame post, because I haven’t written about baseball in a while, and that needs to change…

In 1994, Bill James published a book called The Politics of Glory (the title was later changed to Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?). It is, in my opinion, the best book ever written about baseball’s Hall of Fame.

I was rereading it the other day and came across his list of predictions for future Hall of Famers. James wrote:

I could give you long lists of totals for active players, but they all change every year. History suggests that there are probably now about 30 or 40 players in the major leagues who will eventually be in the Hall of Fame, but it will be at least 70 years until we have a firm total, and in that time the Veterans Committee could be abolished and reinstituted several times. Here’s the way I see the BBWAA votes for the next quarter of a century. I wouldn’t even try to guess what the Veterans Committee will do (other than they’ll have to elect Bunning and Fox).

James then made a list for the years 1995 to 2019, picking two players to be enshrined each year.

First, James was correct on several of the points he made in the above paragraph. Jim Bunning and Nellie Fox were both indeed elected by the Veterans Committee, and the VC has changed in multiple ways over the past twenty years.

Here is how James saw things going forward. Players actually enshrined in Cooperstown are in bold.

1995 — Mike Schmidt, Jim Rice
1996 — Don Sutton, Pete Rose
1997 — Steve Garvey, Phil Niekro
1998 — Gary Carter, Al Oliver
1999 — Nolan Ryan, George Brett
2000 — Robin Yount, Carlton Fisk
2001 — Andre Dawson, Dave Winfield
2002 — Eddie Murray, Ozzie Smith
2003 — Dave Parker, Jim Kaat
2004 — Dennis Eckersley, Ted Simmons
2005 — Wade Boggs, Cal Ripken Jr.
2006 — Rickey Henderson, Paul Molitor
2007 — Tony Gwynn, Roger Clemens
2008 — Kirby Puckett, Dale Murphy
2009 — Jack Morris, Lee Smith
2010 — Tim Raines, Ryne Sandberg
2011 — Barry Bonds, Joe Carter
2012 — Brett Butler, David Cone
2013 — Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker
2014 — Goose Gossage, Don Mattingly
2015 — Jack McDowell, Greg Maddux
2016 — Fred McGriff, Dwight Gooden
2017 — Frank Thomas, Ruben Sierra
2018 — Ken Griffey Jr., Roberto Alomar
2019 — Jeff Bagwell, Juan Gonzalez

Of course, James had no idea when the careers of most of these players would end, so the years themselves were pure guesses. Some of the players retired earlier than he had anticipated (like Puckett, Alomar, and Sandberg), while others hung on longer than expected (Rickey Henderson).

The PEDs debate/debacle also wasn’t an issue (at least, in terms of mainstream knowledge) in 1994; otherwise, his choices of Bonds and Clemens would be right on target. Pete Rose’s exclusion from the Hall needs no explanation.

All in all, though, it’s not a bad projection at all.

Let’s review the cases of some of those listed who have not been elected:

– Steve Garvey: James doesn’t seem to have actually favored Garvey’s candidacy, despite this projection (James rated Garvey the 31st-best first baseman of all time in the New Historical Baseball Abstract, released in 2001). Garvey would remain on the ballot for the full 15 years without ever coming close to election (peaking at 42.6% of the vote).

When James wrote The Politics of Glory, Garvey’s public “clean” image had largely dissipated due to some well-chronicled personal issues. Garvey was at one time an extremely popular player; without those off-the-field foibles, I suspect he would have come much closer to election and probably would have been a serious contender to gain election via the Veterans Committee. I could see arguments for/against him developing along lines similar to what we have seen with the candidacy of Jack Morris.

– Al Oliver: I’m not sure why James picked Oliver for this list. Oliver was only on the BBWAA ballot once, in 1991, and dropped off after only getting 4.3% of the vote.

Having said that, Oliver was a really good player. He could flat-out rake, leading the league in doubles twice and RBI once while compiling over 2700 career hits (.303 career batting average). In votes by two recent iterations of the Veterans Committee (2008 and 2010), Oliver has received some support (but not a lot) for enshrinement.

– Dave Parker, Jim Kaat, Dale Murphy: These three guys stayed on the BBWAA ballot for 15 years, but none of them ever got as much as 30% of the vote.

I think all three stand a decent chance of future enshrinement by some version of the Veterans Committee, particularly Kaat (who won 283 games and has had a significant career in the broadcast booth). I have always supported Murphy’s candidacy, though most of the BBWAA voters certainly didn’t agree with me. Parker had some peaks and valleys in his career, but no matter what will always have the 1979 All-Star game.

– Ted Simmons: In 1994, Simmons appeared on the BBWAA ballot for the first time — and the last, as he received only 3.7% of the vote.

In the Historical Abstract, James rates Simmons as the 10th-best catcher in baseball history, though by this point Simmons will have been passed by Ivan Rodriguez. I’m guessing that Simmons will be elected some day; that day, however, may be in the distant future.

– Brett Butler, David Cone, Joe Carter, Jack McDowell, Ruben Sierra: You’ve got to give James a little credit for listing Cone, even if he didn’t wind up a Hall of Famer. Entering the 1994 season, Cone was in the middle of a nice career (95-65, 3.14 ERA), but projecting the then 30-year-old Cone as a Cooperstown candidate might have been a stretch. Of course, in 1994 Cone proceeded to win the AL Cy Young Award. He would win 99 games after James published the book.

Brett Butler and Joe Carter are good examples of well-known players who had long, successful careers that didn’t quite rise to Hall of Fame quality. Carter was very prominent at the time The Politics of Glory was released, thanks to his walk-off homer to win the 1993 World Series.

As I mentioned, David Cone won the 1994 Cy Young Award. Jack McDowell had won the award the previous year, winning 22 games.

McDowell was 27 years old. He would only win 46 more games for the rest of his career, and was finished as a major league pitcher by the age of 33.

Ruben Sierra was the AL MVP runner-up in 1989, when he was 23 years old. That turned out to be his career year. Sierra played for nine different clubs between 1994 and 2006, his last season in MLB.

– Lou Whitaker: In 2001, Lou Whitaker debuted on the BBWAA ballot. He received only 2.9% of the vote.

Whitaker’s one-and-done BBWAA vote has been scrutinized (and criticized) for the past decade. Bill James rated Whitaker the 13th-best second baseman of all time, ahead of Hall of Famers Billy Herman, Nellie Fox, Joe Gordon, Bobby Doerr, Tony Lazzeri, Johnny Evers, Red Schoendienst, Bill Mazeroski, and Bid McPhee. (Two other second basemen rated behind Whitaker, Miller Huggins and Bucky Harris, are in the Hall for their managerial careers.)

All of the Hall of Fame second basemen named in the preceding paragraph were Veterans Committee selections. I suspect that Whitaker will ultimately join them as a VC pick.

Of the 12 second basemen James rated ahead of Whitaker, all but two are in the Hall. Craig Biggio is one of them, and he will probably be elected this year. The other, Bobby Grich, would be a worthy choice for the Hall as well.

– Dwight Gooden: From 1984 through 1993: 154-81, 3.04 ERA, 2128 1/3 IP, 1.169 WHIP

From 1994 until his career ended in 2000: 40-31, 4.99 ERA, 672 1/2 IP, 1.532 WHIP

What might have been…

– Juan Gonzalez: He actually won two MVP awards after James’ projection. Gonzalez lasted for all of two BBWAA ballots, which arguably was one more appearance on the ballot than he deserved. Igor only had 781 plate appearances in the majors after his age 31 season.

Then there are the players James didn’t list who are now serious Hall of Fame candidates (or who have been elected). Here are a few of them:

– Bert Blyleven: James only mentioned Blyleven once in The Politics of Glory, and even that was only in passing. In the Historical Abstract, however, he rated Blyleven the 39th-best pitcher in baseball history (as of 2000, the year he rated pitchers). That is basically right on the border of the Hall of Fame.

Only one pitcher rated ahead of Blyleven (Carl Mays) is not in the Hall, and there are many behind him who have been enshrined. Some of the guys rated lower than Blyleven should not have been elected, honestly, but quite a few of them are deserving. In other words, Blyleven is definitely not out of place as a Hall of Famer, a conclusion James had already reached.

– Craig Biggio: James initially rated Biggio the 5th-best second baseman of all time in the Historical Abstract, which he later acknowledged was probably a mistake. Still, there is no doubt that James is on board with Biggio’s Hall of Fame case (calling him “the greatest underappreciated player of my lifetime”).

James had no way of knowing in 1994 that Biggio still had over 2000 games to play in his career. Through the 1993 campaign, Biggio had played in exactly 800 games, having converted from a catcher to a second baseman in 1992. His career OPS+ following the 1993 season was 113. His OPS+ when his career finally ended? 112.

I think it’s interesting that Bill James listed Biggio’s Houston teammate, Jeff Bagwell, in his Hall of Fame projections despite Bagwell having only played three MLB seasons at the time.

– Tom Glavine: It’s a little surprising that Glavine didn’t get the nod from James. As I mentioned above, at the time of the publication of The Politics of Glory, David Cone was 95-65. Glavine was 95-66, with three consecutive top-3 Cy Young Award finishes (including winning the award in 1991). Glavine did have a significantly higher career ERA through the 1993 season (3.53 to Cone’s 3.14). Cone was three years older than Glavine, though.

In closing, let me quote Bill James one more time:

…the effect of [Hall of Fame] discussion is to create confusion, and in general this is how the Hall of Fame argument progresses: cacophony, leading to confusion.

It’s been 20 years since James’ book made order out of some of that confusion. Given the current controversies surrounding the process, however, the topic remains one of bewilderment…

A Bert Blyleven near miss may have cost Jack Morris a shot at the baseball Hall of Fame

Jon Heyman has arguably been the most prominent advocate for Jack Morris’ Hall of Fame candidacy among higher-profile baseball writers. Heyman currently works for CBSSports.com and also appears on MLB Network. After Morris did not get 75% of the vote in this year’s election, Heyman tweeted the following:

Time to start pro Jack Morris hall campaign. Guy can’t get break. All-AL SP in dh era hurt by roid guys and ‘net negativity

Heyman has been the de facto campaign manager for Morris over the last few years anyway, so this tweet wasn’t particularly surprising. There is some angst for Morris backers, as he will only be the ballot for one more year. If he isn’t elected in 2014, he will have to wait and hope for the mercy of the Veterans Committee.

I wanted to point out one piece of bad luck that may have really hurt Morris’ chances. This is going to be a little bit involved, and is somewhat speculative. Nevertheless, here goes…

Bill James, from The Politics of Glory:

Writers tend to balance their ballots. A writer, making out a Hall of Fame ballot, normally looks to include one or two starting pitchers, a reliever maybe, a middle infielder or two, a couple of slugging outfielders, a first baseman or third baseman, a catcher. He looks for the best in each little pocket.

This natural tendency of the BBWAA voters has the effect of occasionally causing a “cratering” of certain players’ vote totals. James pointed to Jim Bunning as a good example of this. Bunning received 74.4% of the vote in 1988, just missing election, but in 1989 Gaylord Perry and Ferguson Jenkins appeared on the ballot, and Bunning’s support declined. He would have to wait to be elected by the Veterans Committee. (Something similar also happened to Luis Tiant.)

A more recent, if less dramatic, example of writers “choosing” between players at the same position involved Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage. Both were relievers, and both drew considerable support from the electorate. However, Sutter appeared on the ballot first (in 1994), six years before Gossage became eligible. In Gossage’s first year of eligibility, the two actually drew similar vote totals (192 for Sutter, 166 for Gossage).

That pattern continued for a few years, then Gossage’s totals began to stall. It appeared the writers were struggling to separate the candidacies of the two relievers, and collectively needed to focus on just one of them. Sutter, with more history on the ballot, continued to draw more votes and was finally elected in 2006, in his thirteenth year of eligibility.

With Sutter out of the way, that cleared the decks for Gossage, who then became the leading candidate among relievers. Gossage had to wait one “extra” year when Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. appeared on the ballot, but he was eventually elected in 2008.

By 2008, Bert Blyleven was receiving 61.8% of the vote from the BBWAA and was the top candidate among starting pitchers for enshrinement. It had been a long journey up the ballot for Blyleven, but he was getting closer. In 2009 he finished fourth overall, receiving 62.7% of the vote.

By that time, the next-most-supported pitcher was Jack Morris. This had been the case since Jim Kaat’s final year on the ballot in 2003. In 2009, Morris got 44% of the vote.

In 2010, Blyleven came very, very close to being elected. He was only five votes short of election. Morris moved up to 52.3% of the vote, fourth overall, third among those not elected (Andre Dawson got the nod that year).

Blyleven finally made it in 2011, gaining election. And Morris?

Well, he stalled a bit, at 53.5%. Blyleven’s breakthrough probably cost Morris some momentum, as writers who might have been inclined to vote for just one starting pitcher may have chosen to select Blyleven, then in his fourteenth year on the ballot and on the precipice.

With Blyleven finally off the ballot, Morris became the top choice among starting pitchers on the ballot. He received 66.7% of the vote in 2012, a sizable improvement from 2011.

However, in 2013, his fourteenth year on the ballot, he stalled again, just like practically all the other ballot holdovers, as the writers tried (and seemingly failed) to come to grips with “the steroid era”. Morris now has one more shot, and it won’t be easy for him to gain election. He has to have a historically large jump in support despite being joined on the ballot by several starting pitchers with much better credentials (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Mike Mussina).

Here is where I speculate…

I think Blyleven just missing out in 2010 really hurt Morris’ chances. If Blyleven had been elected that year, it would have given Morris a clear field, in terms of viable starting pitching candidates.

Instead of only getting 53.5% of the vote in 2011, I think it’s likely Morris would have had vote totals similar to what he eventually got in 2012 — and if he had been sitting at 66.7% after 2011, then I think he would have had a very good chance of joining Barry Larkin in Cooperstown in 2012.

As I stated earlier, Blyleven missed election in 2010 by only five votes.

There were writers who voted for Blyleven and Morris that year. There were some who obviously just voted for Blyleven (and some who voted for neither).

There were a few, though, who voted for Morris and not Blyleven, despite Blyleven having demonstrably superior statistical credentials in both standard and sabermetric pitching categories (including wins, ERA, strikeouts, shutouts, innings pitched, ERA+, and WHIP). Blyleven also had a better overall postseason record than Morris, the latter’s outstanding performance in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series notwithstanding.

I wonder if any of those writers who voted for Morris but not Blyleven have ever considered the possibility that by not voting for Blyleven in 2010, they may have cost Morris a later shot at election.

One of those writers, by the way, was Jon Heyman

Thinking about baseball (just a quick riff on the Hall of Fame)

Joe Posnanski had a (typically outstanding) blog post on Thursday about the baseball Hall of Fame.  He decided to come up with an all-star team of his lifetime, and in the course of doing so hit upon a very good idea, namely listing the top 5 players at each position in the Poz Era.

This led to an examination of Gary Sheffield’s Hall of Fame candidacy.  Sheffield officially retired on Thursday after not playing at all in 2010.

Posnanski noted Sheffield’s well-deserved reputation as a “scary” hitter, one who particularly cleaned up on mediocre pitchers.  I witnessed this phenomenon in person at this game.  I have never seen a home run leave the playing field as quickly as Sheffield’s first-inning blast off poor Victor Santos, who instinctively ducked as the baseball left Sheff’s bat; approximately .3 seconds later, the ball hit the batting eye just a few feet above the center field wall.

However, as good a hitter as Sheffield was, he was not a good defender, and as Posnanski points out, corner outfielders are supposed to hit.  Thus, when compared to his contemporaries Sheffield is not a top-5 right fielder.

I thought this was an excellent way to evaluate his Hall of Fame argument.  Posnanski did me a favor in a way, because I have been on the fence about whether Sheffield is a Hall of Famer.  JoePo was considering Sheffield a possible “yes” until conducting this little study.  I’m inclined to agree with his current position, which is that Sheffield has to wait in line behind a number of other corner outfielders.

This brings me to a second point, and maybe the main focus of this admittedly unfocused post.

One of the things you hear (or read) a lot is people complaining about BBWAA voters casting a ballot for a player for the first time after several years on the ballot.  Bert Blyleven is a good example.  It took 14 years for Blyleven to finally be elected.  He didn’t win any more games or strike out any more batters in those 14 years, but writers who hadn’t voted for him at first started voting for him later.  Why not vote for him the first time?  He’s either a Hall of Famer, or he’s not.

I understand this argument, and yet…

I don’t have a Hall of Fame vote, of course, but if I did, honestly compels me to admit that I probably would have not been initially certain of Blyleven’s worthiness.  I certainly think he’s a deserving Hall of Famer now, but there was a time I wasn’t so sure — and it’s not just Blyleven.

I have only recently come around to the notion that Larry Walker deserves enshrinement in Cooperstown.  I like to think I know a little bit about baseball, but I have had a hard time evaluating him, thanks mostly to Coors Field.  I’m now comfortable enough to say that Walker belongs in the Hall, but I can easily understand a writer taking a few years to come to that conclusion.  I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Gary Sheffield retired Thursday.  On Friday, Jim Edmonds announced his retirement. Like Ted Williams, Edmonds homered in his last at bat as a major leaguer.  Unlike Williams, Edmonds isn’t a “lock” Hall of Famer.

Tangent:  thanks to Bill Deane and some of his friends, we know that Edmonds is the 45th player to homer in his final at bat in the majors.  It’s a very interesting group of players that includes Albert Belle, Mickey Cochrane, and Joe Frazier (not the boxer). Frazier, who among other things once managed the Mets, died this week.

Until recently, I was not on the Edmonds Hall of Fame bandwagon, but now I am starting to believe that Edmonds, like Walker, merits induction.  I think that center field is an under-represented position in the Hall (just one reason why I support Dale Murphy’s candidacy), and it is hard to argue with the notion that Edmonds is one of the outstanding centerfielders of his time.

Posnanski rates him second in the Poz Era (forgetting to list Murphy, despite Poz regularly putting Murph on his Hall of Fame ballot), and that may be just about right. By that reckoning, Edmonds is only a non-Hall of Fame type if you believe that of all players who have mostly played center field in the last 40 years, only Ken Griffey Jr. is a Hall of Famer.  That strikes me as unlikely.

Of course, you could be more of a Bernie Williams or Andruw Jones supporter than an Edmonds loyalist, and I can understand that, although I don’t think either of those players had as good a career as Edmonds.  The point (assuming there is one) is that at this moment in time, Jim Edmonds is arguably a very serious candidate for the Hall of Fame, and yet it is doubtful that 75% of the BBWAA voters (or even 50%) currently perceive him that way.

Ten or fifteen years from now, that could change.  And that’s okay.

Baseball’s Hall of Fame changes its election procedures (again)

Some observations on the revised election procedures for the Veterans Committee…

In case you were wondering why the procedures were revised, it’s fairly simple — the Hall wants more players elected.  It needs more people traveling to Cooperstown for Hall of Fame weekend.  Darren Rovell wrote about this, and that was prior to this weekend’s paltry attendance at the induction ceremony.

Since the BBWAA is struggling to elect more than one player per year (although I think both Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar will be elected this winter), the Hall needs the Veterans Committee to elect some players to excite fans of a certain age.  It hasn’t been easy.

The previous iteration of the VC (which Chris Jaffe refers to as the “Joe Morgan SuperFriends Committee” ) managed to elect no post-1960 players in three years of trying.  Now the VC has morphed into the following:

There will now be one composite ballot consisting of managers, umpires, executives and long-retired players divided into three eras, rather than four categories with separate electorates.

The “categories with separate electorates” voting resulted in the election by the VC of no “modern” players (courtesy of the SuperFriends, as noted above).  The only modern-day players elected were those few selected by the BBWAA.  The only player actually enshrined courtesy of any VC committee was Joe Gordon.  Gordon is one of two players elected by the VC in the last decade (Bill Mazeroski was elected in 2001).

The VC setup did produce several other Hall of Famers — two managers (Billy Southworth and Dick Williams), two owners (Barney Dreyfuss and Walter O’Malley) and former commissioner Bowie Kuhn.  Thus, the past three years of voting by the VC resulted in six new Hall of Famers, only one of whom (Williams) was still alive to accept the honor.

So what are the new divisions/categories?

The new divisions are as follows: Pre-Integration (1871-1946), Golden (1947-1972) and Expansion (1973-1989 for players; 1973-present for managers, umpires and executives)…

…One election will be held each year at the annual Winter Meetings, but the eras rotate, resulting in one era per year. The Expansion era will be first, followed by the Golden Era election in 2011 and the Pre-Integration Era election in 2012.

The new rules take effect immediately and will be put into practice at the first election at this year’s Winter Meetings, to be held on December 5, 2010, in Orlando, Fla., with the Expansion Era up first.

Oy.

First, who thought it would be a good idea to call one of the divisions the “Golden” era?  What a way to sell your current on-field product, guys.  It’s a sop to some of the baby boomers, and certain syrupy writers, I guess.

Then there is the actual dividing line between the categories.  Why does the “Expansion” era start in 1973, rather than in real expansion years like 1961 or 1968?  What is so special about 1973?  It was the first year of the DH.  Maybe that’s what it is.  Or maybe…

Maybe it’s because George Steinbrenner bought the New York Yankees in 1973.

I have to say that I’m not completely sure I’m going to buy the Big Stein Line of Demarcation theory, if only because I’m not sure Steinbrenner’s election would automatically result in overflow crowds venturing to Cooperstown next July.  However, let’s take a look at a potential ballot.  Remember, the “Expansion” era is up first, so The Boss is up for election immediately.  There will be 12 names on the expansion era ballot, made up of players, managers, umpires, and executives.

I figure that around eight of them will be players.  If I were to pick the top eight eligibles among this group of players, the list might look like this:

Tommy John
Bobby Grich
Darrell Evans
Ted Simmons
Buddy Bell
Bobby Bonds
Sal Bando
Jose Cruz, Sr.

I think it will be hard for any of these players to get 75% of the vote from a committee of 16 people.  John would have the best shot, and Grich likely would get serious consideration (at least, he should).

Then we have the non-players who would be on the ballot.  Bobby Cox and Lou Piniella would not be eligible for consideration this year.  Who would?  Steinbrenner, of course.  Charlie Finley.  Ewing Kauffman.  Marvin Miller.  John Schuerholz.  Davey Johnson.  Allan H. Selig…

That’s right.  Bud is a potential candidate.  I don’t think he’ll be on the ballot this time, but just wait three years.  Just wait.

If I had to guess at four non-players on the ballot, the spots would be taken by Steinbrenner, Miller, Kauffman…and Billy Martin.  Imagine the press if Steinbrenner and Martin are enshrined at the same time.

So will the VC elect anyone this winter?  Probably.  There is one potential hitch, though.  As Tom Tango observes, past iterations of the VC mandated that each voter could only vote for up to four candidates, making it very hard, if not impossible, for an individual to get 75% of the vote.  That will be particularly true for a 12-man ballot (as opposed to the 10-man ballot for the Golden and Pre-Integration eras).

If instead each candidate gets an “up or down” vote, with no further restrictions for those on the committee, then I think there could be three or four candidates elected.  If not?

Then it’s Steinbrenner, and nobody else.  Somewhere, Frank Constanza weeps.

If I had a Baseball Hall of Fame vote

There are 26 players on the 2010 BBWAA ballot, and like almost everyone else in the world, I have an opinion on who deserves enshrinement.  My opinion isn’t any better than anyone else’s, of course, but I felt like making a post on the subject, and here it is…

For the ballot holdovers, I’m going to basically copy/paste what I said when I posted about last year’s ballot.  I will bold those players whose candidacies I favor.

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.  That’s not exactly dominant.

Bert Blyleven:  He’s up to 62.7% of the vote.  Every year he picks up a few (just a few) votes, and it does appear that the bulk of the BBWAA membership has come around on his candidacy, which is good, although he is running out of time.  I understand the problem with trying to evaluate him (he surely has one of the more unusual pitching careers in MLB history), but if you’re still not sold on him, just consider all those shutouts.  He had 60 of them, which is ninth all time, and he’s going to stay in the top 10 for many, many years to come.

Andre Dawson:  He got 67% of the vote last year and is going to get in eventually, possibly this year (he may just miss the 75% mark).  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…

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.  There are those who think even without the steroids issue, he’s not of Hall of Fame caliber.  Those people are wrong.  (In Mike Nadel’s case, he apparently didn’t bother considering McGwire’s walk totals.  This is like looking at McGwire’s career with one eye shut.)

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.  That said, he seems to be gaining support.  Alas.  There are even voters (including SI’s Jon Heyman) who have voted for Morris and not Blyleven, which is ludicrous.

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 needs to be.  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.  I believe that type of influence on the game should be recognized.

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.  “Cobra” was an outstanding nickname, though.

Tim Raines:  Raines got less than 25% of the vote in the last balloting, same as the year before, 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.  I’m not confident that it will happen, however.

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.  The 9th-best shortstop of all time belongs in the Hall.

There are 15 first-timers on the ballot.  Lightning round for most of them:

Kevin Appier:  not a Hall of Famer, but a very nice career.  He was excellent for many years in Kansas City (1993 in particular, when he finished third in the Cy Young Award balloting).

Ellis Burks:  his most-similar comp is Moises Alou, which seems reasonable.  Burks, like Appier, had a long, productive career.  He scored an amazing 142 runs in 1996 for the Rockies.

Andres Galarraga:  like Appier and Burks, not a Hall of Famer but a very good player; an inspirational one, in fact.  He finished his career with 399 home runs — and also finished with a .499 slugging percentage.  In 1996-97 for Colorado, he drove in a combined 290 runs (a fair number of them scored by Burks).

Pat Hentgen:  like Burks and Galarraga, he had a great year in 1996, winning the Cy.  The rest of his career didn’t quite measure up, though.

Mike Jackson:  if you thought he hung around forever, he did — 1005 career games.

Eric Karros:  Mike Piazza’s buddy was a consistent RBI man but didn’t really hit that well for a first baseman, all things considered.  Still, 11 straight years as the regular 1B for the Dodgers is a very good run.  What did he do in 1996?  Led the NL in grounding into double plays.

Ray Lankford:  probably better than you think he was, but not really that exceptional.  A strikeout machine.

Edgar Martinez:  boy, he could hit.  Ultimately, his career wasn’t quite long enough/dominant enough for me to support the candidacy of a DH.  His most similar comp is Will Clark, but Clark was also a fine first baseman, while Martinez offers nothing in terms of defense.  Clark fell off the ballot after one year.  I think Martinez will not; he’ll be like fellow DH Harold Baines in that respect, although I do think he is a better candidate than Baines.

Shane Reynolds:  basically a league-average pitcher who threw about 1800 career innings.  There is a lot of value in that, but not a Hall of Fame case, obviously.

David Segui:  he’s the worst player on the ballot.

Robin Ventura:  one of the great college hitters ever, and he had a really nice MLB career too.  He’s probably one of the 20 best third basemen of all time, but that’s not quite Hall of Fame territory.  His most similar comp is the Penguin, Ron Cey.

Todd Zeile:  he wore the uniform for 11 different teams (and was part of six trades), mostly playing third base after debuting as a catcher.  He was a good player and a solid citizen.

And those newbies on the ballot who would get my vote…

Roberto Alomar:  a slick-fielding second baseman who could hit, and a perennial All-Star with a sterling postseason record?  Sign me up!  I’ll look past the spitting incident and the fact his career cratered with the Mets.  He’s an easy choice.

Barry Larkin:  you know, he’s really just like Alan Trammell except Larkin got his MVP, while Trammell was robbed of his.  The only negative was a tendency to miss time every year with injuries.  Still, a 116+ OPS from a good-fielding shortstop (3 Gold Gloves) is Hall of Fame material.

Fred McGriff:  that’s right, I’m backing The Crime Dog.  His eerily consistent home run totals are in part a by-product of his prime occurring shortly before the offensive explosion in the majors.  He was a key player for winning teams; his performance after being traded to Atlanta ignited the Braves’ great pennant drive in 1993 (and maybe the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium press box).

He has no truly similar comps, but the two players who are most similar to him (per Similarity Scores) are Willie McCovey and Willie Stargell, which is not bad at all.  (His 10 “most similar to” list is very impressive as a whole.)  Throw in the fantastic Tom Emanski endorsement, and you’ve got a Hall of Famer.  I think the hat on his plaque should definitely be the one from the Emanski commercial.

So on my ballot, I would have Alomar, Larkin, McGriff, Blyleven, Dawson, McGwire, Murphy, Raines, and Trammell.  That’s nine guys, which is a lot, but I see no need to be unnecessarily stingy.

Who do I think will actually be elected this year?  Possibly nobody, but I think that there is a chance for Alomar and Dawson to make it.  Blyleven and Larkin will probably draw strong support as well.  The others?  Well, I think they are in for a long wait, if they ever make it at all.

Next year’s Hall of Fame disaster scenario: a party in Cooperstown with no guests of honor

Today, Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the former with near unanimity and the latter with a fair share of controversy.  With their election, along with the earlier selection of Joe Gordon by the Veterans Committee, there will now be 289 members of the Hall, 201 of whom were elected based on their playing careers.  The wait for Hall of Fame player #202 may be a while…

First of all, there won’t be any players elected next year by the Veterans Committee, because the committee won’t vote again on players eligible for selection by the VC until 2010 (and that’s just for post-World War II eligibles; the pre-World War II players won’t be up for consideration again until 2013).  That means that the only players who can be elected next year will be those on the BBWAA ballot.  The players on this year’s ballot who will return to the ballot next year (with this year’s voting percentage in parenthesis):

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%)

Now, here is a list of players who next year will be eligible for the BBWAA ballot for the first time and are likely to be on the list (courtesy of the Hall of Fame website):

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

There are several serious candidates for the Hall on the list on newly-eligibles, most prominently Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, and Fred McGriff.  I could also see some support (greater than 5% of the vote, at least) for Andres Galarraga and Robin Ventura.  However, none of those players is a “lock”.  I think the best candidate of the group is probably Alomar, and I would expect him to get a lot of votes — but I would be surprised if he received more than, say, 60% in his debut on the ballot.

That means that if anyone is to be elected, it has to be someone from the “holdover” group, and I think the only one of those players with a shot 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, especially since he’s not that close to his final year of eligibility, as was the case with Rice this year (who managed a 4% increase in his vote total from last year to this year).  At 63% of the vote, and with his support essentially unchanged from last year, Blyleven’s chances of being elected next year are remote.

Compounding the chances for the holdovers and the newly-eligible players is that there is a surplus of serious-but-not-automatic candidates who will almost certainly split up the vote.  Over the last two elections, an average BBWAA ballot has listed 5.35 names (last year) and 5.38 names (this year), historically low vote totals.  I don’t see that changing much, and so the “competition” for votes (a ludicrous concept, but unfortunately applicable in this situation) will likely depress individual vote totals across the board.  I think the only player with a shot next year is Dawson (unless I am seriously underestimating Alomar’s chances), and I don’t know if Dawson can make that big a leap in the voting.  I tend to think he won’t.

The last time the BBWAA failed to elect anyone was 1996 (Phil Niekro came closest; he was elected the following year).  However, in 1996 the Veterans Committee elected Jim Bunning, along with Negro Leagues star Bill Foster.  Earl Weaver and Ned Hanlon were also elected that year (as managers), so the traditional ceremony at Cooperstown had two living honorees (Bunning and Weaver).  At least one player has been elected by either the writers or the VC every year since 1960.

The committee that selects Hall of Fame managers, umpires, and executives does vote next year.  I think there will be some pressure on that committee to select somebody (Whitey Herzog?  Doug Harvey?) because that’s probably the avenue most likely to produce an enshrinee in 2009.  It won’t result in a player being elected, but it would be better than nothing.  Induction weekend is a boon to the local economy.  No enshrinee = no boon.

Cooperstown has already lost the annual Hall of Fame Game, which has been discontinued.  It may be time for the folks at the Hall to think of another attraction for next year (an Old-Timer’s game?) in case  its showcase event has no one to showcase.

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.