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.

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.

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.