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2011 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot: Does The Hall Bell Toll For Thee?

Baseball Hall of Fame logo (Photo from MLBToday.net)

This isn’t going to be quick and dirty like a Craigslist date outside McDonald’s. By this point we’ve heard all the statistical arguments, read the voluminous hagiographies penned by breathless sportswriters about why so-and-so should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame, as well as the damming, invective filled diatribes of why that same so-and-so should not be inducted. What I intend to do is take a more of a fan’s look at the ballot. I love VORP and BABIP as much as the next guy, unless the next guy is Rob Neyer, but I also want to consider the player’s impact during his time in conjunction with what the traditional stats and Sabermetrics tell us.

Before we get to the meat of the Hall of Fame nut a disclaimer – I used to be a strict Hall of Fame exclusionist. Ohh, the convictions of youth. Time was, I felt only the best of the best belonged in the Hall of Fame, not just the very good. Though fine ballplayers they were, seeing the likes of Ryne Sandberg, Gary Carter and Orlando Cepeda gain induction are manifestations of the lowering of the bar, and don’t even get me started on the “compilers” like Don Sutton and Al Kaline. Bert Blyleven and Rafael Palmeiro fall into this category, but more on these two dubious candidates later.

All of this has led me to take a broader view of the operative word here – “Fame.”  Thanks to the election of players like the aforementioned, in addition to Bill Maseroski, Johnny Mize and Tony Perez, I now view the main function of the Hall of Fame to be as a museum of baseball and thusly must have representations of the impact players of every era, not just the best of the best, which, in a perfect world, is what the Hall would be. Still, players must be great during their era if falling short of all-time great status.

My feelings are not dissimilar to those that led Bill Simmons to create his “NBA Hall of Fame Pyramid” idea, where the top level is reserved for the truly ethereal players, while the merely very good wallow in the levels below. Not that this idea would ever be adopted by baseball, which is the gastropod of sports – slow to move, and even when it does it’s only because it has movement forced upon it. Steroid Era anyone?

With all that being said, let’s get into the most entertaining argument in sports – who should be inducted into the Hall of Fame. One more note, I hate these shallow thinkers that abuse the “first ballot Hall of Famer” concept to not vote for certain players on their first appearance. This is outdated thinking has it’s origins in the late 30’s, when the Hall of Fame was started. At that time it made sense, as baseball writers had to slog through a mammoth backlog of players which naturally led to deserving Hall of Famers having to wait. At this point, let’s move on guys. If you think a player is a Hall of Famer just vote for him regardless of how many years he had been on the ballot.

Here we go. Better take your shoes off. If you don’t your socks are gonna get blown right through them. Remember, this is all subjective and I reserve the right to change my mind.

It’s Nice That You Made The Ballot But C’mon, You Didn’t Really Think …

Carlos Baerga, Bret Boone, Kevin Brown, John Franco, Marquis Grissom, Lenny Harris, Bobby Higginson, Charles Johnson, Al Leiter, Tino Martinez, Raul Mondesi, John Olerud, Kirk Reuter, Benito Santiago, BJ Surhoff.

No doubt a number of these players will get votes from their hometown writers as a nod to an honorable career but none of these guys have any real chance of making it. Some of these players have solid numbers: Kevin Brown, 211 wins and a surprisingly low 3.28 ERA; John Franco, 424 saves, most for a lefty and still 4th most all time; Tino Martinez, 339 homers, 1,271 RBI;  John Olerud hit .295 with a .398 OBP over 17 years.

A case can be made for these players, while the cases of the Bobby Higginsons of the world can only be made by Mama Higginson. I would be deficient if I didn’t also note the career of Bret Boone, poster child of the steroid era. After hitting 125 homers over the first nine years of his career, Boone went for 120 over the next four and then simply vanished from the diamond. If there ever is a Steroid Era exhibit at the Hall, and there probably will be but not for 50 years, Boone should be right next to Brady Anderson, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire.

Players Deserving Careful Consideration…

Bert Blyleven

No, no, no, no, no, no, no. With that said let me just add – no. Compliers are the one segment of prospective Hall of Famers that enrage me. Although he had one of the great Chris Berman nicknames of all time, Bert “Be Home” Blyleven, he was never a dominant player and his career had little impact on baseball. He finished in the top five of the Cy Young voting three times, all late in his career when he could smell the stats. He was a pretty good pitcher with a great curveball on mostly mediocre teams that had a .534 winning percentage. His shameless self promotion, which was right out of the Gary Carter playbook, has worn down enough voters so he will get in, but he shouldn’t.

It should surprise nobody that Blyleven’s number one comp on Baseball-Reference.com is Don Sutton, another infamous compiler. It’s this backward thinking that vexes me verily. Why does a career like Jim Rice’s, in which he absolutely subjugated American League pitching for a solid decade, cause copious hand wringing while those who were merely good for a long time are ushered in much more easily? Rich languished on the ballot for years with no movement while Blyleven has steadily gained steam. Blyleven was durable and crafty but he just had too many mediocre to just plain bad years that wash out the good ones. His induction will be a new low for the Hall.

Robert Alomar

In, no question, his unfortunate spitting incident and strange post-career troubles notwithstanding. Alomar is one of the top keystone sackers (I love me some old tyme baseball terms like that. My personal favorite is “soak the apple,” which means a hitter crushed the ball) behind only Joe “Billy Beane Wrote Moneyball” Morgan, Rogers “Scariest Combination of Drunk and Racist in Hardball History” Hornsby, Nap “Not Bill” Lajoie and Rod “The Panamanian Devil” Carew. (Even though he played slightly more games at first base than third, Carew’s greatest years were spent at second). There is a bit a dichotomy of opinion in regards to Alomar’s fielding acumen, but this is just splitting hairs. He won 10 Gold Gloves, dubious as that award is (see Jeter, Derek). If you feel Alomar was an outstanding fielder, he is one of the three best second basemen ever, if you feel his fielding was merely above average and smooth, as I do, he is still in the top five. Either way he is in and wasn’t inducted on his first ballot due to the outdated thinking discussed before.

Jack Morris

Out. Morris’ career had the impact on baseball that Blyleven’s career didn’t – he finished in the top five of the Cy Young voting five times and earned a well deserved reputation as a “big game” pitcher with performances such as his 10-inning, World Series-clinching shutout in 1991, but his career 3.90 ERA would be the highest in Hall history, which has to count for something. Unlike Blyleven, he did pitch for dominant teams and holds the record for most consecutive opening day starts at 14, but that doesn’t earn him a ticket to Cooperstown. Morris and Blyleven are two sides of the same coin. Morris left an indelible impression on the game without the longevity of performance that leads to daunting counting stats while Blyleven toiled in competent obscurity long enough to reach certain numbers that some feel elicit Hall of Fame votes. For consistency’s sake, if Blyleven gets in, then Morris should eventually as well but both should be out, unless they buy a ticket. Then, by all means, come in gentleman.

Barry Larkin

In. His numbers seem cute next to the PED shortstops of the last decade, but his numbers should not be overlooked. Now that the normal of order of things are being returned to baseball we are seeing that shortstop is an inherently defensive position first and foremost, and any offensive contribution beyond speed and slap hitting is gravy. Larkin provided more gravy than a Thanksgiving turkey. He averaged 99 runs scored a year and won eight silver sluggers, which shows you how he measured up to other shortstops offensively during his career. He had seven years with an OPS+ of 131 or higher and was unquestionably a great fielder. He was baseball in Cincinnati for many years for good reason. He won’t get in this year but he will eventually.

Mark McGwire

Out. No, in. Shit. Wait, wait. We all know he was a one dimensional steroid freak. At first base he had less range than Keanu Reeves. Still, it nags at me that in the record book he has 583 homers and a career .982 OPS. He still broke Roger Maris’ single season home run record, since obliterated by bigger steroid freak Barry Bonds. In the end, I can’t vote for a blatant cheater, especially one who would not even get a sniff of support if not for the Androstene inflated power numbers. When the Bonds issue is raised, it can at least be argued that the man established himself as a Hall of Famer before he began using PEDs. Nothing of the sort can be said for McGwire. He is out, and Bud Selig has only himself, and Donald Fehr, to blame for dropping the steroid issue into the laps of the voters. If he has acted swiftly this would not be an issue. Out, but his weird “batboy from The Natural” looking son warrants an exhibit of his own.

Rafael Palmeiro

Out. The finger wagging Cuban is the first of the Steroid Era Compilers, a hybrid of two of my least favorite subdivisions of possible Hall of Famers. Even in said Steroid Era he never had those one or two unreal seasons that make a lasting impression. His best season (1999) would have been MVP caliber in any other era – .324 / 47 / 148 / 1.050 OPS / 159 OPS+ – but this mammoth campaign was only good for fifth in the MVP voting, losing to fellow roider, oops, I mean teammate Ivan Rodriguez. Somebody really needs to do a film about the mid to late ‘90s Texas Rangers. Their acquisition of Jose Canseco would be the inciting incident in the middle of Act I, I-Rod and A-Rod, full of hubris, start winning MVPs in the middle of Act II, and Act III climaxes with Raffy’s congressional finger wagging and subsequent failed drug test. Between Palmeiro, both the Rodriguez boys and Canseco their clubhouse must’ve been to steroids what Studio 54 was to cocaine. A solid case can be made for Palmerio still, and sans drugs he could have been a Hall of Famer in the Carl Yastremski – Eddie Murray mold – a player that had but one or two “wow” years and was a competent slugger the rest of his career. Alas, the reduced significance of power numbers and the finger wagging to Congress combined with the ensuing failed drug test is a transgression he will not live down. I’ll never forget him playing with earplugs in after the failed test. Some voters will bend their minds to vote for someone who did steroids while it was the Wild West in baseball but failing a test after that? And then conjuring up some lame Miguel Tejada – vitamin B12 excuse? Great moustache though. He committed to that thing for his whole career. Oh yeah, he also won a Gold Glove in a season in which he played 32 games at first base. Raffy, you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.

Don Mattingly & Dale Murphy

Out & Out. I’m looking at these two similar players at the same time. Mattingly’s run from 1984-1987 is one of the best stretches any first baseman has had,  but four years does not a Hall of Fame career make. Compilers may get under my skin, but some longevity is needed, with a decade of achievement the acceptable benchmark. I’ll even take eight or nine years but Mattingly’s ricotta cheese spine just wouldn’t have it, which is a shame. A great player when healthy, Donny Baseball is helped greatly by the fact that he performed in the biggest media market in the world.

If he played in say, Atlanta, he would be Dale Murphy, which brings me to Dale Murphy. It’s tough to exclude a back-to-back MVP winner but, like Blyleven, he had too many mediocre seasons for my liking. For a power hitter, who smacked 398 homers, his career slugging percentage of .469 is oddly low. Compare him with Dave Kingman – 442 homers, .478 SLG. Kingman gets no Hall love, neither should Murphy.

Alan Trammell

Out. Trammell, while a slightly better fielder than Larkin, had nowhere near the offensive impact. Trammell deserves a statue outside Comerica Park and, along with Lou Whitaker, formed the steadiest double play combo of the 80′s, but he just isn’t Hall-worthy. He belongs in the proverbial Hall of Very good. He only had one outstanding offensive season, 1987 when he went for .343/.402/.551 with 28 homers and 105 RBI, the only season he drove in over a hundred runs. In fact, he never drove in more than 89 in any other season. Still, if Ryne Sandberg is in Trammell should be as well, though I personally wouldn’t vote for him.

Jeff Bagwell

In. The only reason to exclude Bagwell from the Hall is steroid concerns. Taking into account the era in which he played, those concerns are valid. Bagwell has publicly professed his lack of steroid use but so did Rafael Palmiero and we all know how that worked out. Bagwell hit 449 homers while playing more than half of his career in the Astrodome. His career OPS of .948 is 21st all time and he finished in the top ten of the MVP voting six times, winning in 1994. Bagpipes was one of the most feared hitters for over a decade and was more than a competent fielder.

Side note: I remember a Peter Gammons article talking about how when Butch Hobson, Bagwell’s minor league manager at the time, was told that the Red Sox had traded Bagwell to the Houston Astros for Larry Andersen Hobson was “ashen faced.” Maybe Butch was on coke at the time but he knew a great player when he saw one.

Fred McGriff

Out. This one hurts, as Freddy was my favorite player growing up. Why?  For the same reason a kid in Boston liked Ernie Banks and Rube Waddell, there was just something about the way he played that I liked. McGriff was a consistent compiler who could be counted on for a quiet 30 dongs and 100 ribbies a year but he never had those few other worldly years that a true Hall of Famer has. It’s fitting that he ended just shy of 500 homers, with 493, as that sums up his career. Very good but just shy of greatness. None of this diminished my enjoyment of my binder full of McGriff rookie cards or the authentic McGriff Blue Jays jersey I received as a gift in the late 80′s that was subsequently co-opted by a smaller friend when I outgrew it and it is now floating around the Hermosa Beach area.

Tim Raines

In. If not for Rickey Henderson and mid-career cocaine troubles, Raines would probably be viewed as the greatest leadoff hitter of the modern era. 808 stolen bases, a .294 career average with 2,605 hits is good enough in today’s Hall climate for a non-power hitter. He had a handful of dominant years early in his career, like 1983 and 1985 – 1987, and reinvented himself as a valuable part time player as his career was winding down. Dominant at his peak, serviceable in his later years and good counting stats means he was great during his time if not an all-time great, which satisfies my criteria.

Dave Parker

Out. The Cobra was another casualty of the ‘80s cocaine explosion, though his three year stretch from 1977-1979 was sick. A lithe and mobile fielder he dominated, there is that word again, in Pittsburgh but had way too many sub par seasons for my taste. He came back as a feared DH in Cincinnati for a couple years in the mid-80s but that’s not enough. Parker was one of those players announcers would refer to as a “future Hall of Famer” as a young player but that never panned out. Take note, lazy sportscasters. Thom Brennaman, I’m looking in your direction.

Juan Gonzalez

Out. Yeesh, another possible steroid guy. The PED case for Gonzalez isn’t as open and shut as McGwire’s but it has to be taken into consideration. Like McGwire, Gonzalez was a one-dimensional slugger. He won a pair of MVPs and has a career OPS of .904 with 434 homers. All of that makes him Hall-worthy on paper but for now he is on the outside looking in. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Juan Gone elected once voters and fans gain perspective and come to grips with the realities of the Steroid Era. This is why it’s beneficial to have players on the ballot for a decade, so voters have time to sort this stuff out.

Edgar Martinez

In. Martinez is first full-time DH to get on the ballot to get serious consideration. For someone whose sole job is to hit, Martinez launched only 309 homers over 18 seasons. The first part of his career, as a third basemen, culminated in his league leading .343 average in 1992. The second act of his career, as a DH, flummoxes me greatly. He was a steady presence in the middle of the Mariner lineup but was he one of the best hitters of his time? The counting stats say no, but the career percentage stats, .418 OBP and .515 SLG, say otherwise. With a nod toward my new, more lax Hall standards he is in. Of course, this, like with Bagwell, is all under the assumption that he wasn’t a PED cheat. Again, Bud Selig tacitly put that decision on the voters so it is a decision I will make to the best of my ability but for all we know Edgar was a cheater. He did have his best seasons in his mid-30s and beyond so…

Quick Hits On the Remaining Few…

Harold Baines

Out. Far too many mediocre seasons in a noble career.

Larry Walker

Out. Two words – Coors Field.

Lee Smith

Out. Was the all-time saves leader when he retired but 1) he was never truly dominant and 2) saves are the flimsiest stat in baseball. 3) anybody who sleeps through games in the bullpen (like that closer from the undyingly lame film “Summer Catch”) should be disqualified.

Parting Thoughts

One more thing. Although he is no longer on the ballot I have to express my indignation at the Hall bell not tolling for Albert Belle. Before retiring young (age 33) due to injuries, Belle was the most fearsome offensive force in the AL in the 1990s, rivaling sure fire Hall of  Famer Frank Thomas. He ended his career on a run of nine consecutive 100 RBI seasons, is the only player to hit 50 homers and 50 doubles in the same season and had four seasons with an OPS over 1.000. He was so despised by writers that he lost an MVP to Mo Vaughn in 1995 and this same writer’s derision left him with no chance to gain admittance. The scornfulness of a player and the residual bad feelings he left with the press should not cloud one’s Hall of Fame chances but, alas, it does. Somewhere Murray Chass is cackling in delight.

Also, I must raise the question of why Gil Hodges is not in the Hall. The opposite of Belle, he was revered by the media and fans alike. In addition to being the rock of the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 50s he guided the 1969 Miracle Mets to a World Series title. I just needed to get that out as neglect of Hodges has been bugging me for years, more so now that I recently read “Praying For Gil Hodges” by Thomas Oliphant. Read it.

So send me your tirades, harangues and manifestos on why you disagree with my examination of the above players, or send me maudlin love letters and toss verbal bouquets at me if you like.

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