First off, let's say a hearty congratulations to Andre Dawson for finally making it into the Hall of Fame. It took him a while and he barely squeezed in this year. While a borderline candidate, I voted for him on my mock ballot below and consider him a hall of famer. Unfortunately, that means only one player will be inducted this year. While that is no great harm (the Hall elected no players between 1942 and 1947) it does present a bit of a problem when you consider the backlog of players that will soon begin to build up.
First, let's consider two guys I thought for sure would make it in this year alongside the Hawk. Bert Blyleven has toiled on the HoF ballot for years now, getting as close as ever this year with 74.2% of the vote (needing 75%.) He missed out by only 5 votes. Roberto Alomar, one many thought would breeze in on the first ballot) came nearly as close, only 8 votes shy of election. There are a number of places outlining these two players and their Hall cases. You cannot swing a dead cat without finding someone willing to argue in their favor. I believe both belong.
Both will likely go into the Hall next year but let us consider that there are a number of other players inching up the list but not yet there - Jack Morris, Lee Smith, Alan Trammell, Dave Parker and Dale Murphy, not to mention two other guys that are definite hall worthy players - Tim Raines and Mark McGwire. Finally your holdovers after their first year - Fred McGriff, Edgar Martinez and Barry Larkin keep the ballot fairly large. That's 10 players waiting for their day. There are more on the ballot, but only these do I think have a legitimate shot at a Hall call either via the writers or the Vets committee.
In 2011, the ballot will also include a series of newly eligible players - Jeff Bagwell, Rafael Palmeiro, John Olerud, Kevin Brown, Larry Walker, Juan Gonzalez, Tino Martinez, B.J. Surhoff, Marquis Grissom, John Franco, Bret Boone, Al Leiter, Benito Santiago, Carlos Baerga, Raul Mondesi, Bobby Higginson, Wilson Alvarez, Rey Sanchez, Charles Johnson, Jose Offerman, Ugueth Urbina, Ismael Valdez, Dan Wilson, Paul Quantrill, Cal Eldred, Kirk Rueter and Steve Reed.
From that list, there are two sure fire hall of famers in Bagwell and Palmeiro (more on that below) as well as some borderline guys that might stay on the ballot for a year or more - Kevin Brown, Larry Walker, Juan Gonzalez and maybe even John Franco. Now we are looking at 16 guys who might have a shot of election in 2011 and many of them will have both their fans and detractors. And if you consider that Blyleven and Alomar will make it in 2011, that leaves maybe one more elected which I would think has to be Bagwell as the best player on the ballot below those two. Maybe Morris as he's gaining some steam, but if Alomar doesn't get in on his 1st ballot, I am not sure Bagwell will either. He is, to some, borderline. That seems crazy to me, but there it is.
But let's say Bagwell gets in alongside Blyleven and Alomar in 2011. That means that the following will be left on the ballot for the 2012 election:
Barry Larkin, Jack Morris, Edgar Martinez, Tim Raines, Lee Smith, Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire - all players that have a legit shot of making it to 75% of the vote. I just don't see how the others can make up the needed ground that quickly if they are new or finally if they have been toiling on the ballot for a number of years. Only Larkin and Morris have cracked the 50% level. Martinez will go in via the writers eventually, I'd think as will hopefully Raines. And Smith has been inching up for years now. Palmeiro will have to deal with the same thing as McGwire - a reckoning of how to deal with steroids in the sport and Hall.
Of course alongside those 7 guys above, the ballot opens up to another slew of players in 2012 - Edgardo Alfonzo, Pedro Astacio, David Bell, Jeromy Burnitz, Vinny Castilla, Scott Erickson, Carl Everett, Jeff Fassero, Alex S. Gonzalez, Danny Graves, Rick Helling, Dustin Hermanson, Jose Hernandez, Brian Jordan, Matt Lawton, Javy Lopez, Bill Mueller, Terry Mulholland, Jeff Nelson, Phil Nevin, Brad Radke, Joe Randa, Tim Salmon, Ruben Sierra, Jose Vizcaino, Bernie Williams and Eric Young.
Thankfully for the holdovers, only Bernie Williams really merits discussion for the Hall (though I am terribly partial to Terry Mulholland - not a hall of famer, but a damn fine and reliable pitcher for many, many years.) So Hall voters will have at least 8 worthy candidates in 2012. If Jack Morris makes it in via the writers, this is the year he'll need to make it. He'll only have 2 more years on the ballot and the 2013 and 2014 classes are full of huge names, many of which may warrant 1st ballot election. For someone like Dale Murphy, a guy I think belongs in the Hall, the time is even more slim. His last year on the ballot is 2013. He cannot get past the logjam above for 2012 and for 2013...well, let's see who comes up for eligibility:
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Craig Biggio, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Kenny Lofton, David Wells, Julio Franco, Shawn Green, Steve Finley, Roberto Hernandez, Jeff Cirillo, Jose Valentin, Reggie Sanders, Jeff Conine, Jose Mesa, Royce Clayton, Bob Wickman, Ryan Klesko, Aaron Sele, Woody Williams, Rondell White, Mike Lieberthal, Tony Batista, Mike Stanton, Sandy Alomar Jr., Damian Miller and Todd Walker.
Now that's a list - Bonds, Clemens, Biggio, Schilling, Sosa, Piazza and perhaps even Lofton and Julio Franco have a legit shot of gaining some Hall support. Bonds and Clemens may get slotted into that same holding tank filled with McGwire, Palmeiro and maybe Kevin Brown (Juan Gonzalez will have fallen off the ballot.) Schilling, Sosa and perhaps even Piazza may not get full support as many consider them borderline (though I don't know how you say that about Mike Piazza.) But Biggio is legit and may be the only man to get elected this year, even with whatever holdovers from previous years remain on the ballot.
Let's assume Larkin and Morris get enough support in 2012 to make it in. That would leave possible elections of Biggio, Edgar Martinez, Tim Raines and Lee Smith in 2013 so maybe one of those last three joins Biggio in election. Whoever does not will have zero shot in 2014. Once again, the class is stacked. Dale Murphy will fall off the ballot but it will add the following:
Moises Alou, Armando Benitez, Sean Casey, Jose Cruz Jr., Ray Durham, Damion Easley, Jim Edmonds, Keith Foulke, Eric Gagne, Tom Glavine, Luis Gonzalez, Mark Grudzielanek, Scott Hatteberg, Jacque Jones, Todd Jones, Jeff Kent, Jon Lieber, Esteban Loaiza, Paul Lo Duca, Greg Maddux, Matt Morris, Mike Mussina, Trot Nixon, Hideo Nomo, Jay Payton, Kenny Rogers, Richie Sexson, J.T. Snow, Shannon Stewart, Frank Thomas, Mike Timlin, Steve Trachsel and Jose Vidro.
Of the names, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Frank Thomas are sure fire hall of famers. Jim Edmonds, Luis Gonzalez (believe it or not), Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina all can make a legitimate case for their induction as well. The year after that, Randy Johnson and John Smoltz (assuming he does not find a job in 2010) among others will enter the ballot. It's not until 2016 that some holdovers might have a shot. Trammell is on the ballot until 2016. Lee Smith until 2017. McGwire (assuming he doesn't pinch hit this year) is on until 2021 and Raines until 2022. There will be retirements as well so it is difficult to know who else will join them but as you can see, as the stars retire, the ballot fills up. By my count, between now and 2014, 15 players have the resume to be sure fire members of the Hall. Another 18 or so guys have a decent case. That is stacked.
It does make me question my "large hall" outlook but I remain positive that is should be this way. It's not the Hall of the Very, Very Best. It is the Hall of Fame and as such guys like Joe Jackson, Pete Rose, Ron Santo, Mark McGwire and Dale Murphy all belong. They were all part of the fame of baseball, all of them beloved players and all of them responsible for great baseball memories in fans and not just some but a lot. Some have other issues that hurt their case and some have troublesome numbers that make it hard to look past. There is the big problem I see for the Hall.
Sabermetrics vs. Sight
This year more than ever there seemed to be a huge argument between old school baseball writers/Hall voters and the sabermetric crowd. It was in full force with Andre Dawson and certainly has been a big factor in both Blyleven's inching up the ballot as well as his continued existence outside the Hall. It was certainly there last year with Jim Rice and will remain as voters and fans continue to consider Jack Morris, among others. Bagwell may run into this as Fred McGriff definitely does (in fact, as guys like Bagwell, Thomas and Palmeiro enter the ballot McGriff's case gets harder and harder.)
It seems that one must be either/or on this, though I don't quite understand that. Either you want to judge every player using advanced stats or you only want to look at RBI and HR, regardless of what their OPS tells us. I really don't see how these two schools of thought cannot co-exist. All stats do is give us a better understanding of a season or career. It does not tell the whole story and often can be selected to tell only the best story (see Boras, Scott.) We've all heard the phrase "lies, damn lies and statistics." However that does not mean they should not be weighed heavily. In the case of McGriff (or Rice, or Dawson, etc.) there might not be great rate stats for him, but he did end up with 493 home runs and many of those before the current steroid era. He hit 20 or more home runs for 15 out of 16 years, missing one year by hitting only 19. He was in the discussion in the MVP voting for 6 different seasons, even though he never won it. But anybody at the time of his first decade would have loved to have him on their team. He was a consistent and healthy 1st baseman who while no wizard with the glove was dependable to be sure. Is there a place in the Hall for that type of player? Had he hit just 7 more HR, would we be having this discussion?
Blyleven is instructive here as the major knock many give against his Hall of Fame case is that he was never considered the best pitcher of his day (no Cy Youngs) and only just dependable. I guess it begs the question - would you rather have Derek Lowe warts and all or Ben Sheets warts and all? You know when Sheets actually pitches, he'll blow Lowe out of the water, but he's injured so much, his worth drops considerably. On the other hand, Lowe will give you league average or better work while being a workhorse year in and year out making every start and pitching into the 7th or 8th at least. So who is the better pitcher over the long term, which is what the Hall is considering? Blyleven might not have been the flashiest pitcher ever but he did rack up over 3,700 strike outs which puts him at 5th all time. He was 3rd when he retired and only gave up the spot for a couple of guys named Clemens and Johnson. Blyleven's 60 shutouts places him in the top 10 all time. Every eligible player with 50 or more is in the Hall. Like McGriff, should he be penalized because he did not win those last 13 games? The sabermetrics crowd does not think so and he has them to thank for his rise on the ballot. The writers/voters clearly do not. To them, their memory is more important (or rather, the only thing that is important.) For me and many others out there, both are instructive and between the two build a solid case for his enshrinement.
I just don't see why one cannot consider both the advanced stats look at a player while also recalling his fame at the time he played. Dale Murphy is a curious case as he seems to have both working for him and yet remains outside looking in. His problem was longevity. But tell me if he had died somehow in 1988 - would we be having this discussion? Had Kirby Puckett continued to play and produced another 5 or 8 sub-par seasons, would he have been elected to the Hall? At Murphy's peak, he was considered one of the very best (maybe only Mike Schmidt was more beloved in the NL during this time.) But he tailed off so quickly and didn't finish his counting stats so we watch him linger on the ballot for 15 years, falling off as I said after the 2013 vote. He just doesn't have the momentum to counter the bums rush of worthy (and better) candidates that will soon fill up the ballot.
Finally, we must look at the effect of the steroid issue effecting the voting. McGwire has remained pretty solid at about 20% of the vote since he got on the ballot. So far he has been the only one treated this way. However Rafael Palmeiro joins him on the 2011 ballot and then Bonds, Clemens and Sosa join them in 2013. These are just the pinnacle players and not all effected (recall that David Segui admitted his usage and still got 1 vote in this last HoF election.) In all, I count somewhere between 19 and 20 guys on the next four ballots that have some suspicion or evidence of steroid usage.
When Bud Selig is elected to the Hall (and you know he will be) what will the line be then? Or will they keep him out for the same reason they do for McGwire? When Bonds and Clemens debut, will the voters be forced to admit that regardless of the use, the players still put up Hall worthy numbers? Without the drugs, neither man would wait and may even be unanimous picks (which has never occurred in Hall voting.) Palmeiro and Sosa (and maybe McGwire) are cases where one might ask "Would they have built Hall stats without the roids?" It is a fair question but it is only an exercise. The fact remains, Palmeiro's 3,000 hits, 500 HR and 1,800 RBI would usher any other man right into the Hall.
I don't know the answer here any more than I do on the above issues. I am not a Hall of Fame voter. And considering that Andre Dawson and Jim Rice are in the Hall while "Shoeless Joe" Jackson and Pete "Charlie Hustle" Rose remain out, one might consider the Hall to be a joke anyway. Let us recall that the Hall itself is located in Cooperstown, New York to commemorate a faulty history - supposedly this was the site of the first baseball game thanks to Abner Doubleday, but the research has shown a different beginning. Baseball, much like life, lends itself to selective memory and subjective thinking. And thus it is in Hall voting (as well as Hall arguments.) If anything, I hope that the Hall can at least vote in these great players after they are gone. But it would be preferable to do so before that day. I want to see Bond's speech. He was my favorite player, after all. At least Maddux is clean. He could sail in with more votes than Nolan Ryan, which would be sweet. In fact, I found out a neat fact about Mad Dog as I was doing research - he is 4th all time in games started only behind Nolan Ryan, Don Sutton and Cy Young. He was the best folks, he was the best (said in the voice of Skip Cary, himself a possible Ford Frick award winner this year.) That is all.