In part 1, we addressed the new crop of Hall of Fame candidates that popped onto the ballot this year. In Part 2, we’ll talk about those who are on the ballot already who haven’t made it yet, plus my picks.
Juan Gonzalez (2nd year on the ballot, 5.2% of the vote in 2011) – Statistically, Gonzalez would be a strong candidate – 434 home runs, .904 career OPS, two-time MVP. Defensively he wasn’t a good player, but he wasn’t horrid enough that he couldn’t play the outfield. But Juan was part of those mid-90s Texas Rangers teams where seemingly every player is assumed to be a steroid user, and Jose Canseco called him out in his book. Add to that his trainer being caught picking up steroids in 2001, and you pretty much throw out any chance for Gonzalez to be considered. No vote from me, and he’ll likely fall off the ballot this year.
Rafael Palmeiro (2nd year, 11%) – Whatever case Gonzalez has for the Hall of Fame, Palmeiro has a better one. 14 straight seasons with 20+ home runs, 569 career home runs (12th all time), 3,020 hits (25th all time), 1,835 RBI (16th all time) 585 doubles (16th all time) – longevity and statistics that normally would guarantee him a spot in the Hall, and potentially make him a first-ballot guy. Even with the Texas Ranger connection and Jose Canseco’s accusation in his book, Palmeiro would still get a lot of consideration. But when he failed a drug test as an active player in 2005, that pretty much sealed his fate. Players like Gonzalez were connected with steroids but no actual proof was found. Palmeiro was caught. No vote there.
Dale Murphy (14th year, 12.6%) – Craig Calcaterra brings up a great point – what if Dale Murphy gets hit by a bus in January 1988? The short answer is that he’s in the Hall of Fame right now – 7 all-star games, five Gold Gloves, and two MVPs in ten seasons. But unfortunately for Murphy, he kept playing, and his numbers suffered for whatever reason, causing his overall totals to appear less impressive, and the memories of him to be more of the washed-up player he was in his thirties than the dominant player he was in his twenties. Tempting to vote for because really – those were an impressive 10 years. But voting for him opens up a whole can of worms, like…
Don Mattingly (12th year, 13.6%) – Man, what could have been. I grew up watching Donnie Baseball and he’ll forever be part of Yankee lore, but injuries derailed what would have been a Hall of Fame career. He always put the ball in play – not a guy for walks or strikeouts. If he played for the Red Sox, I wouldn’t think twice about leaving him out, but because of what he was when I was growing up? Sigh. Nope – can’t do it.
Fred McGriff (3rd year, 17.9%) – McGriff is already losing momentum, and it’s a shame. Looking over his stats he was a Hall of Fame caliber player in the first half of his career, then drifted off to a little better than average for the second half. Didn’t get a vote of MVP consideration after age 31. Longevity is his main selling point, with 493 home runs and 2490 hits over 19 seasons. Wouldn’t kill me to see someone else vote for him, but I’m not.
Larry Walker (2nd year, 20.3%) – Larry Walker was never connected with steroids, but he was connected with Denver, and much like playing in the “steroid era”, that alone – without any proof – can get your statistics written off without a second thought. But look harder at Walker’s stats – especially if you use statistics that balance out park factors, like OPS+ – and you see a player who was one of the best in the game regardless of where he played. Walker put up a .322/.394/.587 line in 1994, the year before he went to Colorado, then capitalized after that, winning an MVP and three batting titles during his time in Colorado before wrapping up his career in St. Louis to very good numbers as well. It’s easy to write off Walker as a product of playing in Colorado, but put his numbers up against Vinny Castilla, Andres Galarraga, Dante Bichette, Ellis Burks, or any of those other hitting stars of those teams, and you see Walker is in a class by himself. Add to that seven Gold Gloves, and you have a player who deserves serious consideration.
Alan Trammell (11th year, 24.3%) – Trammell’s HOF case is a product of longevity and playing a skill position. Never hit like Cal Ripken or played defense like Ozzie Smith, but he was one of the better shortstops in the 80s (6 all-star games, though none as a starter). Should have probably won the 1987 AL MVP, but 1987 was just a weird year. Trammell’s inclusion on the ballot still for the 11th year just pisses me off knowing that his double play teammate Lou Whitaker was one-and-done in 2001, possibly the best major leaguer to ever have that happen. Whitaker had the second-highest WAR of any player on the 2001 ballot (next to Bert Blyleven) yet somehow only got 15 out of a possible 515 votes. Somehow I think Trammell’s getting votes from sportswriters who feel bad about Whitaker. No thanks.
Edgar Martinez (3rd, 32.9%) – The biggest argument against Edgar that I’ve heard has been the DH thing. Here’s the thing – DH is a real position. It’s a position that plays every American League game, generally for the entire game, just the same as it does any fielding position. Starting pitchers don’t get punished because they play every fifth game, nor do relief pitchers (at least recently) because they only play a portion of the game. I could get it if Edgar couldn’t cut it as a fielder, but Edgar wasn’t put in the DH slot because of his fielding ability; he was put there due to injury concerns – the same reason Paul Molitor was. Molitor was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, yet Edgar has an uphill climb. Is your issue career totals? Edgar’s career doesn’t have peaks and valleys – his lack of numbers is due to his not being given a regular starting job until he was 27 years old. Do you really want Jim Presley to be the reason one of the five best hitters of the 90s doesn’t make the Hall? I don’t. IN.
Tim Raines (5th year, 37.5%) – Others have made longer arguments for Raines, so I won’t go into it with great detail, but during the 80s, he ran a close second to Rickey Henderson as one of the best leadoff men in the game. 7 All-Star games, a batting title, four stolen base titles, fifth all-time in stolen bases – what’s not to like? Had he played in New York or Los Angeles or been a shameless self-promoter like Henderson we wouldn’t be having this discussion. His voting totals have gone up each year – I expect it to take an even bigger jump this year, although I don’t think he’ll make it this year. But people are coming around.
Jeff Bagwell (2nd year, 41.7%) – Here is usually the part where the arguments start and where we conclude that apparently, if you hit home runs and your prime was in the 90s, you’ll never see the Hall of Fame in your lifetime. Jeff Bagwell has the highest WAR of any player on the Hall of Fame ballot, the second highest OPS+ (next to Mark McGwire), won an MVP and Rookie of the Year award, had a freakish 1994 season all the more impressive considering he did it with half his games in the Astrodome, and put up consistently strong numbers that show he was one of the best hitters in the game when he played. But since he was one of the best hitters in the game when he played, and when he played was the “steroid era”, we must assume that Bagwell was on steroids. Many writers have come out to say that they aren’t voting for Bagwell because they feel that he might have been on the juice, despite never having been connected to it by any reputable source. They point to inflated offensive numbers as enough to justify their doubt. By that reasoning, every player who had top offensive numbers during that time is out, and anyone below that “wasn’t among the best at the game”, which is another favorite Hall argument. So, no one’s going to get elected. I’d vote for him though.
Lee Smith (10th year, 45.3%) – I don’t get it. Completely a product of longevity. Pretty much Rick Aguilera or Jeff Montgomery, just for more years. I can name a half-dozen better closers during his time that have not or will not get a sniff at the Hall. For those too young to remember Lee Smith, just think Armando Benitez with a Jheri curl. Not on my watch.
Jack Morris (13th year, 53.5%) – I don’t hate Jack Morris as much as some baseball writers seem to; I also don’t like him as much as others. I don’t think he’s a Hall of Famer. If his career ends after the 1990 season (which, in reality, it could have), Morris probably gets knocked off the ballot after a few years. But he signs a one-year deal with Minnesota, goes 18-12 on a team that sees Kevin Tapani go 16-9 and Scott Erickson go 20-8 (both with better ERAs than Morris), has TEH GAME~! against the Braves in the ’91 World Series, and suddenly Morris is William Wallace. He signs a three-year deal with Toronto where he’s arguably the 4th best starter in the rotation (behind Jimmy Key, good Juan Guzman, and midseason pickup David Cone), but damn it he won 21 games that season and the Blue Jays won the World Series. Someone recently threw out the point of reference that Morris was the “ace on three World Series champions”. Chuck Knoblauch was the leadoff hitter for three World Series champions – should we prepare his plaque? One other thing to consider if you want to take the stathead route – Morris has a career WAR of 39.3 and only cracked 5 WAR in a season once – Brad Radke, who will likely be one-and-done this ballot, has a career war of 40.9, in six less seasons, and cracked the 5 WAR seasonal barrier three times. But Morris had a quality baseball mustache.
Barry Larkin (3rd year, 62.1%) – Most feel that if anyone is getting in on this ballot, it’s going to be Larkin, mainly because he fits into an ideal package for voters – good character guy, nice but not inflated numbers for the “steroid era”, and at a skill position (shortstop). He played his entire career with one team (so he’s not seen as money-hungry and going to the highest bidder), won an MVP award (in a year he probably shouldn’t have, but let’s not nitpick), made 12 All-Star games, 3 Gold Gloves, 9 Silver Sluggers, and seemed to get along fine with the sportswriters, who do the voting (and don’t think twice that it isn’t a consideration for the voters). Larkin is a very good player who should probably be in the Hall as one of the best players at his position in his era, but I don’t think it’s as clean-cut as some are making it out to be, and I think that character and the current ballot (with him atop of a group of weak candidates) will put him in earlier (likely this year, if not next) than he normally would be.
THE END RESULT
That’s it. I’d love to vote for Mattingly, I really would, and if given a real vote I might just for the fact that I don’t honestly think he would make it and I was a huge fan, but I think that if I justified a vote for Mattingly, I’d have to vote for McGriff and countless others who had “great careers BUT”.
Bernie gets a vote because I think he deserves consideration and is a borderline candidate, and I think in any of those cases you have to vote for them.
Javy Lopez? Yep, and I’d be shocked if he got five votes this ballot. But I’ll explain why I’d vote for him in my next post.
Murphy was a conditional vote – I felt I had to vote for him if I voted for Mattingly, and even after I decided not to vote for Mattingly I left him on. Murphy didn’t have a five year peak like McGriff had – his peak as one of the top 10 players in baseball lasted ten seasons. That’s enough right there, and Calcaterra’s right – if he had been hit by a bus 24 years ago, Dale Murphy’s in the Hall. The fact that he continued to play (and played at a lower than average level) shouldn’t punish him.
Walker for reasons I explained earlier – if he played in Atlanta or Anaheim or Kansas City and had park-adjusted numbers, he’d get a lot more consideration. If he were healthy through his whole career AND played in one of those places, he’d be getting Larkin-level consideration.
Edgar because the DH argument isn’t valid and there really isn’t another one.
Raines because he’s someone who was one of the best of his era – that’s what you should stand by.
Bagwell because, like Edgar, he was one of the best hitters in the game during his time, and because the steroid argument is getting to be ridiculous without any actual evidence other than hearsay and an “era”.
Larkin because, well hell – everyone else is. One of the best at his position during his time, and a great ambassador of the game. Someone you’d want your child to play like, both because he was good and because he did it with class. Granted, it’s dangerous territory to use that (see Puckett, Kirby) but at least with Larkin, if he turns out to be a huge dick and morphs into Albert Belle, we can at least say he was probably the best shortstop in the National League for a decade.