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8Jan/130

The 2013 Obligatory Baseball Hall Of Fame Ballot Post

You know the deal. Pretty much every person who writes about baseball on their blog has to do a post on "their ballot" for the Hall of Fame, since voting for the Hall is pretty much one of the ultimate goals of being a baseball writer.

So I'll cut through the flowery crap that usually prefaces these things (especially since I tend to get long-winded - SHOCKING I know) and get right into the ballot. There are 37 players on this year's ballot, and as I've mentioned in the past, that doesn't mean that there was only 37 players who were eligible for election. Some didn't make that cut, but we'll get to those guys later.

Sandy Alomar Jr.
Jeff Bagwell
Craig Biggio
Barry Bonds
Jeff Cirillo
Royce Clayton
Roger Clemens
Jeff Conine
Steve Finley
Julio Franco
Shawn Green
Roberto Hernandez
Ryan Klesko
Kenny Lofton
Edgar Martinez
Don Mattingly
Fred McGriff
Mark McGwire
Jose Mesa
Jack Morris
Dale Murphy
Rafael Palmeiro
Mike Piazza
Tim Raines
Reggie Sanders
Curt Schilling
Aaron Sele
Lee Smith
Sammy Sosa
Mike Stanton
Alan Trammell
Larry Walker
Todd Walker
David Wells
Rondell White
Bernie Williams
Woody Williams

TRIMMING THE FAT: These are the guys that make the ballot because they had decent careers or managed to at least have some length to them, but when mentioned as a "Hall of Fame" player, you get an eye roll. Mind you - these may be players who meant a great deal to their individual franchises and could be worth a "team hall of fame" entry for their respective franchise, but as for the overall picture, it's not happening.

Sandy Alomar Jr.
Jeff Bagwell
Craig Biggio
Barry Bonds
Jeff Cirillo
Royce Clayton
Roger Clemens
Jeff Conine
Steve Finley
Julio Franco
Shawn Green
Roberto Hernandez
Ryan Klesko
Kenny Lofton
Edgar Martinez
Don Mattingly
Fred McGriff
Mark McGwire
Jose Mesa
Jack Morris
Dale Murphy
Rafael Palmeiro
Mike Piazza
Tim Raines
Reggie Sanders
Curt Schilling
Aaron Sele
Lee Smith
Sammy Sosa
Mike Stanton
Alan Trammell
Larry Walker
Todd Walker
David Wells
Rondell White
Bernie Williams
Woody Williams

That brings the number down to 23 - 23 guys that we have to give at least a little thought to, or I want to at least talk about a bit.

THE TRAGIC FLAW: The concept of the hero with the "tragic flaw" goes back even before Murray Chass became a sportswriter, to the times of the Ancient Greeks. It's a somewhat cheap (yet effective) way of drawing emotion from an audience, who see the hero, get behind him, and feel for him when he comes up short because of some event or occurrence that stops him short from his ultimate goal, whether it be his own fault or some outside factor. For the sake of Hall of Fame voting, these guys might have been Hall of Famers, if not for some factor coming in that ruined their path to greatness. These are the guys that are the hardest to take off the list because they stir up the most emotion from voters - they're often ones they've seen in person and may have even called "future hall of famer" when covering them, but have to concede that they just didn't make it.

Julio Franco - It's unlikely that Julio Franco stays on the ballot after this season, but he really should get more consideration than he'll get.

Player #1: 1890 games, 2177 hits, 1104 runs scored, 981 RBI, 260 SB, .301/.366/.418
Player #2: 2164 games, 2386 hits, 1318 runs scored, 1061 RBI, 344 SB, .285/.344/.452
Player #3: 2148 games, 2463 hits, 1242 runs scored, 1116 RBI, 278 SB, .300/.367/.422

Player #1 is Franco, 1982-1997. Player #2 is Ryne Sandberg, 1981-1997. Sandberg's final season was 1997, and he received 49.2% of the HoF vote in his first year of eligibility in 2003, eventually gaining election in his third year of eligibility. Now granted - Ryno made 10 All-Star games, won nine Gold Gloves, and was the 1984 NL MVP, but it is worth noting that had Franco ended his career in 1997, he might have received a lot more consideration than he will in this election. Franco stuck around though, playing in Japan, Mexico, and Korea before signing on with Atlanta in 2001 and becoming their starting first baseman at the age of 43. Franco would play four more seasons for the Braves, then two more with the Mets, extending his career 10 more years. Had Franco not decided to extend his career, it would have been much easier for him to state a case for the Hall of Fame, but a decade later, it's a much harder argument.

Oh, and player #3? That's Franco again, adding in his Japanese numbers from 1995 and 1998. So by both extending his career a decade and spending two productive years of his career outside of Major League Baseball, Franco's Hall of Fame chances have gone from "good argument" to a likely "one and done".

Don Mattingly - This one kills me every year. Mattingly was on a Hall of Fame path before back injuries robbed him of the gaudy numbers required of a first baseman for election. Class act as a player, similar career numbers to Kirby Puckett (who got in easily on the first ballot), but can't do it. Hoping he does enough as a manager to maybe get in that way.

Mark McGwire - I wrote nearly eight years ago that I wasn't sure if McGwire was a Hall of Fame candidate even if performance-enhancing drugs were taken out of the conversation. McGwire had a huge six year span between 1995 to 2000 where he was off the charts, and those six years brought "average" numbers to "hall of fame career" numbers. Add admitted steroid use to that (starting as early as 1989) and it takes it out of consideration.

Dale Murphy - You feel bad for Murph because unlike Mattingly who you can point to injuries that derailed his HOF potential, Murphy's numbers just fell off a cliff. Some have argued that if Murphy had, oh I don't know, woken up with glaucoma in spring training of 1988, that he'd be in the Hall of Fame today. The numbers back that up - .862 OPS, 310 HR, 145 SB, averaging 100 runs and 100 RBI over 162 games during that span. But he didn't have glaucoma - he just stopped putting up the numbers he had earlier in his career. After he turned 32, Murph put up a .702 OPS, averaged 66 runs and 84 RBI over 162 games during that span, and didn't show the power or speed that made him a superstar. Was it the quality of teams he played for? Murph almost always played for poor Braves teams, but had the benefit of Bob Horner batting behind him in the lineup through most of that time. When Horner went to Japan in 1987, Murphy had his last good season (while leading the majors in intentional walks), then saw his numbers drop off the following year as the Braves struggled to put any kind of offensive threat behind him in the lineup. By the time he was traded to the Phillies in 1990, it was already too late - the 34-year-old Murphy saw his average improve, but the power was no longer there. This is his last year on the ballot, and he'll gain some sympathy votes for that, but it's not going to help.

Lee Smith - You probably assume that Lee Smith's tragic flaw was that he was a closer. It's not - it's that he wasn't a great closer. Smith gets a lot of votes from sportswriters due to his longevity (giving him 478 saves, third all-time) and his look - people remember him as being an intimidating closer. But just because Smith was given the opportunity to close numerous times in his career doesn't make him an elite player. Last year I called him Armando Benitez with a Jheri curl - I'm sticking by that assessment.

David Wells - Boomer's tragic flaw had nothing to do with any choice that he made - in his case, it had to do with not getting the opportunity to become a regular starting pitcher until he was 30. As a member of the Blue Jays, Wells bounced back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen, and only after being cut by Toronto in Spring Training in 1993 and being picked up by pitching-desperate Detroit did he get a regular shot at the starting rotation. True - Wells' numbers when he was starting are still a stretch for Hall inclusion, but the longevity of his career might have gotten him up enough in the win total to get him a regular spot on the ballot, rather than a "one and done" as Boomer is likely to go this season.

Bernie Williams - When it comes to tragic flaws, most players would wish to change them if they had the ability to do so. In the case of Bernie Williams, it's doubtful he would. The tragic flaw that will keep Bernie Williams out of the Hall of Fame gave him four World Series rings. On paper, Williams' numbers give him an argument for inclusion - 2336 hits, .858 career OPS, a batting title, four gold gloves, five all-star games - and no character issues or any real reason to want him out. If Bernie Williams plays his whole career with the Indians or the Reds or the Brewers where he's the star by default on those teams, maybe he stands out more. Maybe he begins his career a little earlier - maybe he continues playing a little longer without pressure from the organization to step aside and let a younger player play regularly and win now. Maybe that allows him to get 3000 hits, or at least close to it - close enough for those voters who don't want to be swayed by voting for a Yankee or to be forced to consider postseason stats to reconsider. Maybe that happens if Bernie Williams isn't a career Yankee. But it doesn't, and as much as I like the guy and I'm glad he made it past the initial ballot, I can't do it this year.

Jeff Bagwell
Craig Biggio
Barry Bonds
Roger Clemens
Steve Finley
Julio Franco
Kenny Lofton
Edgar Martinez
Don Mattingly
Fred McGriff
Mark McGwire
Jack Morris
Dale Murphy
Rafael Palmeiro
Mike Piazza
Tim Raines
Curt Schilling
Lee Smith
Sammy Sosa
Alan Trammell
Larry Walker
David Wells
Bernie Williams

Down to 16.

I LIKE YOU, BUT...: These are the guys that probably deserve some consideration and will be on some ballots, but in an effort to get down to 10 they drop off for one reason or another.

Steve Finley - I'll admit - Finley made it this far because I hadn't really looked at his stats and was going off of memory. I remembered Finley as being an ordinary 4th outfielder type coming up with the Orioles before eventually finding his groove with Houston and later San Diego, gaining a power stroke to go along with excellent fielding skills. I look up his WAR, see good but not great totals, then check to see how much of that is thanks to defense. Turns out, very little. In fact, fielding statistics show Finley as being quite the opposite of his Gold Glove reputation; in 1995, his first year with San Diego and the season he won his first Gold Glove award, Finley has a negative 1.8 defensive WAR. In other words, Finley's fielding that season actually cost the Padres nearly two wins. Finley wasn't always a bad fielder - he played well in Houston and in his first season in Arizona before settling in as a league average centerfielder - but his time in San Diego was horrid. Finley wouldn't have made it regardless, but it's a good example of how highlights and single plays can distort the big picture, and how statistics can help to ground us from that.

Kenny Lofton - Kenny Lofton made his major league debut for the Houston Astros on September 14th, 1991, leading off against the Cincinnati Reds. Batting 2nd for the Astros was Steve Finley, followed by Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell. Lofton would go 3-4 and the Astros would win, 7-3. Picking up the save in the game? Curt Schilling. All five of those players are on the Hall of Fame ballot this year, with all but Finley likely to garner their share of votes and a continued spot on the ballot. Is Lofton a Hall of Famer? I think he's close and could probably be persuaded, but I can't vote for him this year, and I wouldn't he heartbroken if he fell off the ballot so no sympathy vote either.

Fred McGriff - I've shrugged him off in the past, and continue to do so. Great first half of his career, mediocre second half. My main strike against McGriff is Mattingly - Mattingly's peak is similar to McGriff's, with more hardware (MVP, six All-Star games, five Gold Gloves to just two All-Star games), but McGriff maintained mediocre longevity, while Mattingly struggled with injury and ended up retiring early. Voting for McGriff becomes a vote for extended mediocrity - I'll pass.

Jack Morris - See my comments about Morris last year, because they haven't changed. Like Finley before using clouded judgement remembering great catches instead of overall performance (which stats reveal), Morris gets remembered as an ace because he pitches a great game 7 against Atlanta in the 1991 World Series. But, as Jon Bois reminded me in The Hall of Nearly Great (go buy it), if Lonnie Smith doesn't brainfart in 8th inning of that game, maybe Morris doesn't get nearly this much discussion and eventually inducted (as I assume he will).

Rafael Palmeiro - Rafael Palmeiro fit the profile of the typical baseball steroid user of the 90s - good hitter who lacked power initially at a position that required power, connections with the 90s Texas Rangers and Jose Canseco, and extended success into his late 30s with minimal (if any) statistical dropoff. Unlike other players that will come up later who fit this profile, however, Palmeiro actually failed a drug test as an active player for steroid use. Suspicion is one thing - actually failing the test is another. It's a shame too, because I think Palmeiro was probably a good enough of a hitter to have a long career and might have actually gotten to 3000 hits regardless, but there's no way to know that.

Sammy Sosa - Am I making steroid assumptions again? Sure. But Sosa did test positive, if the New York Times is to be believed, back in the 2003 "survey testing" MLB did (the results have never been released publicly by MLB). But Sosa, like McGwire, went from being a flawed power hitter to a suddenly unbeatable hitter. Playing regularly for the Cubs, Sosa had a breakout season in strike-shortened 1994, putting up a .300/.339/.545 line and hitting 25 home runs in 105 games. Sosa followed up with two similar seasons, but in 1997 - at age 28 - Sosa regresses by putting up a  .251/.300/.480 line, hitting four less home runs than the season before despite 153 more plate appearances. He does, however, lead the league in strikeouts, with 174.

Has Sosa plateaued? Have pitchers figured him out? Amazingly, the following season, Sosa hits 66 home runs, wins the NL MVP, raises his OPS 350 points, and captures the heart of corporate America enough to allow him to make a commercial that would haunt my dreams to this day. IT'S A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE.

Normalize his 1998-2003 stats to his 1994-1997 level, and he's not that special anymore. Sorry, can't do it. That, and the fact that Sammy's "it's so real" face in that commercial looks like the face he'd make if he saw a naked Don Zimmer in the middle of a human sacrifice ritual.

Jeff Bagwell
Craig Biggio
Barry Bonds
Roger Clemens
Steve Finley
Kenny Lofton
Edgar Martinez
Fred McGriff
Jack Morris
Rafael Palmeiro
Mike Piazza
Tim Raines
Curt Schilling
Sammy Sosa
Alan Trammell
Larry Walker

So that brings us to ten. If I were feeling generous, I would put all ten of them on my ballot and be done with it. And I almost did, but I just couldn't do it with one of them. Quickly (because this is really long and you probably haven't read this far):

Jeff Bagwell - Assuming Rafael Palmeiro didn't take PEDs during his career at all, he's got a good argument for the Hall of Fame, no? Bagwell, over the course of his career, has a WAR ten points higher than Palmeiro - in five less seasons. During Bagwell's career, only two players had a higher WAR than him - one is on this ballot as well, and the other is still active. The only reason he's not currently in the Hall is that some writers make assumptions based on the time that he played and his high numbers that he used PEDs. I'm willing to take that risk.

Craig Biggio - Played a lot of baseball, the majority of which at a high level. The 3000 hits should get him in, plus sportswriters love the "played his whole career for one team" thing. Like Barry Larkin before him, he won't get in on the first ballot, but he'll get in eventually, especially with voters likely looking for "safe picks" the next few ballots.

Barry Bonds - Yes, I went there. And yes, I think it's pretty obvious he was on something. But when? Bonds won his first MVP in 1990, and by the end of the 1993 season already had three MVP awards, one second place finish, and four Gold Gloves. "Game Of Shadows" would lead you to believe that Bonds began using PEDs in 1999 in response to the McGwire/Sosa home run showdown the previous season. Three MVPs, 411 home runs, .966 OPS, eight Gold Gloves, eight All-Star games to that point. If his career ended after the 1998 season, Barry Bonds is a Hall of Famer. To not vote for Bonds is to attempt to punish the player for the steroids, not because he wasn't good enough of a player. The players who I've left off for one reason or another because of PEDs - McGwire, Sosa, Palmeiro - these were players who went from flawed players to superstars. Bonds was already one of the five best players in the game, if not the best by the time he (allegedly) got involved with PEDs. I can't not vote for him.

Roger Clemens - I'm not a Clemens fan, and I know that he's pretty much in the same boat as Bonds in regards to PEDs. But like Bonds, Clemens was a top pitcher before he was associated with any kind of drugs - he has the highest WAR of any pitcher from 1984 to 1996 - his entire tenure with the Boston Red Sox. While Clemens had two outstanding seasons with Toronto in 1997 and 1998, his tenure with the Yankees after that were akin to his last few years with the Red Sox - better than league average, but not superstar level. Much like Bonds, I find it hard to not see withholding a vote for Clemens to be anything more than a punishment for steroid allegations. If anything, the inclusion of Bonds and Clemens in the Hall would be symbolic of the era in which they played. To ignore them is to pretend that 15-20 years of baseball never existed, which is insulting for something meant to be a historical tool to be used by future generations to learn about past eras of baseball.

Edgar Martinez - Edgar had two tragic flaws thrown at him, and I'm hoping he gets past both. Never given a starting role until he was 27, Edgar's fighting the whole "only a DH" thing now, which is as unfair. I "voted" for him last year and I'm sticking with that - in. You can see my reasoning in last year's article, but short version: wasn't a DH because he couldn't field, as good as/better hitter than Molitor, who followed a similar career path, complete with the DHing, and was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Mike Piazza - Another who should be a first-time Hall of Famer, but won't be because of assumptions, hearsay, and accusations. Excellent hitter through most of his career. Crappy catcher through most of his career. Still, 12-time All-Star, 5th highest WAR of any catcher in history - when you start talking about a player being in the top 10 of his position ALL-TIME, you think you should vote for him for the Hall of Fame.

Tim Raines - Voted for him last year, voting for him this year. Lofton was close, Raines is better than Lofton, so Raines is in.

Alan Trammell - I left Trammell off last year, mainly because I'm still bitter that Lou Whitaker only had one year on the ballot. It's easy to overshadow Trammell when Cal Ripken played in the same division in the same era, but Trammell's numbers aren't much different than Barry Larkin's, who no one seemed to have an issue with. Screw it - maybe it'll get Whitaker a closer look on the Veteran's Committee.

Larry Walker - Voted for Walker before, and I'll do it again here. I understand how in the past we might be able to look at Walker's numbers and chalk them up to his time in Colorado, but we have ways now to even out park factors and look at statistics on an equal level, and Walker still comes out at one of the most dangerous hitters of the 90s. Add to that fielding ability (7 Gold Gloves) and a MVP, and you should have someone up for Hall of Fame consideration. He gets my vote.

Which leaves the one of the final ten that didn't make it:

Curt Schilling - I almost did. I really almost did. I saw the 3000+ strikeouts and the awesome walk to strikeout ratio. I looked past the lack of wins (crappy Phillies teams) and saw the 130 ERA+ from the time he was a regular starter. I ignored the bloody sock and the lack of a Cy Young and looked at the three second-place finishes and felt for him having to pitch in the same time as Randy Johnson. Then I looked at pitcher WAR from 1992 (Schilling's first year as a starter) and 2007 (the end of his career), and I saw Johnson overshadowing him. And Greg Maddux. And Pedro Martinez. And Clemens. And I started thinking - all four of those guys get in, right? Then I look at the guys right under him: Mike Mussina, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. Would I vote those guys in over Schilling? Possibly. So then I start to wonder - how do I feel about voting in a pitcher to the Hall of Fame who would potentially rank 8th if I had to rank starting pitchers of that era? So I backed off - can't do it. I don't necessarily have a problem with those who would, but I can't do it.

Jeff Bagwell
Craig Biggio
Barry Bonds
Roger Clemens
Edgar Martinez
Mike Piazza
Tim Raines
Curt Schilling
Alan Trammell
Larry Walker

So that's it - there's my nine-player 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. I'm curious to see what happens with the actual voting - I don't think there's any way to call it this year.

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