Please do not be alarmed. Nobody has been foolish enough to actually entrust yours truly with a vote that actually helps determine who gets enshrined in Cooperstown and who does not. Not even Charlie Sheen has ideas that bad. However, the members of the BBA have been asked to participate in an interesting project. We’re casting our own HOF ballots and explaining our selections. It’s that last part that makes us a lot different than many of the people who cast the official ballots that actually count, because we’re actually going to give some reasonable (and unreasonable) explanations. Fortunately for us, PH8 himself has already cast an “official” ballot at the BBA site for us, so I’m just throwing my opinion out for you all to lambast.
It’s actually the Baseball Writers of America Association that casts the official ballots, and a player’s name must appear on 75% of the ballots for the player to be elected. A player’s name may appear on the ballot for up to 15 years without successful election before it is removed from the ballot. At that point, the player’s last hope basically lies with what is known as the “Veteran’s Committee”. We’ll see if the members of the BBA are as unforgiving as the BBWAA (insert evil laugh here).
I’ll be really clear about what I consider HOF worthy. I’m looking for either sustained excellence or players who were truly undervalued/underappreciated by some statistical measures during their times but are now seen in a different light. I’m not especially enamored with individual awards, unless it’s obvious that the player had the statistics to back up the award selections. For example, Votto’s 2010 MVP award carries more cachet with me than Larkin’s MVP award does. FYI – Larkin won in 1995 with a line of .319/.394/.492/.886, 98 runs scored, 15 hr, 66 rbi, and 51 stolen bases. His WAR that year? 5.9. His teammate that year, Reggie Sanders, had a line of .306/.397/.579/.975, 91 runs scored, 28 hr, 99 rbi, and 36 stolen bases. Sanders’ WAR that year? 6.7. You tell me who the real MVP was that year on that team.
Jeff Bagwell – Career line of .297/.408/.540/.948 is a thing of beauty by itself, but the 1529 rbi and 449 hrs in just 15 seasons puts him over the top. Even more impressive is that he compiled a career 79.9 WAR, and he barely played in his last season (39 games), so he really did most of his damage in 14 seasons. The ROY award, MVP award, 4 All-Star selections, 1 Gold Glove, and 3 Silver Sluggers are really nice, but the man played 1B at basically an All-Star level for an entire career. If that’s not sustained excellence, then I’m not sure I know what is.
Larry Walker – If you like Bagwell’s career line, then Walker’s line of .313/.400/.565/.965 is even nicer to look at. The MVP award, 5 All-Star appearances, 7 Gold Glove awards, and 3 Silver Slugger awards probably aren’t too bad, either. I understand that some people will want to penalize Walker for the “Coor’s Effect”, but there’s a limit to that penalty. When Walker hit .379 in 1999, he hit .345 versus lefties and .395 versus righties. He hit .513 for the month of September. He hit .420 with runners in scoring position. He could’ve hit a small balloon out of the bottom of a drained out swimming pool with the wind blowing in. He hit .289 as a 38 year-old in St. Louis, so the man could rake.
Roberto Alomar – Imagine for a second that your favorite team has a second baseman who hits .300, plays Gold Glove defense, and makes the All-Star team every year in his prime. Oh, and imagine that same guy having the patience at the plate to draw 50-60 walks a season. He’s also got enough power to hit 15-20 hr/yr, and he can steal 40 bases or so each season. Did I mention that he’s clutch in the posteason? Alomar was good for .300/.371/.443/.814 in the regular season and upped it to .313/.381/.448/.829 in 58 playoff games. He made 12 consecutive All-Star teams, won 10 Gold Glove awards, and found time to collect 4 Silver Sluggers as well. Goodness only knows where he found the energy to steal 474 bases and hit 210 home runs among his 2724 career hits.
Rafael Palmeiro – Just forget the .288/.371/.515/.885 career line and focus on two numbers – 3020 and 569. That’s 3020 hits and 569 home runs. Unless someone takes 25 years to reach 3000 hits, I’m probably giving them the nod just for reaching that mark. Of course, Palmeiro’s case is unique, because a Google search for “Rafael Palmeiro steroids” returns about 44,500 results. My thoughts on the “steroid era” deserve a completely separate blog piece, but I can best sum them up with the old idiom “in for a penny, in for a pound”. Since we’ll probably never know all the different “truths” regarding who did what with which version of “B-12″, I think it best to simply apply the same rule to all who may be “tainted”. Give them an evil glare, don’t vote them in right away, but acknowledge their accomplishments eventually. Quite simply, you don’t know what happened, and you never will.
Bert Blyleven – Career record of 287-250 and a 3.31 era with 3701 strikeouts. Career WAR of 87.6 in 22 seasons. He’s 27th on the all-time wins list, and he probably should be in the top 10. Why? Consider some of his hard luck years. In 1971, he went 16-15 with a 2.81 era in 38 starts with 5 shutouts and 224 strikeouts. He backed that up in 1972 by going 17-17 with a 2.73 era and 228 strikeouts. To get his only 20 win season, he had to dig really deep and hit a career low season era of 2.52 with 258 strikeouts. When people say that they don’t remember Blyleven as being a dominant pitcher, it’s probably because they don’t remember seeing Blyleven before he reached his late 20′s. Want a good comparable for Blyleven? Try Tom Glavine. Yes, THAT Tom Glavine. Both pitched 22 seasons, but Glavine finished 305-203 with a 3.54 era and 2607 strikeouts. It’s amazing what a difference a supporting cast can make.
Edgar Martinez – Edgar’s career line of .312/.418/.515/.933, 7 All-Star appearances, and 5 Silver Sluggers are about the extent of his resume. His 2247 career hits are fairly impressive, except that only 309 are home runs. His career 67.2 WAR in 18 seasons doesn’t impress, and he doesn’t have much of a postseason resume to fall back on, either. If you like the DH, then he makes a reasonably strong case, but I just don’t see him getting there right away.
Fred McGriff – His .284/.377/.509/.886 line won’t open any doors, but his career 493 home runs and 2490 hits just might. The oddity is that I think another 7 home runs and 10 hits would have made him almost an automatic for induction. There’s just something about those nice “round” numbers that the voters seem to like. The one number that I don’t like, though is 50.5 which is McGriff’s career WAR. That’s awfully low for someone who played 19 seasons, even if he did play in 5 All-Star games and win 4 Silver Sluggers.
Barry Larkin – Larkin’s career line of .295/.371/.444/.815 looks an awful lot like Alomar’s line. Barry didn’t steal quite as many bases (379 versus 474), hit quite as many hrs (198 versus 210), or have as many career hits (2340 versus 2724). On the other hand, Barry did make 11 All-Star teams, won 3 Gold Gloves, 9 Silver Sluggers, and 1 MVP award. He also had the misfortune of playing a good bit of his career in the defensive shadow of Ozzie Smith, so nobody was just going to toss a Gold Glove his way until a good bit after he was worthy of one. So, why vote for Alomar and not Larkin? I actually always considered Barry a bit overrated defensively, and it turns out that maybe there was something to that. His career dWAR is 2.3 (compared to 4.1 for Brendan Ryan). Take away the overrated defense, and he’s just not quite there in my opinion, although I think it likely that he’ll gain traction with voters over the next few years.
Tim Raines – How does someone with a line of .294/.385/.425/.810, 808 stolen bases and 2605 career hits not qualify as an “automatic”? A total of 64.6 WAR in 22 seasons might have something to do with that. He made 7 All-Star teams and won 1 Silver Slugger early in his career, but he didn’t receive any individual acclaim after his age 27 season. I don’t hold that against Raines, but it does happen to coincide with the last extremely productive season of his career. He did have a renaissance year in 1992 for the White Sox, but that was the only year after his age 27 season in which he exceeded a WAR value of 4.0.
Mark McGwire – McGwire’s career line of .263/.394/.588/.982 obviously doesn’t do him justice. It’s all about his 12 stolen bases. No, it’s not. Okay, it’s really all about his 583 home runs, 13 All-Star selections, 3 Silver Sluggers, 1 Gold Glove, and his ROY award. It’s all about 1317 walks and 150 intentional passes. Somewhere in all of that are the hidden “unintentional intentional” walks from pitchers who just didn’t want to be another notch on the bat. It’s probably his career WAR of 63.1 in 16 seasons that keeps from pushing McGwire into the “yes” column, but that may change someday. I’ve talked to a lot of people who compare him to Harmon Killebrew, and Killebrew made it in with a 61.1 WAR in 22 seasons.
I watched most of the careers of guys like Mattingly (39.8 WAR in 14 seasons) and Morris (254-186, 3.90 era), so I naturally favor them, but I’ve just got to say “no”. Even as a new fan, I recognized the difference between “really good” and “great”, and I never viewed either one as “great” for any significant length of time.
TIDBITS: The 33 players listed on the 2011 ballot are: Bert Blyleven, Roberto Alomar, Jack Morris, Barry Larkin, Lee Smith, Edgar Martinez, Tim Raines, Mark McGwire, Alan Trammell, Fred McGriff, Don Mattingly, Dave Parker, Harold Baines, Rafael Palmeiro, Jeff Bagwell, Juan Gonzalez, Larry Walker, Tino Martinez, Raul Mondesi, John Olerud, Bret Boone, Marquis Grissom, Benito Santiago, B. J. Surhoff, Bobby Higginson, Charles Johnson, Carlos Baerga, Lenny Harris, Kevin Brown, John Franco, Al Leiter, and Kirk Rueter.
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