Swinging For The Fences: Who should get into baseball’s Hall of Fame?

The Baseball Writers Association of America are currently debating who, if anyone, will make up the Hall of Fame class for 2010.  If you don’t now how this works, players are eligible for induction, having played at least 10 seasons in the majors, after they have been retired for five full years. Voters list 10 of the eligible players on their ballots that they believe deserve induction.  To remain on the ballot, anyone not elected must get mentioned on at least 5% of the ballots.  A player can stay on the ballot for 15 years without earning induction.  To get into the Hall, they must get votes on 75%  of the ballots.  It is possible that no one will get the requisite votes, and there would be no inductees for that year.

There are 27 currently eligible players, but a dozen of those hardly merit serious consideration.  This leaves 15 players who could make a case for inclusion in the Hall.  This year, there are no sure-fire locks for induction, leaving a vast and varied field, that could conceivably leave no one heading for the Hall.  I’m going to break down the fifteen players that I think could argue for a spot and list the 10 players I would put on my ballot, if I had a vote.

First, the five who I would have on the outside looking in:

Edgar Martinez, DH, Seattle Mariners- I’ve heard it said that Martinez will be a litmus test for the Designated Hitter getting elected, but I just don’t think his career numbers merit inclusion.  Unquestionably, he was a great hitter, winning two batting titles and his career .312 average is the best amongst the seriously eligible.  But because he was a DH for most of his career, I believe his offensive stats must meet a higher standard than he achieved to make up for the lack of consideration for defensive play.  Martinez had only 2247 hits, 309 home runs and 1261 RBIs.  Very good numbers to be sure, but not elite enough for the Hall, in my mind, especially for a heart-of-the-order hitter.  Martinez is also one of only four guys on this list to play their entire career for one team, an increasing rarity in today’s game, joining Alan Trammell, Barry Larkin and Don Mattingly.

Lee Smith, RP, Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, etc- Smith was a very good the excellent closer over his long career and has the third highest save total of anyone to ever play.  However, he wasn’t dominant enough consistently in my mind to get into the Hall.  Plus, when you consider the relative ease of earning a save in today’s game, his high total is more representative of longevity than greatness.  He averaged close to a strikeout  per inning for his career, but lost 21 more games than he won.  Smith was, indeed, a top flight closer but not quite elite enough to me.

Mark McGwire, 1B, Oakland Athletics, St. Louis Cardinals- First off, let me say that leaving McGwire off of my ballot has absolutely nothing to do with steroids.  He was a transcendent home run hitter, no doubt, but that’s about all he was.  He wasn’t a particularly great defensive first baseman and all of his stats other than home runs aren’t nearly Hall of Fame caliber.  He only totaled 1626 hits, 252 doubles and was a very mediocre .263 career hitter.  If we’re talking about 680 home runs, I might feel differently, but his total of 583 doesn’t compensate for his many other deficiencies.  To me, he was a slightly better version of Dave Kingman who was fortunate that his best seasons were at the end of his career.

Fred McGriff, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays, San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves, etc- I had a tough time leaving McGriff off my ballot, but I just couldn’t put him ahead of any of the others I chose.  McGriff’s stats are close, for a first baseman, but not quite there, in my mind.  Still, if he ever does get inducted, I wouldn’t argue.  He came up 7 home runs short of the benchmark 500, 10 hits short of 2500, but scored nearly 1350 runs and drove in 1550 RBIs, playing solid defense despite never earning a gold glove and hitting a respectable but not fantastic .284 for his career.  He’s  close, in my mind, but not quite there.

Alan Trammell, SS, Detroit Tigers- This was a tough call for the 10th spot on my ballot between two similar players; Trammell and Barry Larkin.  Trammell was the face of Detroit Tigers baseball for the entire decade of the ’80s, and should have won the league MVP in 1987 when it went to Toronto’s George Bell.  Playing shortstop,  a position more historically revered for defense than offense, Trammell’s career numbers don’t quite reach muster for general Hall of Fame acceptance, but are more than adequate for his position.  Where he suffers a bit, in my mind, is playing at a time when Cal Ripken Jr. was redefining the position into an offensive force, which has led to the many great hitting shortstops of the past decade.  Still, Trammell was a very good hitter, an excellent fielder (he won 4 gold gloves) and a Hall-caliber player.  Just not quite as good as Larkin.

So that leaves the 10 guys I would vote for out of this year’s pool.  Of the 10, only Larkin and Roberto Alomar are first time players.  I’ve also listed these guys in order from 1-10, although that doesn’t make any difference on the actual ballots.  A vote is a vote, regardless of positioning.

10.  Barry Larkin, SS, Cincinnati Reds- As I said, I think Larkin was a sightly better player than Trammell at the same position, which is why I chose him.  He was a better hitter (.295 career), stole more bases, had more runs, doubles and home runs, plus he actually won an MVP in 1995.  In addition, despite only winning 3 gold gloves, I believe Larkin was superior to Trammell defensively.  Larkin was the anchor of the Reds for more than a decade, was a 12-time all star and helped Cincinnati win a World Series in the 1990 upset of the vaunted Bash Brothers of the Oakland A’s.  That gets him in, in my mind.

9.  Harold Baines, OF-DH, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics, etc- I think that Baines is probably more of a test of the DH than Edgar Martinez, mostly because his career numbers were helped along greatly by being able to DH for the last few seasons.  His numbers don’t quite reach the historical bench marks, finishing with 2866 hits and 384 home runs, and Baines never had the dominant individual seasons that Hall voters love, but he was consistently excellent over a long period of time.  I believe, especially in a class lacking obvious selections, Baines should get on a lot of ballots.

8.  Dale Murphy, OF, Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, etc- Murphy, like Don Mattingly, is a case of a player who didn’t have the career longevity but was dominant enough in his prime to merit inclusion.  Between 1982 and 1987, Murphy (with apologies to Mike Schmidt) was the best player in the National League, winning two MVP awards in 1982 and 1983 while playing for some very bad Braves teams.  He came up to the majors as a catcher, which may account for his shortened career, but was quickly made into an excellent outfielder.  He won 5 gold gloves as well as his offensive accomplishments.  Had he been able to play longer, his career numbers would easily merit Hall induction, but as it is, his period of dominance, nearly 400 home runs, 1200 runs scored and 1266 RBIs are good enough for me.

7.  Tim Raines, OF, Montreal Expos, Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, etc- Raines was an exceptional hitter, especially early in his career with the Expos.  He is fifth on the all-time steals list with 808, and also brought a little pop to go with that speed.  Raines was a career .294 hitter who won a batting title in 1986, scored 1571 runs, had 2605 hits and 430 doubles to go with 170 home runs, often as a lead off man.  He finally won a world series with the Yankees in 1996, and was a 7 time all star before lingering around the league far past his prime.  Those last few seasons may hurt our recollections of Raines, but in my mind, he was one of the great lead off men of his time and a very dangerous hitter during his prime years.  Raines should be in the Hall.

6.  Don Mattingly, 1B, New York Yankees- Donnie Baseball was on track to be one of the all-time greats before back injuries sapped much of his power stroke, and his ability to stay on the field.  Unlike guys like Sandy Koufax and Kirby Puckett, who’s careers were suddenly cut short by injuries, Mattingly came back and tried to play through his, and the resulting mediocre seasons have tarnished the dominant force he was during the ’80s.  In fact, his career numbers are pretty similar to Puckett, who was inducted in 2001 after being forced to retire due to glaucoma.  Mattingly won an MVP in 1985, a batting title and finished up as a career .307 hitter despite several less than fantastic years at the end of his career.  Mattingly never played in the post season until his final year of 1995, so we never got to see him in the prime spotlight.  Still, in a five game series loss to Seattle that year, Mattingly hit .417 with 10 hits, 4 doubles, a home run and 6 RBIs, making the most of his only playoff chance.  In addition to his offensive brilliance during his prime, Mattingly was the best defensive first baseman in the game, totaling 9 gold gloves before he retired.  While the lack of stellar career numbers hurts his candidacy, I believe that the injury problems that didn’t keep out Koufax or Puckett shouldn’t keep out Don Mattingly, either.  He belongs in the Hall of Fame.

5.  Jack Morris, SP, Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins, Toronto Blue Jays, etc- Morris is an interesting case.  He’s a pitcher who’s career numbers don’t really tell the whole story.  Even at that, he won 254 games and struck out nearly 2500 hitters.  But what cements his inclusion to me is his World Series success.  He won three championships for three different teams, but it’s his first two, for Detroit and Minnesota, that really stand out.  Combined, he was 4-0 in those series with a combined ERA well under 2.00.  He was the winning pitcher in the insane 1-0 game seven win over John Smoltz and the Atlanta Braves in 1991, throwing 10 innings of shutout ball for the win.  He was even named World Series MVP that year.  Morris may not have been unhittable over his career (a lifetime 3.90 ERA attests to that) but he was an exceptional big game pitcher, and to me, he deserves to be in.

4.  Dave Parker, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, Oakland Athletics, etc- Parker’s career numbers may not be eye-popping, but he was a 7 time all star, 2 time batting champion and a league MVP in 1978 with the Pirates.  He was a huge reason why the Pirates were able to upset the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles in the 1979 World Series.  Parker went on to have excellent years with the Reds and A’s to finish his career with 2712 hits, 526 doubles, 339 home runs and nearly 1500 RBIs.  Parker was a feared hitter during much of his career, and like many on this list, his lower career numbers are more of a testament to playing during baseball’s modern-era dead ball period between the late ’70s and early ’90s than any deficiency on his part.  That didn’t stop Jim Rice from finally getting elected last year, and it shouldn’t stop Parker, either.

3.  Andre Dawson, OF, Montreal Expos, Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, etc- Dawson was as good with the glove as he was with the bat, and he was pretty damned good with the bat.  He won 8 gold gloves during the course of his career, was an 8 time all star and won the National League MVP award in 1987 for a last place Cubs team.  Only he and Alex Rodriguez, with Texas in 1993, have ever done that.  Dawson was an exceptional combination of speed and power, particularly early in his career.  While he wasn’t a great pure hitter (.279 lifetime average) he finished up nearing 1400 runs scored, had 2774 hits, more than 500 doubles, 438 home runs and nearly 1600 RBIs.  Throw in his numerous gold gloves and, in my mind, Dawson is a Hall of Famer.

2.  Roberto Alomar, 2B, San Diego Padres, Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, etc- Of all the first-time candidates on the ballot this year, Alomar is hands-down the most Hall-worthy.  In my mind, he was simply the best second baseman of his era, if not any era.  He combined moderate power, speed, excellent contact hitting and exceptional defense in a way that no one else did.  Over the course of his career, he was a 12 time all star, a 10 time gold glove winner, and was the 1992 ALCS MVP helping Toronto toward a championship that season.  His range at second base was unmatched by his peers, and he would routinely make spectacular plays on balls virtually no one else could have even gotten to.  His career stats, for a second baseman, are easily Hall-worthy, finishing up as a .300 hitter, with over 1500 runs scored, 2724 hits, 1124 RBIs, over 500 doubles and 478 steals.  If just one guy from this list makes it this year, I wouldn’t argue if that guy was Alomar.

1.  Bert Blyleven, SP, Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians, etc- That being said, it would be a joke if Blyleven isn’t also inducted this year, especially considering the relatively open nature of the field.  In fact, I’ve long felt that Blyleven’s omission from the Hall was a black mark on the process and those who vote for it.  There is simply no excuse for him not to be voted in this year.  Just a few numbers; 287 wins (many of them on bad teams) 14th all time in innings pitched with nearly 5000 yet a career ERA of 3.31.  He’s fifth all time in strikeouts with over 3700, ninth all time in shutouts with 60 and has “only” 242 complete games.  We’ll soon be seeing pitchers elected into the Hall with 10 times fewer complete games.  Simply put, Blyleven was an exceptional pitcher for a long time but because he played for lesser franchises far out of the spotlight, most of the voters apparently don’t recall how good he really was.  He only reached the post season three times in his career, but he was 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA during those series, which led to two championships– one with the Pirates in 1979 and one with the Twins in 1987–both teams heavy underdogs at the time.  Blyleven is reaching the end of his eligibility to remain on the ballot.  This is his 13th year, and by far the most promising.  Fortunately for him, if by some freak chance he doesn’t make it this year, the next two seasons also offer weak incoming classes with only Rafael Palmiero as an obvious Hall-caliber player, and who knows how the steroid thing will affect his candidacy?  Hopefully, good sense will prevail and Blyleven will finally get his long-awaited and much deserved spot in Cooperstown.

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