Hall of Fame Eve

Jeff SummersCorrespondent IJanuary 9, 2012

In just a few short hours Major League Baseball will announce the Baseball Hall of Fame 2012 class. One name is already known that being Ron Santos who was posthumously elected by the veteran’s committee. It is unfortunate that Santos was not elected earlier to enjoy this richly deserved honor for a lifetime of work in baseball. Sometimes it seems that tragedy is the catalyst for change.

For the most part this year’s Hall of Fame class is lacking a big name first ballot persona. Those who will be listed for the first time on the ballot include: Bernie Williams, Vinny Castilla, Javy Lopez, Ruben Sierra, Jeromy Burnitz, Tim Salmon, Tony Womack, Phil Nevin, Brian Jordan, Erick Young, Bill Mueller, Terry Mulholland, and Brad Radke.

Two of those names should look familiar to Arizona Diamondbacks fans. Tony Womack was in integral part of the Diamondbacks success during their World Series championship in 2001. Everyone remembers the Luis Gonzalez bloop single to win Game 7 over the New York Yankees but somehow lost is the crucial hit Womack got to keep the inning alive and allow Gonzalez an opportunity to bat.

Despite the heroics and fond memories Diamondbacks may have for Womack, his induction into the Hall of Fame seems remote at best. We will have to be content to remember him and his accomplishments locally.

The other name that is familiar to Diamondbacks fans is Eric Young. While Young was never a player for the Diamondbacks during his career, he is now the first base coach for the club and was instrumental in helping the 2011 Diamondbacks come from a last place finish the year before to winning the National League Western Division. While Young had an illustrious career it seems unlikely that he will garner the votes necessary for induction.

No, the most likely inductees will probably come from those players who return to the ballot from years past. Of those two are at the top of my list with a third that is a sentimental favorite that I pine for every year when he does not garner the amount of votes that I feel he deserves.

In my estimation the one player who has likely the best chance of being voted in by the Baseball Writers in 2011 is Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin. This is the third year Larkin is on the ballot and he has steadily improved his chances each year. This last sentence is always a strange thing for me to type. None of these players on the ballot have done anything on the field from year to year yet the number of votes they receive fluctuates leaving you to wonder, did the writers not do their due diligence the year before or what changed their mind that a player is worthy being in the Hall of Fame this year versus last year.

Larkin garnered 51.6% in his first year of eligibility in 2010 and saw his total jump to 62.1% last year leaving him just short of the 75% needed for induction. With the relatively sparse list of first year candidates the writers may see Larkin more favorably. Quite honestly, it is hard to believe Larkin is not already in the Hall of Fame. During the era in which he played he was perhaps the most dominant shortstop to ever play. His defense ranked up there very closely with Ozzie Smith but Larkin hit for power and average making him much more valuable. He would definitely get my vote.

The other returning player who I think deserves induction is outfielder Time Raines. Raines was one of those players who completely disrupted the game whenever he was on base. His speed and his ability to steal bases continually put pressure on teams to try and defend otherwise a walk would soon turn into Raines being on third base with two quick steals. His running efficiency rating put him at the top and in many cases you could argue that Raines running game was more valuable than Ricky Henderson. Henderson had more total steals but Raines seemed to run at the right moment to give his team the advantage. It is therefore perplexing to see Raines vote total be only 37.5% in 2011, which was up from 30.4% in 2010. Hopefully this year the writers will look more closely at the numbers and give Raines the support he deserves.

No Hall of Fame post would be complete without me pleading once again for writers to consider Dale Murphy. Murphy was one of those guys who quietly went about his business but in his prime he was so dominant that teams would develop game plans just so Murphy would not beat them. During his career statisticians used Murphy as the measuring stick to compare all players.

I don’t think anyone doubts how dominating Murphy was during his peak. The problem becomes one of longevity. According to writers I’ve talked to, Murphy just did not sustain his domination for a long enough period of time. Some of this may have been attributed to physical breakdown. Murphy’s career ended just as the steroid era began and while I have no proof, part of me wonders whether players at that cusp are being somehow downgraded because those who were tainted were putting up monster numbers compared to those who were clean at that time.

Regardless of the reasoning it is doubtful that Murphy will increase his voting percentage from 12.6% last year to the needed 75%. At this point my hope is that his total increases and keeps him on the ballot one more year, which will be the 15th year he was eligible. I may have to be content knowing that Murphy went the distance and was respected in the game to keep him on the ballot.

Like many others I will be glued to the television as Major League Baseball unveils the Hall of Fame class of 2012. For some individuals this day will be the culmination of a lifetime of work. For baseball fans it will be a reminder of great people and great moments in the game.