In one week, we will find out who the National Baseball Hall Of Fame will induct into their 2009 class.
In the smallest ballot ever, consisting of just 23 candidates (13 returnees, 10 first-timers), we will likely see a couple guys that have been on the ballot finally get in. The only question is, "Who?"
What I'm about to write is my ballot, if I were to have a vote.
I'm not going to spend much time on most of the first years, as they're pretty obvious, one way or another.
It goes without saying that Rickey Henderson is in, I don't really need to state his case. 1406 steals, 3055 hits, 2295 runs, 297 home runs, 2190 walks, .401 lifetime on base percentage, the list goes on and on. The greatest lead-off hitter of all time gets mine (and pretty much everyone else's vote), and we should be expecting what will likely be the most entertaining acceptance speech in Hall Of Fame history.
After that, is where the discussion starts.
As for the other first years, Jay Bell, David Cone, Ron Gant, Jesse Orosco, Dan Plesac, Greg Vaughn, and Mo Vaughn were all pretty good players, but in no way Hall of Famers.
Matt Williams would get a vote for me. If you look at the balloting every year, a lot of sportswriters will their extra votes, not because they deserve it, but because they particularly liked that player, and it's their way of giving props to someone. So on my fictional ballot, I'm doing this for Matt Williams, someone who I saw play so many times in Candlestick growing up a Giants fan.
That leaves one more first year, and that's Mark Grace. This is definitely a tough one.
The numbers he accumulated over the course of his career may suggest a Hall of Famer. Offensively, he retired with 2,445 hits with a lifetime batting average of .301. He collected 1,754 hits in the 1990's, more than any player. The only other player to lead a decade in hits and not go on to the Hall of Fame is Pete Rose.
Defensively, he was also one of the best first basemen during the 1990's winning four Gold Glove awards.
However, Grace was never a top-notch player. He only topped .900 in OPS one time in his career (1995) and was only in the top 10 twice. Never finishing in the top 12 in MVP voting, and only being a three-time All Star, does not ring Hall of Famer.
On top of that, first base is a power position, and Grace never had more than 17 home runs in a season, and only notched a slugging percentage above .500 once, in 1995 where his .516 was ranked 10th in the league, the only time his slugging percentage crack the top ten.
In the end, Grace may be an eventual Hall of Famer, but there are numerous players on this year's ballot who are just as valid and have been on the ballot a lot longer, so I'd rather give me vote to them.
Mark Grace a "no" for me.
That leaves the 13 carryovers from last year's ballot (talked about in alphabetical order).
Harold Baines was a great player, and his 2866 hits and 384 home runs would be Hall of Fame worthy, but since he played most of his career as a DH, it's not enough.
I cannot see why Bert Blyleven isn't in the Hall of Fame. You cannot deny his 287 wins, 3701 strikeouts (fifth all-time), 242 complete games, and 60 shutouts (ninth all-time). I don't care if he only got those numbers by sticking around long enough to accumulate them they are still Hall of Fame numbers.
Andre Dawson should have been first ballot. A true five-star player, I used to think that there's no way they could keep him out. At the time of his original eligibility in 2002, he was one of three players in the 300-300-2000 club (300 hits, 300 homers, 2000 steals), along with Barry Bonds and Willie Mays, the two greatest players to ever play the game. Throw in the eight Gold Glove awards, the eight all-star appearances, Rookie of the Year, MVP along with two-time MVP runner up. How can you dispute those accomplishments as being Hall of Fame worthy?
Yeah, Tommy John was a great story, and his comeback from a revolutionary procedure called ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction causing it to be named after him is a pretty cool thing. But in no way does it make him a Hall of Famer.
Don Mattingly was destined for greatness. From a 23-year-old in 1984 up until 1987, he was consistently one of the best hitters in baseball, making the All Star team every year up until 1989, the top year being his 1985 MVP campaign. On top of all that, he was the best defensive first baseman in baseball and the most popular Yankee since Mickey Mantle.
Then he started to suffer from back problems, and even though he could still field, his bat began to deteriorate, forcing him to retire following the 1995 season at the age of 34.
Regardless, his combination of offense and being arguably the greatest defensive first baseman of all time gets him in.
Following the 2001 season, everyone was talking about how great the 2007 Hall of Fame class would be, with Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn, Rickey Henderson, and Mark McGwire. However, the Rickey wound up playing an extra two more years, while the fans and the media went from protecting McGwire to turning on him.
McGwire's a much different case than Bonds. McGwire allegedly used steroids his entire career, while Bonds was the best in baseball. McGwire had a power swing that relied on strength, while Bonds had a finesse swing that relies on technique. McGwire pretty much built his entire career around his homers, while Bonds is still a Hall of Famer even if you ignore his 762 homers.
On top of all that, McGwire and his bash brother Jose Canseco were mainly responsible for bringing steroids into baseball, so you can punish him just for that by next electing him to the Hall of Fame.
That being said, at the time, it wasn't against the rules and the majority of players were doing it. What happens, if say, Cal Ripken or someone else that's in the Hall is exposed as someone that uses steroids? Do we take him out, or just start ignoring it?
That's why I'd vote for Big Mac.
Jack Morris has his four World Series titles with three teams and his famous clutch post-season pitching performances, but in the end, is that really enough? In some ways, he was always lucky enough to be with really good teams, and his regular season numbers don't say Hall of Famer to me, so he's out.
Dale Murphy was a decent player, but had extremely underwhelming numbers for the Hall of Fame to the point where he doesn't really belong with the other returning candidates, let alone those enshrined in Cooperstown. And even though Dave Parker did have a better career than Murphy, the same can be said for him.
While Tim Raines is no Rickey Henderson, he's still one of the best lead-off hitters ever. His 808 steals, 2605 hits, and .385 OBP over a 23-year career along with seven all star appearances earns him a place in Cooperstown.
Jim Rice is probably the toughest choice. His 2,452 hits, 382 homers, .298 BA, .352 OBP, and .502 SLG along with eight All Star appearances and an MVP award puts him right on the bubble, as he's been for years. With this being his final year of eligibility on the BBWAA ballot, I'd vote for him to go in.
Sometimes, you have to look at precedent in determining your voting (something that seems foreign to the Baseball Writers Association of America members if you look at their inconsistencies with the annual award and Hall of Fame voting, but I digress). I wouldn't put Lee Smith in, especially after having his save record obliterated by Trevor Hoffman, but after Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter getting inducted in recent years, I would put in Smith as well.
Lastly, that brings me to Alan Trammell. Had this been in his early years of eligibility, I would have voted for him considering that he's at least as deserving as Ozzie Smith, who was in the same class of first ballot candidates back in 2002. However, the further we are removed from that, the less inclined I am to vote for him, so it's a no.
In summary, this would be my ballot: