2011 Baseball Hall of Fame Voting: Jeff Bagwell and Top 1st-Year Candidates

Dmitriy Ioselevich@dioselevSenior Analyst IIIJanuary 5, 2011

2011 Baseball Hall of Fame Voting: Jeff Bagwell and Top 1st-Year Candidates

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    Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven were voted into the Hall of Fame today, while Jeff Bagwell fell just short with only 41.7 percent of the vote.

    Players rarely make it into the Hall of Fame their first time on the ballot, some needing up to all 15 years of eligibility to get in (like Jim Rice). But that doesn't mean they are any less deserving of the honor.

    A total of 19 players made their first appearances on the Hall of Fame ballot this year, including such former stars as Raul Mondesi, Bret Boone and B.J. Surhoff. But only four of them got enough votes (at least five percent) to be back on the ballot next year.

    Here's a look at those players. 

1. Jeff Bagwell (41.7%)

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    Bagwell got the sixth-most votes of anyone on the ballot and it's easy to see why. The longtime Astros first baseman spent 15 seasons in Houston and was one of the best hitters in the game throughout his career.

    He was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1991 after batting .294 and hitting 15 home runs with an .824 OPS at the tender age of 23. He finished in the top 10 in MVP voting a remarkable 10 times, and was the unanimous selection in 1994 after batting .368 and slugging .750 (not a typo).

    In only 110 games during the strike-shortened 1994 season, Bagwell mashed 73 extra-base hits and even won a Gold Glove. He's been an All-Star four times in his career and won three Silver Slugger awards.

    Bagwell played less than most players of his era, but his career numbers still rank among the best in baseball history. He hit 449 career home runs (34th all-time) and slugged .540 (35th all-time) while stealing 202 bases. He was walked an incredible 1,401 times, 27th most in baseball history. His .948 career OPS was 21st all-time and he was among the best defensive first basemen ever. 

    Bagwell retired at the age of only 37 in 2006 because of arthritis in his shoulder. 

Why He Didn't Get In

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    There are relatively few Hall of Famers who only played 15 major league seasons, and Bagwell's lack of longevity definitely hurt him. Had he played two or three more seasons, he almost certainly would have finished his career with 500 home runs and 500 doubles.

    Voters will eventually realize how well Bagwell stacks up against other first basemen of his time. He will get in to the Hall of Fame in a year or two.

2. Larry Walker (20.3%)

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    Walker was one of the most dangerous players in baseball for a long time. Don't let the 10 years in Colorado fool you—this guy could flat-out rake.

    Walker broke into the majors in 1989 with the Montreal Expos and proceeded to establish himself as one of the game's premier power threats. He was an All-Star five times, and a Silver Slugger Award winner three times.

    He was also one of the best outfielders in all of baseball, winning the Gold Glove seven times. Walker, a true five-tool talent, finished in the top 20 in MVP voting seven times. He was MVP in 1997, at the age of 30, after hitting .366/.452/.720 and launching 49 home runs and 46 doubles. 

    Walker's career line of .313/.400/.565 rivals that of any player in major league history. He only finished with 383 career home runs and 2,160 hits, but he did have 17 terrific seasons. His .965 career OPS ranks him 16th all-time.

    He helped lead the Cardinals to a World Series in 2004, during which he batted .293 and hit six home runs, and is already a member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. 

Why He Didn't Get In

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    Walker's career numbers aren't all that impressive when you look at them on the surface. Only 383 career home runs for one of the game's supposed best power hitters, and only one season with at least 200 hits. The fact that he spent most of his career in Montreal and Colorado, two teams that couldn't even spell playoffs, didn't help his case, either.

    But he won three batting titles and was as consistent a major league hitter as you could want. He had six seasons with an OPS over 1.000 and even stole 230 career bases. Five-tool talents like Walker are extremely rare, and there may not have been a better all-around player over the last two decades other than Barry Bonds.

    That realization will likely keep Walker on the ballot for a few more years, but it's difficult to see him ever getting in to the Hall of Fame—the American one, anyway. 

3. Rafael Palmeiro (11.0%)

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    Palmeiro had 20 outstanding major league seasons, spending time in Chicago, Baltimore and Texas during various points of his career. He played until he was 40 years old and never stopped producing.

    The four-time All-Star was sometimes lost in the shadow of other great first basemen of his time (Jeff Bagwell, Todd Helton, Jim Thome, Carlos Delgado, Jason Giambi), but his career accomplishments might outrank his contemporaries.

    He finished in the top 20 of MVP voting a total of 10 times and added three Gold Gloves in the later part of his career. His 569 career home runs put him 12th all-time and his 1,835 RBI puts him 15th. He was without a doubt one of the best run producers of all time, and 1,192 extra-base hits rank him eighth all time.

    He finished with 10 seasons of at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI, and of course collected over 3,000 hits.

    He only made it to the playoffs three times, and never made it past the ALCS.

Why He Didn't Get In

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    Palmeiro's career line of .288/.371/.515 is not all that impressive considering the type of players he's going up against. But that's not the real reason Palmeiro only got 64 votes.

    In 2005, Jose Canseco identified Palmeiro as a steroid user in his book, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big. Then Palmeiro one-upped his former teammate by first lying to Congress about his steroid use and then testing positive for a steroid.

    The voters seem to have already spoken about Palmeiro's candidacy for the Hall of Fame, and that answer sounds like a resounding "no." The only way Palmeiro gets in at this point is if the voters get bored during an especially poor year, and the 44-year-old from Cuba gets extra special attention.

4. Juan Gonzalez (5.2%)

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    Gonzalez was one of the scariest hitters in baseball for about a 10-year period in the 1990s and into the early part of the next decade. The three-time All-Star finished in the top 20 in MVP voting seven times and won it twice, first in 1996 and then in 1998. He also added six Silver Slugger Awards during his 17-year career.

    Gonzalez topped 40 home runs in a season five times and finished his career with 434 bombs, 39th all-time. He was regularly among the highest-slugging players in the AL and finished with a career .561 slugging percentage, good for 18th all-time. He also batted .295 in his lifetime and finished with just under 2,000 hits. 

    Gonzalez appeared in the postseason four times and hit eight home runs despite never making it past the first round. 

Why He Didn't Get In

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    If voters were just to look at Gonzalez's career from 1991 to 2001, then he would be a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. But unfortunately, his other six major league seasons were average at best and saw Gonzalez play in a total of only 235 games.

    He was never good defensively and didn't have any speed. There are also questions surrounding whether Gonzalez used performance-enhancing drugs, especially considering that his best seasons came before baseball instituted a drug-testing policy.

    It's almost surprising that Gonzalez got enough votes to stay on the ballot, considering his career numbers are nowhere near Hall-worthy. It'd be a shock to see voters still debating his merits past 2012.

Honorable Mention

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    Kevin Brown: The right-hander spent 19 seasons terrorizing hitters in both leagues, and was, for a time, one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. The fact that he never won a Cy Young definitely hurt his chances of getting in to the Hall of Fame, but he did finish in the top six in voting on an impressive five teams and has a career record of 211-144.

    John Franco: Franco just missed the cut for staying on the ballot by two votes, and it's disappointing to see him fade away into the past. The longtime Met is one of the best closers in baseball history and ranks fourth all-time with 424 career saves. He was a two-time Rolaids Relief winner as the best reliever in baseball and finished with a 2.89 career ERA. Still, it's next to impossible for relief pitchers to make it into the Hall.

    Tino Martinez: The longtime Yankees first baseman received a whopping six votes, but his numbers are definitely not good enough to get him enshrined. He finished with a career .271 batting average and 339 home runs over the course of 16 seasons. He probably got more credit than he deserved for New York's four World Series championships won with him on the roster.

The 2012 Class

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    None of the players expected to appear on the 2012 Hall of Fame ballot for the first time inspire much confidence. Bernie Williams is the most well known name, but he's a long-shot to get in. Javy Lopez, Ruben Sierra and Vinny Castilla were all good players, but none of them have the kind of numbers worthy of enshrinement.

    After that, it's a who's who of major league role players, including Tim Salmon, Brad Radke, Edgardo Alfonzo, Jeromy Burnitz and Eric Young. None of these players deserves to get in and it would be a mockery of the system if they even get votes.