One Man's Look at This Year's MLB Hall Of Fame Candidates

Kendall MurrayCorrespondent IJanuary 3, 2009

As we approach the announcement of the new inductees to Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame, I thought I'd put my two cents in as to who would be on my ballot this year (if I were fortunate enough to have a vote).  

This is a topic that always stirs great debate as to the merits of a particular player relative to the era in which he played.  Once that is determined, the player must then stack up against the history of all of baseball.  It's an inexact science without right or wrong answers.  

The voters must keep the standard high with the understanding that different eras may require different benchmark numbers, longevity vs. dominance must be weighed, and historical perspective taken into consideration.

However, before I get into the players themselves, I'd like to address the concept of the "First Ballot Hall-of-Famer."  Much is made of this concept and the phrase is widely used to describe current players (i.e., "Greg Maddux is a first ballot hall-of-famer"). 

In general, I don't like this concept.  

If a guy is a hall-of-famer, then he's a hall-of-famer, plain and simple.  Yet, as I began to consider players for this article, I realized that there are circumstances under which I might be inclined to wait to give someone my vote.

The first of these is conduct detrimental to the game.  Shoeless Joe Jackson.  Pete Rose.  Mark McGwire.  Barry Bonds.  Roger Clemens.  These names have and will create some of the most difficult decisions for voters.  Is it time for Shoeless Joe and Charlie Hustle to get in?  Have they served their time?  How do we consider the steroid era?  And are we only penalizing those who got caught?  

For me, this is a good reason to delay entry.  The rules allow for a player to remain on the ballot for 15 years and beyond that, the veteran's committee can induct players. Perspective on the steroid era has not yet been achieved in my opinion.  I don't see any harm in waiting to gain that perspective.

Another reason to delay entry is the assessment of modern relievers.  The picture is finally beginning to emerge on the late-inning specialists and standard-bearers have been put in place.  

However, borderline cases can still be difficult for voters to assess.  A perfect example of this is one of this year's choices, Lee Smith.  

At the time of his first appearance on the ballot, he was the all-time leader in saves—a statement which provides a pretty compelling argument all by itself.  However, saves have only been calculated since 1969, only 11 years before Smith's rookie season.  

Sure, historians have gone back to credit pitchers with saves based on box scores (Cy Young had 17), but it is undeniable that managers have changed the way these players are used.  Currently, Smith is third in saves (behind Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera) and that perspective has become useful in assessing Smith's career.

The Players (taken alphabetically)

Harold Baines is an interesting case.  Over 22 seasons, Baines posted 2866 hits, 384 home runs, 1628 RBI and a .289 batting average.  He also made six All-Star teams.  

However, Baines was never a dominant player during his career.  He only received votes in MVP balloting for four seasons, and in those four, he finished 9th, 10th, 13th, and 20th.  Despite his impressive career numbers, he never hit 30 home runs in a season and only eclipsed 100 RBI three times.  

To me, a Hall-of-Famer is someone you look back on with awe.  Baines racked up some huge career numbers, but in my mind, he falls just short.  Verdict: No

Jay Bell.  2-time All-Star.  1 Gold Glove.  Less than 2000 hits.  MVP votes in three seasons, highest finish - 12th.  Nice player, not a Hall-of-Famer.  Verdict: No

Bert Blyleven is another player whose longevity gives him strong consideration.  287 wins, 3701 strikeouts and a 3.31 career ERA.  Some would argue that he was never dominant, with only one 20-win season and no Cy Youngs.  

However, consider that from his rookie year of 1970 through 1985 (16 seasons), he only posted an ERA above 4.00 once, and that was in 1982 when he only pitched in 4 games due to injury.  

He finished in the top 10 in ERA 10 times.  He is fifth all-time in strikeouts and ninth in shutouts.  He finished 3rd twice for Cy Young and 4th once.  In two of those seasons, he even received votes for MVP.  He finished in the top 4 in strikeouts 12 times and in the top 5 in strikeout/walk ratio 13 times.  He is one of eight pitchers in the top 20 in wins, shutouts, and strikeouts since 1900; the other seven are in the Hall of Fame.  

This is also a good time to point out that starting pitchers of this era have been given the short end of the stick by Hall of Fame voters in recent years.  In fact, the last starter to be elected into the hall was Nolan Ryan in 1999.  

No pitcher on this year's ballot is more deserving than Blyleven. He belongs in the Hall of Fame.  Verdict: Yes

With only 194 career wins, David Cone would need to have been amazing dominant to get real consideration.  With one Cy Young and 5 finishes in the top 6 in Cy Young voting, a case could be made that he was.  However, his lack of career longevity is too much to overlook and he does not get my vote.  Verdict: No

One of the best outfield arms I've ever seen belonged to Andre Dawson.  He, Dave Parker, Dave Winfield, and maybe Dwight Evans had the best right-field arms of the era (I'm sure I'm leaving somebody out).  

He won 10 gold gloves and was an 8-time All-Star.  He received MVP votes 9 times, including one 1st place finish and two 2nds, which should dispel any thought that he was never dominant.  

438 home runs, 1591 RBI, and 2774 hits are probably enough alone, but his defense puts him over the top for me.  Verdict: Yes

Ron Gant had a few very nice seasons, especially 1991 and 1993, when he finished 6th and 5th (respectively) in MVP voting.  However, the 2-time all-star doesn't warrant much consideration for the Hall of Fame.  Verdict: No

Mark Grace was a superb hitter and fielder during his 16-year career.  However, the case against him as a hitter is strong.  

He only amassed 2445 hits, which is a low number for someone with little power numbers.  He never led his league in hits or batting average, never finished higher than 13th on an MVP ballot.  

He was an excellent first baseman; however, first base is not an elite defensive position and he only received 4 Gold Gloves—impressive, but hardly dominant.  Verdict: No

The first player on my ballot would be Rickey Henderson.  Henderson is the only undeniable player on the list.  Ranked 1st all-time in steals and runs, 2nd in walks, holder of the single season stolen base record, most career lead-off home runs, 1990 MVP, 10-time All-Star over an 12-year period.  

If this guy doesn't get in, the hall should only have about a dozen players in it.  He should and will get in this year, his first on the ballot.  Verdict: Yes

Tommy John is a difficult call—one of three starting pitchers that I feel deserve serious consideration.  He won 288 games over 26 seasons and had a solid four-year stretch from 1977-1980 where he was as good as any pitcher in baseball.  

During those four years, he racked up win totals of 20, 17, 21 and 22 to go along with ERAs of 2.78, 3.30, 2.96 and 3.43.  During those four years, he finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting twice along with one 4th and one 8th place finish.  He went though a stretch of 19 seasons with sub-4.00 ERAs.  

This is the one I feel the least confident with, but for my money, Tommy John should be in the Hall.  Verdict: Yes

Another tough choice is Don Mattingly.  Donnie Baseball won nine Gold Gloves at first base, second all-time to Keith Hernandez.  He was a top-notch hitter and had a few power seasons as well.  

The knock on Mattingly is his career numbers—2153 hits, 222 home runs and 1099 RBI fall short of most historical benchmarks by quite a lot.  Any real argument on his behalf will point to the four years of 1984-1987, when he hit between .324 and .351, between 23 and 35 homers and between 110 and 145 RBI.  

He was the MVP in 1985 and finished 2nd once as well.  I was surprised to find that he was only a 6-time All-Star, considering the Yankee fan base.  It's a tough call, but I still feel his low career totals are too much to overlook.  Verdict: No

I hope we all realize that Mark McGwire only represents the beginning of the Hall of Fame debate in regard to alleged steroid users.  One question in regard to these players is this: are they all out, or are some getting in because of the idea that they'd be in anyway?  

How do we compare this to the Pete Rose situation, etc.  For me, there are too many questions as to how to deal with this situation.  I don't know.  Therefore, I feel that caution is the better part of valor.  Verdict: Not Yet

Wow, another tough one is Jack Morris.  254 wins and 2478 strikeouts are among his positives, but that 3.90 career ERA would be the worst among all Hall-of-Famers if he were to be elected.  In fact, Morris never notched a season ERA below 3.00.  

Yet, the guy won in impressive fashion.  He never won a Cy Young, but five times he finished at least 5th.  He had three 20-win seasons and eight times finished with at least 17.  He pitched in 5 All-Star games, including 3 starts, demonstrating the respect he had among AL managers.  

It's a difficult decision, but the high ERA is too much to overcome.  Verdict: No

Dale Murphy is another guy that deserves serious consideration.  2111 hits, 398 home runs and 1266 RBI to go along with five Gold Gloves and seven All-Star selections.  He also is a two-time NL MVP and a two-time NL home run champion (he finished 2nd in homers three other times).  

However, he only amassed a .265 batting average in his 18 seasons, a figure that would be among the Hall's lowest.  He is the definition of a borderline candidate for me—great stretch of seasons with low career numbers.  

I'll have to revisit this one again, but I'm not ready to commit.  Verdict: No

Among middle relievers, Jesse Orosco is about as worthy as one could be.  His the all-time leader in games pitched, which is something.  He also had a few nice seasons as the closer for the Mets, including one in which he finished 3rd in the Cy Young voting and even 17th for MVP.  

He was named an All-Star twice and managed 144 saves even though a majority of his career was spent in middle relief.  

All that being said, the Hall of Fame caliber middle reliever has yet to appear in baseball. Verdict: No

Were it not for injuries and drug problems, Dave Parker would likely already be in the Hall of Fame.  His 2712 hits, 339 home runs, 1493 RBI and career .290 batting average are just shy of common Hall standards.  

As mentioned earlier, he possessed one of the truly legendary right field arms in baseball history, which played a key role in his 3 NL Gold Gloves.  He was the 1978 NL MVP and finished as high as 3rd in the voting four times.  

However, the seasons he lost in the early eighties to various ailments likely cost him a serious shot at the hall.  Verdict: No

For thoughts on Dan Plesac as a Hall of Famer, you might just refer to my article on Jesse Orosco.  Then, just think of Plesac as a poor man's Orosco.  If he gets one vote, it'll be a huge upset.  Verdict: No

Tim Raines is a player that I've gone back and forth with since his first year on the ballot.  He's a career .294 hitter with 2605 hits and 980 RBI to his credit.  Where he excelled most was with stolen bases.  He ranks 5th all-time with 808, won 4 NL steals titles, and finished with at least 70 steals in six seasons.  He was a seven-time All-Star, yet he never finished higher than 5th for league MVP.  

He actually compares quite favorably to Hall-of-Famer Lou Brock, a career .293 hitter with 3023 hits, 900 RBI and 938 stolen bases.  But Brock was actually named on MVP ballots in a whopping 10 seasons, finishing as high as 2nd.  

This is one that I'm unsure about, but I'm not ready to pull the trigger on.  Verdict: No

Few players have spawned more Hall of Fame debate than Jim Rice.  His career numbers fall a bit short by most standards: 2452 hits, 382 home runs and 1451 RBI in 16 seasons.  Many have pointed toward his relatively short peak, yet he still amassed some fine seasons outside of that peak.  

An 8-time All-Star, Rice finished in the top 5 in AL MVP voting in six different seasons, winning the award in 1978.  He topped the 100 RBI mark in eight seasons, finishing in the league's top 5 in seven of them.  He won three home run titles and finished in the top 2 in slugging percentage five times.  He also finished in the top 7 in batting average in six seasons.  

Additionally, other Hall of Fame players have come out to support him, including Cal Ripken and Goose Gossage, who said of Rice, "I didn't fear any hitter, but he was the closest I ever came to fearing."  Who am I to argue with those two guys.  Verdict: Yes

Lee Smith is one who in years past, I would have voted in without question.  As mentioned before, he ranks third all-time in saves and he finished in the top two in his league in eight seasons.  

He finished in the top 5 in Cy Young voting three times and was named to seven All-Star teams.  Many have said that Smith wasn't an intimidating closer, yet he has more strikeouts per innings pitched than Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, or Mariano Rivera: two Hall-of-Famers and one Hall lock.  He has also been criticized for getting the "cheap" save—getting the stat with less than an inning of work.  

That's actually only partially true.  

Late in Smith's career that was definitely the case, but not during his prime.  He also never recorded an ERA above 3.88 for a season until his last year, when he just didn't have it anymore.  This is one I need some more perspective on, but I would still lean toward putting him in eventually.  Verdict: Not Yet

Alan Trammell has received a lot of support in recent years for a Hall bid.  He's a career .285 hitter with 2365 hits, 185 homers, 1003 RBI, and 236 stolen bases.

He's a four-time Gold Glove shortstop who paired with Lou Whitaker to form one of the great all-time double play combos.  He once finished 2nd in MVP voting for the 1987 season, his best in the majors.  

By just about any measure, Trammell's numbers come up short.  He was a steady, solid (if unspectacular) pro for 20 seasons who deserves to be in the Detroit Tigers Hall of Fame—just not the MLB Hall of Fame.  Verdict: No

Greg Vaughn had two big seasons where he finished 4th in league MVP voting.  But a career .242 hitter with 1475 hits, 355 homers and 1072 RBI is not going to the Hall. Verdict: No

Mo Vaughn could have been a Hall-of-Famer.  At his peak, he was a dominant player with six seasons of at least 33 home runs and an additional six with at least 100 RBI.  He was the 1995 MVP (in a controversial vote over Albert Belle), and made three All-Star teams.  

However, injuries and perhaps weight issues caused him to have a short career.  Over 12 seasons, Vaughn amassed 1620 hits, 328 home runs, 1064 RBI and a .293 batting average.  Not good enough for the Hall.  Verdict: No

Matt Williams was a solid, professional third baseman for 17 big-league seasons.  His numbers are respectable: 1878 hits, 378 home runs, and 1218 RBI.  He only carries a .268 career batting average, but he won four Gold Gloves at third base.  

He was a 5-time All-Star who finished in the top six in MVP voting four times, including a second-place finish in 1994.  Very good player - not a Hall-of Famer.  Verdict: No

All-in-all, I would casting votes for five players: Bert Blyleven, Andre Dawson, Rickey Henderson, Tommy John, and Jim Rice.  I have two players I feel I need more perspective on: Mark McGwire and Lee Smith.  Beyond that, there are others who I could be swayed on: Jack Morris, Dale Murphy and Tim Raines.  

This is my first article for the Bleacher Report.  I enjoyed putting it together and hope it was a worthy read.  I'd also love some feedback.


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