Tomorrow, January 9, 2012, the Baseball Writers vote for the 2012 Major League Baseball Hall of Fame will be revealed. Holding the keys to such an elite fraternity must be a daunting task. You're voting on players to proverbially sit next to Ruth, Aaron, Mays, Mathewson and the like.
Click here for the list of 2012 candidates
Mixed in to this responsibility is the specter of performance enhancing drugs that pervaded the league during the so called "Steroid Era". On the bubble now are the first generation "users", ones that presumably were clean earlier in their career but found a "fountain of youth" late which contributed significantly to jaw-dropping numbers.
If I were asked to vote (and of course I believe I should be), below reflects my ballot. The players on the ballots these days usually span my late childhood through young adulthood. I watched and attended a lot of games and have memories of all these players. I don't think I would be alone in allowing my personal (but not biased) "feeling" about a player influence the vote. What I mean by that is, when this player came to the plate or pitched, what was my feeling of how they would perform. Did they always seem to get the big hit, pitch their team to victory, make the heartbreaking defensive play, etc.?
Players I would put on my ballot (in order of credibility)
1) Jeff Bagwell - He was an offensive machine in the mid-1990's, career numbers reflect that (.297, 449, 1529 RBI). Only Palmeiro and McGriff on the ballot have more RBI. More walks than anyone else on the ballot (fear factor and eye), .409 OBP. He also stole 200 bases and was an above average 1B (Gold Glove in the closet). No evidence of PED's, he was a weight-lifting machine and didn't see anything late in his career that would lead one to believe he was juicing.
Factors against him: Perceived use of PEDs, playing in a small market, lack of postseason success.
He garnered 41% of the vote last year in his first eligibility, I expect that to go up 20% or so.
2) Larry Walker - He was another 5-tool player, finished his career with a .313 batting average, higher than anyone else on the ballot. Also stole 200 bases, also hit 383 home runs. He has so many gold gloves he probably had to build an extra wing on his trophy case. Like Bagwell, he won one MVP. He's also a member of the .400 OBP club (he, Bagwell, and Edgar Martinez the only three on the ballot).
Factors against him: Perceived higher numbers due to Colorado, soft-spoken personality, injury-prone (only 4 seasons of 140+ games).
He only received 20% of the vote last year, that needs to trend up for people to start noticing.
3) Edgar Martinez - He's of the mold of the previous two players. Hit for high average, good (but not awe inspiring) power, gets on base all the time. While I am not a fan of the DH, if MLB has it as a position, you can't hold that against him. With the previous two, defense pushes their case, for Edgar it can't but he still deserves it. Career .312 hitter, .418 OBP, slugged .515 (more than McGriff). He's also a member of the 300 HR club for a guy who didn't try to lift the ball as much as others.
Factors against him: Primarily a DH, played in small market, lack of speed.
He was voted for the affirmative on 32.9% of last years ballots, he needs to get closer to 50% to continue the momentum, now in his third year.
4) Lee Smith - The Hall of Fame is still figuring out how to accommodate closers, it's my opinion that they are indeed a key element to the game and the best of the best should be included. With Smith, it's not about the numbers (ERA, W-L) as much as the raw pile of saves he accumulated. No matter where he played, he never seemed phase by a momentary lapse of success. Fourteen seasons in a row of 25 or more saves shows a level of consistency matched by few. If there are going to be closers in the HoF, Smith should be there.
Factors against him: Voters don't trend toward closers, wasn't overpowering, played for a lot of teams
Received 45% of the vote last year, might start to trail off now in his 10th year.
First four out
5) Barry Larkin - His numbers are just a hair better than Alan Trammell, someone who I think was great, but not HoF material. Only slugged .444 (Brian Jordan slugged better). .295 average, almost 200 Home Runs, I just don't see it. I will say his defense, speed, and team leadership (including postseason success) move him a little closer but just not enough. He has the one MVP and a Gold Glove. He just wasn't a guy to be feared in the lineup like the above three hitters.
Factors against him: Lack of overwhelming offensive numbers (that's pretty much it).
At 62% last year, he's the most likely candidate to get in.
6) Tim Raines - Rock is another guy who falls just short on the numbers. Besides SB's (of which he is more than deserving), his average and power is there with Larkin, no MVP's, no Gold Gloves. He did accumulate the most hits of anyone on the ballot (besides Palmeiro) playing to the age of 40. Like Larkin, he wasn't a feared hitter.
Factors against him: Played in Montreal during his prime, average defense, never was higher than 5th in an MVP vote.
At 37.5% now in his fifth year, needs to get close to 50% or his candidacy may lose support.
7) Jack Morris - He was a gamer who was consistent, just not consistently great. A three-time 20-game winner, but 3.90 ERA shows me he outlasted a lot of opponents for those wins instead of dominating them. Never had an ERA below 3.05 in a single season. I probably hold starting pitchers to the highest standard when considering Hall of Fame, if you start to take 250 game winners and folks with ERA's near 4.00, you start to let in a lot of slightly better than average pitchers.
Factors against him: ERA, lack of dominating presence, allowed a lot of baserunners (WHIP).
At 53.5% last year, he's got a shot this year to approach 75%. I think he still falls short.
8) Fred McGriff - You can't ignore the near 500 home runs, but he hung on a while to get so close and wasn't elite enough in his prime to warrant the Hall. Average defense, below average speed, not an outstanding OBP. He also never broke 110 RBI in a season.
Factors against him: Low average, lack of dominating seasons, lack of speed.
At only 17.9% he might fizzle this year. Numbers are distant when compared to the three hitters I would vote in, I doubt many voters put 5 or 6 hitters on their ballot.
The remaining repeat candidates fall into two categories, steroid specter or double digit ballot opportunities, the numbers aren't there.
Steroid specter: Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, and Juan Gonzalez
Vets with short stats: Alan Trammell, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy
The new guys aren't even close except MAYBE Bernie Williams, but he'll only get a good piece of the vote due to the New York media and postseason successes. He wasn't a feared player in that lineup, never made a dent on MVP voting.
Amazing how few pitchers are even considered these days, Mulholland and Radke joining Morris and Lee Smith as the only ones. Perhaps for another blog, but an artifact of the Steroid Era? Roger and Curt coming soon.