McGwire doesn’t make the cut, but nine others do
Nine. I can’t believe I checked off nine players on my Hall
of Fame ballot — and if I had voted for Mark McGwire, I would
have reached the maximum 10 allowed.
Before I had a ballot, my definition of a Hall of Famer was
strict — a minimum of 10-year dominance, a general belief
that the Hall should include only the best of the best.
So, what happened to my exacting standards?
I’m sort of wondering myself.
I tell people all the time — it’s different when
you get the ballot, when the responsibility is directly in your
hands. I may view a player as borderline. But if his statistics are
comparable to a Hall of Famer’s, he deserves legitimate
consideration. Happens often — more often than the average
fan might think.
Those comparisons are essentially the reason I vote for more
than say, two or three elite candidates a year. But to go from my
usual five or six to nine, my highest total ever? Well, I voted for
four first-time candidates (Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Edgar
Martinez and Fred McGriff) in addition to five holdovers (Bert
Blyleven, Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, Lee Smith, Alan Trammell).
I must say, I’m still not in love with that large a number,
but obviously I believe each of my choices is worthy. And I will
admit something else: On close calls, I generally lean toward
voting for a player instead of against him. That’s the opposite of
the way many voters think, but I’m more lenient because a player
who fails to attain 5 percent of the vote is removed from the
The rule is too harsh;
all players should remain on the ballot 15 years, not just
those who meet the 5 percent standard. But until the rule is
changed, marginal candidates should receive every consideration.
You might say, “C’mon, even marginal candidates get 5
percent.” Not true. Lou Whitaker — a
better-than-marginal candidate — dropped off the ballot after
one year in 2001.
Maybe Whitaker isn’t a Hall of Famer, but he deserved
The process is not perfect; we all know that. But for the
most part, it’s fair. The five-year grace period and 15-year
eligibility period allows ample time for voters to reflect on
candidates. Fans often complain about voters who add or remove
players from their ballot from year to year. It’s a
legitimate criticism, but keeping an open mind is important;
perspectives change over time.
I have yet to vote for McGwire, but I am warmer to the idea
than when he first appeared on the ballot in 2007. The more we
learn about the Steroid Era, the better we understand just how
deeply performance-enhancing drugs were entrenched in the
game’s culture. My problem with McGwire is that his candidacy
is largely based on power, and there is ample reason to believe
that his late-career power surge was fueled by PEDs.
In any case, here are the nine players on my ballot:
Alomar: In the first half of the 1996 season
— his first with the Orioles — he was the best
all-around player I have ever seen. At the time, I was a sports
The Baltimore Sun.
Alomar, a second baseman, could dominate a game defensively,
and he was a wondrous offensive player, a switch-hitter with speed
and power. He played with rare flair and intellect, throwing behind
runners, seemingly guiding the ball at will down the third-base
line from the left side.
The spitting incident? Ugly as it was, it should have no
bearing on Alomar’s candidacy. Character, integrity and
sportsmanship are listed among the Hall’s criteria, but the
incident was a one-time mistake; Alomar long ago made his peace
with umpire John Hirschbeck.
Larkin: His .371 career on-base percentage was 31
points higher than Hall of Fame shortstop Cal Ripken’s. His
.444 slugging percentage was only three points lower.
Larkin also won more Gold Gloves than Ripken, three to two,
stole 379 bases — at an 83 percent success rate — and
had more career walks than strikeouts.
OK, so Larkin didn’t revolutionize the position the way
Ripken and Ozzie Smith did, and none of his achievements was as
historic as Ripken’s consecutive-games streak. His 10 career
trips to the disabled list also deprived him of greater counting
Larkin was a more complete player than Smith and perhaps even
Martinez: The last player I checked off on my
ballot, but not for the reason you might think. I have no problem
with a player who primarily was a DH making the Hall. Martinez and
his brethren did not invent the rules; they abided by them. The
best players at
every position should be honored.
The reason I wavered on Martinez is that his peak was too
short, lasting essentially seven seasons, from 1995 to 2001. The
Mariners did not play him regularly until he was 27, and he did not
reach stardom until he was 32. I cannot argue with voters who might
say, “Not good enough.”
Still, Martinez’s percentage stats are staggering
— and think about it: How many right-handed hitters of his
generation were better?
Martinez is one of only 20 players in major-league history to
produce a career batting/on base/slugging line of .300/.400/.500 or
Since 1945, only three non-active players with at least 7,500
plate appearances exceeded his .418 career OBP — Barry Bonds,
Mickey Mantle and Frank Thomas.
McGriff: I know, I know; McGriff doesn’t
strike you immediately as a Hall of Famer. But a comparison of his
offensive statistics to those of Eddie Murray by the Rays’
public-relations department is rather telling.
McGriff had a higher OBP than Murray, .377 to .359, and a
higher SLG, .509 to .476. Take it a step further, and he also had a
higher OPS- plus, 134 to 129, according to baseball-reference.com.
Murray was a switch-hitter who won three straight Gold Gloves
at first base in his late 20s; McGriff was a left-handed hitter and
less-than-stellar defender. But McGriff’s offensive numbers,
while compiled in a more hitter-friendly era, are too compelling to
ignore. From 1988 to 2002, he averaged 31 homers and 97 RBIs.
If McGriff had hit seven more home runs to reach 500, would
we even be having this discussion? His run of dominance lasted 15
seasons. His BA/ OBP/SLG line in 50 postseason games was
Blyleven: Several years back, I appeared in a
nationally televised debate with Blyleven. The subject was
Blyleven’s candidacy. I argued against his election.
I felt badly leaving the studio that night, not because of my
position on Blyleven, but because I found the process demeaning to
him and certain other candidates. We end up talking about their
negatives when, in fact, they all had great careers.
My initial reluctance on Blyleven was based on his similarity
to two other candidates in the 280- to 290-win range, Jim Kaat and
Tommy John. But I eventually came around on Blyleven, swayed
largely by sabermetricians.
Blyleven ranks fifth all-time in strikeouts (though his
career K rate actually was lower than Denny Neagle’s) and
ninth all-time in shutouts. His ERA-plus — that is, his ERA
compared to his league’s and adjusted to his ballparks
— is higher than that of Hall of Famers Ferguson Jenkins, Jim
Bunning and Catfish Hunter, and not far below Juan
After 13 years on the ballot, it’s time.
Dawson: I’ve written in the past about the
principal flaw in his candidacy — his .323 career OBP. Dawson
explained to me in an interview a few years back that his teams
wanted him not to take
walks, but to drive in runs.
I understand the sabermetric argument: Dawson simply made too
many outs. But if Dawson had been asked to produce a .350 OBP, he
could have produced a .350 OBP. He was a model player, an
all-around marvel revered both by teammates and opponents not just
for his playing ability, but also for his ability to endure through
relentless knee pain.
(At this point you may ask, “Ken, if you’re
willing to forgive Dawson’s .323 OBP, why are you unwilling
to forgive Jack Morris’ 3.90 career ERA?” It’s an
entirely fair question, but I fear that electing Morris would lower
the standards for starting pitchers too dramatically. Call me
inconsistent; it’s just the way I feel).
Raines: It baffles me that Raines received less
than 25 percent of the vote in each of his first two years of
eligibility. As a leadoff man, he wasn’t Rickey Henderson,
but he also wasn’t that far off.
Rickey had the better career OBP, .401 to .385. Raines had
the higher SLG, .425 to .419. And Raines, as pointed out by Joe
Posnanski, also had the highest stolen-base percentage in history
among players with 500 or more steals.
What exactly is the problem?
Smith: Probably my most controversial choice; many
voters, like many fans, think little of the save statistic, and are
reluctant to elect closers. But the best closers, like the best
DHs, deserve to be in the Hall.
Was Smith one of the best closers? Inarguably. He retired as
the all-time saves leader, though he has since been passed by
Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera. He made 60 or more appearances
in 12 straight seasons, a testament to his durability. His ERA-plus
falls between Bruce Sutter’s and Goose Gossage’s.
Not an obvious or easy yes. But a yes.
Trammell: A similar candidate to Larkin, though
not quite as strong. His low vote totals — never higher than
18 percent — mystify me.
Trammell was one of the top shortstops in the American League
for nearly his entire career, second only to Ripken for much of it.
As my colleague Jon Paul Morosi pointed out in a recent
column, Trammell and Larkin should not be penalized for playing in
the same era as more historic figures at their position.
The 1984 Tigers won 104 games, then went 7-1 in the
postseason to become World Series champions. It drives Tigers fans
nuts that no member of that team is a Hall of Famer.
I do not vote for Morris. I no longer can vote for Whitaker.
I vote enthusiastically for Trammell.