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

ballot permanently.

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

better.

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:

FIRST TIMERS

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

columnist for

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

stats.

Shouldn’t matter.

Larkin was a more complete player than Smith and perhaps even

Ripken.

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

better.

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

.303/.385/.532.

HOLDOVERS

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

Marichal’s.

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.