The BBWAA and the Hall of Fame will announce the 2009 induction class on Monday, January 12th. This is the final year on the ballot for Tommy John and Jim Rice. One of those players is likely to be voted in this time, unfortunately it will be the wrong one. This year’s ballot features 10 newcomers, but only one, Rickey Henderson, seems likely to garner much support. For the third straight year on Associated Content, here I present my Hall of Fame ballot.
The Hall of Fame is an emotional thing, one which leads writers and fans alike to argue passionately for their favorite candidates. That’s a great thing. What’s not a great thing is that there are a lot of fans who submit much better ballots than the writers, who are the only ones whose votes count in real life.
Jack Morris, Dave Parker, Rice are but three candidates who were fine, fine ballplayers in their times, but who really are not worthy of enshrinement into the Hall of Fame. But they have their supporters among the writers and it would not surprise me at all if they went in before Bert Blyleven, Tim Raines and Alan Trammell, who each are better choices.
Neither Morris, Parker nor Rice would be the worst player elected to the Hall of Fame. There are many players in the Hall of Fame elected by the Veterans Committee, which for an extended period of time simply elected their friends regardless of their qualifications. Now we have numerous players enshrined who should only be allowed in Cooperstown with a ticket.
But the mistakes of the past (Rick Farrell? Chick Hafey?) should not be the bar by which current candidates are judged. That inevitably leads to a slippery slope where everyone who ever enjoyed an All-Star campaign suddenly has a Hall of Fame case. If Jim Rice gets elected how do you keep out Juan Gonzalez? Then Larry Walker looks like a slam dunk. And if Walker breaks the Colorado barrier, then how soon before Ellis Burks and Dante Bichette are chosen?
I am not a “Small Hall” guy. I think there are plenty of candidates worth enshrining into the Hall of Fame. I would just rather that the deserving players go in. The BBWAA has already missed the boat on great players like Ron Santo and Lou Whitaker. Let’s not compound the problem by voting in Morris or Parker or Rice.
So, here I present my 2009 Hall of Fame ballot.
Bert Blyleven – I remember reading a baseball card back during Bert’s career which suggested he could become the first pitcher with 4,000 strikeouts. He “only” got 3,701, the fifth-best mark of all time. Then there’s the 4,970 innings, which ranks 13th all time. Then there’s the 60 career shutouts (9th) and 287 wins (26th). Plus he had one of the best curveballs of all time. For a tremendous article on Blyleven’s Hall case, check out this Rich Lederer article.
Andre Dawson – A Rookie of the Year winner and an MVP, Dawson had a great career despite suffering through serious knee pain which robbed him of his once-great speed. He came up as a five-tool center fielder but eventually moved to right field because his knees couldn’t handle the demands of center any more. Dawson was also hurt tremendously by his home park when he was with the Expos, which had a well-known lousy artificial turf surface. Additionally, his home park really kept down his stats. Here are his home/road splits from 1977-1986:
AB R H HR RBI AVG
HOME 2697 406 720 95 384 .267
AWAY 2846 413 835 130 447 .293
An important thing to remember is that most ballplayers perform better in their home park.
Dawson was so eager to leave Montreal that he signed a blank contract following the 1986 season with the Cubs and went on to earn the MVP Award in his first year on natural grass.
Dawson played two years at the end of his career with the Red Sox, years when I lived in Boston and had season tickets. He was just a shell of his former self, but I likened it to seeing an old Blues legend like BB King. Sure, I might not be seeing him in his prime, but I could tell my kids I saw Andre Dawson play.
Rickey Henderson – We already know that he won’t be a unanimous selection, as one writer left him off his ballot by mistake. But this is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer. The greatest leadoff hitter of all-time, Henderson is a 10-time All-Star, the 1990 AL MVP and the All-Time leader in Runs (2,295) and Stolen Bases (1,406). He’s also second in walks with 2,190. Henderson is the modern-day record holder for most steals in a single season, with 130 steals in 1982. He didn’t always give 100 Percent (who does?) and he infuriated more than a few teammates throughout the years, but Henderson was the single most-distractive force of all time with his ability to hit, hit for power and run like the wind. And his decision to refer to himself in the third person further adds to his charm. His Hall of Fame induction speech should be one of the best ever.
Tommy John – Like 3,000 hits, 300 wins is a virtual lock for the Hall. John finished his career with 288. Just as importantly, John deserves recognition for his work as a trailblazer, becoming the first pitcher to return from elbow ligament replacement surgery, the one which is now commonly referred to as “Tommy John surgery”. It’s not easy to be the first player to do anything. And the surgery itself has improved by leaps and bounds since it was first performed on John in 1974.
Mark McGwire -In his first go-round, he received 128 votes out of 545 ballots, as many writers boycotted his case to show THEY were doing something about the alleged crisis of steroids. Last year, McGwire’s vote total held steady, although 543 votes were cast. Will the third time be the charm for Big Mac? Will writers come around now that his refusal to talk about the past seems more of a distant memory?
Many writers promised to revisit McGwire in the future. Has enough time gone by for this to be his year? Probably not, although it will certainly be a good sign for his candidacy if he at least starts picking up a few votes every year.
I have no problem if someone wants to keep McGwire out because of the PED accusation. But I think those who say he did not have a Hall of Fame career are both wrong and are using revisionist history. When Gwynn, McGwire and Ripken retired following the 2001 season, everyone talked about what a great Hall of Fame class it would be with the three of them. Anyone who claims otherwise was incredibly silent at the time.
The two most important stats for offense are on-base percentage and slugging. McGwire led the league in OBP twice and SLG four times. He was a 12-time All-Star, a Rookie of the Year, a Gold Glove Award winner and he’s seventh on the all-time home run list. That’s a Hall of Famer, despite what revisionists and some BBWAA members like Hal Bodley might say.
Tim Raines – I already laid out the case for Raines in this article. To summarize, Raines was neck and neck with Mike Schmidt as the best player in the National League from 1981-1987, was an above-average defender in left field who would have been a center fielder if not for the presence of Andre Dawson and one of the greatest leadoff hitters and base stealers of all time.
Alan Trammell – Most people see Ripken as a slam dunk and Trammell as not being Hall worthy. Let’s compare them:
Trammell played 20 seasons and Ripken played 21 seasons. Trammell played in a more pitcher-dominated era, although their careers overlapped many years. Trammell won 4 Gold Gloves and Ripken won 2. Trammell had 236 steals while Ripken had just 36 with 39 caught stealings. Trammell batted .333 with a .404 OBP and a .588 SLG in the playoffs and was a World Series MVP. Ripken batted .336 with a .411 OBP and a .455 SLG mark in the playoffs.
Now Ripken’s a slam dunk because of the streak but why does Trammell have to be on the outside? Ripken was more durable and had more power, but Trammell got on base better, was a better defensive player and was faster. I think Ripken’s durability made him a more valuable player, but the overall difference between the two was not that great. I don’t think the line for Hall shortstops should be drawn at Alan Trammell.
Ripken was the dominating shortstop of their era, but how does Trammell compare with another Hall of Fame shortstop – Ozzie Smith? Bill James came up with a stat called Win Shares, which puts all of a player’s accomplishments (offense and defense) for a year into a single number. Let’s compare Ozzie, Trammell and Ripken and their best 10 seasons:
Ripken – 36.7, 35.3, 33.7, 27.7, 25.6, 25.4, 25.4, 23.1, 22.3, 20.9
Smith – 32.9, 25.2, 25.2, 24.7, 24.2, 23.7, 23.4, 22.3, 20.4, 20.3
Tram – 35.1, 29.2, 28.6, 26.2, 25.6, 22.8, 20.5, 16.7, 16.2, 15.8
Ripken is clearly the best of the three, but Trammell has a higher peak than Smith. Trammell’s durability problems limited him to seven big seasons (over 20 win shares) but five of those were over 25. I think he has both enough career peak and enough career length for the Hall.
I had seven players on my ballot. I expect that far fewer players will be elected this year. My guess is that we see three players elected this year – Henderson, Rice and Blyleven. If you clicked on my Raines article, you’ll see a partial case why Rice doesn’t belong. If you want to see more evidence, try this Why Jim Rice’s Hall of Fame Case Falls Short. Blyleven will be right around the 75 percent mark, either getting in by a few votes or falling a few votes short. Let’s hope it’s the former.