Sifting through the names on this year's Hall ballot
Posted: Wednesday November 30, 2005 2:42PM; Updated: Thursday December 1, 2005 11:28AM
Albert Belle's attitude shouldn't keep him out of Cooperstown.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
The official Baseball Hall of Fame ballot is out, and since no one doesn't love debating the merits of would-be HOFers, let's go through it player-by-player and decide who's worthy:
Rick Aguilera, RHP, (86-81, 3.57 ERA, 318 saves) His credentials are better than you might think. He's 13th in career saves (he has more than Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter), pitched for a couple World Series champs (part-time starter for the '86 Mets and closer for the '91 Twins) and had six seasons with at least 30 saves. Alas, closers tend to keep their jobs for a long time once they get them, so there are going to be plenty of guys coming up in the next couple of years with Aggie numbers. The verdict: No.
Albert Belle, OF (.295, 381 HRs, 1,239 RBIs) A very interesting case, one that cuts right to the question of, "What are we looking for in a Hall of Famer?" A player's career is in two segments: his prime and his twilight. For my money, when we're deciding who's Hall-worthy and who isn't, the former is far more significant. Cooperstown is for players who -- for a substantial amount of time -- dominated the game, were truly feared by their opponents and excited you every time they came to the plate or took the mound. And for the better part of a decade, Belle was every one of those things. Alas, his career had no twilight, through no fault of his own. He was done at age 34 thanks to a bad hip.
In 10 full seasons, Belle failed to hit 30 homers twice and failed to drive in 100 runs once. He hit 50 homers in a strike-shortened season. He ranks 17th in career slugging percentage (.564), yet he only struck out 100 times in a season twice. For a couple years, you could argue he was the most feared hitter in the game. If you give him five years of anything approaching decent production (I'm talking 15 homers per year) at the tail end of his career, then there's no question he's a Hall of Famer. I don't think the fact that he wasn't able to play out the string should be held against him.
We shouldn't put too much stock in how well these guys played when they were 39. We should judge them on how well they played in their prime. And in his prime, Belle was ridiculously good -- far better than a shoo-in like Paul Molitor was in his. (Molitor's average 162-game season was .306-14-72, and his single-season bests were .353-22-113. Belle's average season was .295-40-130, and his single-season bests were .357-50-152.) He was one of the few players you would stop what you were doing to watch hit, and he was like that for almost 10 years. I know he was a jerk and he had some bat-corking issues, but the Hall is littered with imperfect personalities. The verdict: Yes.
Bert Blyleven, RHP (287-250, 3.31 ERA, 3,701 Ks) He only won 20 games once, was only an All-Star twice and never won a Cy Young Award. But he's a perfect example of what's wrong with Hall voting: electors are obsessed with round numbers. Don Sutton has almost the same numbers (324-256, 3.26, 3,574), but he's a Hall of Famer because he had 300 wins -- an incredibly overrated stat. Give Blyleven a better bullpen in one game a year, and he's got 309 wins -- and we're not even having this conversation. But you have to draw the line somewhere; we can't let him in just because Sutton got in. That deuce of his should have its own spot in the Hall, but it pains me to say ... The verdict: No.
Will Clark, 1B (.303-284-1,205) Steady, good hitter, couple of great seasons. Not even close here, though. The verdict: No.