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My Hall of Fame ballot

Gossage has waited long enough; Raines a near-miss

Posted: Friday December 28, 2007 11:46AM; Updated: Saturday December 29, 2007 10:21PM
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Cal Ripken Jr received all but eight votes from the Hall of Fame voters last year.
Cal Ripken Jr received all but eight votes from the Hall of Fame voters last year.
Walter Iooss Jr./SI
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Enshrinement in Cooperstown shouldn't be about numbers. If anyone thinks so, let's trash tradition and have a computer select the honorees.

The Hall of Fame should be about who starred and who dominated. And about who made an impact.

It should be about greatness.

I know my annual ballot would be rejected by stat aficionados, number crunchers and many Moneyball disciples. I have one player with a .323 on-base percentage on my ballot, and another even lower, at .322. But numbers don't tell everyone's story.

Nobody's ballot is perfect. Like Roger Clemens' overzealous lawyer, I am conducting my own investigation; I need to find the eight dopes out of 545 who didn't vote for Cal Ripken Jr. last year, not to mention the two ultra-morons who DID vote for Bobby Bonilla.

It's an inexact science, to be sure, and part of the imprecision involves the few idiots who get to vote. Dante Bichette, by the way, got three votes last year.

Some may call me an idiot, as well. But one thing I have going for me is that I am old enough to have seen and followed the entire careers of 24 of 25 players on this year's ballot (I was two when Tommy John broke in so I missed some of the pre-surgery John).

That in mind, I don't feel the need to study the stat sheets too hard. I look, but I don't obsess.

I think I know who was great, who was close to great and who doesn't even belong on the ballot. Travis Fryman, anyone?

Bert Blyleven is one Cooperstown candidate who stirs a lot of emotion, sometimes from folks who barely saw him pitch and instead spent the past 10 years with their heads buried in a stat book. And there's no question he and several others on this year's ballot are very close to deserving.

On his own Web site, Blyleven suggests you look at where he ranks on all-time lists to see whether he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. And if you go only by who amassed numbers, he probably does deserve it.

I still am unconvinced that he deserves enshrinement. But I do think he deserves an explanation.

Blyleven did some great things in his career, and he pitched a lot of dominating games. Yet he never had a truly dominating season. He threw 60 shutouts -- but won 20 games only once in an era when 20-game winners weren't nearly so rare as they are today.

Blyleven lasted a long time, long enough to have been the youngest player in the majors when he broke in as a Twin and the oldest when he bowed out as an Angel. As an Angels beat reporter in the late '80s, I was a traveling writer who covered Blyleven's last great year, when I recall him as the cutup of a surprising 1989 California Angels team. He also managed to go 17-5.

I do admire Blyleven's talent, and his longevity as well. But I still think Blyleven falls into that group of great compilers who weren't quite great enough players to make Cooperstown. Lee Smith, Harold Baines and John also fit that category -- though Blyleven's the closest of that group to making my ballot.

Beyond Blyleven, there are the Cooperstown candidates who were great for a short period of time but perhaps not for quite long enough to make the Hall of Fame, players such as Don Mattingly and Dale Murphy.

And then there's one player who fits his own special category. That's Tim Raines, who was great for the first third of his career, then hung around for 15 more years and compiled some pretty good numbers as well. I didn't vote for him his first year on the ballot. But he's one of a few cases where I reserve the right to change my mind.

And unlike Bonilla and Bichette, if Raines doesn't make it this time I am sure he will garner more than enough support to be on the ballot again next year.

I have broken the candidates on my ballot into six categories: "The Chosen'' (the six I actually did pick), "Close, but not quite Cooperstown'' (the near misses), "Close to Close'' (excellent careers but not Hall of Famers), "Nice Careers, not a Chance'' (self explanatory), "How'd they make the ballot?'' (more a question for the vetting committee) and "If not for one bad day in Washington'' (you know who).

Here's my ballot, along with my logic...

The Chosen

1. Rich Gossage. Goose has waited long enough, and if he doesn't make it this time, it's the voters who have laid an egg. One of the best relief pitchers ever, he was absolutely dominant for two Yankees championship teams. Never a doubt, at least not on my ballot.

2. Jack Morris. The ace of three World Series teams, it's an abomination he may never get in. Morris made 14 Opening Day starts, tied with Steve Carlton, Randy Johnson, Walter Johnson and Cy Young, behind only Tom Seaver's 16 (the others already are or will be in Cooperstown). Also pitched the greatest game of the past 25 years, winning Game 7 of the 1991 World Series 1-0 in 10 innings against a young John Smoltz. The only two reasons I can think of for him not making it are: 1) he got hit hard his final couple years and finished with a 3.90 ERA, and 2) he was no charmer. Neither is a good enough reason to omit him. His impact was great.

3. Andre Dawson. On ravaged knees, he made eight All-Star teams, hit 438 home runs, drove home 1,591 runs, won eight Gold Gloves and finished in the top two in MVP voting three times, winning for the last-place Cubs in 1987.

4. Rice. An absolutely dominant hitter for a decade in Boston. Like Morris, I think, Rice loses points on personality. And that's not right.

5. Dave Concepcion. This is his 15th and last year on the ballot, and he's probably going to get his usual 10 percent of the vote again. The reason I am in that 10 percent is that I think he was perhaps the best all-around shortstop of his generation and an underrated piece of the Big Red Machine. Great defender (five Gold Gloves) and superb stealer (321 stolen bases), his career looks a lot like Hall-of-Famer Phil Rizzuto's to me -- without the announcing, of course.

6. Dave Parker. He was an MVP, an All-Star Game MVP, a two-time batting champion, a seven-time All-Star and a three-time Gold Glove winner. I always figured he was a better player than Jim Rice, with more speed and a better arm, and Rice is going to get in eventually -- at least I think he will.

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