Hall call is never easy, but these eight deserve enshrinement
Roberto Alomar combined speed, defense and hitting and is a clear Hall of Famer
Complete players like Alan Trammell and Barry Larkin should be voted in
Mark McGwire deserves a vote for the Hall of Fame despite his controversy
Every December, my life turns upside down as I break down the Hall of Fame ballot point by point by point by point. I never feel entirely good after finishing my research and sending in my votes. I always feel like I may have left deserving candidates off my ballot.
But, in the end, voting for the Hall of Fame is about drawing lines. Everyone on the ballot had a good major league career, and most had excellent careers. I voted for eight players for the Hall of Fame this year, the most names I've ever checked. Here's a rundown of my views on all 26 candidates, listed alphabetically.
Alomar inspired many emotions in his heated career -- the umpire spitting incident is one of the game's most infamous moments -- and so it might be more telling to look at his career as dispassionately as possible.
Alomar is one of 10 second basemen to steal 400 bases. He's one of six second basemen to hit 500 doubles and one of 12 second basemen to hit 200 homers. He scored 1,500 runs (one of seven), and he drove in 1,000 (one of 14). He won 10 Gold Gloves, which is more than any second baseman ever. He led the league in sacrifice hits and sacrifice flies, which seems to indicate that he would do the little things. And yet he's also one of only two second basemen in baseball history to score and drive in 120 runs in the same season (the other is Rogers Hornsby). He batted .300 nine times -- the only second baseman since World War II to do that.
Put it all together, and Alomar was one of the great combinations of power, speed, defense and baseball intelligence ever to play the game. That sounds like a slam-dunk Hall of Famer to me.
His career didn't last quite long enough, but from 1990 through 1997 Appier was a great pitcher. He led the league in ERA in 1993, and he posted a 121 or better ERA+ in all eight years. Put it this way: His 140 ERA+ over those eight seasons was third among regular starters -- behind a couple of guys named Maddux and Clemens.
He didn't hit quite enough to make my Hall of Fame, but his career should be honored. I think that we should start calling "Professional hitters" -- "Baines hitters." As in, "David Ortiz may no longer be the 50-home run man, but he's still a Baines hitter."
Baines hit between .290 and .310 ten times -- more than anyone ever.
Baines hit between 15 and 25 homers 15 times -- more than anyone ever.
Baines hit between 20 and 30 doubles 11 times, scored between 70 and 90 runs eight times and drove in between 88 and 105 runs eight times.
I don't think he's quite a Hall of Famer, but I do think he's the most professional hitter in baseball history and it would not bother me one bit if they opened a Baines Wing at the Hall of Fame and put Chili Davis, Steve Finley, Fred McGriff, Carney Lansford and others in there.
I have spilled way too many adjectives on Blyleven in a rather desperate effort to get people to see what seems obvious to me: Blyleven should be in the Hall of Fame. But I guess if a casual baseball fan asked me to reduce the argument down to three talking points, I would pick these three:
1. He ranks fifth all-time in strikeouts.
2. He won 287 games -- 60 of those by shutout.
3. He won more 1-0 games than any pitcher the last 80 years.
I could -- and have -- gone on and on about Blyleven, but I suppose it's all there if you want to see it. The knock on Blyleven seems to be that he did not do cosmetic things like win 20 games enough times or win 300 for his career. More to the point: The knock on Blyleven seems to be that he does not FEEL like a Hall of Famer. Longtime baseball writer Murray Chass recently found "new ammunition" to knock Blyleven's Hall of Fame case by pointing he did not pitch well for the Minnesota Twins in 1988. Of course, Blyleven was THIRTY-SEVEN years old at the time and had already thrown more than 4,250 innings. Seems pretty harsh to me. Christy Mathewson pitched lousy for the Giants when he was 34, too.
But Blyleven inspires those sorts of emotions within people on both sides of the argument. Some feel sure that he belongs. Some feel sure that he doesn't. I guess the simplest way to say it is: Every eligible pitcher with 3,000 strikeouts is in the Hall of Fame except Blyleven (he has 3,701). Every eligible pitcher with 50 or more shutouts is in the Hall of Fame except Blyleven (he has 60). Every eligible pitcher who has thrown 4,000 innings with a better-than-110 ERA+ is in the Hall of Fame (he has a 118 ERA+). Can we find reasons to keep him out? You can always find reasons. But why?
Remember when 30-30 seasons were the "It" thing in baseball? It still has been done by only 31 players in baseball history. Burks pulled off an even rarer feat -- the 40-homer, 30-stolen base season. Only nine players have done that. Burks did it in 1996 in Coors Field... back when Coors Field was one of the greatest hitting parks in baseball history. How good a hitting park?
In 1996 Burks hit .344, slugged 40 homers and stole 30 bases.
In 1996 Andres Galarraga hit 47 homers and drove in 150 runs, and followed it up with a 41-homer 140-RBI season.
Vinny Castilla hit 40-plus homers three times.
In 1996 Eric Young hit .412 at home, .219 on the road.
In 1995 Dante Bichette hit .340 with 40 homers -- 31 of those at home.
In 1997 Larry Walker hit .366 with 46 doubles, 49 homers and 143 runs scored.
In 1999 Walker hit .379 with 37 homers and 115 RBIs.
In 2000 Todd Helton made a serious run at .400 and hit .372 with 42 homers and 127 RBIs.
That was some hitting park. Burks was a very good player who only twice played 150 games in a season, and as such never had the great counting stats that lead to All-Star Games (he played in two) or awards (he only once got serious MVP consideration... in that historic 1996 season).
Dawson has long been my least favorite decision on the ballot because I liked him very much. He was a classy player who fielded his position well (before his knees went bad), who hit with power, who stole bases, who threw with purpose, who commanded respect from teammates and opponents alike. I know that he's one of only three players to hit 400 home runs and steal 300 bases, and the other two are Barry Bonds and Willie Mays.*
*I did not know, until recently, the the only two players to hit 300 homers and steal 400 bases are... Bobby and Barry Bonds.
But I also believe that the most important thing a baseball player can do on offense is get on base. And Dawson, throughout his career, did not get on base -- not even in his prime. He only once had even a .360 on-base percentage... and that was in the 1981 strike season. He never walked 45 times in a season -- even though he often drew double-digit intentional walks. But this is not just about walks. He did not hit for high batting averages, either. Dawson's .279 career average would be tied for second-lowest among Hall of Fame outfielders. And every Hall of Fame outfielder with an average in his neighborhood -- Willie Stargell, Harry Hooper, Ricky Henderson, Ralph Kiner and Reggie Jackson -- all walked a lot more than him, and therefore had much higher on-base percentages.*
*It has been hinted that Dawson -- had he known that on-base percentage would become the statistic du jour -- would have gotten on base more. I wish I could buy that, but I can't. There was never a time in baseball history that making outs was considered good (except in sacrifice situations). A big part of the job has always been to not make outs. And Dawson made lots of outs.
A good comparison is Dwight Evans. Why? They basically played in the same time period -- they overlapped for 15 years -- and they played almost exactly the same number of games (Dawson played in 19 more). They were both considered superior fielders (they each won eight Gold Gloves). Dawson was much faster -- he stole 30-plus bases three times and Evans never even got double digits -- and Dawson also hit with a bit more power (he hit about 50 more homers in his career). They each drove in 100 runs four times. It seems like a decent edge for Dawson.
But it comes back to the same thing: Evans got on base more. A lot more. In his career he got on base 400 more times than Dawson. That's almost two seasons for Dawson. And, in the process, Evans made more than 600 fewer outs. What does this mean? The advanced stats will tell you that it means a lot. Evans created more than 100 more runs than Dawson. (Evans twice led the league in runs created; Dawson never did.) It means that Evans had more career Win Shares than Dawson (347-340). It means that Evans' OPS+ is markedly better (127-118). It means that Evans has about five more WAR (Wins Above Replacement) than Dawson.
Maybe you don't buy into these statistics. That's fine. Many people don't. Many people would say that Dawson was better than Dewey because he was just better -- you could SEE it -- and he did so many other things well that you should overlook his sub-par .323 career on-base percentage. I see that argument. Dawson was a fabulous baseball player. I would never try to argue someone into not voting for Dawson.
But in the end, to me, getting on base is the best way a player can help his team offensively. It is hugely important when judging a player's contribution to his team -- more important than anything else. I believe that Dawson will get into the Hall of Fame, and I will be happy for him when it happens. But one more time, I voted a regretful "No."
Known in the early part of his career as a good defensive first baseman, known late in his career as a huge power hitter who led the league in hitting once, homers once and RBIs twice. Missed the 1999 season while undergoing chemo for lymphoma and won the Comeback Player of the Year award in 2000. A fine career.
Won the Cy Young in 1996, and was quite good in 1997 and then, at 29, he dealt with injuries and was more or less finished as an effective starter. Why? Well, it's only a guess, but it could be that he threw 529 innings in those two seasons -- he's the only pitcher since the strike to throw back-to-back 260-inning seasons.
He did not become a full-time closer until 1998, when he was 33 years old and he had one of the best closer years of the 1990s -- 40 saves, a 1.55 ERA and an 0.875 WHIP. He had 39 saves the next year but was not nearly as effective. And then he was injured and he had four saves the rest of his career.
I wonder if there's another player in baseball history who drove in 100-plus RBIs five times and was never selected to an All-Star Game. I'll bet not. I've often written that RBIs are an overrated stat... but that doesn't change that fact Karros did drive in 100 runs more times than Cal Ripken, Andre Dawson, George Brett, Frank Howard, Willie McCovey and, yes, Mickey Mantle.
He also hit more home runs than anyone born in New Jersey (284).
Lankford came up as a slappy hitter who was supposed to just find a way on base and steal bases. He ended up as a power hitter who hit 31 homers in back-to-back seasons, 1997 and 1998. He is 208th all-time in stolen bases and 219th all-time in home runs.
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