Five first-timers deserve to make Hall of Fame but only three will
Tis the season once again. Time to make your list, check it twice and see who's been naughty or nice. It's Hall of Fame voting season, which typically means too much egg nog and too much indignation that someone else may actually harbor a different opinion than you. The egg nog, even out of a carton past its expiration date, goes down easier than the indignation.
To help you through this anxiety-filled time of year, I'll give you a brief rundown on the 19 players who appear on the ballot for the first time -- five who should be enshrined some day and 14 who may be done after this one chance. (Any player who fails to be named on at least 5 percent of the ballots cast by eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America is dropped.) But first, here are some facts you should know before the Dec. 31 voting deadline and the Jan. 8 announcement of the results:
• Under current voting rules that have been in place since 1968, the baseball writers have never elected four players in one year. They have elected three players in one year only four times in these past 45 years: 1972, 1984, 1991 and 1999.
Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine are the two players most likely to be elected. Frank Thomas stands the best chance of getting the rare third spot. Craig Biggio and Jack Morris will be close to what would be an unprecedented fourth spot.
• Remember all the complaining last year that the Hall was becoming irrelevant because nobody was voted in? Forget it. Over the next five ballots you likely will see as many as 10 first-ballot Hall of Famers elected -- and that doesn't even count several holdover candidates who will go in.
• The ballot is not getting too crowded -- yet. Voters can vote for a maximum of 10 players. Only 22 percent of voters voted the maximum last year.
There is no trend to suggest writers are voting for more and more players. The average number of votes per ballot has remained fairly steady over the past quarter century: within a narrow window of 5.10-6.87. The mean vote total over the past 25 years is 6.06 with a standard deviation of just 0.52.
With a strong first-year class this year, however, the average votes per ballot will likely exceed 7.0 for the first time since 1986. It bears watching.
• Despite complaints, nothing has changed much; it's always been tough to get 75 percent of the writers' vote. Here are the average annual numbers of players elected each decade, with an assumption of three this year and with half the decade still to go:
• The procedures include only one hurdle to stay on the ballot and it's a low one: the 5 percent rule. In the past I have proposed pruning the ballot this way: if you don't get 33 percent after 10 tries on the ballot, you drop off. Let's be honest: Don Mattingly and Alan Trammell aren't getting elected by the writers any more than did Dale Murphy.
Unfair? Sorry, if you can't get even one-third of the vote after 10 tries it's time to get real about what makes a Hall of Famer. And don't make a fuss about the 13 guys who rallied to get elected after 10 tries. All of them had at least 50 percent of the vote after 10 tries but two: Dazzy Vance (31) and Gabby Hartnett (39), who were elected in 1955 under voting rules that no longer exist.
Now it's time to examine the first-timers. While I think five are worthy of enshrinement, no more than three of them actually will get in on the first try. (I still am working on my ballot, in which I am trying to include the first-time five as I bump up against the 10-player maximum for the first time.) Only once under current rules have three first-timers gained enshrinement on the same ballot: 1999, with Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Yount -- with a fourth, Carlton Fisk, just missing.
1. Tom Glavine
You don't even need to think about this. He finished 102 games better than .500 (305-203), won 20 games five times (only Warren Spahn, Lefty Grove, Eddie Plank and Steve Carlton did so more times among lefthanders) and finished among the top three in Cy Young voting six times.
Fun with numbers: Nobody in the modern era did more without missing bats than the crafty Glavine. Ten pitchers have won 300 games since World War II. Glavine's rate of strikeouts per nine innings (5.32) is the worst of the 10.
2. Jeff Kent
Yes, he's a Hall of Famer, even if he doesn't pass the most unscientific "eye test." Kent tops Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg in every meaningful offensive category, including OPS+ (123-114). He may not have been Sandberg's equal with the glove, but Kent was good enough at the position to play until he was 40, with 88 percent of his career games at second base.
He was a career .290/.356/.500 hitter who was even better with runners in scoring position (.300/.385/.512). He was so good for so long at driving in runners that he made 61 percent of his career starts in the cleanup spot, a rare distinction for a middle infielder. In 2002 he led the NL in extra-base hits for a pennant winner -- something only one other second baseman, the great Rogers Hornsby, ever did.
MVP finishes? He won one and finished in the top 10 four times (Sandberg did so only three times; Craig Biggio twice).
Finally, consider where Kent sits on these all-time lists for second basemen:
Most seasons with 250 total bases: 1. Gehringer (10). 2. Kent and Hornsby (9). 3. Biggio and Sandberg (8).
He also hit more home runs than any second baseman.
3. Greg Maddux
More wins (355) than any man alive and a case for the greatest righthanded pitcher since Walter Johnson. Think that covers it.
4. Mike Mussina
Go ahead, I dare you: find a great starting pitcher other than Mussina who pitched his entire career in the AL East in The Steroid Era. You won't. Mussina made 60 percent of his career starts in the hotboxes of Fenway Park, Camden Yards and Yankee Stadium -- all against DH-infused lineups and during the greatest era of slugging the game has ever known. And he came out of such brutally tough duty with a career record of 270-153.
Mussina finished in the top five in the league in ERA seven times, which is two more times than Glavine. He finished among the top three in his league in WHIP six times, which is once more than Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven.
But really stop and think about this one: In the 40 years since the DH was instituted in 1973, Mussina won more AL games (270) than any pitcher except Roger Clemens (316).
5. Frank Thomas
Only seven players in baseball history came to the plate more than 10,000 times and posted a slash line of at least .300/.400/.500: Ty Cobb, Stan Musial, Tris Speaker, Mel Ott, Babe Ruth, Chipper Jones and Frank Thomas. Any further questions? Didn't think so.
1. Moises Alou
He did not hit his first major league home run until he was 25 years old -- and finished with 332 while playing for seven National League teams.
Fun with numbers: Alou is one of only 11 players who have appeared on a Hall of Fame ballot with at least 330 home runs and fewer than 900 strikeouts. The first nine all were elected and make for a glittering group: Lou Gehrig, Mel Ott, Hank Greenberg, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Mize, Ralph Kiner, Ted Williams, Stan Musial and Yogi Berra. The next two were not so worthy: Rocky Colavito and Alou.
He changed teams eight times in his last seven years.
Fun with numbers: He saved 40 games in a season three times. Only eight pitchers ever did so more often.
3. Sean Casey
The Mayor is a first-ballot Hall of Famer when it comes to good guys.
Fun with numbers: Casey is one of only 16 first basemen in history (more than 50 percent of their games at first base) to carry a lifetime .300 average over more than 5,000 at-bats. Casey, a TV star now, follows Will (Clark) and (Mark) Grace in that select company.
4. Ray Durham
He hit .277 over 14 seasons, or slightly better than league average (.270).
Fun with numbers: Durham and Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar are the last second basemen (2001) to post a quadruple double: double digits in doubles, triples, homers and steals.
5. Eric Gagne
His streak of 84 straight saves is meaningless because of his association with PEDs. He threw only 643⅔ innings, which is probably a record for the least amount of work to get on a ballot.
Here's a good example of how statistics and Hall of Fame voting have changed. Through 2007, 19 players appeared on the ballot with 2,500 hits and 350 home runs. Every one of them was voted into Cooperstown. Since then, three such players have appeared on the ballot, and none of them will have been voted in: Rafael Palmeiro, Barry Bonds and Gonzalez.
Gonzalez is a near statistical double for Dave Parker, with the slight edge in homers, RBIs, OBP, slugging and OPS+. But such was the offensive explosion of his era that Gonzalez, unlike Parker, was never regarded as one of the two or three best players in the game. Like Casey, if there is a Hall of Fame for generosity and being a great teammate, Gonzalez is a first-ballot guy.
7. Jacque Jones
He never made an All-Star team, drove in 100 runs, scored 100 runs or hit 30 homers, but he did make a Hall of Fame ballot.
8. Todd Jones
Here is all you need to know about the save stat. Jones ranks 16th all-time in saves. Do you know who ranks 16th all-time in home runs? Mickey Mantle. That's right: Todd Jones is the Mickey Mantle of saves.
9. Paul Lo Duca
He never hit more than eight home runs in eight minor league seasons. Suddenly, at age 29, he hit 25 home runs in the majors. Yes, he turned up in the Mitchell Report. He also made $30 million.
10. Hideo Nomo
He briefly was a sensation, going 29-17 with a 2.90 ERA in his first two seasons. After that he went 94-92 with a 4.61 ERA for seven teams.
11. Kenny Rogers
A much better player than shoving a cameraman and putting sticky gunk all over his pitching hand might lead you to believe. He went 219-156, including 43-33 after turning 40.
Fun with numbers: Rogers went 27-4 in the Bay Area (25-4 in Oakland; 2-0 in San Francisco).
12. Richie Sexson
He hit 45 homers in a season twice. Hank Aaron never did it once.
13. J.T. Snow
He won six Gold Gloves at first base, but is best known for two amazing plays at the plate while with the Giants. He is the only man to be thrown out at home to end a postseason series (2003 NLDS at Florida) and to save the manager's 3-year-old kid from getting run over in the World Series (2002).
14. Mike Timlin
Jesse Orosco probably pitched the eighth inning more than any man in history (692 times). Mike Jackson may have pitched the eighth inning more times than any righthander (535). Timlin is a cut below Jackson as far as such heavy duty set-up work (504). Between the three of them they should have one Hall of Fame vote; one guy voted for Orosco in 2009.