One of my favorite pastimes through the years, sports-wise and prior to my dimmed interest in baseball, was to project who belonged in the Hall of Fame, to argue the various merits and demerits of different players with regard to baseball immortality. The Hall of Fame is a funny institution with funnier ways of getting in; the fact, for instance, that Phil Rizzuto and Bill Mazeroski have made the Hall in recent years is ample illustration of this fact (they each managed to be not good enough to be in the Hall for decades, but then magically, without fielding another grounder or swinging another bat, they got good enough. Silly.). It’s fun, though, because I like arguing opinions sometimes, and who belongs in–and who doesn’t–is a fun argument to have.

Straight from ESPN.com comes these words to set the tone for the debate:

Roberto Alomar is among 15 first-time candidates of this year’s Hall of Fame ballot, joining holdovers Mark McGwire, Andre Dawson and Bert Blyleven.

Edgar Martinez, Barry Larkin and Fred McGriff are also new to the ballot this year. There are 26 candidates, three more than last year, when Rickey Henderson was elected in his initial appearance and Jim Rice made it on his 15th and final try. Dawson fell 44 votes shy of the 75 percent needed and Blyleven was 67 short.

Also on the ballot for the first time are Kevin Appier, Ellis Burks, Andres Galarraga, Pat Hentgen, Mike Jackson, Eric Karros, Ray Lankford, Shane Reynolds, David Segui, Robin Ventura and Todd Zeile.

Other holdovers on the list announced Friday include Harold Baines, Don Mattingly, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Tim Raines, Lee Smith and Alan Trammell.

OK, here’s where I’d go with it: Roberto Alomar gets in. Easy. He was a great second baseman for many years, getting on base, stealing bases, fielding, you name it. Even swung for a little bit of power. Two biggest knocks were that he spit on some guy (dumb move, Robbie), and that he went from playing exceptionally well with Cleveland, in 2001, to the waste heap, in a very short period of time, hanging ’em up at age 36. He retired 276 hits shy of 3000, and one imagines that if he’d not fallen off the table so quickly, he’d have breezed past that mark with ease. Dumbfounding…but not worthy of keeping a great player out of the Hall of Fame.

But after Alomar, it gets tricky. I’m really on the fence about Barry Larkin. I think I could be persuaded either way, but if you pinned me down, my first reaction would be “no”. He strikes me as another of those guys who come real close, but don’t quite fit into the conversation about the Hall of Fame, and same with the Crime Dog, for that matter. Fred McGriff was a feared home run hitter; it’s a shame that the strike of 1994 kept him out of the 500 HR club, which might have put him over the top.

I vote “yes” on Bert Blyleven. He is fifth all-time in strikeouts; he threw one of the nastiest curveballs in history; he toiled for some crummy teams (OK, maybe he shoulda made ’em better). But how do you deny the guy who’s fifth in strikeouts a place in Cooperstown? Plus, he was from Holland, which has to count for something. Did you know that he pitched for years in wooden shoes?

Tim Raines belongs in the Hall of Fame. If Rickey Henderson had never been born, we’d be talking about the greatest leadoff hitter in the history of the game in Raines. He was, literally, a poor man’s Rickey Henderson, doing everything Rickey did nearly, but not quite, as well. But Rickey Henderson was an exceptional baseball player, and that puts Raines in the Hall. Shoot, he had to play in Montreal all those years; he oughta get some points for that. Put it this way: if Phil Rizzuto had played in Montreal instead of Yankee Stadium, he’d have had to buy a ticket to get into the Hall just like everybody else.

That said, I’m not so sure on Andre Dawson…but if you pinned me down, I think I’d nudge him over the line with a “yes” vote. Dale Murphy would have made it with another good year, certainly with two, but I leave him a little short. Don Mattingly flamed out too quickly. Jack Morris, Dave Parker, Lee Smith, even Alan Trammell (who gets the most sympathy in this quartet from me–but why isn’t Lou Whitaker right alongside Trammy?); none of them get the lever pulled. Nor Harold Baines, and certainly not Edgar Martinez, a nice little player, but Cooperstown isn’t for nice little players; it’s for the greats of the game.

Then, of course, what do you do with Mark McGwire? This is a thorny issue that is going to be coming up now for quite some time…Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, A-Rod, and the like; what you gonna do with these guys? And the fact is that for a guy like myself with a lot of opinions, I’m just not sure what to think. Some of these guys are loathsome, to be sure, and their actions harmed the game…but I just don’t know what I think.

So, if I were voting this year, I’d vote for Roberto Alomar, Tim Raines, Bert Blyleven, and possibly Andre Dawson. That’d be it.

Thoughts, anyone?

8 responses »

  1. Josh says:

    I agree with your choices.. tho Alomar is the only one who’s whole career I saw with my own eyes.. I’m not so sure about Raines, but I’ll take your word for him… I would also vote for Big Mac.. He played doiminating power baseball for more than a decade.. put an * by his name, write a footnote, heck open a wing, but he should be in. I’m much less convinced about Pete Rose, but that’s for another day.. I think the hall should tell the story of baseball and the house the greatest of the great in every era, Big Mac, Sosa, and dare I say… Bonds…. should all have a place there.. IMHO

  2. Mark Merritt says:

    The unofficial consensus was that Robbie was using ‘roids while in Cleveland, but without proof I’ll go with your pick of him.

    Dawson, Raines and Larkin are all worthy imo.

    Frankly, if they inducted Bert and no one else this year, it would satisfy me. Tragic that he’s not in there.

  3. Josh says:

    I agree with Mark about Bert.. based on stats since I never saw him play.. I never thought of Larkin as a HOF player, he never had that “feel” to me… Same with Dawson, but I saw Andre at the end of his career.. I know he had some great years where he was one of the most “feared players in the game…

  4. Byron says:

    Yeah, you know, silly as it sounds, there IS a “feel” thing about players. There are no-brainers both ways, but some of it comes down to, “when I think about a Hall-of-Famer, does this guy SEEM (“feel”) like one?” Larkin is really one of those borderline guys; I won’t object if he gets in, but I don’t think it’ll be a rip-off if he doesn’t (like I would Alomar).

    But Bert Blyleven? I don’t get it why he’s not there. 5th in strikeouts all-time ALONE ought to merit inclusion. Although at the same time, I will have to admit that while he was playing, I’m not sure he passed the “feel test”…

    And yeah, maybe a “roids wing” of Cooperstown. Baseball has a looming issue ahead of it, with not only Big Mac, but as you say, Bonds, Sosa, Clemens, Palmeiro, A-Rod, and the rest. Thankfully, the always-dependable, resolute leadership of Bug Selig will once again clear a path through the fog…ahem…

  5. Wade says:

    Just for fun, I checked these players at baseball-reference.com, which includes a number of hall-of-fame metrics.

    Bill James has a formula known as Hall of Fame Monitor that guesses how likely a player is to be elected. A player with a score of 130 or higher is considered a “virtual cinch” to get elected. Of the guys mentioned, only Alomar (194), McGwire (170), Lee Smith (135), Mattingly (134), and Edgar Martinez (132) make the cut. Trailing closely are Dave Parker (124), Jack Morris (122), and Blyleven (120).

    James also has a formula known as the Hall of Fame Standards Test, which ranks players from 0 to 100 with an average hall-of-famer scoring 50. Only three of the guys mentioned come in at 50 or higher: Alomar (57), Blyleven (50), and Edgar Martinez (50). McGriff (48), Larkin (47), and Raines (47) are right behind.

    • Byron says:

      @Wade: As a huge fan of Bill James, it’d sure be interesting to know how Martinez makes that cut. I just don’t see it, not at all. At least Blyleven makes it on the second test. I’d imagine that he attaches a lot of importance to correcting for homefield, etc. (Andre Dawson benefited from playing at Wrigley, etc.). I’ll have to check that out. And as to McGwire, I’m sure the “Monitor” doesn’t factor in steroids, right?

      And by the way, I think a decent argument can be made for Lee Smith. I suppose that if he hadn’t bounced around so cotton-pickin’ much, it’d help his borderline HOF credentials. I think that if you’re a “bouncer”, you need to have a more rock-solid case for the Hall, a la Rickey Henderson.

      Finally, I’m sure that Bill James is very careful to explain (somewhere) how his “Standards Test” ought–and ought not–be used. One of the things that I know chafes him is arguments that turn on lowest common denominators. “Dave Concepcion was better than Phil Rizzuto, so Concepcion ought to be in the Hall”. This ignores the question, of course, of whether Rizzuto belongs in the Hall or not, and whether we allow obvious HOF voting mistakes to define downward the whole thing. He also hates–again rightly so–silly comparisons that people use. “Barry Larkin stole more bases than Ralph Kiner, hit more home runs than Ozzie Smith, and fielded better than Harmon Killebrew; those guys are in the Hall, so he oughta be!”. People actually say dumb stuff like that, and if enough people believe it, Rowland Office is in the Hall of Fame. The Standards Test could be used similarly, because without looking, I’d bet that if 50 is the “average HOFer”, there’s one or two HOFers that are in the low 30s, if not the mid-20s–and there are undoubtedly a bunch of Jim Wynn-type players that rank higher on that scale than some HOFers…

  6. Mark Merritt says:

    Update 1/6/11

    Bert Blyleven just got in!

    Yeah, I’m so excited that I just had to visit the now defunct NKAZ in order to announce my joy. Well, as much joy as a silly (but awesome) game could bring a person.

    Hope all is well with you and yours Byron.

    M

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