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.