With the Baseball Hall of Fame ready to announce its 2011 inductees this Wednesday, I wanted to give my thoughts on the ballot. First, there are 33 players on the ballot including 14 holdovers and 19 first-timers. A candidate needs to receive 75 percent of the vote from eligible BBWAA members to be elected.
Before I comment on specific players, I want to give my view on performance enhancing drugs and Hall of Fame voting. I am convinced that hundreds of players used PEDS. This includes pitchers, batters, great players and players who barely made it to the majors. We really don't know who took PEDs and who didn't. We also don't know how much players were helped by these substances. We can guess, but we really know very little. Therefore, I consider PED's to part of the era and will judge players based on their final results.
Who will make it?
Bert Blyleven received 74.2% of the vote in 2011 and has been gaining support rapidly, due partly to a big push from the sabermetrics community. He should have been inducted a long time ago, but will probably finally make it in his 14th year.
Roberto Alomar got 73.7% of the vote in 2010 and should get over 75% in his second year on the ballot. He was an outstanding player both offensively and defensively and was among the top ten second basemen in the history of the game.
Who will come close?
Barry Larkin received 51.6% of the votes in his first year on the ballot last year. He's not likely to reach 75% this year, but he should come close. If I had a vote, Larkin would be one of my choices. He was a great all around player - better than the majority of shortstops in the Hall of Fame.
Jack Morris garnered 52.3% of the vote last year. He should inch a little closer this year, but probably won't get to 75%. Morris was an important played on my all-time favorite Tigers teams of the 1980s. He was a good pitcher with a lot of durability, but he was not Hall of Fame material. A 3.90 ERAand 105 ERA+ is simply not good enough for the Hall of Fame.
What about intangibles? It's been said that he was a big-game pitcher because of his work in 1984 and his historic victory over the Braves in the 1991 World Series. But he was horrible in the 1987 and 1992 post-seasons. They say his ERA was high but he won games because he "pitched to the score" easing up when his team had a big lead. The problem is that every pitcher claims to pitch to the score to some extent and there is no evidence that Morris was any better at it than anyone else. What we do know is that he played for some very strong offensive teams, who gave him a lot more opportunities for victors than a pitcher like Blyleven.
Lee Smith is one of the best closers in the history of the game and received 47.3% last year. He'll move up closer to 75% in his 10th year of eligibility, but has very little chance to make it. He's borderline, but it's hard to judge the rapidly evolving closer role. I think that only the elite closers should make the Hall of Fame. I don't think he's in the same class as Mariano Rivera or Goose Gossage. I would not vote for him.
Jeff Bagwell is the best first-time candidate on the ballot. He was one of the elite hitters of his era and arguably among the best thirty hitters of all time. Even after factoring in defensive contribution, he probably finishes in the top 40 among position players. I consider him a definite YES. Unfortunately, there are suspicions that he used steroids and that will probably keep him out.
Others holders who should get consideration:
Alan Trammell reached 22.4% last year. He is borderline due to a lot of injuries late in his career. He is probably a sliver below Larkin, but is still better than about half the shortstops in the Hall of Fame. I'm biased but I'd vote for him. I consider him a better candidate than Morris, but the BBWAA does not agree. Trammell will probably have to wait for the Veterans Committee to vote him in some day. Perhaps, he and Lou Whitaker will go in as a duo 20 year from now.
Edgar Martinez (36.2% last year) faces an uphill battle as a designated hitter. A DH needs to be an elite hitter to make it and Martinez was. I've gone back and forth on him, but I would vote for him.
Tim Raines (30.4%) loses votes because of his Cocaine use. I consider him one of the great all around players of his time and would vote for him.
Mark McGwire (23.7%) is surrounded by steroids rumors and won't get voted in. However, he's one of the all-time great sluggers and I think he belongs.
Don Mattingly - great peak, but he didn't last long enough.
Fred McGriff -Good slugger with a long career, but not elite.
Harold Baines - Good hitter and remarkably consistent for 22 years but not a star.
Dave Parker - Excellent all around player, but not enough great peak years.
Dale Murphy - Super for a few years like Mattingly, but faded fast.
Other first-year players worth considering:
Rafael Palmeiro - His positive steroids test will keep him out. He was very good and consistent for a long time. I think he lacks the monster years that a first baseman needs. I don't think I'd vote for him, but could perhaps be talked into it.
Larry Walker - very good player at all phases of the game. He was helped a lot by playing in Colorado. Modern statistics adjust for ballpark, but I have a sense that Coors Field may have helped Walker more than others. His frequent injuries don't help him. I don't think I'd vote for him, but again I could be convinced.
Kevin Brown - Did not have a really long career but his peak years were fantastic, better than I realized. I'd vote for him.
Juan Gonzalez - Lots of injuries, not enough great years. No.
John Olerud - Better than I remembered, but not enough.
Bobby Higginson - Has he really been retired for five years? Gets more grief from Tigers fans than he should but obviously not close to HoF. I only mentioned him because he was a long-time Tiger.