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Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2011

Time for Our Hallmark Moments

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Before Frank headed back East for the holidays, the Observers held their annual discussion about the ballot for baseball's Hall of Fame. As a member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, Frank has a vote. As a student of the game, Artie qualifies as a special consultant.

Players with at least 10 major-league seasons are eligible for the Hall, starting five years after they retire. Election requires 75% of the vote, which is announced in January. Last year there were 581 voters.


Five percent of the vote is needed to remain on the ballot for a maximum of 15 years. After that, a player may be considered by the 16-member Veterans Committee, consisting of Hall of Famers, executives and media members.


Frank
: This year I don't see a single Hall-worthy name among the newcomers to the ballot. The first-timers are Jeromy Burnitz, Vinny Castilla, Brian Jordan, Javy Lopez, Bill Mueller, Terry Mulholland, Phil Nevin, Brad Radke, Tim Salmon, Ruben Sierra, Bernie Williams, Tony Womack and Eric Young Sr.

Artie
: Williams deserves some consideration, but I see him in the category of "very, very good," not among the true greats.

Frank
: Same here. Williams hit .297 with 1,257 RBI and 1,366 runs scored, and he helped the Yankees win six pennants and four World Series. But just as this Yankee fan has never voted for Don Mattingly, I can't vote for Williams.

Artie
: So this year's newcomers strike out. But the next two years will see lots of major names appearing, ain'a?

Frank
: You betcha. Next year the newly eligible will include Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling and Craig Biggio. And in December 2013 there'll be Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina and Frank Thomas.

Artie
: Bonds and Clemens, the Big Two of steroid allegations. And Sosa, too! Wow, there'll be heated discussions then. But for now we'd better turn to this year's ballot holdovers.

Frank
: Last year, when Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven were elected, Barry Larkin got 62.1% of the vote, Jack Morris 53.5%, Lee Smith 45.3%, Jeff Bagwell 41.7% and Tim Raines 37.5%. The other holdovers are Edgar Martinez (32.9%,) Alan Trammell (24.3%), Larry Walker (20.3%), Mark McGwire (19.8%), Fred McGriff (17.9%), Mattingly (13.6%), Dale Murphy (12.6%), Rafael Palmeiro (11.0%) and Juan Gonzalez (5.2%).

Artie
: And you voted for...

Frank
: Alomar and Blyleven, Larkin and Trammell as comparably great shortstops, and the two drug-tainted guys, McGwire and Palmeiro.

Artie
: Explain your reasoning on that again.

Frank
: I don't think the BBWAA should be doing MLB's dirty work in making ethical judgments. In 1989 MLB banned Pete Rose from the game because of his gambling and the Hall declared him ineligible for the ballot. If MLB makes the same judgment about steroid users, fine, ban them too. But if they stay on the ballot, I'll assess them based on the statistics.

Artie
: McGwire and Palmeiro were among the best of their era, and because there was no drug testing then, we don't know how many guys were users.

Frank
: I think it would be good for baseball if McGwire or Bonds or Clemens were voted into the Hall. It would make everyone—players, MLB, owners, media and fans—confront the fact that they all had a role in the steroid era. Nobody was complaining when the home-run binges revived the game and refilled the coffers after the strike-ravaged mid-'90s.

Artie
: That doesn't mean drug users should be treated like other inductees, though.

Frank
: Right. Isolate the steroid-era guys in a separate exhibit at the Hall, or put a big asterisk or a footnote on their plaques. But a Hall of Fame that doesn't address the steroid era would be less than honest.

Artie
: Looks like Larkin will need to add about 75 votes to make it and Morris about 125. How much longer will the top also-rans be on the ballot?

Frank
: This is Morris' 13th year, Trammell's 11th and Smith's 10th. The rest are in better shape, with Larkin and Bagwell on their second ballot and Raines his fifth.

Artie
: So Morris is the guy most in jeopardy.

Frank
: It's very rare when the BBWAA doesn't elect somebody. So some voters will be asking, "Is Morris all that different from Blyleven?"

Artie
: Yes! It's not even close.

Frank
: You must have Dutch blood that you don't know about. But I agree. I think Morris is remembered mostly for his great World Series for the Twins in '91, especially the 1-0, 10-inning Game 7. And he was 254-186 with a 3.90 career ERA. But Blyleven had 287 wins and a much lower ERA, 3.31 over 4,970 innings, more than 1,100 more than Morris.

Artie
: I'm with you on Larkin and Trammell. Both excelled at what many call the toughest position. After that, I think Smith, Bagwell and Raines all rate some attention.

Frank
: Raines just doesn't trip my trigger, and right now I don't think Bagwell stands out over other sluggers like McGriff or Gonzalez—or Dave Parker, who last year got 15.3% in his final year of eligibility.

Artie
: How about Smith, who's third all-time in saves with 478?

Frank
: Interestingly, a few years ago I voted for Smith and not Goose Gossage, who's now in the Hall. The reason was their stats for blown saves. According to baseball-almanac.com, Gossage had 112 blown saves, the most ever, and Smith 103. But Gossage had 310 career saves, 168 fewer than Smith. So there's a big difference in save percentages; Smith converted 82% of his chances and Gossage 73%.

Artie
: And just like Gossage, Smith pitched more than one inning a lot more than closers do now.

Frank
: Which is the argument Gossage used to persuade enough voters to elect him four years ago. I can vote for a maximum of 10, and this year I'll add Smith to Larkin, Trammell, McGwire and Palmeiro.

Artie
: And I'd add Raines, who's fifth all-time in stolen bases, and Bagwell. I've read that in many of the new statistics coming from sabermetrics—things like Wins Above Replacement—guys like Raines and Trammell come out very strong. I'll never understand how those new stats are figured out, but they seem valid.

Frank
: As the years go on, Hall of Fame voters will skew away from codgers like me and toward the youngsters who favor the new stuff. We've seen that already with the Cy Young and MVP awards, which are chosen by the current beat writers.

The Other Hall Vote


Frank
: How do you feel about Ron Santo finally getting voted in by the Veterans Committee a year after his death?

Artie
: I think he was deserving, though it might look like a sympathy vote. He hit 342 homers at a time when 300-plus was quite an achievement. He batted a decent .277 and was a good defensive third baseman.

Frank
: He never got higher than the 40s in the writers' vote, in part because he was overshadowed by Brooks Robinson during his career and Mike Schmidt subsequently. I thought he lobbied too much for the veterans' vote, but no one can deny his courage in the face of losing both legs to diabetes.

Artie
: There's one more Hall of Fame topic I want to mention. Now that Tony La Russa has retired, he'll be up for consideration by the veterans at some point. And if the steroid issue is a factor for McGwire and Palmeiro, it should be part of the discussion with La Russa.

Frank: As an "enabler," you'd say?

Artie: You can't convince me he didn't know about Jose Canseco and McGwire in Oakland, and then he had McGwire again for his boom years with the Cardinals. A guy famed for his preparation and deep knowledge about every aspect of the game didn't have a clue of steroid use by his players? He should at least have to give some kind of explanation.

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