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Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012

Making Our Pitches For The Hall

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 Last week the Observers looked at the candidates for baseball's Hall of Fame who are either known or suspected to have used performance-enhancing drugs. Now they assess the other candidates and declare their votes, both real (Frank's) and unofficial (Artie's).

 

Frank: First, the usual summary of the election rules. A player with at least 10 major-league seasons joins the ballot five years after his retirement. He needs at least 5% of the vote to remain on the ballot, and the term of eligibility is 15 years. Election requires 75% of the votes cast; last year there were 573 legal ballots, so 430 votes were needed. Voters may list as many as 10 players.

Artie: And who does the voting?

Frank: Members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America who have been active for at least 10 years, including honorary lifetime members like me. Here's the ballot...

Artie: I see they make it easy for you scribes; just put an X through a box. Looks like 37 candidates....

Frank: Twenty-four are new to the ballot. Four of them we discussed last week because of steroid suspicions—Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and, to a lesser degree, Mike Piazza.

Artie: Most first-timers don't get 5% and drop off, ain'a?

Frank: Right. This year I'd say these 15 won't make it: Sandy Alomar Jr., Jeff Cirillo, Royce Clayton, Jeff Conine, Steve Finley, Shawn Green, Roberto Hernandez, Ryan Klesko, Jose Mesa, Reggie Sanders, Aaron Sele, Mike Stanton, Todd Walker, Rondell White and Woody Williams.

Artie: Not that some of them weren't real good players. Shawn Green, in his early years with Toronto, looked like he could be a great one.

Frank: I'm sure his bat's in the Hall for that four-homer, six-hit, 19 total-base day he had at Miller Park in '02. I'd have been there for sure, but just my luck, I was visiting my family back east.

Artie: Green wound up with more than 2,000 hits and 1,000 RBIs. But he falls into that category of “very, very good,” but not quite enough.

Frank: Like Dale Murphy, a two-time MVP in the 1980s who is in his final year of eligibility and drew only 14.5% last year. Or Don Mattingly, whom I love but have never voted for because his body didn't hold up long enough to get him to that ultimate level.

Artie: A Yankee fan who restrains himself from voting for Donny Baseball. Let no one say you lack integrity!

Frank: I think the one newcomer who has no hint of steroid use and could well benefit with a first-time election is Craig Biggio.

Artie: Three thousand hits is a pretty definitive number, along with more than 1,800 runs scored—14th on the all-time list—even though his lifetime batting average is just .281.

Frank: And he was an all-star as a catcher and a second baseman. He's got my vote.

Artie: And my imaginary one.

Frank: Aside from the “steroid guys,” that leaves four first-timers who deserve another look, and will probably get it by getting the 28-to-30 votes needed to stay on the ballot: Julio Franco, Kenny Lofton, Curt Schilling and David Wells.

Artie: Lofton stands out to me. He was overshadowed by all the sluggers of his era, but he hit .299 lifetime with more than 1,500 runs and 622 stolen bases, 15th all-time. And he was a terrific centerfielder.

Frank: For me, he falls into the “very, very good” category, as does Franco—more than 2,500 hits but too much of a DH/pinch-hitting specialist in his last few years.

Artie: Yeah, he hung around for a long time, but I see that as a good thing. Why not keep playing if you can?

Frank: Schilling will get some support, especially in light of the cloud over Clemens. Bob Ryan said on ESPN that although Schilling's 216 wins may seem low, when he was at his best there was no one better. But you can say that about all sorts of people, like Mattingly.

Artie: Schilling had a fine ERA of 3.46, three 20-win seasons, three seasons with at least 300 strikeouts. He's 15th all-time in K's with 3,116.

Frank: But I've never voted for Jack Morris, now in his 14th year on the ballot, and he had 254 wins and those great post-seasons with Detroit in '84 and Minnesota in '91.

Artie: But look at Schilling's post-season numbers, also mostly from two years, '01 with Arizona and '04 with Boston.

Frank: He was 7-1 in those years and overall was 11-2 with a 2.23 and a WHIP under 1.00 in the post-season. Morris was 7-4 and 3.80. Gee, I may be talking myself into a Schilling vote.

Artie: And how about Wells? He had 239 wins and in the post-season was 10-5 with a 3.17 ERA.

Frank: But a lifetime ERA of 4.13. For me, that's enough to put him a cut below Schilling.

Artie: I guess I can agree with that as a tie-breaker.

Frank: Now we come to the 13 holdovers on the ballot. As you know, I've consistently voted for two steroid users, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, for reasons we went over last week.

Artie: My imaginary vote allows me to abstain on the steroid issue.

Frank: Last year, when Barry Larkin was elected with 86% of the vote, Morris was second with 67%. He's in his next-to-last year, and often when a guy gets that close there's a surge to get him over the top—like what happened with your guy Bert Blyleven two years ago. Morris needs perhaps 50 more votes, but his total jumped by 71 a year ago.

Artie: He'll benefit from the Clemens thing too, I'll bet.

Frank: And from the notion that the voters want to make sure they elect somebody. I came around to your way of thinking on Blyleven, but for me Morris falls just short.

Artie: For me too.

Frank: Last year, besides Larkin, McGwire and Palmeiro, I voted for Lee Smith (478 saves, 3.03 ERA) and Alan Trammell as an American League equivalent to Larkin. I didn't vote for Jeff Bagwell, Fred McGriff, Morris, Murphy, Tim Raines, Larry Walker or my beloved Yankees, Mattingly and Bernie Williams, because for me they're in the “very, very good” realm. Likewise for Edgar Martinez, plus he was almost exclusively a DH.

Artie: Bagwell has some clout, to coin a phrase, and ran third last year with 56%, but it's a tough call. If Walker could have avoided injuries he'd have been a “can't miss” guy, but like Mattingly his body betrayed him. But I'd give a vote to McGriff as someone, like Lofton, who went under the radar but had sensational numbers—493 homers without a hint of suspicion, more than 1,500 RBIs and almost 2,500 hits.

Frank: The guy we've disagreed about for years is Raines.

Artie: A lifetime .294 hitter, .385 on-base percentage, 1,571 runs and 808 stolen bases, fifth on the all-time list. I'd vote for him, but I concede that it's not a lock.

Frank: He's in his sixth year and got 49% last year, so his vote probably will grow.

Artie: So to summarize, my imaginary votes are for Biggio, Raines, McGriff, Smith and Trammell. But I do want Schilling, Lofton and Franco to stay on the ballot for future consideration. Gee, usually I like to faux-vote for nine or 10, but this time for some reason I feel differently.

Frank: And this time I'm filing a crowded ballot: Biggio, Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Palmeiro, Piazza, Smith, Sosa and Trammell.

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