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Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2009

The Hall of Fame Revue, Starring Bert and Artie

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For baseball fans, December is a time to look ahead as trades and free-agent signings create a new competitive landscape. For the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA), it's also a time to ponder the past in the annual voting for membership in the Hall of Fame. Frank's BBWAA membership from his days at the Journal Sentinel gives him a vote. Artie's half-century as a fan gives him advisory status.

Frank: Here's the 2010 ballot, with 26 candidates.

Artie: Ah, to help decide who goes to Cooperstown. Even vicariously, it's a blast.

Frank: First, a recap of the rules. A player with at least 10 full big-league seasons joins the ballot five years after he's retired. He needs 5% of the vote to stay on the ballot and 75% for election. He has a maximum of 15 years on the ballot before moving to the veterans category. That voting is mostly by the current Hall of Famers, who recently elected manager Whitey Herzog and umpire Doug Harvey. The BBWAA vote will be announced Jan. 6, 2010.

Artie: How many guys can we... um, you... vote for?

Frank: No more than 10. Last year there were 539 ballots cast, putting the 5% threshhold at 27 votes and the 75% mark at 405. Rickey Henderson won on his first try with 511 votes and Jim Rice made it on his final ballot with 412.

The Big 2

Artie: Now the most important statistic from last year. How close to election was my premier candidate, the master moundsman of the ’70s and ’80s, the Dynamic Dutchman, Bert Blyleven?

Frank: He got 338 votes, including mine, or 63%, just behind Andre Dawson's 67%. Including this vote, Bert has three more chances with the BBWAA.

Artie: What's with these scribes? Blyleven has 287 wins and an earned-run average of 3.31, pitching on a lot of crummy teams and mostly in the American League, facing designated hitters. He has 60 shutouts, ninth on the all-time list, and 3,701 strikeouts, fifth all-time. And he's 14th all-time in innings pitched with 4,969 1/3.

Frank: This year Justin Verlander led the majors with 240 innings. Blyleven surpassed that 12 times, including six straight years over 275.

Artie: Hell, the guy deserves his own wing in the Hall!

Frank: Bert has my vote again, as does Dawson, who's comparable to Rice but with defensive skills. "The Hawk" had 438 homers and 1,591 RBI and won eight Gold Gloves. Counting this year, Dawson has seven ballots left.

Artie: But Blyleven is down to three shots, so his time is now!

Frank: It helps that this ballot and the ones for 2011 and ’12 don't have any first-ballot certainties like Henderson. Next year the top newcomers are Jeff Bagwell and the steroid-tainted Rafael Palmeiro, and in ’12 the big name is Bernie Williams. But in 2013 the rift hits the fan with Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa being eligible, as well as Craig Biggio, Curt Schilling and Mike Piazza.

Artie: The BBWAA doesn't want a year with nobody elected, ain'a?

Frank: It's quite rare. The last time was 1996, and before that 1971.

The First-Timers

Frank: Fifteen players are new to the ballot, and 10 are unlikely to reach 5%—Kevin Appier, Ellis Burks, Pat Hentgen, Mike Jackson, Eric Karros, Ray Lankford, Shane Reynolds, David Segui, Robin Ventura and Todd Zeile.

Artie: Good players but not Hall-worthy. That leaves five first-timers who might be worth keeping so they can build their vote like my guy Bert, who got only 18% in his first year.

Frank: We start with Roberto Alomar—a .300 lifetime batting average, 2,724 hits, 10 Gold Gloves at second base, 1,508 runs.

Artie: Gotta keep him. Not many second sackers with his offensive stats.

Frank: Next is Andres Galarraga—399 homers and 1,425 RBI are good numbers, but not enough for me.

Artie: Agreed. If he gets in the Hall, George "the Boomer" Scott should.

Frank: Next, Barry Larkin—.295 average, 2,340 hits, an MVP in ’95, three Gold Gloves, first shortstop with a 30-30 season in homers and steals.

Artie: Like Alomar, strong numbers for his position. He's gotta stay.

Frank: Next, Edgar Martinez, who spent most of his time as Seattle's DH. A career .312 hitter with 2,247 hits, a .418 on-base percentage and 309 homers. But is that enough for someone who played almost 70% of his games—1,412 out of 2,055—as a DH?

Artie: Not for me. Paul Molitor was a DH in his later seasons, but baseball-reference.com shows he played only about 44% of his games (1,174 out of 2,683) as a DH. And he had 3,319 hits!

Frank: One more first-timer, Fred McGriff—a .284 BA with 2,490 hits, 1,550 RBI and 493 homers.

Artie: And there's never been talk that his slugging was chemically aided.

Frank: I'm voting for three first-timers, Alomar, Larkin and McGriff. They deserve a longer look.

The Other Holdovers

Artie: Besides Bert and Dawson, there are nine holdovers from last year.

Frank: Five have never had my vote—Harold Baines, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Tim Raines and, sadly, Don Mattingly. He's a .307 career hitter and as a Yankee fan I love him, but a bad back shortened his career and left him with "only" 2,153 hits.

Artie: A terrific player but not in the super-elite.

Frank: Murphy was a two-time MVP with the Braves, Parker a two-time batting champ with the Pirates, Raines is fifth all-time in stolen bases and scored almost 1,600 runs. But they just don't get there for me.

Artie: Baines (.289, 384 homers) is like Martinez, mostly known as a DH.

Frank: That leaves three holdovers, including Mark McGwire. As long as he's on the ballot he gets my vote.

Artie: Even though he's assumed to have used steroids?

Frank: Yup. Major League Baseball, for several reasons, tolerated the cheating for a long time and was happy to benefit from all that slugging by McGwire, Bonds, Sosa and others. It's part of the game's history and can't be ignored. Besides, lots of guys used ’roids but didn't hit 583 homers, as McGwire did.

Artie: As we've said before, any admitted or presumed ’roid guy who makes the Hall could have that flaw noted on his plaque. Or they could keep the tainted players in a separate area.

Frank: It will be very interesting how McGwire handles himself now that he's the St. Louis hitting coach. He got only 22% of the vote last time; some "mea culpas" might change future ballots.

Artie: He's looking better now that we have an admitted steroid user, and liar about it, Alex Rodriguez, being "rehabilitated" as a World Series winner.

Frank: Next on the ballot is Jack Morris, who was 254-186 with a 3.90 ERA and three 20-win years, entirely in the AL.

Artie: Just like my guy Bert, he qualifies.

Frank: Next is Lee Smith, whose 478 saves put him third behind Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera. I back him every year.

Artie: And finally, there's Alan Trammell.

Frank: I haven't voted for him before, but Larkin's presence adds shortstop "context." Trammell hit .285 to Larkin's .295, with seven .300 seasons to Larkin's nine, 2,365 hits to Larkin's 2,340, 1,003 RBI to Larkin's 960.

Artie: If one stays on the ballot, the other should.

Frank: Total things up and I'm voting for nine guys—Blyleven, Dawson, McGwire, Morris, Smith, Trammell, Alomar, Larkin and McGriff.

Artie: Readers, let your debating begin. Except on one point: Bert Blyleven must be elected!

Bring on Whoever!

Frank: I'm just back from New York, where the Giants wove half the red carpet the Packers trod in clinching a playoff spot.

Artie: Not that the Pack needed help, but between their stomping Seattle 48-10 and the G-Men's 41-9 choke against Carolina, there sure wasn't much drama.

Frank: It's not true that the Giants "didn't show up." They were there for about seven minutes. They took the kickoff, marched down the field, scored a touchdown, had it nullified by a holding penalty...

Artie: See? Like Mike McCarthy says, penalties don't mean anything.

Frank: Then the Giants fumbled it away, and then they disappeared.

Artie: The best news is that my nightmare first-round game, in frigid Philadelphia, can't happen by the seedings. If Mason Crosby shanks the game, it won't be weather-related.

Frank: Any preference about the first-round foe?

Artie: All ’dem bums is the same. The Pack can handle anyone!

Frank: Quite a change from "Fire them all!"

Artie: That was then, and could be again, but this is now.