It's Hall of Fame season again, and once again I'm behind the 8-ball with regards to writing much despite the fact that Hall of Fame debates are by nature historical debates, specifically historical baseball debates, and I love baseball, history, and debates (as well as every possible combination of two or more of those terms).
I blame holiday revelry.
Nevertheless, like last year, I have just enough time to do a quick rundown of my imaginary ballot. This year is particularly tough, as there are more than ten candidates who I think would make good additions to the Hall of Fame. I don't think I'd vote for more than ten even if I could (which is to say, even if I could vote, and could then also vote for more than ten players), but there are legitimate cases to be made for fourteen or fifteen of these guys, especially in light of recent inductions.
But before I digress too far from my intended purpose, here's my "ballot" (once again in alphabetical order):
Roberto Alomar. From last year: "If the various advanced defensive metrics developed by smarter folks than I are to be believed, Roberto Alomar was not the defensive genius I thought he was when I was a wee one. But when you hit .300/.371/.443 over 17 seasons at a skill position, you're one hell of a ballplayer."
I stand by everything I wrote last year, though this past year has seen a lot of advanced defensive metrics called into question, still by smarter folks than I, though it's worth noting that the folks who are smart enough to create advanced defensive metrics have also, historically, been smart enough to warn the likes of me that said metrics are advancements, not end points. So the fact that Robbie Alomar's defense is difficult to quantify, though perhaps more obvious this year than last, is hardly surprising.
But in light of all this, I think Joe Posnanski sums up Alomar best (as he tends to do):
"If you feel that he was a solid but overrated defender -- which probably sums up the anti-Alomar-defense stance -- then he is one of the 10 best second basemen in baseball history...if you believe Alomar was a GREAT defensive player, as many people do, then he's one of the five best second basemen ever and should be in the discussion with Joe Morgan and Rogers Hornsby."
Alomar should have been a slam-dunk first-ballot Hall of Famer. He probably would have been had he not spat in John Hirschbeck's face back in '96. He definitely will be a Hall of Famer this year.
Jeff Bagwell. I suspect that Jeff Bagwell is going to be this year's Roberto Alomar: a guy with a first ballot résumé who has to wait for some ridiculous reason. But whereas Alomar paid the proverbial piper for slingin' saliva, Bagwell will wait because he was a power hitting first baseman in an era when power hitting first basemen grew on trees (or, perhaps more aptly, were trees─trees which used smaller trees to hit baseballs really goddamned far......or...something).
But despite the fact that suddenly everyone was launching 30+ homers on a yearly basis back in Bagwell's heyday, Bagwell was so, so much better (and so, so much more consistent) than the average bear. Even ten short years ago, the numbers would have spoken for themselves: .297/.408/.540. 449 homers. 1500+ runs and RBIs (if you're a ribbie fan). 9 seasons with 30+ home runs. 3 with 40+. 2 30-30 years (that's right; Bagwell could steal a bag well* back in the day, and even once his speed left him he was a smart baserunner). A lifetime OPS+ of 149. 79.9 WAR. A Gold Glove and 3 Silver Slugger awards. A Rookie of the Year award and an MVP award.
*That's out of my system now. I promise.
And oh, what an MVP campaign it was. .368/.451/.750 with 39 homers, a 65-65 SO-BB rate, 100+ runs/RBI's, 300 total bases─an extraordinary season in any era. Except it wasn't a season. It was 1994. Bagwell did all that in only 110 games. Motherfucker formed Voltron all by himself in '94.
I'm not going to belabor the point now, because odds are I'll furiously belabor it once the results are in. But if Jeff Bagwell is not a Hall of Famer, then I have no idea what the words "Hall of Fame" mean.
Bert Blyleven. From last year: "One of my favorite arguments against Bert Blyleven (and I wish I could remember who made it) was that no kids in the 80's opened up Bert Blyleven baseball cards and got excited. I was excited when I opened Blylevens in the 80's. That's the fun thing about argumentative absolutes: as soon as one little thing doesn't fit, the argument falls apart. As for an argument that matters with regards to Blyleven, point your browsers Rich Ledererward (the Bert Blyleven series is about halfway down the left navbar) if you've not done so already."
Blyleven in 2011!
Barry Larkin. From last year: "Larkin did absolutely everything well. He hit for average (.295 lifetime). He hit for power (.444 SLG as a middle infielder). He got on base (.371 OBP). He had speed (379 SB at an 83% success rate). He fielded his position (37 defensive RAR). He's 59th all time in WAR with 68.8. He is, quite simply, a Hall of Famer."
Larkin got pretty solid support last year (51.6% of the ballot), and frankly, I suspect his candidacy is going to look better and better as the PED debate hits fever pitch on the next few HoF ballots.
Edgar Martinez. From last year: "Yes, I know he played most of his career as a DH (of course, so did Paul Molitor, and so did future Hall of Famer Frank Thomas). But inducting relief pitchers has been all the rage lately (and fairly, I think). Designated hitters are a lot more valuable than relief pitchers. And Edgar Martinez was the greatest DH of all time. It's time we set the bar, no?"
.312/.418/.515. 309 HR. 514 2B. 1283 walks versus 1202 strikeouts. And the man wasn't a regular in the big leagues until he was my age. Eat your heart out, Ichiro; Edgar was late to the Seattle party before it was cool.
Mark McGwire. From last year: "I'll also be casting my vote that doesn't mean anything for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro, by the by."
I've seen several arguments over the years in which people claim that, regardless of what any given person may think of the PED issue, McGwire didn't have a Hall of Fame career. Most of these arguments hinge on McGwire's low hits total, and the fact that a third of those hits were home runs (as if being one-dimensionally biased towards the best thing you can do at the plate were a bad thing...).
I think a good question for those people, then, is whether they think Harmon Killebrew is a Hall of Famer. Because McGwire, as a hitter, was a lot like Killebrew. Except much better.
Of course, we all know why most of the people who haven't voted for McGwire, and why most of those people probably still won't vote for him. Still, it'll be interesting to see the results of his confession on his candidacy, and I'm hopefully that as the years go by, McGwire's case will look better.
Rafael Palmeiro. I told you last year that I'd case my vote for Palmeiro, and I stick to that promise. Palmeiro may be the most debatable of the "enhanced" candidates. One could argue that he simply "compiled," that his career totals are the result of lots and lots of good-but-not-great seasons, that though he was always good he was never great, and so on.
I don't really care about that argument.
When Palmeiro "limped" to the finish line in '05, he still posted an OPS+ of 108. That's not exactly stellar, mind you, but it's not like he threw together a few part-time, 85 OPS+ years in order to crack the 500 home run mark. Palmeiro was a valuable player right up until the end, and an elite (if not inner-circle) player for 10 or 11 years. Durability and consistency are important in baseball, and I think they should be important to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Palmeiro failed a drug test after being a condescending asshole about PEDs during a nationally televised Congressional hearing. He got entirely too friendly with then-Mrs. Sandberg while a Chicago Cub. Rafael Palmeiro has, in other words, been a jerk.
Tim Raines. From last year: "A case could be made for Tim Raines as the second greatest leadoff hitter ever. Unfortunately, he played at the same time as the greatest leadoff hitter ever, and he played in Montreal. But there's no reason a .294/.385/.425 hitter with an OPS+ of 123 and 808 of the most efficient stolen bases in baseball history shouldn't have a plaque in Cooperstown."
I strongly suspect that, with Blyleven's induction imminent, SABR-minded members of cyberspace will turn their attention towards the Rock.
Alan Trammell. From last year: "Trammell will probably never make it to Cooperstown (like fellow HoF-worthy Tiger Lou Whitaker) because he spread his value over several skillsets, and not as obviously as Larkin did. Trammell could hit. He could field. He was what so many sportswriters have called a "complete player." But he was outhit by Cal Ripken (an anomaly at SS at the time) and outfielded by Ozzie Smith (who was the best defensive SS of all time), putting him in a Tim Raines-easque purgatory despite his 66.8 WAR (69th all time)."
Hopefully, as Larkin gains momentum, Trammell will, too. Unfortunately, Alan's on the ballot for the 11th time already, which probably doesn't give him enough time to mount a serious comeback. Fortunately, the Veteran's committee exists to continue to deny Trammell membership for years to come.
But we still love you on the internets, Mr. Trammell.
Larry Walker. Yup. Coors Field. 90's. Blergity-blarg-blurg.* I've read the arguments against Walker for years.
*How's that for an even-handed summary of the opposing arguments?
But the man wasn't a one-dimensional slugger, and he wasn't simply a product of his home ballpark. Was Walker better at Coors Field than on the road? Absolutely. He hit .348/.431/.637 at home vs. .278/.370/.495 away. But an .865 OPS in away games is nothing to sneeze at (Jim Rice OPSed .854 for his career despite playing in Fenway, a notorious hitter's ballpark that, for some reason, isn't as notorious as it probably should be), and Walker also ran the bases well and was an excellent fielder. He was, in short, a very complete ballplayer.
OPS+, which adjusts for park factors, still loves Walker, who chalked up seven seasons with an OPS+ north of 150 (though one was a partial season and another was the strike-shortened 1994 campaign). In three of those seven seasons, his OPS+ exceeded 160. One on of those three seasons, it exceeded 170 Walker collected 409 TB that year, on top of 78 BBs). Over the course of his career, Walker's OPS+ sits at an even 140. His WAR was 67.3.
I don't expect Walker to do especially well in the voting this year. But it will get a lot of people talking, which should prove interesting.
There are other interesting candidates. Fred McGriff will be giving voters headaches for years to come, methinks. Kevin Brown has a very, very good case (and as the crowd thins a bit, that case will likely emerge), though I'm not sure I buy into it just yet. Lenny Harris is the most hilariously awesome ballot choice in recent memory (though I want to make it clear right now that I love Lenny Harris). Murphy, Parker, and Mattingly will once again make everyone wonder "what if?"─while, simultaneously, many others will make very good cases for why what was is good enough. And of course, through it all, the harrumphing over PED users, alleged PED users, and suspected PED users will continue.
My prediction? Alomar and Blyleven get the call. Everyone else waits.