It's December (although one might not be able to tell based on the weather), and in the baseball world, that means two things: General Managers meetings and Hall of Fame voting.
There are 19 new players eligible for the Hall of Fame, plus the players that haven't yet been elected inside the last 15 years, but there really aren't many that will get in. For example, David Segui ain't getting in, even if he hadn't admitted to steroid use, and neither will Andy Ashby be earning the necessary 5% of the vote to stay on the ballot for next year.
Of the hold-over players still on the ballot, Harold Baines finished with the lowest vote last year, with 5.9%, so he may very well disappear after this round of voting.
Cooperstown claims to be the most exclusive Hall of Fame - and it probably is - but it's not always the most logical of the Halls. There obviously is a fine line between just inducting everyone (which the Hockey Hall of Fame sometimes has trouble with) and making the criteria so strict that you risk inducting no one.
I read an excellent book a little while ago that went through each Hall of Famer and laid out the case for them. It also discussed the ever-changing role and influence of the Veteran's Committee and the evolution of the voting process1.
But, regardless, here are some ideas for this upcoming election:
When Alomar gets in, I don't think there's any way that he won't become the first player to be wearing a Toronto Blue Jays cap on his plaque. If he decides no to, the Hall should Gary Carter him and weigh his career with each of his teams.
Alomar won two championships in Toronto, played in 12 consecutive All-Star Games, won 10 Gold Gloves thanks to his exceptional range and hands, finished in the Top-6 of MVP voting five times2, hit .300 nine times, stole 474 bases, and scored 1,508 runs. Not only was he regularly considered one of the two or three top second basemen in baseball at his peak, but he was considered one of the greatest of all-time.
Chances of being elected: 99.999...%
Chances of being elected in 2010: 75%
The knock against Edgar is that he "only" did one thing - hit. He spent about 70% of his career as a DH, partly due to his astonishing lack of speed. But, when you only do one thing as well as he did, it helps to make up for other things you didn't do. He was a lifetime .312 hitter, with a .418 on-base percentage - when he couldn't get a hit, he'd just take a walk. He hit the ball hard, too, finishing with a slugging percentage over .500. He was also an unbelievable run-producer - he drove in and scored over 1,200 runs.
But, does an essentially one-dimensional player deserve inclusion in Cooperstown? Martinez will probably suffer for a couple of years, just as relievers have in the past, as he is the first "true" DH to seriously merit inclusion, but he will eventually make it in, and it definitely shouldn't take as long as Goose Gossage.
Chances of being elected: 90%
Chances of being elected in 2010: 50%
The Crime Dog played for six different teams in his career, which is an immediate knock on his Hall of Fame credentials - he never really made a long enough impact that you think of him as "a Blue Jay" or "a Padre" or "a Brave", etc. He also put up solid, if not spectacular numbers - 493 home runs (twice a league leader), over 1,500 RBIs and nearly 2,500 hits. But I don't think he'd ever be considered among the best first basemen in the league, let alone in history.
He will, of course, always be remembered in Toronto as part (with Tony Fernandez) of the deal that brought Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar from San Diego.
Chances of being elected: 10%
Chances of being elected in 2009: 0.0000001%
Whether or not to vote for Barry Larkin is going to be a debate for years to come.3 He was the MVP in 2005, was one of the best hitting shortstops of his era (his career batting average of .295 was 39 points higher than the average shortstop, and his OPS was 20% better), and won three Gold Gloves, despite playing the same league as Ozzie Smith. He played his entire career for the Cincinnati Reds, could steal bases, and was a World Champion. Shortstops of that era are mostly forgotten, but Larkin was probably one of the top two or three in the league.
Chances of being elected: 25%
Chances of being elected in 2009: 5%
Andre Dawson missed out on election last year by a little more than 40 votes, and Bert Blyleven missed by about twice that. I would say it's 50-50 that Dawson will get in this year, his ninth on the ballot. Dawson's chances are hurt, primarily, due to his time spent playing Montreal, where he soared below the radar for 10 years. The attention paid to him after his retirement, surrounding this lack of coverage, may finally have made up for it.
Blyleven, in his 12th year, will probably have to wait another one - despite his 287 wins, 3,701 strikeouts, and two World Series championships, he is hurt by his lack of All-Star selections or award wins. Plus, his post-baseball career as a broadcaster may have tarnished his credentials in many voters' eyes. His chances this year are probably down around the 25% range.
The other big question will be, again, how well Mark McGwire does. McGwire's support has been sitting around the 20-25% range through his first three years on the ballot, despite 583 homeruns, a 982 career OPS (about 62% better than average). Again, a pretty one-dimensional player (he homered or struck out, realistically), but he's been hurt much more by steroids. There's no need to go into it - it's pretty clear he used performance-enhancing drugs, and then was super-evasive4 during Congressional hearings.
The reason I would vote for McGwire, though, stems from the fact that he didn't break the rules. Morally, his use of PEDs was pretty douchy, but seeing as baseball couldn't really have cared less who was using them, how can he be kept out on those grounds? Moral character is apparently one of the tenets upon which Cooperstown election hinges, but seeing as Ty Cobb was a violent, racist asshole, Babe Ruth was a boozer and adulterer, and Cap Anson was part of the reason it took until 1947 for black players to enter the Major Leagues, I don't see how Mark McGwire poking himself in the ass with a needle and re-igniting many people's love of baseball is much worse.
McGwire won't make it in this year, as he is the first to be held up as an example of the "Steroid Era", but he deserves to be in, and before his 15 years is up. There are not a lot of locks over the next couple of years (Larry Walker and Jeff Bagwell will garner serious consideration in 2011, and Bernie Williams is about the only name shining out of 2012), so if he doesn't pull in a higher vote count then, he may never.
1 - For example, no one has ever been named on 100% of the ballots, and players like Joe DiMaggio (third), Hank Greenberg (eighth), and Yogi Berra (second) didn't even get in during their first year of eligibility
2 - Which, at the time he played, for a second baseman to do that was pretty special
3 - Because, if he does get in, it won't be for a while
4 - Which, I guess, is better than lying