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2012 Hall of Fame Ballot

January 4, 2012 1 comment

By: Aaron Booth

One of my favorite things in sports is a hot debate about an arbitrary topic. That’s why awards and college football rankings are so much fun. Those topics leave a lot to debate, the rules are vague, there’s no clearly defined relationship between component A and component B, the qualifications of the voters are often suspect, and at the end of it we, the fans, have dozens of things to complain about. The baseball Hall of Fame is just such a topic. Five hundred or so baseball writers with almost as many different perspectives and principles vote through a ballot of 20-30 players that had at least 10-year careers and have been retired for at least 5 years. They have almost no guidelines to work with, and even though it’s called the Hall of Fame, the voters really aren’t even measuring fame – they’re measuring greatness – kind of.

The voting method that is most obnoxious to me comes from a small group of voters who refuse to vote for a player on the first ballot. Their rationale? Joe DiMaggio wasn’t elected on the first ballot, current player X isn’t as good as DiMaggio, therefore, player X can’t get a first ballot vote. Thankfully these writers are in the minority. For one thing, their rationale is only sustainable provided the majority of voters do the right thing. Any player that fails to get 5% of the vote falls off the ballot, so if all the voters took this stance, no players would go to the HOF because they would all fall off the ballot after the first year. As if this wasn’t enough, these voters have still more egg on their faces. When they look back on all their HOF votes they will realize that they had no hand in electing the best players in the game. A long time voter that takes this stance had nothing to do with electing Nolan Ryan, Cal Ripken or Ricky Henderson. They effectively voted against them because those players were elected on their first ballots. The legacy of these writers is that they are shackled by the mistakes of voters from 40 years ago. They embrace a position on principle even though the institution would die if all voters did the same. They vote against the greatest players in the game and only have a hand in electing the lesser HOFer’s, that is, they chose Gary Carter over George Brett.

Another type of voter that has emerged over the last few years is the guy that wants to manipulate the result. These guys were prevalent in the talk surrounding Roberto Alomar and are still present in the Barry Larkin discussion. These guys think Alomar and Larkin are worthy of being in the hall, but they are not worthy of being “first ballot” Hall of Famers. The HOF makes no distinction for how many elections a player went through for enshrinement; a player is either in or not. Yet these voters have created an arbitrary sub-honor called First Ballot HOFer, which they reserve for those players that meet their personal criteria. This voter, like the last voter, employs a method that is only sustainable provided they are in the minority.

Fortunately, these voters are in the minority. On the whole I think the writers do a good job of voting for HOF, better than any group of fans would do, and leaps and bounds better than a group of players and coaches.

For those who are not familiar with the process, a voter must be a 10-year member of the Baseball Writers Association. The voters receive a ballot and may vote for as many as 10 players, but they do not have to vote for any if they don’t want to. Players that receive 75% of the vote become Hall of Famers. Players that receive less than 5% of the vote are removed from future ballots.

The 2012 HOF ballot is exceptionally thin. The best new candidate is Bernie Williams. Williams should get enough votes to stay on the ballot for several. All the other new candidates will likely fall off, as will second year hold over Juan Gonzalez.

After the first year players and Gonzalez, there are thirteen other players on the ballot. I would not vote for Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Larry Walker, or Alan Trammell. These players get votes from a lot of respected voters, but I’m just not convinced. I am open to being persuaded otherwise, but I haven’t been yet. Mattingly and Murphy had elite seasons – MVP seasons, but their periods of dominance were short and their overall careers were too short. I need more time on Walker. I am just not sure on him, and I’d rather be fully convinced than advocate a questionable candidate. On Trammell, I need to hear the narrative. I don’t think the numbers support him, but he was a shortstop, and I’m open to the idea that there is a case for him as a defender or as a leader, neither of which are reflected by the stats.

That leaves the guys I’m sure belong in the hall, plus Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire. Palmeiro and McGwire both had HOF careers and both have a legacy tainted by performance enhancing drugs. Fox baseball writer Ken Rosenthal once argued that he wasn’t voting for McGwire because McGwire refused to stand up for himself, and if he wouldn’t fight for himself why should he [Rosenthal] fight on his behalf. Perhaps Rosenthal has changed his mind, and if so, that’s fine too. In general I don’t get hung up on the PEDs. I would vote for both of these guys, though I don’t think they’ll be elected anytime soon, and I don’t really feel the need to fight for them. When the ballot is thin, I’ll vote for them. When the ballot is deep, I won’t.

That leaves seven guys I believe should be in the Hall of Fame. Here’s a quick summary of my seven HOFer’s in reverse order of importance:

Fred McGriff: The Crime Dog tends to get overlooked. He wasn’t really a vocal player, but he hit a lot of home runs and has a spotless reputation as far as PEDs are concerned.

Lee Smith: Smith bridges the gap between the original closers, (Goose Gossage, Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter) and the modern guys like Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman. That means he didn’t spend his whole career getting 2 and 3 inning saves like the first group, but he also didn’t spend his whole career getting bases empty, 1-inning saves like the modern guys, which means he didn’t compile 600 saves. He was the first to 400 saves, and as a kid I remember having the impression that he was one of the closers the league feared.

Jack Morris: Some voters have become passionate about Morris and I think he will ultimately be elected. Morris was the ace pitcher for 3 World Series champions and the star of one of the greatest postseason games I’ve ever seen – A 10-inning complete game shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

Tim Raines: Raines spent his best years hidden in Montreal. By OPS+, Raines had 3 elite seasons and 8 other all-star level seasons. He’s 5th all-time in stolen bases, and he’s a darling candidate of the sabremetric crowd.

Edgar Martinez: For the sake of full disclosure, I am a Mariner fan and I love Edgar. That said, not only would I vote for Edgar, I believe he will ultimately be elected. Some voters penalize him for being a DH, but this is a dying trend. It is definitely an “old” argument: new voters don’t think this way, middle aged voters are open to change, and the old voters are retiring. By OPS+, Edgar had 13 all-star caliber seasons, 7 of which were truly elite. He’s 22nd all-time in on base percentage – 13th amongst modern era players (post 1920), and 34th all time in OPS (on base + slugging).

Jeff Bagwell: Bagwell has never been implicated for PED’s but he has been penalized by the voters for having giant arms in the steroid era. 13 of Bagwell’s 15 seasons were all-star level, and 8 of those were elite.

Barry Larkin: Larkin will get in this year. The only reason he’s not in now is because of the “he’s a hall of famer, just not a first ballot hall of famer” crowd.

Prediction: Larkin will go in alone. Morris finishes 2nd and is on the path of making it in his last year (2014). Bagwell, Edgar, and Raines, have big gains. The rest of the guys hang on, ranging from 10-40%. The only thing certain about their futures is that they will again be Hall of Fame candidates.

Aaron Booth lives in Monroe, LA with his wife a five children. He makes his living in the real estate world, which gives him the opportunity to listen to a lot of audio, including a fair amount of sports radio and podcasts. Aaron loves his i-devices and 24-hour sports media, but also fondly remembers the days when he calculated his fantasy standings from the newspaper. You can follow him on twitter @da_booth.