Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Cooperstown Class of 2011

I recently joined a group called the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA). Founded by Daniel Shoptaw, author of the St. Louis Cardinals blog C70 At The Bat, the BBA was formed in 2009 to foster communication and collaboration between bloggers across baseball.

As a secondary purpose, the BBA produces year-end awards and Hall of Fame recommendations that are voted on by its membership. So, my timing in joining was excellent, as it gave me the opportunity to be one of 154 member blogs to participate in this year's Hall of Fame voting.

The result of this year's BBA vote was the recommendation of Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven for the Hall of Fame Class of 2011. I voted for both Alomar and Blyleven, as well as five others, and I was happy to be able to take part in this process. I thought I'd share my votes here, as well as explain my justifications for each, in advance of tomorrow's official announcement.

Roberto Alomar
Alomar is, undoubtedly, a player who produced a career worthy of first-ballot Hall of Famer status, but fell eight votes short of the 75% needed for induction in his first year of eligibility. Why he didn't get elected last year is beyond me—well, actually it was likely due to an over-emphasis by voters on the "morality clause"—but there's very little doubt in my mind he'll make it this year.

Jeff Bagwell
There's been a lot of debate in the blogosphere regarding Bagwell and a perceived new McCarthyism being employed by writers who have proclaimed they will not vote for him based on the fact that they suspect—based on no significant evidence—steroid usage. While I don't have a problem with the idea of waiting a few years to decide on a particular candidate, in this case I wonder what it will take for these writers to be convinced that the lack of evidence exonerates Bagwell.

I'm not going down that road. Bagwell is a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer and, as far as I know, nobody has any evidence that he cheated. If any of these writers has anything on him, they should make it public. Otherwise, as far as I'm concerned, I'm judging his career at face value. Unfortunately, I think enough voters are of a different mindset, which means we don't really know if and when he'll eventually receive his due.

Bert Blyleven
I'll admit that it took me a little while to come around on Blyleven, but I think that's OK. I think voters have a responsibility to remain open-minded and spend a few years reconsidering the borderline candidates they've decided against. Personally, that's what I plan to do with the difficult decisions from the "steroid era."

The main argument regarding Blyleven is whether or not he was an excellent player, or just merely very good. So, I'll ask the question: If a player maintains performance that could be described as very good for considerably longer than most of his peers, does that elevate his career to greater than very good?

Personally, I think the combination of Blyleven's longevity and the fact that he was at least a little underrated during his playing days are the difference between very good and the Hall of Fame. He gets my vote, and he will likely get enough BBWAA votes this year to get in.

Barry Larkin
I usually don't use these awards as arguments, but Larkin won nine National League Silver Sluggers between 1988 and 1999. Meanwhile, a fellow named Ozzie Smith was winning all the Gold Gloves. Then, in 1993, Smith turned 38, and Larkin won three of his own from 1994 to 1996. He also was named to 12 All-Star teams.

Plus, he's 10th all-time among shortstops in Wins Above Replacement (WAR), and two of the players ahead of him are Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. That means there are 16 Hall of Fame shortstops behind him on the list. So, why did he only receive 51.6% of the vote in his first year on the ballot? I'm not sure, although I think he'll get in eventually. But, probably not this year. 

Edgar Martinez
There are some who refuse to vote for Martinez for the Hall of Fame due to an anti-DH bias. This is a joke. Whether you like it or not, the fact of the matter is the DH is a part of the game, and a legitimate position occupied by players whose teams consider it to be where they offer the most value.

Martinez wasn't incapable of playing the field. In fact, when he did play the field, he was no worse than just below average. There are plenty of Hall of Famers who were just-below-average defenders. Martinez was a little older than most when he started playing full-time and suffered a few injuries in his early 30s that resulted in the Mariners' decision to protect his health by using him as a DH.

Why? Because he was an incredible hitter. So incredible, in fact, that the only argument anyone can use to keep him out of the Hall of Fame is that he wasn't a "complete player." Hogwash.

Tim Raines
I don't think I can make a better case for Raines than I did in this blog two years ago, but I will offer you a short list of the best speed-oriented leadoff hitters in the second half of the 20th century, in my opinion:
  1. Rickey Henderson
  2. Tim Raines
  3. Lou Brock
Henderson and Brock were both first-ballot Hall of Famers. Enough said.

I'm curious to see if there is a significant increase in his support this year, his fourth on the ballot. Regardless, he only received 30.4% of the vote last year, so it's unlikely he'll reach 75% anytime soon, if ever.

Alan Trammell
Trammell compares pretty favorably to Larkin, except in his case he was going up against Cal Ripken for the American League Silver Slugger awards. In fact, from 1987 to 1990, Trammell won three out of four, while Ripken was in his prime. He also won four Gold Gloves, was named to six All-Star teams, and is 11th all-time among shortstops in WAR. Regardless, he's a lost cause, having received just 22.4% of the vote last year, his ninth on the ballot.

I could probably write another post entirely about the candidates I didn't vote for, but I'll try to be brief.

The case for Jack Morris is largely based on his win totals and his defining moment, the 10-inning shutout he pitched in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. I'm sorry, but those arguments are not enough for me to support a pitcher who only had one year in his entire career with an ERA+ of better than 130 (30% better than average). Blyleven had six by comparison, and people say he wasn't dominant enough.

Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro fall into the category of difficult decisions from the steroid era. I've written before that I think players from this period need to be viewed on a case-by-case basis, and I'm still deciding on these guys.

Lee Smith, Fred McGriff, Don Mattingly, Dave Parker, Dale Murphy and Harold Baines are all players who have very good careers, but fall short of Hall of Fame status to me.

There are a few first ballot candidates who I need to take a closer look at before deciding, most notably Larry Walker. I hope the real voters are of the same mindset, judging by the fact that only 1 of 18 ESPN writers voted for him, which happens to be the same number who voted for B.J. Surhoff.

Regardless of the outcome, I'm eagerly counting down the hours to tomorrow at 2 p.m. ET.

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