Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Mariner's Revenge

The Decemberists opened last night's second consecutive date at the House of Blues in Boston with "The Sporting Life," as fitting an anthem for Colin Meloy's delightful dorkiness as there ever could be. The song recounts his dubious high school football days, experiences which included frustrating his coach, disappointing his dad, and losing his girlfriend to the opposing team's captain.

It's fiction, I presume, but I don't know for sure. I highly doubt Meloy even bothered attempting to play sports. But, I say this not to poke fun at him, but because, given his artistic abilities and his charming confidence, I like to think that he didn't waste his time with fruitless endeavors.

Meloy and company's musical abilities and penchant for theatrical comedy were on full display throughout their hour and a half set in support of the recently released The King is Dead. The five-member band was joined onstage by Nickel Creek's Sara Watkins, who essentially filled the roles that Gillian Welch and Annalisa Tornfelt play on the album. Of course, I would have been ecstatic to find out that Welch—who hasn't released an album of her own since 2003—was touring with the band, but I didn't expect that, so there was no disappointment.

About halfway through the show, I tweeted a tongue-in-cheek remark that Meloy made to the crowd:

I learned later that this was, most likely, a response to a recent article in The Boston Phoenix, appropriately titled "How the Decemberists ruined indie rock." This knowledge was gained thanks to a friend of mine, who responded to my tweet with the following:

The article seems to be mostly an attempt at humor. The author, Luke O'Neil, makes fun of himself several times throughout, suggests that he was among the folks who "...fell pretty hard..." for the band, and even refers to The King is Dead as "...well crafted and precisely played and really, really nice and good." So, I really doubt that The Decemberists were all that bothered by what was written, especially considering it came from someone who also produces a blog called "Put That Shit on the List." I'll just leave it at that.

Anyway, back to the show. The major highlights for me, in addition to "The Sporting Life," included their newer material—especially "Rise to Me" and "This is Why We Fight"—and a stirring rendition of "The Rake" from The Hazards of Love. The latter featured four of the six band members on drums and a heavy distorted bass line backing Meloy's tale of mass filicide.

Despite these high points, The Decemberists' encore performance of "The Mariner's Revenge Song" was worth the price of admission all by itself. The eight-plus minute epic tale of a young mariner seeking his murderous revenge on the man he blames for the demise of his mother—enhanced by the band's onstage theatrics, as well as audience participation—proves that The Decemberists' brand of indie folk-rock (or whatever you call it) is alive and well. Take that, Luke O'Neil.

[The following is a three-plus year old video of the band performing the song live in their hometown of Portland, Oregon.]

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Concord Pale Ale Challenge

The weekend before last, my old friend El-squared and his wife invited us over for dinner and to watch the Patriots-Jets AFC Divisional Round playoff game. Of course, the Patriots lost, which really didn't break my heart, but there was a competition of a completely different variety taking place during the game.

Prior to heading over, I called El to ask if I should bring any beer, to which he informed me he'd recently purchased a beer refrigerator and stocked it with about $100 worth of mostly micro-brews. He also told me that many of the varieties he had on hand were Pale Ales—his favorite style—and he proposed the idea we have a taste test.

He didn't have to twist my arm. I even added the suggestion that we make it a blind taste test, and we recruited our wives to set it up for us.

The lineup consisted of four Pales commercially brewed in New England, one home brew, and a well-known offering from a western brewery. Unfortunately, we knew the six beers going into it, so it wasn't as blind as I would have liked it to be. As a result, in addition to rating the beers, we spent a little too much time trying to figure out what was what.

Obviously, it would have been better had we not even known the beers involved, but that would have been difficult, so I'll admit to being a little affected by pre-conceived opinions of at least two of them.

The winner of our little contest, was Dale's Pale Ale, from Lyons, Colorado's Oskar Blues Brewery. El gave it an A, while I surprisingly only gave it a B+, although this was my highest mark of the night.

Second place went to my very own Grafton BrideAle. Now before you start accusing me of favoritism, I'll say that I only gave my own home brew a B, while El was more generous, awarding it a grade equal to that of Dale's. While I'm flattered, I honestly think he's out of his mind.

Third place was a tie between Whale's Tale Pale Ale, brewed by Nantucket, Massachusetts's Cisco Brewers; and Shoals Pale Ale, from Portsmouth, New Hampshire's Smuttynose Brewing Company. Both beers received grades of B and C+, although I favored Whale's Tale, while El favored Shoals.

Portland, Maine's Geary's Pale Ale was our fifth place finisher, which was a bit of a surprise to me, but when I tasted it blindly, it did nothing for me. On the other hand, I wasn't the least bit shocked that Burlington, Vermont's Magic Hat #9 was the beer we rated the worst.

Surprised that I only gave Dale's a B+, and that this rating was also my highest of the night, El asked me to name a beer that I would give an A. While a few came to mind, particularly some of the brew pub offerings I've written about here in the past couple years, I realized that there aren't too many. I'm not sure why it's so difficult for me to hand out this highest of ratings, but I did drink a beer this past weekend that is worthy. Stay tuned for more on that subject.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Johnny Damon and Six Other Red Sox-Turned Yankees

The recent coverage of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez signing with the AL East team that was otherwise raided by their two chief rivals this off-season got me to thinking. Damon, once considered the equivalent of Jesus in Boston, but later nicknamed Judas, has an interesting distinction in common with six other players in baseball history.

Of course, I'm not the first person to mention this, but Damon is one of seven players who played in and won World Series with both the Red Sox and the Yankees. Now, let me clarify this, because if you try to Google the answer to this question, you'll probably find a list quite a bit longer than I'm suggesting. I'm talking about players who actually played in a World Series won by the Yankees and a World Series won by the Red Sox.

So, I'll start off with a little hint by telling you of one person this rules out. Ramiro Mendoza was with the Yankees for all four of their World Series victories between 1996 and 2000—although he actually only pitched in two of them—and he was a member of the 2004 World Champion Red Sox. He even pitched in the ALCS for the Sox that year, against the Yankees, but he did not pitch in the Series. I honestly don't know if he was dropped from the roster or if he simply didn't pitch, but he's not one of the answers to this question.

In addition to Damon, can you name the other six? Of course you can, with a little internet research, but let's see how many we can come up with without looking them up first. Oh, and, when you do finally decide to look them up, I suggest you peruse the rosters of Red Sox World Series champions rather than those of the Yankees. It will probably take you about 78% less time.

One last interesting tidbit about this short list of players...every one of them won their first World Series with the Red Sox.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

What Active Players are Future Hall of Famers?

If you're a fairly regular reader of this blog, you probably know that a couple friends and I have a longstanding annual tradition of traveling to Cooperstown for the weekend of the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. On one such occasion, about ten years ago, my pal Will and I decided to create a time capsule of sorts. By that, I mean we predicted what active players would go on to produce Hall of Fame careers.

I believe we're supposed to look at that list in about 15 years, and I think I actually know where I stashed the sheet of paper I wrote it on, although it's possible it got lost in the move. Now that I think about it further, one name I recall we disagreed on was the prior year's National League Rookie of the Year. Will said yes, he would eventually be a Hall of Famer. I said no.

The player in question was Albert Pujols. So, of course, this means it was the summer of 2002, and one and a half years into his career, Will already had Pujols pegged as a Hall of Famer. Obviously, I am willing to concede I was wrong about that one.

A couple weeks ago, there was discussion in the baseball blogging community about an article by Nate Silver which posited that, at any given point in time, there are 30 to 35 active players who will go on to become Hall of Famers. So, of course, I couldn't resist the urge to try to predict who the current group would be.

To help me with this undertaking, I solicited the opinions of the regular contributors to the always interesting sports discussion that takes place at Pickin' Splinters. The guys "on the pine" turned out to be a good litmus test for a few players whose reputations I may have over-estimated. That is, their feedback reminded me that the outcome of this exercise is not to produce a list of the names I consider most worthy, but rather to predict who will eventually earn the votes necessary to gain entrance to the Hall of Fame.

I also used the Bill James metric called Hall of Fame Monitor, which attempts to determine how likely a player is to make it to Cooperstown, and compared how each candidate's progress measures up with respect to his age. I decided that I would select a minimum of 30 players—with the list maxing out at 35—so I thought it would be appropriate to start with 15 players under 30 years old, and 15 age 30 and up. From there, I would choose up to five additional players, regardless of age.

Before I reveal the list, I thought I'd explain away a few of the close calls that I left off. All of these players have a Hall of Fame Monitor score of 100 or higher. According to James, that is the number above which a player has a strong likelihood of making the Hall of Fame. Personally, I'm thinking this is no longer the case, and that the threshold is now even higher.

Omar Vizquel & Andruw Jones
It seems odd to pair these two together, but if they don't make the Hall of Fame, they'll be the only players in baseball history to win 10 or more Gold Gloves at up-the-middle defensive positions and not get in. Jones flamed out too early, and unless he has a bit of a resurgence, I'm pretty sure he'll be left out. Vizquel draws Ozzie Smith comparisons, and while I don't think the gap between these two is as big as the difference between a first-ballot inductee and a non-Hall of Famer, I just don't think the voters are going to be kind to him.

Miguel Tejada & Jason Giambi
Several of the players who are listed below as my predicted future Hall of Famers have the PED cloud hanging over their heads as well, so I really don't know how they're going to be treated by the voters. But, they're in that otherwise slam-dunk category, and I truly believe those are the steroid era players who will get in. Borderline cases like Tejada and Giambi, I think, will be left out.

Jorge Posada & Andy Pettitte
The lesser half of the Yankees' core four don't quite have the credentials for the Hall, although I don't consider them out of the question either.

Billy Wagner
Voters are extremely picky when it comes to relief pitchers. Personally, I think Wagner should be a Hall of Famer, but my gut feeling is that Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman are the only closers from his era who will be.

Todd Helton
I asked Will about Helton the other day, and he compared him to Don Mattingly. Helton's peak lasted a little longer than did Mattingly's, but he also has the pre-humidor Colorado bias to overcome. If Larry Walker's support on this year's ballot is any indication, Helton's going to have a tough time.

David Ortiz
Big Papi has two major negatives to overcome: the anti-DH bias and the PED issue. Postseason heroism not withstanding, Ortiz gets left out.

Now, on to the list. Here are the 32 players, active as of the 2010 season, who I'm predicting will eventually be enshrined in the little museum on the southern end of Otsego Lake:

Player Age HOFM
Trevor Hoffman 43 176
Ken Griffey 41 235
Mariano Rivera 41 227
Jim Thome 40 146
Ivan Rodriguez 39 224
Manny Ramirez 38 222
Chipper Jones 38 162
Ichiro Suzuki 37 214
Derek Jeter 36 274
Vladimir Guerrero 36 196
Alex Rodriguez 35 367
Roy Halladay 33 108
Johan Santana 32 82
Chase Utley 32 73
Albert Pujols 31 262
Ryan Howard 31 90
CC Sabathia 30 82
Carl Crawford 29 48
David Wright 28 70
Robinson Cano 28 58
Adrian Gonzalez 28 42
Miguel Cabrera 27 96
Joe Mauer 27 80
Hanley Ramirez 27 64
Ryan Braun 27 58
Justin Verlander 27 40
Tim Lincecum 26 54
Prince Fielder 26 50
Ryan Zimmerman 26 22
Troy Tulowitzki 26 20
Evan Longoria 25 28
Felix Hernandez 24 25

If this site still exists 20-25 years from now, it will be interesting to see how well I do. I'm sure there are a few names I'll be laughing at myself for selecting.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Redhook's Stationary Brewery Tour

At the end of our holiday vacation out west, KJ and I traveled to Snohomish, Washington to spend New Year's Eve with her brother's family, and to fly home from Seattle on the red-eye the following night.

Well aware of our passion for craft beer, my brother-in-law decided he needed to take us to the Redhook Brewery in Woodinville. So, he recruited his new personal designated driver—his 16-year old son—and younger teenage daughter, and we headed to the brewery on New Year's Day.

My first impression of the place was that it looks pretty much identical to Redhook's Brewery in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which, admittedly, I haven't visited in over ten years. This isn't necessarily a problem, but it does give it a bit of a corporate feel.

We sat in the brew pub and ordered beers and appetizers while we waited for the tour to start. I drank a Big Ballard Imperial IPA, so named as a tribute to Redhook's flagship brew from the '80s, Ballard Bitter. At 8.6% ABV, Big Ballard is surprisingly very easy going down for an Imperial IPA. Not that it's difficult for me to drink beers of this style, but this one is actually pretty smooth, although it does have an assertive hop aroma.

The Big Ballard may have been a questionable decision, considering I was going on a tour that would undoubtedly include tastings of several less robust brews, but it was the one on the menu I most wanted to try, and I wasn't disappointed. The brewery tour was another story.

The "tour" only cost a dollar per person—although this included the two teenagers with us, who obviously couldn't drink—but it was really nothing more than a tasting. Our sophomoric, Phish-head guide informed us about the brewery and its beers, in between pouring us fairly generous samples. Don't get me wrong, here. He was pleasant, charismatic and fairly knowledgeable, but his drinking philosophy was not what I expected from a craft brewery tour guide.

At one point, he asked us if we knew what ESB stands for, to which several tour-goers correctly responded, "extra special bitter." His reply was to point out that it also stands for "extreme shower beer." Now, I'm not going to try to convince you that I've never drank in the shower, but there was something about this frat boy attitude that seemed odd from a person the brewery was presenting to the public as their representative.

I also didn't admire how proud he was of the fact that Redhook has reached the point of production where it's no longer considered a microbrewery, although he was quick to refute the misconception that Redhook is owned by Anheuser Busch (they own only a 1/3 stake). Not that I would begrudge a once small brewer's ability to grow their business, but it's evident from the mediocrity of most of Redhook's products that this means they've pretty much gone the way of Samuel Adams.

But, most importantly, I simply expected that a brewery tour would, in fact, involve...well, touring the brewery. Not as far as Redhook is concerned. As I already inferred, their tour consisted of hanging out in one room, sampling beers and being directed to turn around and look at the brewing vessels through the window behind us. The closest we came to actually touring the brewery was when we walked out the back door of the tasting room and onto a landing which overlooked the fermentation tanks.

As I pretty much already said, the beers that were poured during the tasting were nothing to write home about. Their ESB is, and has always been, solid. In fact, years ago it was one of what I'll call my "crossover" beers. That is, a beer I would usually have on hand at parties, that I felt was appropriate to serve to craft and non-craft beer drinkers alike. I still feel this way about ESB, although nowadays there are so many other options out there that I haven't purchased it in quite some time.

I definitely also enjoyed Redhook's Long Hammer IPA, but it's really just average for the style. The rest of their lineup, besides Big Ballard IPA—which wasn't served on the tour—are all drinkable beers, but, honestly, no better than average, and that's being a bit generous. This would have been forgivable, though, had they just led me on a simple 30-minute walk through their operation, as every other brewery I've ever been to has done.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Keep Oregon Beered

A slogan commonly seen around Portland, Oregon—it's even painted on the side wall of one local business—is "Keep Portland Weird!" Portlanders apparently take pride in the uniqueness of their city, but the phrase is as much about encouraging the support of local businesses as it is about maintaining a certain level of eclecticism.

Of course, a clever spinoff of this is "Keep Portland Beered!" In fact, local brewery Bridgeport put up a billboard featuring the saying. My personal philosophy when I'm visiting the in-laws out west is to only drink beer indigenous to the state.

KJ and I only spent about half as much time as we did the last time we traveled to Oregon, so I didn't come anywhere near sampling as many brews as the 40 I tried back in August of 2009. This time, I focused on proper beers, instead of opting for the 2-3 ounce samples offered at most brewpubs, and I counted 15 in total. These were all Oregon-brewed offerings, of course, with the exception of a trip to the Red Hook Brewery in Woodinville, Washington on New Year's Day. But, I'm saving that for a later post.

Here's the list. All were bottles with the exception of Caldera (cans) and those from the Alameda, Laurelwood and Old Lompoc brewpubs (draft).

10 Barrel Brewing Company (Bend): Apocalypse IPA
Alameda Brewhouse (Portland): Papa Noel's Olde Ale, Yellow Wolf Imperial IPA
Caldera Brewing Company (Ashland): Pale Ale
Deschutes Brewery (Bend): Black Butte Porter, Mirror Pond Pale Ale
Laurelwood Public House & Brewery (Portland): Vinter Varmer, Workhorse IPA
MacTarnahan's Brewing Company (Portland): Winter HumBug'r Ale
Metolius Brewing Company (Portland): Dolly Varden IPA
Ninkasi Brewing Company (Eugene): Believer Double Red Ale, Sleigh'r Dark Double Alt Ale, Total Domination IPA
Lompoc Hedge House (Portland): LSD (Lompoc Strong Draft)
Rogue Ales (Newport): Brutal IPA

Although two of those listed above—Ninkasi's Total Domination IPA and Lompoc's LSD—were among the five I raved about following the last trip, this time the story was Alameda Brewhouse, which instantly climbed to the status of one of my top three Portland brewpubs, along with New Old Lompoc Brewery and Amnesia Brewing Company.

My first beer at Alameda was their winter seasonal, which was excellent. I'll share here the less-than-140 character review I wrote on Twitter at the time:
Alameda Papa Noels Olde Ale is a rich, malty, non-spicy winter ale with a luscious chocolately finish, and just enough hops bite.
Next, I opted for their Yellow Wolf Imperial IPA, which is a very citrusy, high octane—8.2% ABV—and well balanced offering. In fact, I was lucky enough to find a 22 oz. bomber in a beer store, and was able to safely transport it home in my luggage, although I was a little nervous about that. So, I'm saving that one for a rainy day, and I look forward to enjoying another taste of Oregon at a later date.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Best of 2010

A little later than I did this last year, here are my other Best of 2010 awards in categories related to this blog.

Best Brewery
While attending a conference in Chicago back in April, KJ and I visited Piece, the brewpub partly owned by Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen. It was, hands down, the best new brewery I checked out this year.

Best Beer
While Piece's Wack Job and Dysfunctionale were both excellent, my favorite new (to me) beer of the year goes to Mikkeller 1000 IBU, which I sampled at the Armsby Abbey in Worcester, just prior to the Neil Young show at the Hanover Theater.

Best Ballpark
Although I visited U.S. Cellular Field for the second time—12 years removed from my first visit—George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa was the only park I visited for the first time this year. It was an impressive complex, nonetheless, so although it takes this award kind of by default, the Yankees Spring Training home is a winner.

Best Concert
I slacked off a little on the concert-going in the first, third and fourth quarters of 2010, but I attended a fair amount of shows in the three month period from April to June. While Keith Emerson and Greg Lake's reunion tour stop in Lynn would be the runner-up, The National's House of Blues show in June was definitely my concert of the year.

Best Trip
I used to call this category "Road Trips," but that description really didn't apply to my top travel experience this year. Although our frequent wedding planning treks to Grafton, Vermont were quite memorable, it should come as no surprise that KJ and my honeymoon excursion to Italy was by far my favorite trip of the year.

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.