With the Baseball Writers’ Association of America set to announce their 2012 results on Monday, the question of who should or should not be inducted into the Hall of Fame is one of the bigger questions currently swirling among baseball fans. This year’s list of first-time eligible players is a bit underwhelming, as Bernie Williams and Brad Radke are considered the most promising candidates for eligibility. For this reason, it has created an increased amount of speculation from fans if any of the candidates will receive a significant increase in votes and join Chicago Cubs legendary third baseman and broadcaster Ron Santo as 2012 inductees.
I should begin that I am a strong believer in a “small Hall of Fame” and I have long felt that the best criteria for whether a player belongs in the Hall of Fame should be “Is my Mother aware of whom this player is”. As a tepid at best sports fan inundated for years by a baseball-fanatical husband and son, if she knows a player outside of the Washington D.C. area, he typically belongs in Cooperstown. Unfortunately, the baseball writers holding votes for Cooperstown do not subscribe to my NatsGM HOF theory (trademark pending), and thus, what has been established as the baseline for a Hall of Famer is a bit more lenient than my above criteria.
The players on the ballot for 2012 include Jeff Bagwell, Jeromy Burnitz, Vinny Castilla, Juan Gonzalez, Brian Jordan, Barry Larkin, Javy Lopez, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Bill Mueller, Terry Mulholland, Dale Murphy, Phil Nevin, Rafael Palmeiro, Brad Radke, Tim Raines, Tim Salmon, Ruben Sierra, Lee Smith, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker, Bernie Williams, Tony Womack, Eric Young Sr. – of these choices, I would support Jeff Bagwell, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Mark McGwire and Alan Trammell for induction to Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Jeff Bagwell fell victim last year to the bias that baseball writers have about inducting players in their first year of eligibility and the backlash they are currently placing on those players that played during the “steroid era”. The only argument I have heard against Bagwell and his rightful place in Cooperstown is that “he was very muscular” though there were never any rumors of steroid use. This reasoning is completely unacceptable, in my opinion, as Bagwell embodies everything a Hall of Fame player should be – he played his entire career for one team, won the 1994 NL MVP, and his offensive numbers rank him as one of the 30 best hitters in major league baseball history while being a solid defensive first baseman. Bagwell’s career numbers are staggering, as he produced a .297/.408/.540 batting line with 449 home runs, 1,529 runs batted in, 488 doubles, 202 stolen bases and 1,401 walks spanning 15 seasons. In my humble opinion, Bagwell is the 2nd most underrated player in baseball history behind former Baltimore Orioles player and Nationals manager Frank Robinson. As my favorite player as an adolescent, I am hopeful Bagwell receives his just due and goes from the 41.7% of the vote he received last year to the 75% necessary to become a member of the Hall of Fame this year.
Barry Larkin is widely expected to be elected to the Hall of Fame this year, as this is his 3rd year of eligibility and he received 62.1% of the vote last year, up from 51.6% in 2010. Larkin, the 1995 NL MVP, was a career .295/.371/.444 hitter with 198 home runs, 960 runs batted in, and 379 stolen bases over 19 career seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, while earning three Gold Gloves for his defense at shortstop. Alan Trammell, a six-time all-star and winner of four Gold Gloves also at shortstop, produced a career batting line of .285/.352/.415 with 185 career home runs, 1,003 runs batted in, and 236 stolen bases in a career spanning 20 seasons, all spent with the Detroit Tigers. Trammell received 24.3% of the vote last year and 22.4% in 2010, which seems rather low considering how similar his career numbers are to Barry Larkin. I have always considered Larkin a lock for the Hall of Fame and think he stands an excellent chance of receiving the necessary votes today, while Trammell will take a few more years, but it is difficult to overlook his career numbers and status as one of the best 10-12 shortstops in baseball history.
Edgar Martinez is a controversial candidate amongst fans and voters because he spent the majority of his career as a designated hitter, thus giving him value only as a hitter, and there has yet to be a DH elected to the Hall of Fame. I find that logic faulty – there was a time when there was not a relief pitcher enshrined either, does that mean one should never have been initiated? The game has evolved and the designated hitter has been around since 1973. Also, Edgar did not receive the attention he deserved because he played his entire 18-year career in Seattle, one of the smaller media markets in baseball. In spite of these facts, Martinez remains the best, most productive designated hitter in the almost 40-year history since adoption of the DH in the American League and his offensive numbers (career .312/.418/.515 batting line, 309 home runs, and 514 doubles) are well-deserving of enshrinement. Unfortunately, the BBWAA do not fully agree with me, as Edgar’s 32.9% of the vote last year and 36.2% in 2010 shows. I think it will take a few more years for Martinez as well, but someday the BBWAA will do the right thing and Martinez will be the first designated hitter to enter the Hall of Fame.
Mark McGwire’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame comes down to one simple question: do the voters believe he took performance-enhancing drugs? If they think he was clean, or if they do not particularly care one way or the other, then McGwire’s 70 home run season in 1998 and 583 career home runs make him an easy selection to Cooperstown as one of the best power hitters of his generation. However, the BBWAA voters only giving McGwire 19.8% of their votes, after 23.7% in 2010, seems to indicate they wish for more time to consider the era as a whole and wait for more evidence to come out about any PED usage from him. Expect voters to continue to delay McGwire’s induction for a few years, but when the dust finally settles on the “steroid era” in baseball, McGwire will find his well-deserved place in the Hall of Fame.
While I have faith that each of these players will ultimately enter the Hall of Fame one day, it is highly unlikely all five of these players will earn this privilege today. Larkin is seen as the clear favorite to receive the necessary support this afternoon, and I am hopeful but pessimistic that Bagwell will receive his well-deserved honor as well. My expectation is that Barry Larkin will receive around 77-78% of the vote today and become a Hall of Famer, while Jack Morris, Lee Smith, Jeff Bagwell, and Tim Raines will see an increase in support but not the necessary 75% to earn their way into Cooperstown.
This “Tip of the Fedora” goes to my family, friends, and readers of NatsGM… I want to wish you all a very Happy New Year and my best wishes for a wonderful 2012.
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