Commentary

Why Blyleven, Dawson get HOF votes

Alomar just misses cut because he's not a first-ballot Hall of Famer

Updated: January 8, 2010, 10:33 AM ET
By Howard Bryant | ESPN.com

On Dec. 31, at the last possible moment, I faxed my Hall of Fame ballot back to the Baseball Writers Association of America. The rules say you can vote for up to 10 names. Mine contained two.

Bert Blyleven.

Andre Dawson.

The 2010 Hall of Fame inductees will be announced Wednesday at 2 p.m. I did not vote for Barry Larkin. I did not vote for Edgar Martinez and no, I did not vote for Roberto Alomar. Each may one day join the club, and some likely will do so with my future blessing.

That last one, Alomar, was the toughest choice in the short time I've been a Hall of Fame voter, but compared with greenhouse gases or health care costs, one uncast vote matters little to the free world.

The Hall of Fame conversation is one of the more enjoyable in sports. It reminds fans and writers alike of their eras and starts comparisons among eras and discussions about which players were the best and why. Being a voter is both an honor and privilege and soothes the pain of recalling those afternoons covering two nowhere teams -- A's-Rays, July 1998, for example -- and asking the question, "Shouldn't I envision a more inspiring destiny for myself?"

Bert Blyleven
AP Photo/Rusty KennedyBert Blyleven's 60 shutouts help his case.

The voting process is also, in these high-tech days of blogs, punditry and multimedia, more democratic a process than ever. In the old days, the voters voted and little transparency existed. Today, voting is still secret, but a participatory conversation takes place -- for example, getting killed on one's own Facebook page for not voting for Alomar -- as never before. These are good things.

Apart from the Dharma, I attempt to follow six guiding principles in my Hall of Fame voting. It is not easy, as so much of the evaluation of a player can be part subjective, Sabermetric and dogmatic. I do not contend that my methodology is right, or that you should agree with it. Consider the following for informational purposes only.

1. The A List
The first Hall of Fame class consisted of Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson and Ty Cobb. This is the standard for the first ballot. There is a great debate about the validity of the first ballot, challenged by the position that a player is either part of the club, or he isn't. I believe that there are first-ballot Hall of Fame players. For anyone arguing that the first class did not have to compete in an integrated game, I say, think of the standard, not the players, and add: Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Ted Williams, Bob Gibson, Rickey Henderson and Frank Robinson to the standard.

They are all equal once inducted, but the first ballot should be reserved for the definitive. Most players believe it, evidenced by my conversations with many of them over the years. Pete Rose, had he been inducted, would have demonstrated it, too.

2. Dominance over longevity
Each year until he was inducted last year, I voted for Jim Rice because for me, the most important criterion for a Hall of Fame player is this: During a five- to seven-year period, was this player the most dangerous, dominant SOB in his league? This year's group did not quite have anyone up to that standard, though Alomar fits the description at his position.

3. Lengthy period of top-level production
You can't, however, be a comet. This is why Albert Belle did not receive serious consideration and why Dave Stewart (four 20-win seasons sandwiched in between average production) and Don Mattingly fall short of baseball immortality.

4. The milestone test
To some voters, milestones equal automatic brain shutoff. 3,000 hits? In. 300 wins? In. 500 home runs? In. Today, 500 home runs -- thanks to the juicing of the game that started with the ball, continued with steroids and the strike zone all wrapped up in stadium architecture that encouraged nothing but home runs -- may no longer mean instant admission. This is also a good thing.

5. The eye test
This is where things get truly subjective. Do you know a Hall of Famer when you see one? Do our eyes play tricks on us? Do the numbers play even bigger tricks? Does the player have a moment or moments that represented his generation? Does having huge playoff numbers punish the players who played on bad teams? Is any of this fair? Fair, of course, has nothing to do with it.

6. The steroid test
Yes, the ballot says that character, integrity and sportsmanship should be part of the voting criteria, which essentially eliminates the whole steroid era. So, I leave my internal question at this: Did the candidate leave the game in better shape than when he entered it? (For the emphatic no vote, please see McGwire, Mark).

[+] EnlargeRoberton Alomar
AP Photo/LM OteroRoberto Alomar dominated at second base but did not deserve to join the elite first-ballot list.

Like Rice, I did not believe Blyleven to be an automatic Hall of Fame player. I do not think he is being robbed by the voters should he not receive the requisite 75 percent. I think he is a classic case of being a close call, helped by time and the altering -- which is different from diminishing -- standards.

Blyleven earned my vote on the strength of criterion No. 3. He won 287 games, won 17 games seven times and won two World Series, one each with Pittsburgh (1979) and Minnesota (1987). Blyleven recorded 60 -- yes, 60! -- shutouts, good for ninth all time. The top 20 all-time shutout leaders are all in the Hall of Fame.

All, that is, except Blyleven.

Dawson reached the standard in a similar fashion to Blyleven and Rice. If he does not reach the finish line, it won't be a tragedy, but Dawson was worthy. He was a consistently very good, often great player who played the game in the five-tool style that has been sacrificed for money and tape-measure shots.

If the mood strikes, eggs may be tossed my way because I did not vote for Alomar on the first ballot for essentially one reason: point No. 1.

I reserved that honor for Rickey Henderson, who is the only first ballotter I've voted for thus far. There have been, to date, 39 first-ballot Hall of Famers, and each is on the A List. (Paul Molitor is the exception; and even if I had had a ballot in 2004, his 3,000 hits might not have swayed me to vote for him).

To enter in on the first ballot means a player must compare with the immortals of the first class -- or, at the least, the first class of his time. The Mount Rushmore of Henderson's time would be (without steroid judgment): Bonds, Griffey, Clemens, Maddux and Alex Rodriguez. As good as he was, Alomar can't crack that group.

I would most likely vote for Alomar next year, if the opportunity arises. As of today, Greg Maddux will be the next candidate who could receive my vote the first year he's eligible.

[+] EnlargeEdgar Martinez
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonEdgar Martinez did not distinguish himself from his peers enough to earn a Hall of Fame vote.

And then there is Martinez, who was a devastating hitter in his time. Martinez does not cross the induction threshold on any count. In 18 seasons, he recorded 2,247 hits, while Mattingly, in 14 seasons, recorded just 94 fewer. Martinez supporters say had he not gotten hurt, he would have been a great full-time player.

The problem is, he did get hurt and that is what makes being a Hall of Fame player so special. So many things have to go right: Players have to stay healthy. Players have to produce on good and bad teams. Players have to produce when the time comes.

Martinez produced big numbers in an era of big numbers -- see Belle, Ellis Burks, Andres Galarraga, Larry Walker, Fred McGriff -- but is not demonstrably better or worse than that group. None of those players, except possibly Walker, will be inducted.

Belle for example, who is no longer on the ballot, did virtually everything Martinez did in 516 fewer games.

Belle average season: .295, 103 runs, 182 hits, 41 doubles, 40 home runs, .564 slugging, .933 OPS.

Martinez average season: .312, 96 runs, 177 hits, 41 doubles, 24 home runs, .515 slugging, .933 OPS. And he didn't play the field.

In other words, no way.

And so it is done until next year, when a new group of players joins the list of those eligible and the debate over baseball history continues.

Howard Bryant is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is the author of "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston," "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball" and the forthcoming "The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron." He can be reached at Howard.Bryant@espn3.com or followed on Twitter @hbryant42.

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