The names of upcoming Hall of Fame-eligible players are available on the museum's Web site but it's still always a pleasant surprise to see those names on the actual ballot when it arrives in the mail. Here are some quick thoughts on the players making the ballot for the first time while wondering why Mike Trombley didn't make the cut.
Brady Anderson: Just for the fun of it, imagine how Brady's plaque might read if he was elected to the Hall. "Blend of speed, power, defense and sideburns made him a fan favorite in Baltimore. Stole 315 bases and scored 1,062 runs. Single-handedly boosted nationwide sales of creatine 700 percent when he hit 50 home runs in 1996 after hitting just 16 in 1995." And maybe they could model the plaque after this photo.
Rod Beck: Players must wait five years after retirement to get on the ballot but that rule is waived in the event of death. Beck saved 286 games, made three All-Star teams, sported a Fu Manchu, worked for AIDS research, once lived in an RV beyond the center-field fence and died much too young. Rest in peace, Shooter.
Shawon Dunston: After 18 seasons, six teams, two All-Star appearances and one World Series, the Shawon-O-Meter stopped at .269.
Chuck Finley: So underrated and given such little publicity that I would have sworn his last season was 1995 not 2002. The big lefty made the All-Star team five times, won at least 15 games seven times, finished in the top five for ERA three times and won more games (200) than Dwight Gooden, Lefty Gomez or Jack Chesbro. Despite all that, Finley would have cashed in on a Curt Schilling $1 million Cy Young contract incentive -- Schilling has a clause that gives him a bonus if he receives just one Cy Young vote -- only once (when he finished seventh in 1990).
Travis Fryman: Another very underrated player who made five All-Star teams but probably still couldn't get past the velvet rope at a nightclub outside the states of Michigan and Ohio.
David Justice: If Justice and Halle Berry had children during their short marriage, how impossibly good-looking would they have been?
Chuck Knoblauch: He seemed as if he might be on his way to Cooperstown before demanding a trade from the Twins in 1998, going to New York, winning a couple World Series and then quite suddenly losing his skills. He hit Keith Olbermann's mother with an errant throw, batted just .210 for the Royals in 2002 and was out of baseball by age 34. I remember a lot about Knoblauch from my days covering the Twins. His gritty play and fine baseball instincts. The way he deked Lonnie Smith in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. How he was the moodiest player in the game. And the way Twins fans pelted him with hot dogs when he was the Yankees prompting a public apology from then Gov. Jesse Ventura. When a player receives a shower of such abuse that Jesse the Body feels it necessary to apologize, you know that player is not well liked.
Robb Nen: Nen pitched 643 games over 10 seasons for three teams, recorded 314 saves and made three All-Star teams but Giants fans will always remember how he consciously threw out his arm to help the team reach the 2002 World Series. He was never healthy enough to pitch in another major league game.
Jose Rijo: This is actually his second time on the ballot; he was also on the ballot in 2001 after missing the previous five seasons to injury. He received one vote, then returned to win five more games before retiring for good after the 2002 season. This is something Pete Rose might want to consider to get the clock ticking again on his eligibility. (By the way, Rijo is Juan Marichal's son-in-law, giving the two of them 359 combined victories at family gatherings.)
Todd Stottlemyre: I covered Stottlemyre's first victory in 1988 and when I filed my game story and called in later for questions, my copy editor informed me with a mixture of glee and disgust that I had misspelled his name 23 times. Thank God for spell-check.
Tim Raines: The most interesting player debuting on the ballot this year and the only one who warrants serious consideration.
At his peak, Raines was the Rickey Henderson of the National League, playing in seven consecutive All-Star Games and batting .300 five times with the Expos. He hit .294, stole 808 bases and holds the record for best stolen-base percentage (300 SB min.). He drove in nearly a thousand runs, which is pretty good for a guy who was a leadoff hitter much of his career. But what really stands out is the run total. Raines scored 1,571 runs and only three eligible players who scored more are not in the Hall.
I don't understand why the run total is so undervalued. It is the only statistic that matters in the outcome of a game yet all the glory goes to the batter who drove the runner the final 90 feet home rather than the man who got himself in scoring position in the first place. Given that a batter can only score one run per plate appearance but drive in as many as four, run totals should be more highly valued than RBIs. Please explain then why it is considered more of a feat to drive in a run than to score one.
And in the meantime, I plan to write Raines' name on my ballot, if for no better reason than to get another Expos cap on a plaque.
As for the returning players, I'm once again voting for Bert Blyleven, Andre Dawson, Goose Gossage, Jack Morris, Jim Rice, Alan Trammell and yes, Mark McGwire.
AND BEFORE YOU ASK -- YES, I'LL ALSO VOTE FOR BARRY WHEN I GET THE CHANCE
When Barry Bonds was indicted on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice there was a fair amount of speculation on how the indictments will affect his Hall of Fame chances. Bonds pleaded not guilty last Friday but the final verdict won't influence my vote either way. I'll vote for him.
For one thing, most of us already suspected that Bonds lied to the grand jury about never knowingly taking steroids, so I don't see why the indictments should change our opinion. A player who many considered a liar is now formally charged as such. This is like the government charging Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria with being cheap. Making it official shouldn't really change your opinion. Either you already felt that Bonds deserved to be in the Hall or not.
You'll read and hear about how the Hall of Fame ballot instructs voters to consider a player's "character and integrity" but that's just a convenient dodge. Integrity? Gaylord Perry bragged about cheating much of his career -- he "wrote" a biography titled "Me and the Spitter" in between winning his two Cy Youngs -- and writers still voted him into the Hall. Character? We happily vote in players who we know cheated on their wives. The Veterans Committee voted in Orlando Cepeda who did time for trying to smuggle marijuana with the intent to distribute. Racists such as Ty Cobb and Cap Anson are in there, along with owners Tom Yawkey and Charles Comiskey who worked to keep out blacks as long as possible.
Integrity and character are good traits but if they were truly considered by voters, the Hall would have a lot fewer members.
SPEAKING OF THE BBWAA ...
If you think MLB responds slowly, you should see the Baseball Writers Association of America. After nine years of debate (by which I mean loud and heated arguments) the BBWAA finally decided to extend membership to Internet writers last week (this means I have to pay dues again). As slow as the BBWAA acts, I'm surprised we're still not debating (by which I mean loud and heated arguments) whether to buy a Betamax or a VHS recorder to watch highlight tapes.
If only the group had taken its usual time before last week's vote on its annual awards and incentive bonuses. As you may have read, the BBWAA voted 41-21 -- neglecting more than 90 percent of the general membership -- to exclude any players from the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards beginning in 2013 if their contracts include an incentive bonus for receiving such votes. The executive board voted to table that proposal the very next day after what we'll describe as an "unenthusiastic" response to it from the union.
There was logic to the proposal, which was meant to give agents, players and teams sufficient time to get rid of these incentive bonuses or risk never winning a BBWAA award (the BBWAA, not MLB owns the awards). It was precipitated by the aforementioned Cy Young vote clause in Schilling's contract. Most writers honestly don't care when voting what incentive clauses a player has (or are even aware of them if it's a player you don't cover) and many of us don't care that they're used for incentive clauses. But the Schilling deal is another matter.
It would be easy if he had a season that was clearly the best in the league but the problem would be if he was a borderline candidate. Knowing that your single third-place vote would guarantee someone $1 million puts the voter in an unwelcome and uncomfortable position, especially given how the votes becomes public. As BBWAA president Bob Dutton says "I think it would be the rare person who wouldn't say, 'To hell with that. I don't need that kind of aggravation."'
Still, this is a flawed if well-intentioned proposal. For instance, if the rule was put in force, how would we know for sure which players had incentive clauses tied to the vote? More to the point, if the players chose to ignore our proposal (and they would), for whom would the BBWAA be left to vote? Nick Punto? If this was the case, the awards would lose all meaning. And frankly, why shouldn't players be able to use the awards as incentive bonuses? Isn't it generally a good thing for the BBWAA that someone attaches a value to its awards?
Fortunately, the proposal was tabled because this is a subject that needs a lot more debate by the entire membership (by which I mean loud and heated argument).
AND FINALLY ...
Not that this has anything to do with baseball, but who the hell wound up with the money at the end of "No Country for Old Men"?
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His Web site is jimcaple.net, with more installments of "24 College Avenue." His new book with Steve Buckley, "The Best Boston Sports Arguments: The 100 Most Controversial, Debatable Questions for Die-Hard Boston Fans," is on sale now.