Raines, Rickey running toward Cooperstown
The votes are in, and Cal Ripken Jr.. and Tony Gwynn are free to ponder how it might feel to stand on a stage and compress a lifetime's worth of emotions into a 15-minute speech. They have an appointment in upstate New York in late July with 50 fellow immortals, 30,000 admirers, J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner Rick Hummel and a Ford C. Frick Award recipient to be named.
To the 30 other players on this year's Hall of Fame ballot -- the close calls and lost causes -- it's time to look forward to the next ballot rather than this summer's induction.
As so many players have observed through the years, a man can do only so much to enhance his legacy in retirement. When Andre Dawson woke up Wednesday morning, his career on-base percentage was still .323. Jack Morris' 3.90 ERA can't get any lower. Bert Blyleven isn't going to discover the missing cachet that enhances his 60 shutouts, 242 complete games and 3,701 strikeouts. Jim Rice always will be known as a guy who burned out a little too early.
Mark McGwire? Many of the voters who shunned him are seeking the kind of perspective that comes with time. Others might soften their stance in McGwire's second appearance on the ballot, while a significant bloc would rather forsake its press dining privileges than support an alleged steroid cheat and congressional stonewaller.
To paraphrase Big Mac on Capitol Hill, he's not here to talk about the Hall of Fame voting. But we are, and here's how the landscape looks through 2010:
While it was undoubtedly disappointing for Goose Gossage to come up short again, he has "future lock" written all over him.
Next in line is Jim Rice, whose Cooperstown case is strengthened by his status as a slugger in the pre-steroid era. Rice essentially held his ground this year, but he has only two appearances left on the ballot, and there will be a sense of urgency surrounding his candidacy as he tries to find that elusive 11-12 percent.
Since voters are free to name 10 players a year, it's hard to fathom how Dawson and Blyleven could both incur drops of roughly 5 percent. Did some voters include them last year only to snub them this time around because Gwynn and Ripken were on the ballot? As nonsensical as that seems, it's apparently true.
The big difference between the two is time. Dawson snagged 49 more votes than Blyleven and has nine years left on the ballot to Blyleven's five. Blyleven's supporters in the Sabermetric community have invested lots of energy in pushing his candidacy, but this year's dip casts serious doubt upon his chances. As ESPN.com's Rob Neyer observed in an online chat Tuesday, it might be time for Blyleven's boosters to start channeling their collective energies into making the case for Tim Raines.
Then there's McGwire. His 23.5 percent haul, while meager, doesn't preclude him from hoping. Billy Williams, Don Drysdale and Duke Snider all fared worse in their first year on the ballot, and Luis Aparicio bottomed out at 12 percent before making it to Cooperstown three years later. Obviously, the steroid frenzy swirling around McGwire puts a completely different slant on the proceedings. But 15 years is still a long time for an electorate to evaluate and change its mind.
The steroid passion play will continue to take numerous twists. Maybe the Mitchell investigation really is a farce, but it has to conclude one of these years. The steroid dialogue is sure to continue in future elections when Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and Gary Sheffield go on the ballot, and perhaps McGwire comes out of his bunker at some point and speaks his mind. Will that make a difference? Who knows?
Somewhere between the "yes" votes and the army of hardline "nos" on McGwire, there lies a huge contingent of confused baseball writers looking for clarity and a consistent, defensible approach to a hot-button issue. We're not there yet. Not even close.
Shawon Dunston, Travis Fryman, David Justice, Mike Morgan, Tim Raines, Randy Velarde.
Justice hit 305 home runs, belted the clincher in Game 6 of the 1995 World Series, and was once married to Halle Berry. That last fact alone might be enough to trump his VORP and Win Shares.
It's not always instructive to compare Hall of Famers, but Raines stacks up nicely with Lou Brock, the former Cardinals speedster who made it to Cooperstown on the strength of 3,023 career hits and 938 stolen bases. Raines finished with 2,605 hits and 808 steals, but surpasses Brock in a number of areas:
• Raines has a higher stolen base success rate (84.7 percent) than either Rickey Henderson (80.8 percent) or Brock (75.3 percent).
• Raines finished with a .385 career on base percentage, to Brock's .343.
• Raines amassed 1,330 walks and only 966 strikeouts. Brock, in contrast, walked 761 times and struck out 1,730 times.
Raines has some personal baggage to overcome. During the Pittsburgh drug trials in the early 1980s, Raines testified that he kept a gram of coke in his uniform pocket, snorted during games, and made a point of sliding head-first so as not to break the vial. Not exactly a wholesome image there.
Then again, the voters didn't spend much time moralizing about Paul Molitor's early indiscretions with cocaine and marijuana. Raines addressed his problem and rehabilitated his image, and he was a sympathetic figure at the end of his career, selflessly contributing off the bench for two World Championship teams in New York and fighting lupus before his retirement.
Former Montreal pitcher Steve Rogers, now an official with the Players Association, tells people that he played with four Hall of Famers in his career. Gary Carter and Tony Perez are already in the club, and Rogers believes that Dawson and Raines should join them. He cites Dawson for his superb all-around game and ability to carry a club, and Raines for his speed, leadoff skills and knack for affecting a game in so many subtle ways.
Like most former teammates, Rogers raves about Dawson and Raines as team leaders and clubhouse presences.
"When you say their two names at the same time, what I immediately visualize is them putting sanitary socks around their hands, and standing in the middle of the clubhouse in their sliding pants and sandals, slap boxing," Rogers said. "They'd be yelling and woofing at each other while the rest of the team was egging them on."
Mark Grace, Rickey Henderson, Dean Palmer, Dan Plesac, Matt Williams.
Then again, Rickey is four months younger than Julio Franco, so you never know for sure if his playing days are history.
Pluses for Grace: He was a career .303 hitter and four-time Gold Glove Award winner. Most prominent minus: His .442 career slugging percentage is a tick below guys like Jeff Conine and Rich Aurilia. True, Grace led all major leaguers in hits and doubles during the 1990s. But Jack Morris hasn't benefited from leading so many pitching categories in the '80s, so it's hard to see how that argument will work for Grace.
Williams will get some votes by virtue of his five All-Star appearances, four Gold Gloves and four Silver Slugger awards. But 378 homers just aren't going to cut it for a guy who played the bulk of his career in the go-go '90s.
Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Fred McGriff, Edgar Martinez, Andres Galarraga, Robin Ventura.
Alomar and Larkin, two of the elite middle infielders of their generation, should both receive serious consideration from the electorate. Bill James ranks Larkin as the sixth-best shortstop in history, right behind Arky Vaughan and Robin Yount. The only factor weighing against Larkin might be his injury history; he appeared in more than 140 games only seven times in 19 seasons.
Alomar unexpectedly fell off a cliff in his mid-30s, and there's the little matter of that spitting incident in 1996. But those 2,724 hits, 12 All-Star appearances and 10 Gold Gloves make him tough to overlook.
Although McGriff was a model of consistency, he never hit 40 home runs and fell short of the 500 club by seven. Regardless of whether he makes it to Cooperstown, the Crime Dog will be immortalized for eternity in those Tom Emanski instructional videos.
Martinez, universally admired as a hitter, has a combined career on base-slugging percentage of .933. That's better than Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson, among others. Unfortunately, it also puts him in a dead heat with Albert Belle, who dropped off the ballot this year for failing to receive the requisite 5 percent of the vote.
Martinez, of course, is burdened by the perception that a pure DH must go above and beyond statistically to make it to Cooperstown. While his "rate" stats (e.g., a .418 on-base percentage) are terrific, his "counting" stats (2,247 hits and 309 homers) aren't exactly overwhelming for a one-dimensional player. And Harold Baines' meager 5.3 percent haul this year certainly didn't help his cause.