Explaining my Hall of Fame ballot
Time to pay attention to the numbers that matter, and to remember the forgotten stars
Not so long ago, both of them woke up on election day, thinking: No chance.
Dawson hasn't peeled away an ice pack to play a big league game since 1996. Blyleven hasn't broken off one of those legendary curveballs since 1992. So don't ask me why they're still being forced to sweat out these election days after all these years.
If I were the czar of Hall of Fame election rules, we'd be forced to make up our minds within the first five elections -- 10 at the most -- on whether men like this are Hall of Famers. But obviously, I've got a better shot at being the king of Norway than I do of being the czar of Hall elections. So this is the deal.
And the deal, for these two men, is this: Apparently, times change. Perspectives change. And on Wednesday, Hall of Fame election day could change their lives forever.
Dawson missed getting elected last year by only 44 votes. Blyleven missed by 67. If they both make it this time, this would be the first year since 1956 that two players will get to celebrate after at least nine appearances apiece on the ballot.
But you'd have an easier time predicting the Cactus League ERA leader than predicting how Hall of Fame voters will vote in any given year. So it's also possible neither Dawson nor Blyleven will make it. Maybe first-timer Roberto Alomar will. Or this could easily be the eighth time in history -- but just the second time in the past 39 years -- that nobody gets elected.
As for me, I voted for both Dawson and Blyleven, plus all four prominent first-timers (Alomar, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez and Fred McGriff). And since I also vote for Tim Raines, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris and Dale Murphy every year, that means I filled up all 10 spots on my ballot for only the second time ever.
So here's a look at my ballot -- the 10 players I voted for, plus one name I didn't check:
There was once a time, in the mid-to-late '90s, when, if you'd asked me to name my favorite player to watch in the whole sport, I'd have answered: Robbie Alomar.
Why? Because he might have been the most creative, most stylish defensive innovator to pass through this game since Ozzie Smith. That's why. Alomar was a guy who made plays no one else made, saw things no one else saw and did it all with a Human Highlight Video flair that leaped off the field at you.
But Roberto Alomar was just as dominant on the other side of the ball. He had a 10-year period (1992 to 2001) in which he LED THE MAJOR LEAGUES in hits. And the three second basemen in history who can match his career numbers (2,724 hits/.300 average/.371 on-base pct./.443 slugging pct.) all started their careers before 1925.
So how anyone could look at Alomar's career and NOT vote for him is a bigger mystery to me than Stonehenge. If the definition of a Hall of Famer is a man who dominated his position for an extended period of time, then think about all this:
Robbie Alomar won more Gold Gloves (10) than any second baseman who ever played. He's the only second baseman in history who ever made 12 All-Star teams in a row. He finished in the top six in five MVP elections. And he and Mike Schmidt are the only two infielders in history with at least 10 Gold Gloves and four Silver Sluggers.
So aside from the disgraceful John Hirschbeck incident, there's no justification -- none -- for leaving Alomar off anyone's ballot. And we've elected players whose careers included worse blemishes than that. If you consider Roberto Alomar's full body of work and look at the entirety of his career, he's a Hall of Famer. Period.
Barry Larkin is one of the greatest shortstops who ever lived. You can read my full dissertation on why in the column I wrote about him last week. But the short version is this:
Start with his trophy collection: Larkin's nine Silver Sluggers are second only to A-Rod (10) among ALL INFIELDERS in history. He won three straight Gold Gloves -- while Ozzie Smith was still active. He won an MVP award. And over the 77 years baseball has been choosing up All-Star teams, Ozzie and Cal Ripken Jr. are the only two shortstops who ever made more of those teams than the 12 Larkin made.
Offensively, Larkin's .815 career OPS was an amazing 137 points higher than the average shortstop of his era. And, according to Lee Sinins' Complete Baseball Encyclopedia, he created a staggering 488 more runs than the average shortstop of his time -- the highest total of any National League shortstop whose career started after World War II.
So is there an argument somewhere that Barry Larkin WASN'T a dominant player at his position? If there is, good luck convincing me it makes any sense.
I'll be honest. I have no idea if Fred McGriff is going to get 6 percent of the votes on Wednesday or 60. But watch his vote total closely -- because it's going to tell us a lot about how voters now look at what used to be magic Hall of Fame numbers.
McGriff didn't hit 500 homers, but he missed by only seven. He didn't rack up 2,500 hits, but he missed by only 10. He slugged over .500 (.509), drove in 1,550 runs and fell just short of a .900 career OPS (.887). And if you don't think those are Hall of Fame numbers, answer me this:
How many players in history have displayed those numbers on any Hall ballot and not gotten elected?
The answer is zero. None.
So the big rationale not to vote for McGriff, obviously, is that those stats don't mean what they used to mean -- that they might have made you a dominant slugger once but they didn't in McGriff's era. Or something like that.
But as I pointed out in this blog a few weeks ago, McGriff WAS a dominator before the steroids era really kicked in, in 1993. In the five seasons before that, he won two home run titles, and he was the only player in baseball who finished in the top four in his league in homers, home run ratio and OPS in all five seasons.
After that, McGriff's numbers looked almost exactly the same for the next decade as they'd looked before (.283/.393/.531 from 1988 to 1992, versus .290/.373/.506 from 1993 to 2002) -- as sure an indication he was clean as you'll get without a drug test. So was it HIS fault that a 35-homer, 104-RBI season was league-leader material in 1992, but made a guy Just Another Slugger in 2001? It shouldn't be. Should it?
So McGriff's candidacy raises this monumental Hall of Fame issue:
Are voters going to have to adjust their standards to account for what constitutes Hall of Fame numbers in the post-steroids era? Of course. But does it make sense to penalize the great players who stayed clean during that era? Uh, not to me.
So I had no trouble casting a vote for Fred McGriff. I can't wait to see how many other voters do the same.
Edgar Martinez was the greatest designated hitter ever. Let's agree on that within the first two sentences of this discussion, OK?
No DH ever ripped off 13 relentlessly great seasons like the 13 Edgar had from 1991 to 2003. Don't even bother trying to find one.
For instance: Edgar's adjusted OPS-plus was 147 (i.e., 47 percent better than the average hitter of his time) for his CAREER. The second-greatest DH in history, Paul Molitor, only had a 147 OPS-plus (or better) in two of his 21 SEASONS. So this case is closed.
But it isn't going to be easy for any DH to make it into the Hall of Fame, and it shouldn't be. A Hall of Fame DH had better be one massively dominating masher. And my guess is that too many voters are going to judge Martinez's dominance by looking at all the wrong numbers.
His "counting" stats -- 2,247 hits, 309 homers, 1,261 RBIs -- won't look like anything special to the voters who don't take the time to gaze beyond those columns on the stat sheet or don't take into account that this man wasn't allowed to play every day 'til age 27. But I have a different definition of "dominance."
How about those 13 seasons in which this guy was one of the most feared hitters alive? Only Barry Bonds had a higher on-base percentage than Edgar (.428) in those 13 seasons. Only Tony Gwynn, Larry Walker and Mike Piazza had a higher batting average than Edgar (.318). Just Craig Biggio, John Olerud and Jeff Bagwell racked up more doubles than Edgar (451).
But if we talk total offensive package, how many men in the entire sport would you rank above Edgar in that time? Bonds and who else? That answer is nobody, friends. Nobody. Do the math. Ask the pitchers. Survey the scouts. Measure it any way you want.
Well, I've done those measurements, and any way I do them, I find a man who rose above the masses for 13 years. And there's a term for that: "Hall of Famer."
I didn't cast a vote for The Big Cat. But I wound up taking a longer look at him than any other first-time candidate who didn't make my cut.
Galarraga actually graded out higher on Bill James' Hall of Fame monitor (114) than McGriff (100). He's also one of only nine players in history who led their league in all three triple-crown categories at some point in their careers without doing that in the same season.
But I can sum up why I didn't vote for Galarraga in one word: Denver.
As great a player as he was, it was really his five years in Colorado that elevated his numbers into the Hall of Fame argument. He won his batting title, home run title and RBI title as a Rockie. Four of his five 30-homer seasons came as a Rockie. And the Mile High Effect on his career slugging percentage (.633 in Denver, .470 everywhere else) and batting average (.348 in Denver, .275 everywhere else) was enormous.
So much as I admired this fellow as a player and as a man, I just couldn't vote for him.
The 60-Percent Club
Here's one thing that's now all but certain: Andre Dawson is going to be a Hall of Famer.
It might not be this year. It might not be next year. But no player has ever gotten as close to being elected as Dawson was last year (67 percent of the vote) without making it eventually. So his day is coming. What those of us who covered the National League in the '80s are still wondering, though, is this: How come it's taken this long?
OK, so he didn't walk much. I get that. But anybody who watched the Hawk play in his prime knew he had that Hall of Fame aura.
He, Mike Schmidt and Dale Murphy towered above the rest of the National League in their time. And all you need to know about Dawson's massive impact was that he won one MVP award and finished second TWICE. He won a Rookie of the Year trophy and eight Gold Gloves. He was the first power/speed combo machine in history to run up 12 straight seasons with double-figure homers and steals. And he sure did spend a lot of years in the who's-the-best-player-in-baseball debate.
It's not unprecedented for a player to get 67 percent of the vote one year and not make it the next. (Gaylord Perry and Jim Bunning can both attest to that.) But I just have a feeling: This is Andre Dawson's year.
The pride of Zeist is on the precipice now, after one of the most bizarre voting paths to Cooperstown of modern times.
Back in 1999, in his second year on the ballot, Bert Blyleven got a mere 70 Hall of Fame votes (14.1 percent). That was fewer than Dale Murphy, fewer than Dave Parker, even fewer than Minnie Minoso.
But by last year, without throwing a pitch, Blyleven had more than quintupled his votes, all the way up to 361 -- nearly 300 more than Murphy or Parker. Go figure. Only one player in history (Gil Hodges) ever got as high a percentage as the 62.7 percent of the vote Blyleven got last year without making it onto a plaque. So theoretically, he's in great shape.
On the other hand, he got only two more votes last year than the year before. So his momentum has clearly slowed. And he's also trying to do something just one other player (Luis Aparicio) has done since the inception of the modern voting system in 1968 -- get elected by the writers after once drawing as little as 14 percent in any election.
So obviously, as attractive a candidate as Blyleven's 287 wins, 60 shutouts and dazzling strikeout-to-walk ratio (3,701 whiffs to only 1,322 walks) make him, some voters are still asking the questions I once asked.
Why did he make only two All-Star teams? Why was he a top-three finisher in only two Cy Young elections? How come he had a lower winning percentage (.534) than John Burkett or Charlie Leibrandt? And why, for that matter, was he getting only 14 percent of the vote, back when his career was much closer in the rearview mirror?
The Rest Of My Ballot
If this is, in fact, the year that Andre Dawson gets elected, maybe he'll be able to shine a light on his longtime teammate, Tim Raines.
I sure hope so, because this man has been, by far, the most criminally unsupported player on this ballot in each of his first two years of eligibility (132 and 122 votes, respectively).
Bet you didn't know that Raines reached base more times (3,977) than Tony Gwynn, Honus Wagner, Lou Brock, Roberto Clemente or Richie Ashburn. Bet you didn't know that not one eligible player who reached base as many times as Raines did and had as high an on-base percentage (.385) is NOT in the Hall of Fame.
Bet you didn't know that Raines is still the only player in history to steal at least 70 bases six years in a row. Bet you didn't know that Juan Pierre has already been thrown out stealing more times in his career (155) than Raines (146) was, even though Raines stole nearly twice as many bases (808-459) as Pierre has swiped.
And bet you didn't know that in the seven seasons from 1982 to 1988, Raines was a leadoff man who led his league in reaching base just about every way it could possibly be reached (singles, doubles, triples AND walks). So Earth to voters: Now that Rickey Henderson is in, Tim Raines is clearly the greatest leadoff hitter in history who isn't in the Hall of Fame.
I'm tired of defending why I vote for this man. But here we go again.
I vote for him because there's no other fair way to handle the players of his generation. I vote for him because we now know that hundreds and hundreds of players in his era took some kind of PED, and we'll never know exactly who did what, or why.
I vote for him because I'm not going to take a stand only against players who gave funky answers to Congress or showed up in Jose Canseco's contributions to great American literature.
And I vote for him because he was a sport-altering figure: A man who compiled the greatest home run ratio of all time. A man who got MVP votes in every healthy season of his career except one. A man who made 12 All-Star teams. And a man who was ALWAYS a feared slugger from day one -- a man who (lest we forget) slugged .618 in his rookie year. Just so you know how to compute that, Adam Dunn, Adrian Gonzalez and Jason Bay are among the many folks who have never slugged .618 in ANY season.
If McGwire ever gets elected, I'm all for putting on his Hall plaque that he was a controversial figure who wasn't interested in talking about the past. But it's all a moot point. Even if he triples his vote total, he'll still be more than 50 votes short. So I guess I'll be delivering this same speech next winter, too.
For the 10th straight year, Morris didn't even get 50 percent of the vote last year. So he should probably come to grips with the messy reality that he's stuck in this same limbo forever now.
I've heard all the lectures about why I shouldn't vote for him. I know his ERA (3.91) would be the worst of any starting pitcher in the Hall of Fame. I know all the negatives.
But this is where I remind the lecturers that we're talking about a pitcher who threw a no-hitter, started three All-Star Games, was the winningest pitcher of his generation, made a major impact on three World Series teams and was more than just a man who put on the greatest Game 7 World Series show I've ever witnessed. So I checked his box for the 10th straight year. I haven't been embarrassed to do that once.
Dale Murphy isn't ever going to have a plaque in Cooperstown. I know it. He knows it. But I keep waiting for the PED backlash to restore the luster to the forgotten stars of the '80s. And for reasons I don't quite understand, that's never happened in the case of this man, a guy who once used to pull in more votes than either Blyleven or Morris.
If you look at Murphy's 398 homers and .469 career slugging percentage today, in the context of post-PED America, those numbers look way punier than they did at the time. But remember, it's what these players did in THEIR time that we're supposed to be looking at.
And back in the '80s, Murphy led all National Leaguers in runs and hits, tied Mike Schmidt for the most RBIs and finished second to Schmidt in homers. He was a back-to-back MVP. He won five straight Gold Gloves. He was a 30-homer, 30-steal man when that was still a rarity. He once got more All-Star votes than any other player in the whole darned sport. And he was one of baseball's classiest citizens of all time.
Those glittering credentials convinced 116 voters to vote for him a decade ago. So I have no sensible explanation for why there were only 62 people voting for him by last year. But I've checked his name for 11 straight years. No reason to stop now.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.