The Hall of Fame: The almost-rans
IF I WERE A VOTE-MAN
The Hall of Fame ballot was released at the end of last week. My votes, if I had one:
Roberto Alomar: The spitting episode weighs heavily on my mind. On the other hand, the Hall of Fame is nothing if not a refuge for scoundrels. Let us concentrate, then, on Alomar’s career, which had a relatively short quality phase — he fizzled at 33. Still, the seasons that he had until that point were quite strong, particularly by the standards of the middle infield, and he was an ace defender during those years as well. He played on seven postseason teams and won two World Series. He’s not a slam dunk to me, but he’s not a bad candidate either. That’s a lukewarm endorsement, but it’s as worked up as I can get about a player who permanently lost my respect years ago, even if Cap Anson and Ty Cobb were worse people.
Kevin Appier: A very good pitcher whose injury problems prevented him from piling up big career stats. He probably should have won the Cy Young award in 1993 (Jack McDowell got it despite not being nearly as good), but even that wouldn’t quite put him over the top.
Harold Baines: Bill Veeck’s last gift to the game is a surprisingly good candidate. Sure, he was a longtime designated hitter, but that position is as valid as any other. Baines had many good seasons without ever having a great one. Normally I object to the dismissive description of a player as a “compiler,” but the description fits Baines. That said, consistency is an underrated skill. Further, Hal’s peak came in a tough park during a relative pitcher’s era, and had his career started ten years later his numbers would look very different (without being any better, of course). He’s not quite a Hall of Famer to me, but the sum of his career is greater than its parts.
Bert Blyleven: One of several controversial candidates, others will rehash his qualifications at great length, so I’ll keep this short except to say that I strongly believe he should be in. He’s got the wins, he’s got the strikeouts, he’s got the ERA, he’s got the longevity. Holding a pitcher up over 13 wins is arbitrary and small-minded.
Ellis Burks: A very good player for almost 20 years, with numbers somewhat goosed by a stay in Colorado. A million injuries cut down on his career and season totals, as well as prevented him from making more than a couple of All-Star teams or winning an MVP award. He’s very good by the general standards of center field, but he wasn’t a great centerfielder and didn’t stay there in any case.
Andre Dawson: As the elevation of Jim Rice has opened the door to pretty much everyone, I expect Dawson will get in at some point. Criminally underrated in his prime, he was criminally overrated after. The Expos centerfielder was a Hall of Famer. The Cubs rightfielder was no better than Jermaine Dye. There was much more of the latter in his career than the former.
Andres Galarraga: An interesting player who fell apart in his late 20s, only to rebound after working with Don Baylor, then overcame cancer at 39 to post a strong comeback season with the Braves. He struck out a lot, walked a little and hit a bunch of home runs for the Rockies. Even if you treat his Colorado stats as being of equal worth to those he compiled elsewhere, there’s just not enough here to justify enshrinement.
Pat Hentgen: A good pitcher for a couple of years, he won a deserved Cy Young award in 1996 for a season that wasn’t particularly special by the standards of award-winning seasons. He paid a high price for pitching a million innings in 1996 and 1997, and his career totals aren’t anything special.
Mike Jackson: An excellent setup man for what seemed like 30 years, Jackson pitched in over 1000 games. He was only a closer for a few scattered seasons. He was an asset to many a bullpen, but his career wasn’t remarkable in any way. His 1998 season with Cleveland (40 saves, 1.55 ERA) was top quality, but you need more than one of those to be a Hall of Famer.
Eric Karros: Even with Dodger Stadium working against his overall numbers, Karros was just a so-so hitter for a first baseman, with career rates of .268/.325/.454, and he stopped being interesting at 31.
Ray Lankford: Lankford was one of those all-around talents who did a lot of things well but got hurt a lot, got platooned a lot, had a couple of work-stoppages in his prime. As such, his seasons mostly don’t look like anything, and his career totals are unimpressive. Had things broken a little differently he might have had a few 30-30 seasons and looked like a completely different player. As it was he was quite good, but he never attained the kind of high profile he deserved. Either way, he’s not a Hall of Fame candidate, but he was plenty good.
Next time, the more interesting guys on the ballot: Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Tim Raines, Shane Reynolds, David Segui, Lee Smith, Alan Trammell, Robin Ventura, Todd Zeile.