The latest class to the Baseball Hall of Fame will be announced tomorrow. This is a special year for all Astros fans as this is the first year that Jeff Bagwell is on the ballot. There's a lot of talk among the voters (and non-voters) about Bagwell this season, much good, but some bad -- I'll address my support for Bagwell and refute some of the negative reaction toward him tomorrow.
But for you Bagwell supporters, remember this: the same bunch of voters voting this year are the same ones who couldn't see fit to put Roberto Alomar and Barry Larkin into the Hall last year, or who couldn't even make the likes of Cal Ripken, Jr., Tom Seaver, or Nolan Ryan unanimous choices.
Though I've followed baseball all of my life, and worked around the sport for a long time, I'm not qualified to be a voter though I did get to help one Houston area-based writer with his vote several years ago. That said, I thought I would present the rest of my selections from this year's ballot (and remember, to make the Hall, a player must receive the vote of 75 percent of the voters. If the player does not receive 75 percent, he must then receive more than five percent of the vote to remain on the ballot.)
The obvious first choice is Roberto Alomar who came just short of election last year. The winner of 10 Gold Gloves for defensive excellence, Alomar was, without much doubt, the best second baseman in the majors in the 1990s -- yes, even better than the sainted Craig Biggio. Alomar could hit for average and power and he was a good base runner.
He finished with 73.7 precent of the vote last season as several of the writers refused to vote for him because he once spit on an umpire. Never mind that the umpire forgave Alomar and that they've become friends, the writers felt that Alomar should be punished. Hopefully this year that wrong will be righted and a guy who should have gone in on the first ballot will get in his second time around.
That leads me to Barry Larkin. Working on the Astrodome scoreboard in the `80s and `90s, I saw a lot of Larkin. As with Alomar, Larkin was an excellent fielder who had the misfortune of playing the position at the same time that Ozzie Smith was still playing. Still, Larkin won multiple Gold Gloves, was an NL MVP, and he stole bases and hit for power -- he won nine Silver Sluggers which go to the hitter at each position who hits the most homers.
Larkin was at the forefront of the shortstops who would emerge in the late-`90s, like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Nomar Garciaparra. This was the group that would put to the rest the prototype of the slick-fielding, no-hit shortstops. Of the shortstops who started play around this time, about the only one who was truly better at all aspects of the game was Alex Rodriguez, and any voter who has yet to vote for Larkin should be forbidden from voting for Jeter on the first ballot because Larkin was the better shortstop.
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One of my favorite baseball players of all time is Dale Murphy, a former All-Star outfielder for the Atlanta Braves in the 1980s. Murphy played on some awful teams with those Braves -- think current era Pittsburgh Pirates and you can see what the Braves were like back then. Yet he was twice NL MVP. He was an excellent defensive outfielder, and his numbers are more than comparable to the likes of Andre Dawson and Jim Rice, two of the more recent selections to the Hall.
What's really amazing, when you look at Murphy's numbers, are that while they're similar to Dawson and Rice, his lineups were never loaded like the ones they played on. He never had the opportunity to have guys like Carlton Fisk, Fred Lynn, and Wade Boggs providing him with some cover. About the best he ever had for lineup support was Bob Horner. And maybe if he had a bit of that Boston mythology hanging over him he would have made it in already. Alas, I agree with Joe Posnanski, one of the best baseball writers around, that Murphy's never going to make it in.
Finally, there's Bert Blyleven. Blyleven's seemingly been on the ballot forever, which, strangely, seems to fit with a guy who played seemingly forever for a whole bunch of teams. Blyleven didn't hit the magic 300-win mark (he finished with 287), and he never won the Cy Young. But he did strike out 3,701 batters while finishing with a career ERA of 3.31, with most of his career being spent in the AL and facing the DH. If there's a lock for this year, besides Alomar, it's Blyleven, who amassed 74.2 percent of the vote last year and seems to have finally reached that critical mass of support. (Note: I used to be anti-Blyleven, but I got to really studying his stats, and my mind has been changed.)
Still, when it comes to the Baseball Hall of Fame, there's no such thing as a sure thing. After all if Rickey Henderson, Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, and Johnny Bench aren't deserving of unanimous selection, and if Ron Santo couldn't even make it in despite being one of the stellar third basemen of the 1960s, then nothing's a lock. Nothing.