WASHINGTON, December 28, 2012 —The 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot is packed, controversial, and for any sane voter, runs right up against or even over the ten-selection limit. With choices limited to ten, and at least four or five of the twenty-four first-timers looking like locks for induction at some point, it’s easy, slightly tempting even, to overlook the thirteen who have been on the ballot before. But doing that would be an even bigger crime than excluding Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, and all the Steroid Era players.
After all, of the thirteen returning candidates, a convincing case could be made for ten. (Sorry, Bernie Williams, Larry Walker, and Lee Smith). From Atlanta legend Dale Murphy, written off for coming up just shy of 400 homeruns, despite a stellar peak and idyllic reputation, to Rafael Palmeiro, with his 569 homeruns, 3,020 hits, and infamous 2005 failed drug test, this slice of the ballot is just as packed and controversial as the swath of first-timers that it accompanies.
Any analysis of these ten worthy players has to begin with the two who are over two-thirds of the way to induction. Jack Morris and Jeff Bagwell couldn’t be more opposite, and that’s not because the former was a workhorse starting pitcher and the latter was a dominant slugger at first base. The opposite comes from how all conventional wisdom points away from Morris and towards Bagwell when it comes to Hall of Fame voting, but the vote totals themselves are reversed.
For the majority of his career, Morris was an above-average pitcher who threw his 240 innings and took his 16-18 wins for playing on the powerhouse Detroit teams of the mid-80s. But what he had that set him apart from all the others in his range was Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, when, as a member of the Minnesota Twins, he outdueled John Smoltz for 7+ innings, ultimately pitching all 10, and was ready to go for the top of the 11th when Gene Larkin’s walk-off pinch-hit single sealed an epic 1-0 victory. That performance puts Morris squarely in the Hall of Epic Pitching Performances, but not in the Hall of Fame, though with his vote total, recent trends suggest that he’ll make it in this year or next.
Poor Jeff Bagwell was very muscular in his playing days. Why was this a bad thing, one might think? Well, he had big muscles so he looked like a steroid user. In many interviews, Bagwell has given exact explanations of why he never succumbed to the temptation of using steroids, and how his weightlifting routines led to the shoulder and neck injuries that brought his career to a crashing halt.
The closest “evidence” that connects Bagwell to PED’s is the fact that he played on the same team as Ken Caminiti for four years, all before Caminit’s steroid-aided power spike and MVP award with the San Diego Padres in 1996. If the steroid-colored glasses that too many voters wear these days when judging guilt and innocence with subjective factors are laid aside, Bagwell’s numbers speak for themselves: .297/.408/.540, 449 HR, 1529 RBI in 15 seasons, and a stunning MVP award in the strike-shortened 1994 season where through just 110 games, he had driven 39 homers and was slugging .750.
Next, just like with the first-timers, there are a pair lower-profile candidates, who, so far, have both been slighted. The first is Tim Raines, the table-setter of the Montreal Expos for ten years, the second-most prolific base stealer, though a much more accurate one, of the 1980s, thanks to Rickey Henderson. The second is Edgar Martinez who was one of the best pure hitters of his day, in the pitcher’s havens of the Kingdome and Safeco Field, to boot, but he had the gall to be a designated hitter for his entire career.
The more interesting of the two, by far, is Martinez, the Mariners legend who finally earned the third base job at age 27 in 1990. He was the AL batting champion in 1992 before tearing his hamstring in an exhibition game before the 1993 season, the injury that ended his defensive career and made him a fulltime DH. And he was the best ever at that position, so much so that the Outstanding Designated Hitter Award bears his name. He fully deserves to go into the Hall as a worthy offensive player, a pioneer or both.
If Martinez was hindered by injuries and a late start, Raines was too good, too soon. His best years were right at the start of his career from 1981-1987, a period that he began by leading the NL in stolen bases four years running and ended with three years of plus-.400 on-base percentages.
To top it off, he had enough power to punch 40 doubles a year, except he never topped 38 because he was turning the excess doubles into triples, averaging an even nine per year. After that seven-year run, though he kept his OBP high and stole 45 bases as late as 1992, he was a shell of his peak self with the Chicago White Sox, and he hung around to the detriment of his career numbers until 2002.
The four players that have been discussed in-depth here are not the only ones with cases to be made, they are, in my opinion, the ones with the strongest, or for Morris, the most understandable.
Had Fred McGriff hit seven more homers to reach 500 would he be in the Hall already, and not fighting for 25% of the vote? How good would Larry Walker have been outside of a pitcher’s park (Olympic Stadium) and a hitter’s haven (Coors Field)? Where would Don Mattingly be if back injuries hadn’t derailed his career? Should the Integrity Clause give bonus points to Dale Murphy?
Some questions have answers, some don’t, and at some point, it’s time to sit back and let the voters take another crack at them.
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