On Jan. 8, the Baseball Writers of America will announce just who, if anyone, has earned induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame to be immortalized in Cooperstown, N.Y., as one of the greatest baseball players of all time. This year the ballot is stacked with All-Stars and greats, most of whom are making the ballot for first time this year.
The crowded field will work against most of the players, as votes instead of being accrued to a few standouts will likely be scattered all over the place and thus dilute the vote, making it hard for any player to gather the necessary 75 percent of the vote to earn induction.
That’s bad for guys like Jack Morris who is in the last year of eligibility but who was close, earning 67.7 percent of the vote last year. He’s likely to find it hard to gather anywhere near that level of support with the class of first year players on the ballot.
So who’s eligible for the first time? Nineteen players: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina, Jeff Kent, Kenny Rogers, Luis Gonzalez, Ray Durham, Moises Alou, Hideki Nomo, Richie Sexon, Armando Benitez, Mike Timlin, Sean Casey, Jacque Jones, Paul Lo Duca, Eric Gagne, JT Snow, and Todd Jones.
Returning players still eligible are Jack Morris, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa, Don Mattingly, Mark McGwire, Larry Walker, Alan Trammell, Lee Smith, Jeff Bagwell, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff and Rafael Palmeiro.
That makes a total of 36 players who the writers can vote for. Each writer with at least 10 years as a member of the BBWAA is eligible to vote for up to 10 players, but most will vote for fewer. So let's take a look at the players -- and their chances -- to make the Hall.
First off, let's eliminate those who face improbable, if not impossible, odds and are unlikely to even get the 5 percent of the vote required to stay eligible for the ballot next year. In that class you’d find Jacque Jones, J.T. Snow, Paul LoDuca, Hideki Nomo, Richie Sexson, Sean Casey, Kenny Rogers, Todd Jones, Mike Timlin and I’d probably include Eric Gagne too.
Gagne might have rated a bit higher if the the steroid taint wasn’t so strong, and steroid concerns probably will hold back a few others -- probably keeping all of the newcomer hitters from making it in on the first ballot.
Of the ten remaining players new to the ballot, the three strongest cases for first ballot entry would be Greg Maddux (who I believe is a lock to get in on the first ballot thanks to his 355 career wins and career 3.16 ERA and four Cy Young Awards), followed by Frank Thomas and Tom Glavine.
Thomas was one of baseball’s most prolific hitters. He’s a two-time MVP with a career .301 average, 521 home runs, 11 seasons with 100-plus RBIs, nine with over 100 runs scored and five All Star appearances. Many would say he’s one of the top 25 hitters of all time. I don’t think he’ll get in on the first ballot though because of the level of offensive talent on this ballot overall,the number of players now hititng 500+ home runs, spending so much of his career as a DH, and because he spent too much of his career playing in the steroid era. Fair or not, all sluggers from that era will be suspect and some writers will hesitate to vote for them.
That brings us to Tom Glavine. Glavine is possibly the last 300-game winner we will see in our lifetimes. Every 300-game winner, with the exception of Randy Johnson (not yet eligible), Roger Clemens, and Greg Maddux, are all members of the Hall of Fame. That alone pretty much assures that Glavine will get in. He also has two Cy Young Awards and 10 All Star appearances over his 22-year career. Not being a power pitcher, but a finesse pitcher, and a lefty to boot will help him with the voters (not being a power pitcher he’ll face less of the steroid era taint). I’d estimate his odds of getting in on the first vote as 50-50.
Of the other six new faces, two have good chances of getting into the Hall of Fame at some point -- Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent. Kent is likely to get in as the best hitting second baseman of his era, while Mussina while very good, will probably benefit as much from the Yankees contingent of the press corp as his career numbers.
Luis Gonzalez is at the very far end of marginal, and the remainder Ray Durham, Armando Benitez, and Moises Alou are longshots but at least have a real chance of keeping themselves alive to survive for another year or two on the ballot.
Still the balloting process is not a sterile one. Balloting is often about politics and politicking and just who leads the charge to campaign for someone on the ballot attempting to sway the baseball writers. Sometimes a marginal choice, or even a longshot does make the grade.
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