Don't have a major introductory speech/rant, like last year. Just a reiteration that, as long as I have a Hall of Fame ballot - and I continue to believe that the voting procedure will change and I'll lose that ballot during my professional lifetime - I will constantly reassess and re-evaluate candidates.
If I change my mind, then I change my mind. And I'll deal with the consequences, which are really nothing more severe than some criticism.
My favorite new analytical toy, by the way, is the historical WAR Index, offering a nice measurement that integrates positional value, offense and defense while recognizing both longevity and excellence. In pretty much all of the cases, I found that the WAR reaffirmed my beliefs (which were constructed largely using statistics, of course). Thanks to James K. for introducing it to me.
To the ballot:
Roberto Alomar: Before even checking out his baseball-reference.com page (linked to the left, as is the case with everyone here), I envisioned him as being the best of the new candidates. It's actually close among him and two others, but Alomar's career was indeed quite brilliant.
Check out the nine seasons in which he posted an OPS+ of 110 or better, or his six seasons at 129 or better. Check out his defense. Check out his 63.6 WAR.
His quick plummet? That was pretty wacky, but he had done enough prior to that to render it pretty meaningless.
The spitting incident? One absolutely horrible night. Certainly not one that should hinder his candidacy. Yes.
Kevin Appier: He put up a better career than I realized. I like that eight-year run from 1990 through 1997. Alas, he wasn't the same after shoulder surgery in 1998 - his best year after that was his one season as a Met, 2001 - and there's not enough there for Cooperstown. No.
Harold Baines: If you're gonna go in primarily as a DH, then you've just got to bring it, offensively, like someone else further down on this ballot did. Baines, however, did not. He was very good and played for a long time, which doesn't make him a Hall of Famer. No.
Bert Blyleven: He has been a consistent Yes for me, even before I started drinking (and enjoying!) all of the statistical Kool-Aid. After all, there's nothing "new age" about strikeouts, or innings pitched. No reason to change now.
Ellis Burks: As with Appier, I found myself looking at his b-r.com page and saying, "Wow, pretty damn good." The man could hit, before and after his stay with the Rockies (as well as during his time in pre-humidor Denver).
When I think of Burks, by the way, I think of his mention in "Shut Out," a terrific book by ESPN's Howard Bryant. That has nothing to do with his candidacy. Just thought I'd plug Howard's book.
In any case, as nice a career as Burks put up, it isn't Hall of Fame caliber. No.
For the second straight year now, however, he's a No. It's that darn on-base percentage. .323. Which resulted in the 119 OPS+. Which just isn't good enough for a guy who spent more than half of his career as a corner outfielder.
His WAR is 56.8, and that sounds about right . He falls just a little short, when it appears that most Hall of Famers are 60 and above.
Great teammate? That's what everyone says. Played through knee problems? That's awesome. But can I really count that as a major factor? I'm sorry he had knee problem, yet I don't think he should be rewarded for them.
Andres Galarraga: You want beloved? Ask anyone in the game about this guy, a gentle giant of a man and a god in his native Venezuela.
When he missed the 1999 season with cancer, players from other teams by writing his "14" uniform number on their caps. The Yankees' Luis Sojo - a fellow Vanezuelan - did so, which prompted Tim Brown, then with the Newark Star-Ledger, to kid Sojo, "That's great, that you''ve got Irabu's back." Sojo laughed. During the 2009 World Baseball Classic, Sojo managed Team Venezuela, and Galarraga, while serving as hitting coach, hit some absolute bombs during an off-day practice at Pro Player Stadium. Pretty fun to watch.
But about that career...Too many peaks and valleys. Not enough excellence for someone of his positional profile (a first baseman, in other words). No.
Pat Hentgen: I guess he's on the ballot because he won the 1996 AL Cy Young Award, which he (alert: writing without researching extensively) probably deserved. But otherwise, there isn't much here. No.
(Just for some historical perspective, for you young'uns out there, it was equally hilarious that Georgetown had a player named Bill Martin, at a time when Billy Martin often managed the Yankees).
Eric Karros: I enjoy his broadcasting, but No. Not with a 107 OPS+.
Ray Lankford: He enjoyed a spot in Joe Torre's rotation of anecdotes, during Torre's years of pre-game interviews with the Yankees. Although, I can't say I remember the speciifics of any Lankford tale. Which sort of jibes with the reality that Lankford was a good player, but far from great. No.
Barry Larkin: Here, again, is why I insist on prioritizing the statistics over first-hand accounts. I'll guess that I watched Larkin play five games in person _ I was a student for the first half of his career, and then covered the Yankees in his later years, spending most of my time in the American League _ and, let's say, another 50 on TV. While I was certainly aware of his All-Star status, he just never stuck out to me as so much better than everyone else on the field.
Yet when you look at the numbers, you see a guy who routinely provided superb offense from a premium position (while playing pretty good defense at the same time), for an extended period of time. Once I sat down and educated myself, there was no question about his HOF worthiness. Yes.
Edgar Martinez: Here was a guy who was absolutely revered for his ability to crush a baseball. For being "feared" in the big moments. So I figured, the facts couldn't actually match the myth, right?
My goodness, are the facts impressive. A career 147 OPS+?! That is sick. That means that, for the entirety of his career, he was nearly 50-percent better than the average American League hitter.
As for those "clutch" stats, I looked them up, out of curiosity. In all of the usual metrics (runners in scoring position, runners in scoring position with two outs and "late and close"), he put up a higher on-base percentage and lower slugging percentage than his overall career numbers (.418 OBP and .515 SLG). Which means that the perception sort of matches reality, in that he was a tougher out in the tight spots.
HIs career didn't last long enough? The counting stats are not overwhelming. But his 67.2 WAR reflects how much damage he rendered in a relatively short career. Yes.
Don Mattingly: Yes, time to get some annual grief from Yankees fans. When you consider that you need a minimum of 10 major-league seasons to even qualify for the HOF's ballot, and then you see that Mattingly had only six seasons that you would really consider Hall-worthy..his reign simply didn't last long enough. No.
Fred McGriff: A really, really good career. Look, he put up a 130 OPS+ in 1987 with the Blue Jays, and then a 125 OPS+ in 2002, with the Cubs. And plenty of even better seasons in between.
But this goes back to an acknowldgement, again, that the bar is set differently for each position. And that, at first base, like DH with Baines and Martinez, you've got to hit at an elite level to provide extraordinary value. Or, field extremely well, like Keith Hernandez (who, in retrospect, probably deserved more love from the voters.)
And McGriff didn't quite do that, as his 50.5 WAR reflects.
An interesting backstory to McGriff's tale is that he is widely regarded as a "clean" player, as opposed to the person whose name is listed directly underneath his. However, I've made the decision that it's not my responsibility to protect such "clean" players, when they weren't willing to protect themselves. Especially when we'll never know, for certain, who was 100-percent clean. No.
Jack Morris: He changed from a Yes to a No last year, and with another year's digestion, I feel only stronger about that No. The 3.90 ERA, on its own, should tell you plenty.
He "pitched to the score"? Meh. It's funny how only pitchers on strong-hitting teams can "pitch to the score." If you belong to a weak-hitting team, then you might find yourself guilty of "pitching just well enough to lose."
Dale Murphy: Wasn't good enough for a long enough period of time. It doesn't get much more simple than that. No.
Dave Parker: As I always mention, I loved everything about watching him play, from his size to his athleticism, to his earring, to the Pirates' uniforms, to his nickname. Based on those assets, I think, I voted him Yes my first year. This will be his third straight year as a No, however. He was a different player for 11 of the final 12 seasons of his career, with a strong 1985 standing as an outlier.
Tim Raines: Well, I know five years have passed since he last played in the majors, so that explains the timing. But really, he has no right even being on the ballot. I'm surprised that the HOF screening committee allowed this to happen. An absolute No, obviously.
Oh, wait. I was looking at the wrong Tim Raines. How embarrassing!
Tim Raines: Juuuust making sure you're still with me here. Sorry. Anyway, this is Raines' third year on the ballot, and this'll be his third straight Yes from me. When you add up his 2,605 hits, 1,330 walks and 42 hit-by-pitches, he reached base 3,977 times. Any chance he had 23 catchers' interferences, just to round it out to 4,000?
He was, indeed, a great, underrated player. A 64.9 WAR boosts his case further.
Shane Reynolds: No, we didn't actually get the same haircut. I never met him. No.
David Segui: If Jose Canseco is the Godfather of Steroids, then shouldn't Segui be the Viceroy, or something? His fingerprints are all over the era. Alas, I'm not sure that should boost his candidacy, and his actual numbers are rather unmemorable. No.
Lee Smith: I think we can all agree that saves are a profoundly overrated statistic, so Smith isn't going to win my support on that front, although I did vote for him once (two years ago, I believe). He hung around a long time, yet he wasn't that good, so the No is rather easy.
Interesting note on closers' WAR, by the way: Mariano Rivera is already ahead of Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter. Not Dennis Eckersley, though, who spent more than half of his career as a starter.
Alan Trammell: Don't have much to add from last year, when he was a Yes and will be again now. Except that his 66.8 WAR follows suit with all of the other evidence.
Robin Ventura: Another personal favorite, as I got to know him a little during his season and a half with the Yankees. He really put together a nice career, and his defense made him a force on both sides. His 55.1 WAR shows him to be one of the better third basemen of his time.
Alas, he's not quite there, Cooperstown-wise. Another really good season or two might have done it. No.
Todd Zeile. A truly fascinating career. The Cardinals traded him to the Cubs on the same day they fired Torre as their manager, in 1995. He joined Mike Piazza in the bizarre May 14, 1998 trade that sent both of them from the Dodgers to the salary-cutting Marlins, with the full understanding that Florida would dump both as soon as they could.
Torre loved him, and Bobby Valentine had no use for him, after Zeile replaced the adored John Olerud at first base for the Mets in 2000
And in the penultimate chapter, after the Yankees released him in August 2003, Zeile decided to join Omar Minaya's Expos, who were engulfed in a battle with Major League Baseball concerning their future.
The '03 Expos had played 22 "home" games in Puerto Rico, an untenable situation featuring awful travel. But the idea made some money, so MLB - at this point owning the Expos - insisted a repeat of the process in 2004.
With the young Expos trying to figure out a way to mobilize and get something out of the deal, Zeile, a veteran of labor battles, took over as the team's head adviser and media spokesman, serving as an upgrade over the Expos' official player representative, Brian Schneider.
As it turned out, the Expos relented, but I'm pretty sure they got a few more perks in return, thanks to Zeile's leadership.
He's an easy No, but that of course doesn't preclude us from enjoying and appreciating such interesting journeys through the game. Indeed, just making the ballot is a huge honor, so seeing their name presents a great opportunity to salute them, if not necessarily vote for them.
So...that's it. See you shortly for "Datelines of the Decade."