This year, I found myself facing a new dilemma: Too many good candidates for the 10 spots available on the ballot. Away we go:
Roberto Alomar: I sat in his house, in Queens, last January, for what I expected to be Alomar's coronation. We all were shocked as we waited, the clock ticking, without a phone call from the Hall. We didn't know for sure that Alomar had missed until we saw the news on the MLB Network.
He fell short by eight votes, and gosh, I think he'll get in this year. But who knows? I would've bet major bucks last year that he'd get in.
In any case, he was once again an easy Yes for me, and I've yet to read a convincing case against his candidacy.
Carlos Baerga: One reason I enjoy discussing every single candidate is because it's an accomplishment in itself (or at least, it should be) just to get on the ballot, and this is a way to tribute people and - now that I'm getting to the point where I covered many of these players - share favorite personal anecdotes.
Baerga enjoyed what was in reality an extremely short run of excellence. You could argue that only his 1992 and 1993 seasons were great. What I remember most, though, is when he joined the Mets in 1996, and boy, was he dreadful. I was just starting as a baseball writer, and I remember staying at the Mets' hotel in Philadelphia that September, and a look at his game log shows that Baerga played in just four games for the entire month of September 1996.
On a Saturday afternoon, though, with a game that night (and he did play), Baerga was dressed to the nines, strutting through the hallways, even before he got on the bus to the stadium. He looked like he just entered from the "Saturday Night Fever" set. He definitely had some serious post-game plans going on.
He might've been mostly out, but he was not down.
In any case, No, of course he isn't a Hall of Famer.
Jeff Bagwell: Mark McGwire, listed further down, kicked off the consideration of what is called, for better or worse, the "Steroid Era." And on this ballot, we're really starting to get into the heart of it.
There's concern that we're going to honor every hitter fortunate enough to go deep a few times over the last 20 years or so. I don't view it that way. Thanks to comparable stats like WAR and OPS+, we can measure players against their contemporaries and act accordingly.
And compared to his contemporaries, Bagwell kicks some major tail. He put up an excellent rookie year and just kept getting better. If you look, he didn't revert back to his rookie year (1991) value until 2002, and that was because his defense - very good for the bulk of his career - started to slip, according to the metrics used by baseball-reference.com.
Sure, I've heard the whispers about Bagwell and his potential usage of illegal PEDs. Not really my concern, IMO, since there was no bona fide, enforced/enforceable rule on the books until the very end of his career, and as far as we know, he passed his drug tests in 2004 and 2005 before retiring.
So he's a Yes.
Harold Baines. This is his fifth time on the ballot, and I've never wavered. A venerable hitter, but never an elite one. No.
Bert Blyleven: Alomar missed by eight votes last year? Blyleven missed by five, for crying out loud, and he has only two chances left. Mel Antonen, in a piece for SI.com, wonders whether Felix Hernandez's 2010 season will open voters' minds concerning won-loss records. Interesting.
Blyleven has been a Yes for me every time, and I see no reason to change now. His career might have been a little uneven, with subpar seasons in 1980, 1982 and 1988, but he more than made up for that by pitching as long and as well as he did.
Bret Boone: Like Baerga, he enjoyed a very brief run of being an elite player. Like Baerga, he's an easy No.
Kevin Brown: Ah, Brownie. How often do you hear that a guy is a big jerk, and then it turns out that he isn't as bad as advertised?
Well, that wasn't the case with Brown. Man, was he unpleasant.
And this is why I think we should use the five-year waiting period to distance ourselves from such visceral observations. Because when you toss aside such memories and examine Brown's stats, he looks like a deserving Hall member, at least to me. He was outstanding from 1995 through 2001 and then again in 2003, and he added very solid years in 1992 and 1993. Even his first year with the Yankees, 2004, wasn't too bad.
Yes, he was named in the Mitchell Report. Meh. He's still a Yes for me. He was one of the best starting pitchers of his time, and surely in part due to his prickly personality, one of the underappreciated ones, too.
John Franco: His best years came with the Reds, before the Mets acquired him. He hung around for a long time, but remember that 1998 was his last full year as a closer. And again, he was only adequate as a closer for most of his time as a Met, as most Mets fans will accurately tell you.
I remember seeing Franco during the 2005 NLDS between the Braves and Astros, in Houston. He was working as a game analyst for ESPN Radio. He had begun that season pitching for Houston before the Astros let him go in July.
"So are you done?" I asked Franco, before Game 3 started. Who knew? Maybe he would try a comeback in 2006.
"Yeah, I'm done," he said.
"So are you done?" I asked him. Meaning: Are you done broadcasting for the postseason?
"Yeah, I told you the other day, I'm done," he said, annoyed.
I clarified my question - yes, he was done broadcasting for the postseason - but for some reason, I never forgot that sequence as an amusing example of the travails of human communication.
Anyway, he's a No.
Juan Gonzalez: Juan Gone. I was there the night in Texas in 1998 when he shook his fist at the press box, after a scorer's decision deprived him of an RBI. I think it was this game, and I think the scorer uncourageously reversed his decision. He won the MVP award that season, as well as 1996.
But his career simply didn't last long enough, and his poor defense took away from what he accomplished offensively. No.
Marquis Grissom: No.
Lenny Harris: Good Lord. No.
Bobby Higginson: In 1999, PBS produced a documentary about sports reporting (mentioned here), with an emphasis on baseball, and some of the people involved spent time with the Yankees beat. They received permission to film us working in the press box, usually forbidden.
They were at this game at the old Tiger Stadium, and with Mariano Rivera taking a one-run lead into the bottom of the ninth, they started packing up their equipment.
"You guys should keep the cameras rolling," Larry Rocca, then Newsday's Yankees beat writer (I was with The Record), told the guys. "If Rivera blows this, we're all gonna go crazy, because we have our game stories written and are gonna have to rewrite on the fly."
"Nah," the head person said, "we have an appointment to speak with David Cone after the game ends, and we don't want to miss that."
Sure enough, with two outs in the ninth, Higginson absolutely crushed a game-tying homer off Rivera - into the rightfield overhang, I'm pretty sure - and all of the reporters, myself included, threw up their hands and cursed up a storm. It would've been a great shot for the documentary.
Higginson, despite that homer, is an easy No. And you can see that the Yankees went onto win that game.
Charles Johnson: No.
Barry Larkin: I supported him last year, and I've seen nothing since to change my mind. Just an excellent player. Yes.
Al Leiter: Gosh, he was fun to watch pitch. If you ever get a chance to do so, treat yourself to a second (or third, or whatever) viewing of 2000 World Series Game 5 and see Leiter and Andy Pettitte battle their rear ends off. 142 pitches for Leiter! Maybe Bobby Valentine should've lifted Leiter, but then again, the game-winning hit (an 18-or-so-bouncer through the infield from beloved veteran Luis Sojo) wasn't exactly crushed.
Leiter enjoyed some really good years with Toronto, Florida and the Mets, but not enough to get into Cooperstown. No.
Edgar Martinez: Yup, just a DH for the majority of his career, but who needs defense when you hit like this guy? His prime of 1990 through 2003, with 1993 the only off year, was sick. For the second straight year, he's a Yes.
Tino Martinez. If you're as much as a geek as I am, you might notice that Tino is the third member of this ballot (along with Brown and Leiter) who played for the 2005 Yankees, the team so flooded with overpaid veterans that Brian Cashman finally convinced George Steinbrenner to hand him the keys to the castle and execute a new model focusing more on player development.
Martinez is a pretty easy No - he was pretty good, but not great . Yet that won't and shouldn't stop him from being worshipped in the Bronx.
Don Mattingly: Tino's predecessor as Yankees first baseman. The usual drill here, in his 11th year on the ballot: Four outstanding seasons (1984 through 1987), two more very good ones (1988 and 1989) and that's pretty much it. Insufficient for Cooperstown. No.
Fred McGriff: Went to the same high school as Tino, Jefferson. A really fine career, and maybe it's true that he cost himself by not using illegal PEDs. Again, though: Not my problem. He doesn't quite get there. No.
Mark McGwire: Tino's predecessor as Cardinals first baseman (yes, this will conclude our "One Degree of Tino Separation" portion of the program). I switched from No to Yes on McGwire last year, finally giving up on the notion of trying to parse the pre-testing era based on random releases of information.
With that in mind, he's still a Yes for me. Although it's pretty apparent, as he enters his fifth year on the ballot, that he's not getting in, ever. It wouldn't surprise me if his vote percentage dropped now that he has officially confessed to his illegal PED usage.
Raul Mondesi: Ah, Mondy. He was a blast. His Yankees stint resulted from some old-school, Bronx Zoo-style maneuvering by Joe Torre and Steinbrenner.
Torre, frustrated with his lack of outfield options, started infielder Enrique Wilson in rightfield in this game against the Mets, of all teams, and Wilson saw a ball sail over his head - which I'm sure didn't upset Torre very much, given the message he was trying to send to his superiors.
The Boss predictably grew enraged and traded for Mondesi the next day, over the objections of Brian Cashman and Gene Michael. Good times, good times.
Mondesi loved showing off that throwing arm. Just loved it. And he could hit a ball very far, when he connected. Overall, though, he played as he lived (as a player, I should clarify - he's still very much alive): Undisciplined. No.
Jack Morris: One of the bigger lightning rods on the ballot, annually, I switched from Yes to No on him for my '09 ballot as continued looks at his stats convinced me that he simply didn't merit consideration.
If you look at his season-by-season breakdown, particularly at his ERA+ (which measures him against his contemporaries), he did not consistently rank among the best pitchers in the game. His best three-season run was 1985-87, but he followed that with three straight seasons (1988-90) in which he was less than average.
Once again, he's a No.
Dale Murphy: Man, he was good from 1982-85 and then again in 1987, wasn't he? Alas, for me, that puts him in the Mattingly category of "Not long enough a run." He had a few more superior seasons than Mattingly did, actually, but when you compare him to other people on this list, he doesn't have enought. No.
John Olerud: A lifetime .398 on-base percentage. Wow! That ties him with Ralph Kiner for 66th all-time. And he was an elite defender at first base.
Alas, given his positional profile, he could've used more power, more longevity or both to cross the finish line. He isn't quite there for me, but he really had a great career. He reminds me of his fellow 1999 Met Robin Ventura, who was really, really good and yet went one-and-done on last year's ballot. No.
Rafael Palmeiro: All right, so, this is where I drew the line.
Is Palmeiro a Hall of Fame player, in a vacuum? I think so, yes. He was remarkably productive, enjoying an extended run of greatness from 1988 through 2003.
Will his failed steroids test of 2005 disqualify him permanently on my ballot? Not necessarily, no. I want to keep thinking about it, assuming that Palmeiro gets the five percent of the votes necessary to return to next year's ballot.
But I had 11 players that I really, really liked for this ballot, and as I mentioned, the maximum is 10. So I eliminated Palmeiro because of, yes, the failed steroids test.
I separate him from McGwire and Brown, intellectually, because Palmeiro committed his transgression during a different time, under different rules. When Palmeiro made the decision to use an illegal PED, he did so knowing that he faced potential real consequences, consequences that had been collectively bargained by his union.
That's a big difference from Brown, who essentially chose the wrong dealer, and McGwire, who got "caught" only because he hit too many homers and Congress summoned him for the same, infamous 2005 hearing in which Palmeiro jabbed his finger and swore his cleanliness.
(FWIW, I don't buy Palmeiro's "Blame Miguel Tejada!" story. More to the point, since I'm making this evaluation from baseball's rules and executions of those rules, Palmeiro's challenge to his positive test didn't hold up.)
I'm not altogether opposed to considering "character" with these candidates, although I'm clearly more forgiving than many of my fellow voters. In this specific circumstance, I feel keeping Palmeiro out makes sense because I have 10 candidates I like better. We'll evaluate next year when we get to next year. No.
Dave Parker: This is his 15th and final season on the ballot, and I'll miss seeing him here. As I've mentioned previously, he was one of my all-time favorite players to watch. Even his nickname, "The Cobra," was awesome.
The numbers just aren't there, though. No.
Tim Raines: For the fourth straight year, he's a Yes, even though his journey is a little unorthodox. He needed those final, productive yet part-time years with the Yankees to get over the top, IMO.
Kirk Rueter: Love that his nickname was Woody because of his physical resemblance to the "Toy Story" character. Yet as I've written before, A.J. Burnett looks like Sid from "Toy Story," and I don't see anyone clamoring for his induction. No.
Benito Santiago: OK, just a score update: This ballot features one player who failed an illegal PED test; another named in the Mitchell report; another essentially exposed by Congress; Juan Gone, who pretty much got caught red-handed; and Santiago, who was involved with BALCO. Love it.
Well, don't love it, but not altogether offended by it. Again: It was the time. Mistakes were made. The game survives. It thrives, actually.
Santiago is a No, BTW.
Lee Smith: I voted him as a Yes in my '08 ballot, and I'm not quite sure what I was thinking. Here's a guy who ranks third all-time in saves, yet if you look at his year-by-year stats, you'll see someone who deserves credit for longevity but not dominance. No.
B.J. Surhoff: Never anything more than a good player. No.
Alan Trammell: I switched from a No to a Yes on him in '08, I believe, and I wish I had the chance to vote on Trammell's double-play mate Lou Whitaker, who deserved more love on the ballot. For now, we'll keep fighting the good fight on Trammell.
Larry Walker: Yup, he enjoyed playing in Coors Field for a long time, and his home-road splits are noticeable. The beauty of OPS+, however, is that it accounts for ballpark factors. And you can see that, even when Coors Field was factored into his production, Walker still comes out looking like an elite player.
He could play the field and run well too, and if you look at how he did on the bookends of his career in Montreal and St. Louis, he was quite successful there, too.
In short, I hope Walker's numbers don't get overlooked because of when and where he achieved them. They're awesome overall. He's not just a product of his environment. Yes.
--I'm all out of free crap to give away this week, but I'll stop by later if any news breaks.