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Assessing the first time Hall of Fame candidates

Nov 29, 2010, 3:02 PM EDT

Julio Franco

John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle has his Hall of Fame ballot, and he tweeted the first time eligibles who are on it. Here they are with my insta-take:

  • Carlos Baerga:  There were about six months in the mid-90s when people thought he was a mortal lock. Of course, back then people thought Pamela Anderson was all that too.
  • Jeff Bagwell: Should be a first ballot guy, no?
  • Bret  Boone: If you combined him and Aaron together and made them a catcher like Bob, maybe.
  • Kevin Brown: He’s someone who was a lot better than you remember and was always better than he got credit for. I’m not going to spend a ton of political capital making his case, but he’s got a better one than Jack Morris does.  He’ll also fall off the ballot due to lack of support after this year, I imagine.
  • Julio Franco: Can he skip straight to the veteran’s committee ballot?
  • Juan Gonzalez: No chance and not deserving, but I’m curious to see if the old school writers’ overvaluation of his RBIs and MVP Awards will outweigh the old school writers’ overreaction to his PED associations.
  • Marquis Grissom: He falls into the category of “I hope he gets one vote so he can always say he got a Hall of Fame vote, because I liked the guy.”
  • Lenny Harris: He wouldn’t even make the pinch hitter’s Hall of Fame. Longevity, man.
  • Bobby Higginson: I remember when my friends who are Tigers fans tried to talk me into him being a big freakin’ deal. That never really happened, but for a while there he was all the Tigers had.
  • Charles Johnson: If feels like everyone has forgotten about Charles Johnson. Really: when was the last time anyone talked about him?  Kind of crazy for a guy who, for a while anyway, was one of the best catchers in baseball.
  • Al Leiter: Another guy who was probably better than Jack Morris and will get no play whatsoever.
  • Tino Martinez: I can’t think of this guy without thinking about how idealized he was in the years after he left the Yankees. If I had a dime for every time a Yankees fan said “if only we still had Tino . . .” from 2002 until 2004. Him and Brosius could have formed a club.  Martinez actually spent his last year — 2005 — with the Yankees again. If they had won the World Series that year Martinez would probably be getting some moderate “he was a winner!” support.
  • Raul Mondesi: An argument could be made that his late career awfulness ruined it for “toolsy guys” everywhere. Any time I hear someone being described as having “great tools” — which you still do once in a while — I think of Mondesi.
  • Jon Olerud: He has an identical OPS+ — 128 — to Jim Rice. Both of them should have plaques in the Hall of Very Good.
  • Rafael Palmeiro: To the extent I have a coherent philosophy of steroids guys and the Hall of Fame, it’s this: if I think that they were good enough even without steroids (to the extent I can even tell that) I’d vote them in.  If I felt that steroids was the difference between Hall-level performance and merely good performance, I’d leave them off.  This approach has about a zillion problems with it, but I think it’s better than a blanket “never vote for ‘roiders” or a blanket “ignore all PED information” policy.  Among guys who have made the ballot so far, Palmiero is the closest case. I can’t help but think that he’d fall short of Cooperstown numbers without the juice. I also can’t help but acknowledge that he played in great hitting environments for most of his career too.  So if I had a ballot this year, I’d say no. I’d wait. Maybe we’d learn more about PEDs over time and I’d revisit, but for now I’d say no. I think the voters will give him the iciest of shoulders this year. He may not even get the 5% or whatever it is he needs to stay on.
  • Kirk Rueter: I can’t say I ever expected him to make a Hall of Fame ballot, but hey, if you hang around long enough . . .
  • B.J. Surhoff: He was one of many veteran pickups those title-run Braves teams made at the latter, less successful end of the line. In this I can’t make a fair assessment of him no matter how hard I try. He was pretty good for a while though, and versatile. He stands as the best argument for teams having up years and down years as opposed to winning all the time: constant winning spoils you and skews your impressions of otherwise good players. Don’t believe me? Ask Yankees fans to give a brief overview of Lance Berkman’s career. Many of them will describe some journeyman palooka to you.
  • Larry Walker: Another one who is way better than Jim Rice ever was, but who won’t get much support I fear. I haven’t thought terribly hard about him yet, but I could probably be convinced that he belongs.

We’ll obviously have a lot of time later this month to hash out the Hall of Fame arguments.  But it’s nice to get them started, no?

  1. BC - Nov 29, 2010 at 3:07 PM

    PED users aside, this is one WEAK class. Bagwell is the only one I’d put in and I don’t even think he’s a lock to get in. Maybe this will be the year that Blyleven and Robbie Alomar get in.

    • Glenn - Nov 29, 2010 at 10:50 PM

      Bagwell seems to get a pass on the PEDs. He shouldn’t. Talk to anyone who followed him early in his career. He is by all accounts a great guy, but there is reason to be suspicious from early on. Not every PED user waited until pro ball to start. Many of the high school PED users in the late 70′s or 80′s dropped out of sports to concentrate on weight lifting, but not all. We seem to focus on guys who had dramatic jumps when already established, but there are many under the radar who used PEDs to get there and kept going. They have normal star player career arcs but it does not mean that it wasn’t artificial. This is the problem with dismissing some guys but castigating others – we’ll never know the whole truth. with many.

      • BC - Nov 30, 2010 at 9:37 AM

        Actually, Bagwell is the same age as me and played his college ball up the road from my college in Hartford. He then played AA ball in New Britain when they were the Red Sox affiliate. Hit for incredible average, but not much power. Then, a couple years into his career, he became this 35 HR, 125 RBI beast of a hitter. And broke down McGwire-esqely at the end. Never heard a PED accusation about him, but then, we didn’t hear one about Albert Belle either. No one will probably ever know.

      • Glenn - Dec 1, 2010 at 12:06 AM

        Did you know him when he was a really skinny, under-sized high school kid?

  2. themarksmith - Nov 29, 2010 at 3:12 PM

    You have political capital?

  3. okobojicat - Nov 29, 2010 at 3:22 PM

    John Olerud kind of gets screwed by the expected power numbers at 1B (and how we ignore defense at 1B). He was so good defensively but because he was at first base, he’ll never be able to get in based ONLY on his defense. I think that if you translate his defensive skill to CF (so, you say he’s the best or second best CF for 15 years) and you give him an OPS+ of 110 which is still good for a CF, but not other worldly like 128+ would be. If you did that positional switch, he’d be a surefire HoF. His defense was that good.

    • BC - Nov 30, 2010 at 9:39 AM

      I put Olerud in the Keith Hernandez category. Insane defender, and really good hitter. But a first ballot Hall Of The Very Good, not HOF.

  4. Mark Armour - Nov 29, 2010 at 3:33 PM

    I think Olerud is the most interesting guy on the ballot. He was actually a better hitter than Rice–their similar OPS+ underrates Olerud’s OBP-weighted version-and he was a otherworldly defensive player.

    These kinds of players really come down to how big of a Hall you want. Olerud was a wonderful player, and would be a fine addition to a Hall of the size that we actually have.

  5. Kevin S. - Nov 29, 2010 at 3:33 PM

    I dunno, I think KB gets enough votes to hang around for at least a couple of years. I’d definitely run Bags in, and I think Walker will get more support than you’d think. If nothing else, Jonah Keri will be running a massive Twitter campaign for him.

  6. IdahoMariner - Nov 29, 2010 at 3:34 PM

    I loved, loved, loved watching Bret Boone (one “t”, craig) play defense like a crazy man, and loved his joy at playing the game, as well as his hitting. I think if the Mariners had stuck with him — instead of releasing him in anticipation of the arrival of “franchise player of the future” Jose Lopez (!) (not that I’m bitter, no, it’s been SUCH a pleasure to watch that “special” player. Ugh.) — and we’d gotten to watch Boonie play a few more years, he would get well into the hall of very good and make a shot at the hall of fame. I think you should weigh defense more heavily than you appear to (I have to agree with okobojicat on Olerud), but I also agree with your (admittedly rough) roider test, so, since I can’t definitively say yes or no on Bret and roids, and without more years getting to watch him play clearly clean… sadly, even I have to say “nope, Boonie. Sorry.” Sigh. Sooooo much fun watching him play defense. Seriously.

    • seattlej - Nov 29, 2010 at 7:03 PM

      Not even close on Boone… and I’m a pretty big Ms fan. The guy had three or four good seasons (two of those being pretty phenomenal seasons) and a lot of bad seasons. By the time the Ms got rid of him in 2005 it was pretty obvious that he was through being productive. I don’t think a few more seasons of .220/.290/.350 with horrific defense at 2B were going to do much for his HOF chances. Let’s not re-write history based on our fandom.

  7. largebill - Nov 29, 2010 at 3:36 PM

    Craig,

    I’m probably the only one in America who is not completely convinced that Palmeiro knowingly took steroids. While most folks beat him up over his defense of the positive test, I actually thought it was possible that he believed he was just taking a B12 shot. His saying he got the B12 from a player who later got busted adds some merit to that possibility. He honestly seemed shocked to come up positive. Having said that, he has been so thoroughly denounced I wouldn’t be surprised to see him fall off the ballot. Going to be interesting.

  8. solidzac - Nov 29, 2010 at 3:46 PM

    I miss the yearly “Bobby Higginson to the Yankees” rumors that happened so frequently every summer that you even occasionally saw mock ups of him in pinstripes on TV. Ah, the good old days.

  9. churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Nov 29, 2010 at 3:55 PM

    Is Rice a good comp for Walker?

    JR – .295/.352/.502 – 128OPS+ (115 tOPS Home/85 tOPS Away)
    LW – .313/.400/.565 – 140OPS+ (120 tOPS Home/80 tOPS Away)

    Similar power numbers (almost same HR but Walker ahead by 100 2Bs in 100 less games). And for all intents and purposes, Walker was a good defender while Rice was average if not worse. Also, while hitting in Col definitely helped, was Montreal a good hitting place? Where’s Jonah Keri?

    LW – 67.3 bWAR
    JR – 41.5 bWAR

    • solidzac - Nov 29, 2010 at 4:06 PM

      Olympic Stadium’s park factors are sort of all over the place from ’89-’94 – 102, 98, 89 (!), 111, 97, 107. I’m really going to have to defer to someone who was watching a lot of those games, because I don’t have any clue what was going on there.

      • dodger88 - Nov 29, 2010 at 4:18 PM

        The Big O was in disrepair for most of the years the Expos played there; During the period of 89-94, they had a season where they beed to play the final month or so on the road after a large piece of the stadium’s concrete fell to the ground. The roof was a disaster from day one and at one point leaked so bad they had a rain out. My best guess is that the constant repairs, changes to the roof and other attempts to put lipstick on a pig contributed to the variances in park factors.

  10. jhu1997 - Nov 29, 2010 at 4:24 PM

    Franco on the veterans’ committee ballot? Dude, conflict of interest.

  11. hipolitopichardo - Nov 29, 2010 at 4:27 PM

    John Franco’s on the ballot, not Julio, who’s not eligible for two more years.

    Looks like the biggest snubs of first-timers on the ballot were Wilson Alvarez, Rey Sanchez, Jose Offerman, Ugueth Urbina, Ismael Valdez, Dan Wilson, Paul Quantrill, Cal Eldred and Steve Reed.

    Compare this to snubs of two years ago (Charles Nagy, Denny Neagle, John Burkett, Rick Reed, Steve Avery, Orlando Merced, Dean Palmer, Todd Hundley) or one year ago (Mark McLemore, Fernando Vina, Dave Burba, Andy Ashby) and it’s not quite so bad, but I don’t know why a poor candidate like Lenny Harris makes it on there. Also, how is Kirk Rueter more deserving of a ballot spot than Alvarez, Nagy, Neagle, Burkett, Valdez, Ashby, etc.?

    Hall basically needs to let everyone with 10 years of service time on the ballot whose last season was five years ago … would be a nice nod to those players sticking around that long and would writers really get tricked into voting for Pat Borders or Ramiro Mendoza? Otherwise this is a slap in the face to guys who see the likes of Lenny Harris make it onto the ballot over them.

    • jhu1997 - Nov 29, 2010 at 4:43 PM

      Wait, it’s *John* Franco? I wouldn’t put him in the Hall either, but he was better than Bruce Sutter. Oh, relievers…

      • BC - Nov 30, 2010 at 9:44 AM

        Bruce Sutter in his prime was unhittable. John Franco would give you a heart attack every time he came in, walked the first batter then gave up a hit. Sutter ranks up there with Dennis Eckersley, Lee Smith and Mariano Rivera as the best closers I’ve ever seen.

      • jhu1997 - Dec 1, 2010 at 3:08 AM

        John Franco recorded 124 more saves in 203-2/3 more innings with a better ERA+, better WAR, and finally a vastly better postseason ERA. I don’t believe a rational argument can be constructed that Sutter was a better reliever than Franco, regardless of you saw.

        I wouldn’t put either in the Hall. Just want to emphasize that Franco has been as underrated as Sutter has been overrated. Neither is a top-ten all-time reliever, but both are close. One is in the Hall of Fame, the other will drop off the ballot in his first year.

        And the “best… I’ve ever seen”… that concept is wonderful and romantic and spectacularly prone to inaccuracies. My father says the best pitcher he ever saw was Bob Gibson – awesome and one of my favorites, but aided by park, defense, and era, and had a relatively brief peak. Our eyes deceive us. The best player I ever saw was, okay, Barry Bonds, but the second best I ever saw – based on what my eyes told me was happening on the field – was Roberto Alomar. Now he’s awesome, and belongs in the Hall of Fame, but he has easily a dozen contemporaries who were objectively better. They just didn’t, to my eyes, *look* better. And, objectively, Bruce Sutter was not better than John Franco.

  12. rmalmstrom - Nov 29, 2010 at 4:38 PM

    If there is a “Hall of Making Me Crap My Pants Every Time He Faces the Braves,” Leiter is in.

  13. huskerguy - Nov 30, 2010 at 9:51 PM

    All about Larry Walker… all he did was hit.

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