I'm in the process of sorting out my Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. It's the calm before the storm, so to speak, a year after Bert Blyleven finally got in and a year before a bunch of juicers hit the ballot.
There aren't any slam-dunk choices such as Robbie Alomar from last year. I'm considering only 8 former ballplayers -- there will be no Mark McLiar or Rafael Palmeiro on my ballot -- and each offers about as many cons as pros.
JEFF BAGWELL was a very good player for a very long time. His .948 OPS ranks 22nd all-time. But 449 HRs don't seem like quite enough for a first baseman, especially one from the Steroid Era, and he had poor postseason numbers for some talented Astro teams that might have made some noise had their best player come through. When I look at 1B stats, how do I choose Bagwell but not choose Fred McGriff? And I'm not choosing Fred McGriff.
BARRY LARKIN is one of the best shortstops I've seen: good glove, tough out, nice pop in his bat, extremely efficient baserunner, and by all accounts a good leader and solid citizen. Among SS from his era, he ranked in the top four in most offensive categories (along with Jeter, A-Rod and Ripken). Judged as a SS, he belongs in the Hall. Judged by numbers relative to all players, he falls short. He's a great example of a borderline case.
EDGAR MARTINEZ was a DH just about his entire career. That alone doesn't eliminate him in my book but it means he must be exemplary otherwise. His career numbers pale in comparison to those of, say, Frank Thomas. Throw in the steroid rumblings, and I'll pass.
JACK MORRIS was the best pitcher in the 1980s, a nasty sumbitch who ate up innings and mostly excelled in big games. But he had neither a spectacular winning percentage nor an overly impressive ERA. I have voted for him in the past and now wonder if my coverage of the 1991 World Series weighed too heavily on my decision. Serious reconsideration going on inside my bald dome.
DALE MURPHY was a two-time MVP with good career numbers, but he falls short when compared to others of his era. He didn't dominate as long as Jim Rice, wasn't as good all-around as Andre Dawson, wasn't as intimidating as Dave Parker, didn't hit 400 HRs despite playing in a bandbox, batted only .265, and was decent-to-lousy statistically in his final six seasons as he hung around and compiled relatively meaningless career stats.
TIM RAINES is an interesting candidate because of his unique status as one of the best leadoff men ever. He was not Rickey Henderson, to be sure, but most of his stats are better than those of Lou Brock. I love this from ESPN's Jayson Stark: Raines reached base more in his career than Tony Gwynn did and had an almost identical on-base percentage; every eligible player who reached base as many times as Raines did and had as high an on-base percentage is in the Hall. I didn't vote for him in the past but I've really taken a close look at some of his more detailed numbers and am giving him more consideration this time.
LEE SMITH had lots of saves. But when you think of dominant relievers, you just don't think of him. Maybe it's because he put up his numbers just as saves became less-meaningful, one-inning stints ... or maybe it's because he played on lots of bad teams. Any closer I vote for must be in the Gossage/Fingers/Sutter/Rivera mold ... and Smith wasn't.
ALAN TRAMMELL was to the '80s what Larkin was to the '90s. Larkin has the edge in most stats, however, including pretty decisive edges in OPS, SB, batting average and runs. If I'm choosing only one SS on my ballot, I can't see how I'd choose Trammell over Larkin.
I'm leaning strongly toward putting check marks next to the names of Larkin and Raines. I'm less enthusiastic about Morris, but haven't eliminated the possibility. The others weren't Hall of Famers in my book.
I'm going to think this through a little more over the weekend before sending in my ballot.