First year eligibles
Rick Aguilera - He was a good pitcher with the Mets and Twins (especially), but not a great pitcher.
Albert Belle - Combine Jim Rice's career with Milton Bradley's anger management issues, and you get Albert Belle. He's an interesting question for the voters. He was much disliked by, well, everyone, but there's no denying his ability to hit, and to hit for power. His career was cut very short by injuries, which gives the voters an out if they don't want to admit that they just hate the guy.
Will Clark - Will the Thrill was Rafael Palmeiro without the steroids. Other similar players would be Don Mattingly and Keith Hernandez. Had one of the best hitting strokes ever. Probably won't get in for the same reasons as Mattingly and Hernandez. The career numbers just aren't there.
Gary DiSarcina - The only way he gets a vote is if someone sent a ballot to his mother.
Alex Fernandez - Barely qualified for the ballot, and won't be on it next year. I can't really talk about him because I barely remember him.
Gary Gaetti - Gaetti was an excellent defensive third baseman, but a so-so hitter. No Hall of Fame for you!
Dwight Gooden - Doc was a sure Hall of Famer when he came up, but he threw his chance away on drugs and alcohol. Wound up with a nice career, but nothing like the promise he showed.
Ozzie Guillen - Good defensive shortstop who couldn't hit a lick. If Ozzie's going into the Hall, it'll have to be as a manager.
Orel Hershiser - A good pitcher who was great for one year, and then got hurt. He'll get some votes for 1988, but he won't get in.
Gregg Jeffries - In the eighties, the Mets farm system was the envy of almost everyone. It had produced Strawberry, Gooden, Darling, Aguilera, etc., and the media kept hyping everyone in the system. Jeffries was supposed to be the next can't miss prospect (even Bill James thought so), so when he didn't start putting up triple crown seasons right out of the box, the New York media turned on him. He had a nice career, but he was never the star everyone thought he would be.
Doug Jones - The problem with closers is that the number of saves a guy gets tends to be a function of situation rather than talent, unless they're really good. Jones was a decent closer with a lot of saves, but he wasn't lights out.
Hal Morris - Unfortunately for Morris, good hitting first basemen are a dime a dozen.
Walt Weiss - Weiss was Rookie of the Year with the A's in 1988, and had the good fortune to play in a lot of post season games, so he'll get some votes, but he really wasn't all that good.
John Wetteland - A more colorful version of Doug Jones. His decision to leave the Yankees after they won their first World Series under Joe Torre opened the door for Mariano Rivera to become the Yanks closer, so NY fans will always remember him fondly for turning down George's money.
This is probably the least likely group of first timers in a long time. Belle is the only guy here with a shot, and probably not for a few years. The only ones I even see making next year's ballot are Belle, Clark, and maybe Hershiser and Gooden.
As for the returnees...
Bert Blyleven - A very good pitcher on very bad teams (usually). Generally considered to have the best curve ball ever. Pitched for a long time (21 years), and piled up some huge numbers. He won 287 games. He also lost 250 games. Career ERA is only 3.31, and he struck out 3701 batters (5th all time). Of the ten most similar pitchers, only two aren't in the Hall, and one of them is Tommy John. Also, we need more players from Holland in the Hall.
Tommy John - Best known for being the guinea pig for the surgery that bears his name. Pitched for an incredible 26 years, but won only one more game than Blyleven. Didn't lose quite as many as Bert (231 losses), but he spent most of his career pitching for better teams than Blyleven. Career ERA is 3.34. I'm picking Bert here because he also has 1500 more strikeouts. I wouldn't vote for him, but Tommy still has a decent shot at the Hall.
Jack Morris - The toughest pitcher to beat in the eighties. Big-time money player. The Curt Schilling of the eighties. Pitched a ten-inning shutout to win game seven of the '91 series against the Braves. I don't know why he's not already in.
Rich Gossage - Sometime in 1980 or so, The Yanks and Sox were playing, and as usual, things were tense. The tying and winning runs were on base with two outs, and Goose was facing Tony Perez, one of the most dangerous RBI men ever. He ran the count full, then threw the hardest fastball I've ever seen. It was a blur, an absolute blur. Perez didn't even have a chance to react. I doubt he even saw it. The Sox announcers (Ned and Monty, I think) were awestruck. Game over. It amazing to me that he's not in the hall yet. Gossage was the first true closer, as opposed to a short reliever, the prototype for all the big, dominating closers that came after. That's hindered him, I think, because his stats are sort of in between those of an old style short man, and a modern closer. Starting pitchers still finished a lot of games when he pitched. His save numbers were high for his era, but don't compare with a lot of guys who came after. OTOH, compared to guys like Doug Jones, Gossage was lights out. I think that anyone who saw him pitch would vote for him. He certainly the best of the closers listed on this ballot.
Lee Smith - Smith has the numbers that Gossage lacks (478 saves), but he wasn't as good a pitcher. He is the very best of the Doug Jones model. The knock against Smith is that a lot of the saves he earned were "questionable" ones, easy pickings that were essentially mop up work. I dunno about that. Even if a third were questionable, he'd still have more than 300 legitimate saves. He was the first of the one-inning closers, as opposed to guys like Gossage and Sutter who were often called upon in the seventh or eigth innings. He was a dominating pitcher for a long time. I suspect he'll make it eventually.
Bruce Sutter - Sutter has Gossage's numbers in a career that was only about half as long. And that's the problem. He just didn't pitch for very long (only 12 years). Still, he has a shot.
Dave Concepcion - In the mid-seventies, Concepcion was the best shortstop in the National League. Then Ozzie Smith showed up. Concepcion had a very good career, but he was never a great hitter. A lot of Venezuelan (including Ozzie Guillen) players wear #13 in his honor.
Alan Trammell - Trammell was the leader of the Tigers for a long time. Unfortunately, the Tigers sucked for most of that time. He has three Gold Gloves, but he's another guy who gets hurt because he was a transitional player, sort of in between the old style smallish, light hitting shortstops (like Concepcion), and the slugging shortstops of today (like Jeter and Tejada). Plus, he played at exactly the same time as another transitional shortstop, Cal Ripken, and Cal was better than Trammell.
Steve Garvey - I loved Steve Garvey when he was on the Dodgers. He always seemed to get the key hit when needed on the Dodger teams of the seventies. he certainly got all the press. Four Gold Gloves don't hurt, either. The thing is, his numbers are kind of weak. He hit for average, but he never, ever walked. He hit for moderate power, but wasn't exceptional. Looking back, Ron Cey was actually the best player on that team, so how can you put Garvey in the Hall with Cey on the outside?
Don Mattingly - In the late eighties, Donnie Baseball was the best player in the majors. Period. He'll have a hard time getting into the Hall, though, because of the chronic back problems that left him a shell of his former self in the nineties. Captain of the Yankees in the lean years, he retired the year before Torre and Jeter showed up. What a shame.
Andre Dawson - Won an MVP with a last place team. Hit lots of home runs, stole lots of bases, and played a great center field (eight Gold Gloves). His problem is that he spent most of his career with the Expos and Cubs.
Dale Murphy - The anti-Belle. Won two consectutive MVPs with Atlanta, before the the tomahawk chop days. Great center fielder, too (five Gold Gloves). Looked to be headed to Cooperstown, and then one day he somehow forgot how to hit. His last six seasons were terrible.
Dave Parker - Another shoo-in for the Hall whose career took a wrong turn. He was a powerful hitter, and a great fielder (three Gold Gloves) with a tremendous arm (I still remember a throw he made to cut down Brian Downing at the plate in an All-Star game). Then he started doing cocaine, and although he didn't completely fall apart the way Strawberry did, he was never the same player after that.
Jim Rice - The most feared hitter in the American League in the late seventies-early eighties. A poor fielder when he came up, he worked hard and became better as time went on. Should have been in the Hall years ago. He has two problems. First, like Murphy, when he lost it, he lost it all at once. Second, he never had a good relationship with the media, who always preferred Fred Lynn. I think this year is Rice's best shot. He the best hitter on the ballot.
In other baseball news, the Dodgers traded relievers Duaner Sanchez and Steve Schmoll to the Mets for starter Jae Seo and reliever Tim Hamulack. This is probably a good deal for both clubs. Seo had an excellent half a season for the Mets last year, and could be solid in the rotation. The Dodgers certainly needed another starter now that they've bid adios to Jeff Weaver. Sanchez was LA's most reliable reliever last year, but with Gagne coming back from surgery, and Brazoban seemingly coming back to form in winter ball, he was a luxury the Dodgers could afford to part with, and the Mets are desperate for relievers. Scholl is an affable guy with a tricky delivery, but the worry was that once hitters get used to him he'll become very hittable. Hamulack is a throw-in, a workmanlike reliever who has a good shot at grabbing Cararra's old spot in the bulpen.
The Blue Jays have done some good things this offseason to improve their club. Signing ex-Dodger Thoughts pariah, Jason Phillips, probably isn't one of them, however. Fortunately for them it's only a minor league deal. Another ex-DTP, Norahito Nakamura, is back playing for Orix in Japan.
Former NFL Rams wide receiver and current Rams announcer, Jack Snow, the father of newly acquired Sox first baseman J.T. Snow, died yesterday from a staph infection at 62. Yikes!
Only 40 days until pitchers and catchers report!