First year eligibles:
Harold Baines - If not for Frank Thomas, Harold Baines would likely be considered the best hitter in Chicago White Sox history. He is probably the most popular player in their history. He may make the Hall eventually, but it'll take awhile. His numbers are very good, and he played for a long time. His biggest problem is the same that Edgar Martinez will face in that he spent most of his career as a DH.
Dante Bichette - A decent player until he became one of the original Colorado Rockies in '93. There, he put up seven terrific seasons and hit a ton of home runs into the thin Denver air. The problem was that once he came down from the mountain, he was just decent again. He'll get some votes, but not a lot.
Bobby Bonilla - For five years in Pittsburgh, Bonilla was an HOF calibre player. Then he signed a monster free agent contract with the Mets, and smacked head on into the New York media. The Mets massively failed to live up to some ridiculous expectations that year, and Bonilla, despite having a pretty good year under the circumstances, did not comport himself well in the situation, getting into a couple of confrontations with reporters. He was labeled a clubhouse cancer (as was Eddie Murray) by the media, and his career never really recovered from that despite having some pretty good seasons after that. His career numbers are okay, but I suspect the only votes he'll get are from Pirates beat writers.
Scott Brosius - A late bloomer who was a key player on the last few Yankee World Series winners, but certainly not a Hall of Famer.
Jay Buhner - One of worst trades the Yankees ever made was sending a very young Jay Buhner to Seattle for a very old Ken Phelps. (Phelps was once a sabremetric darling, but his best days were behind him.) Buhner became a terrific player, a powerful, patient hitter, and an excellent fielder. His main problem was that he was injured a lot. His career totals are good, but not good enough.
Ken Caminiti - He had a cannon for an arm, but it was all a sham. He an okay player until he discovered steroids, after which his power numbers went way up. He was MVP in '96, but he faded quickly after that, the result of too much abuse of steroids and cocaine. He died of these problems two years ago. He has no shot, because he is one of the few players to have actually admitted to taking steroids.
Jose Canseco - Speaking of steroids... Canseco was the victim of his own obsession with celebrity, even when he was one of the best young players in baseball. It wasn't enough for him just to be a great player. He had to be the first 40-40 guy (forty homers and forty steals in the same season, power and speed). He had to prove he could also pitch (blowing out his shoulder in the process). He had to date Madonna. It was always about him, and his career eventually suffered for it. He became a joke. But it was still all about him, so he decided to admit his steroid use, as though it were a good thing. He hit 462 home runs, and he's still not going to get into the Hall
Eric Davis - Yet another guy who suffered under the mantle of being called "the next Willie Mays." Davis was arguably the best all around player in the National League while playing for the Reds in the late eighties, but injuries crushed his career. Most famously, he lacerated his kidney diving for a ball in the '90 World Series. Reds owner Marge Schott accused him of malingering, among other things. In the mid-nineties, he took a year and a half off from baseball just to let his body recover from all the accumulated injuries. He came back, and his career revived, but then he was diagnosed with colon cancer. He continued to play while undergoing chemotherapy, and eventually beat the disease. Sadly, all the time he missed over the years is going to keep him out of the Hall, for no one deserves it more.
Tony Fernandez - For a long time, the stereotypical shortstop was a quick, wiry guy with good hands and a strong arm, who was often from San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic. They were typically good field, no hit guys, and if they could hit a little, they became all-stars. Fernandez was one of the latter, an all-star for some good Blue Jay teams. He was a terrific fielder, but he's got no shot of even making next year's ballot, because the other new shortstop on this ballot destroyed the stereotype completely.
Tony Gwynn - All you need to know about Tony Gwynn was that he was Ted Williams's favorite. That's a helluva recommendation. All of us weekend athletes loved him, too, because he was chubby, and yet he was both one of the best hitters ever, and a gold glove fielder to boot. Roly-poly guys represent! He's a can't miss first ballot electee.
Wally Joyner - Better than average, nice career, but not good enough.
Mark McGwire - Clearly the numbers are there, and I believe he belongs. His performance at the Senate hearings on steroids probably wrecked his chances for a first ballot election, and probably quite a few more. I do think he'll get in eventually.
Paul O'Neill - O'Neill is often referred to as a little intense, which is sort of like saying the surface of the sun is a little warm. Water coolers were never safe when he didn't perform up to his own very high standards. He was a very, very good player for both the Reds and the Yanks, helping both teams win World Series. But even he'll tell you he doesn't measure up to the standards of the Hall.
Cal Ripken, Jr. - The stereotype of shortstops as lean, wiry guys started to change with Alan Trammell, and it was smashed completely by Ripken. When he was in the minors, he played third, and everyone assumed that'd be his best spot in the majors, too. He was too big, and had too much power for short. He did play some third when he first came up, but then Earl Weaver moved him over, and the legend began. If it hadn't been for Cal, ARod would probably have wound up as a third baseman. Oh, wait... Anyway, Cal will surely be on the podium with Gwynn in Cooperstown this summer.
Bret Saberhagen - He pitched too many innings at too young an age. Saberhagen was a dominating pitcher in his early twenties, but arm troubles limited him for the rest of his career.
Devon White - The best fielding centerfielder of his generation, and possibly the best fielding centerfielder ever. Not a good enough hitter to get in, though.
Bobby Witt - Not even better than average. Only on the ballot because he meets the minimum requirements for time served. Probably the worst player on the ballot, although unlike last year (Alex Fernandez, Gary DiSarcina) there are no real stink bombs this year.
Nominees remaining from previous years:
What's interesting is that they're fairly easy to pair up to make comparisons, at least until you get to the outfielders. Click here for last year's discussion about these guys.
Bert Blyleven and Tommy John - Two men who pitched at a high level for a very long time. John has one more win (288 - 287) but Blyleven was a much better pitcher, throwing perhaps the best curve ball of any pitcher ever, so he gets my vote (again).
Jack Morris and Orel Hershiser - Two men who pitched at a very high level in somewhat shorter careers, both known for steadfast determination and post-season heroics. As much as I love Hershiser, Morris had a much better career by any standard of measurement.
Rich Gossage and Lee Smith - It's a travesty that Gossage still isn't in the Hall. Smith doesn't even warrant consideration until the Goose is enshrined.
Alan Trammell and Dave Concepcion - A less extreme version of the Ripken-Fernandez comparison above. Trammell was the better player, but not as good as Cal. Both were better than Fernandez.
Don Mattingly and Steve Garvey - Donnie Baseball was a better player in every possible way except for ability to stay in the lineup. It's a shame Mattingly will never make the Hall as a player.
One of my all time favorite photos is this SI cover from the late seventies featuring two of our candidates, Jim Rice and Dave Parker, back when they were the most feared players in baseball. I like it because it was such a shock to see how Parker towered over Rice. Despite that, at the time they would've been very evenly matched (with Parker getting an edge probably for being the better fielder). I'm tempted to pair the two of them up now, but it doesn't really work.
Andre Dawson and Dave Parker - Two guys who maintained very high levels for very long careers, both of whom played for a lot of teams, and both of whom had problems that often kept them for performing at their very best. For Dawson the problem was his fragile knees, worn down from the pounding they took on Olympic Stadium's astroturf. For Parker it was cocaine, but unlike some others (I'm looking at you, Strawberry), he managed to break the habit. Dawson turned out to be the better player over their careers, and is probably the best of the five outfielders overall. Parker has excellent numbers as well, but the cocaine will probably keep him out.
Jim Rice and Dale Murphy - Two guys who at their peaks were probably the most feared hitters in their respective leagues, who also seemed to lose their abilities with startling rapidity. With Rice it was his eyesight, and he retired fairly soon thereafter. I don't think anyone knows what happened to Murphy, but he continued to put up mediocre numbers for several seasons before finally retiring. Rice was the better player for a longer time, and belongs in the Hall. Murphy's chances are hurt by the fact that his skills left him in mid-career, followed by a lot of mediocre seasons.
Albert Belle - A class by himself, he put together ten monster seasons before having to retire due to injury. The numbers are terrific, despite the short career. Belle's problem is that he's a nasty human being. He was nasty and abusive to fans and reporters when he played, and he was recently convicted of concealing a GPS device in his ex-GF's car to use in stalking her. Albert, you're a dick. No Hall of Fame for you!
There's already a kerfuffle brewing on this as one voter, a writer in Chicago, has stated that he submitted a blank ballot, and will refuse to vote for any player who played in the steroid era. Which means he won't be voting for anyone ever for the foreseeable future. More over at the Griddle.