First year eligibles:
One of these guys is not like the others.
Brady Anderson - When I went to Florida to watch spring training games in 1989, I carried with me a few baseballs for autographs. For the first couple of days I had absolutely no luck getting any of them signed. Part of it was that there were too many fences between the fans and the ballplayers, and the other was that I thought it too undignified to hang over a railing at a ballpark and beg. I finally got my first at a game in Winter Haven between the Red Sox and the Twins. (The game featured a match up of the previous two AL Cy Young winners, Roger Clemens and Frank Viola, as the starters.) Just before the game started, Mike Boddicker, one of the Sox pitchers, came over to the chain link fence at the end of the stands, where I was standing, so I asked if he'd sign a ball. He did, along with those of a whole pack of kids that suddenly swarmed around me. The only reason Boddicker was there was because the year before the Sox had traded Brady Anderson (and Curt Schilling) to the Orioles for him.
So on that tenuous connection, I'll mention that Brady Anderson (who I also saw play in the minors at Pawtucket) is the owner of one of the all time freak seasons in baseball history. In 1996, he hit fifty (50!) home runs for Baltimore. In no other season in his career did he ever hit as many as twenty-five, and he only broke twenty twice. He had a number of good years, but only one great one. A lot of people will point at '96 and say steroids. For his part, Anderson says it was creatine (which was legal at the time) and one heck of a groove in his swing.
Rod Beck - He died this year, so they put him on the ballot early. Similar, but not quite as good as Robb Nen (see below).
Shawon Dunston - Had a cannon for an arm and was a very good fielder, but never hit much better than average, and usually worse.
Chuck Finley - I ran into a problem here. Finley's overall numbers are somewhat better than those of Jack Morris, a guy I've thought deserved to get into the Hall. I don't think Finley belongs, even though he was better than Morris. There's a perception problem here. Finley was a very good pitcher on a lot of mediocre to bad teams. Morris was a very good pitcher on a lot of very good to mediocre teams. He also pitched a ten-inning shutout to win the 1991 World Series. Finley was very good for a long time, but he wasn't great, so I wouldn't vote for him. Does that World Series victory make Jack Morris great?
Travis Fryman - Sort of poor man's David Wright. He had some very good years before he turned twenty-six, then seemingly ran out of gas. Short career, too.
David Justice - The second best player among the newbies. The Braves won a lot of pennants in the '90s, but they only won one World Series. One of the axioms of baseball is that the team with the best pitching in a short series usually wins, and the Braves almost always had the best pitching. Problem was that their lineups usually had one or two great hitters like Justice, with the rest being guys like Mark Lemke or Jeff Blauser. Doesn't matter how good your pitching is if you can't score runs. Up until a month ago, I figured Justice would probably wind up like Parker or Murphy, getting enough votes to stay on the ballot a long time, but never quite making it to the Hall. He's got some very good numbers, but his career was on the short side. Since then, though, his name turned up in the Mitchell Report, so he may not get many votes. He was once married to Halle Berry.
Chuck Knoblauch - A pretty good second baseman and lead-off hitter early in his career, and then he lost the ability to throw the ball where he wanted it to go. He had a short career, and only a couple of exceptional seasons. Throw in his appearance in the Mitchell Report, and he's not going to get many votes.
Robb Nen - I never thought much of, or even about Nen, so I was kind of surprised by some of his numbers. As a closer he piled up a lot of saves, sure, but that's pretty easy these days. It was his ERAs that struck me. In odd-number years he was okay, a bit better than average, but in even-numbered years he was absolutely brilliant. Not quite Mariano Rivera brilliant, but pretty damn close. Both the pattern and the level at which he pitched in the even years shocked the heck out of me. Of course, it made no significant difference in the number of saves he got each year, which says a lot about that stat. He still not going to the Hall. His career was only ten years long, so he had five brilliant seasons and five average ones, and they weren't even bunched. Very strange.
Tim Raines - The best player on the ballot, and possibly the second best lead-off guy in history, which is one of his problems. His career parallels that of the best lead-off guy in history, Rickey Henderson. Another problem is that he played in
Jose Rijo - Terrific pitcher for the Reds in the early nineties, but he got injured in '95, and didn't pitch in the majors again until 2001. His career was just too short.
Todd Stottlemyre - Wasn't even as good a pitcher as his dad, and Mel wasn't good enough for the Hall, either.
There are no real stinkers in the group, and you could put together a decent team starting with these guys, but only Raines really makes the cut. Of the others, I can see Justice and Finley staying on the ballot next year, but probably none of the others.
Nominees remaining from previous years:
Click here for last year's discussion about these guys.
Bert Blyleven - Of the three guys here, Blyleven deserves it most, and gets my vote. He was a terrific pitcher for a very long time.
Tommy John - Borderline candidate. Thinking about it some more, he was a better pitcher than Jack Morris, too, although maybe not as good as Finley. I need to think on this further.
Jack Morris - As noted in the comment about Chuck Finley, I keep waffling on this. I've come around to thinking like those who see Morris as the least of the three pitchers here. On the other hand, if you're talking about a Hall of Fame, he probably has the most singular moments of the three. Of course, he doesn't have a surgical procedure named after him like Tommy John does.
Rich Gossage - It's still a travesty that Gossage still isn't in the Hall. He was great for ten years, and very good for a long time after.
Lee Smith - Smith's main claim was that he had the all-time saves record. Now Trevor Hoffman has that. Still, if Gossage gets in, I would be inclined to consider Smith. He did have some terrific years, and he was good for a long time.
Mark McGwire - He still belongs based on the numbers, and I doubt the writers will keep him out forever.
Alan Trammell - Another guy I waffle on. The problem I have is that while he had a number of brilliant seasons in a long career, he also had a lot of not so brilliant ones. I'd like to see him in the Hall, but I'm not sure I could vote for him.
Dave Concepcion - I have similar feelings as with Trammell. I read an article on how much Concepcion's fielding helped the Reds over the years. Turns out it was a lot. He didn't hit all that much, though. This is his last year of eligibility.
Don Mattingly - I'll have a personal fantasy fulfilled this spring when Donnie Baseball finally puts on a Dodger uniform. Sadly, it's twenty years too late. It's a shame Mattingly will never make the Hall as a player. For about five years there he was the very best in the land.
Andre Dawson,Jim Rice, Dave Parker, Harold Baines, and Dale Murphy - A case can be made for all five of these guys. Dawson gets beat on some for his very low OBP, but some recent work showing how good some of his fielding stats are, especially when he was still with the Expos, may counteract some of that. I'm surprised at how much of a beating Rice is taking in sabermetric circles. Joe Posnanski, who I usually agree with, has just been pounding Rice lately. I dunno, maybe it's because it was back in the days when the only game on TV around here was the Sox, and I saw Rice day in and out. I mean, I don't even like the Sox, amd I disliked Rice, but I still see him as as the best American League hitter of the late seventies.
I've gone into the others in the past. Parker gets knocked for wasting his prodigious talent, Baines for being a DH, and Murphy for having too short a prime. All three were very good and occasionally great players. They may still get in.