First Time Eligibles:
This years brings a pretty good crop of newbies, one sure winner and a couple three other guys who'll get some votes.
David Cone - You can make a pretty good case for Cone. He has the highest ERA+ of the starters on the ballot, just slightly better than Bert Blyleven. Of course, he didn't do it for nearly as long as Blyleven. And that's his main problem. He pitched far fewer innings than any of the other starters, a thousand fewer than Morris, two thousand fewer than Blyleven and John. Some of this was due to injuries, but some of it is also due to the way pitch counts are used in modern baseball. Cone is really the first guy to hit the ballot That means he has far fewer wins, less than 200 over a seventeen year career, than the others, and that's a big thing with a lot of the writers. On the other hand, in those far fewer innings Cone amassed more strikeouts (2668) than either John (2245) or Morris (2478). He won the Cy Young award in 1994 (with the Royals), threw a perfect game in 1999 (with the Yankees), and was pretty good in the playoffs (12-3).
Jesse Orosco & Dan Plesac - One of the worst managing innovations to hit baseball in the last twenty years or so is the LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY). The idea here is that rather than treat your left-handed relief pitchers like the rest of guys in the bullpen, you only bring them in to face left-handed batters, and then as soon as a right handed batter steps to the plate, the manager yanks the lefty. Thus, although LOOGYs get used a lot, they usually pitch fewer innings than the number of games they enter. (There is no right-handed equivalent, mostly because most staffs usually have plenty of righties.) Once in awhile a lefty will wind up as a closer, e.g., Billy Wagner, but it is rare to see a true left-handed set-up man anymore. (The Dodgers have sort of bucked this trend the last couple of years with first Joe Beimel and then Hong-Chih Kuo each being used regardless of who was up. I say sort of, because as soon as Torre installed Kuo in the bullpen, he made Beimel into a LOOGY.)
Anyway, Orosco and Plesac are the first of this breed to make it to the ballot. Orosco was the better of the two, especially early in his career when he was closing for the '86 Mets. That Orosco was able to hang around in the bigs until he was 46 is testament to managers' fascination with LOOGYs. Both Orosco and Plesac were good at what they did, but if they were great at what they did, they would've been closers, not LOOGYs.
Jay Bell - Bell played shortstop for the last good Pirate teams and the Diamondback 2001 championship team. He was a good player, but he wasn't great. His contemporary at short, Barry Larkin, was a far better player, and so was Alan Trammell.
Mark Grace - Grace was a fine player, very much comparable to Keith Hernandez both with bat and glove. Like Hernandez, though, he suffers from the fact that his left-handedness forced him to first base, rather than one of the other infield positions. If he's played second he'd be in, but he didn't hit for enough power for a first baseman, especially considering he played most of his career in Wrigley field. He'll get some votes, but not enough.
Mo Vaughn - I saw a study recently which ranked colleges by the average number of win shares their alumni have produced in the majors. Oddly enough, my alma mater came in number one on the list of players who retired after 1950, mostly because of Craig Biggio, but to a lesser extent because of Big Mo. Playing for the Sox, Vaughn put up some monster years. He was MVP in 1995.
Mo's problem is that is career was very short, only twelve years, and he wasn't nearly as good once he left Boston. I'd say that he should've consulted with Fred Lynn before leaving Fenway for the Angels, but the truth is that Vaughn and the Sox had had enough of each other. My favorite story about Mo is telling. My boss was at Mo's final game with the Sox, a playoff loss to the Indians at Fenway. Afterward, my boss drove back to Providence, where he stopped in at a strip club called the Foxy Lady (a club that is world famous in Rhody). Mo, who'd become a fan of the place in his days in the minors with Pawtucket, was already there.
Matt Williams - At his peak, Williams was an even better player than Mo Vaughn, an amazing slugger who was also a gold glove third baseman. In 1994 he was on a pace to break Maris's home run record when the rest of the season was canceled because of the player strike. Unfortunately, like Mo, he tailed off a lot in later years.
Ron Gant & Greg Vaughn - Two very similar hitters. In fact, if you go to Vaughn's page at baseball-reference.com and look at the list of similar hitters to Greg Vaughn, Ron Gant is second on the list. The main differences seem to be that Vaughn was a little better home run hitter (including one year when he hit 50), and Gant stole far more bases. Both were very good players, but neither is a Hall of Famer.
Rickey Henderson - Before Manny was being Manny, Rickey was being Rickey. Henderson was the greatest lead off hitter in baseball history. He holds the all-time stolen base record by a huge margin. And he is a genuine flake. He refined the art of annoying management long before Manny ever faked an injury, so he played for a lot of teams, mostly for the A's, but like Manny, even Rickey dogging it was far better than almost any other player.
Nominees remaining from previous years:
Click here for last year's discussion about these guys.
Bert Blyleven - Of the three guys here, Blyleven still 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.
Jack Morris - As I've noted in previous years, 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.
Lee Smith - Smith's main claim was that he had the all-time saves record. Now Trevor Hoffman has that. I said last year that I would'nt consider Smith until Goose Gossage got in. Gossage finally made it last year, but I still won't vote for Smith. He did have some terrific years, and he was good for a long time, but it's just not enough for me.
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.
Don Mattingly - 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.
Tim Raines - Possibly the second best lead-off guy in history, which is one of his problems. His career parallels that Henderson, who was the very best. He got far fewer votes than I would've expected last year, despite being the best player on that ballot.
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 still surprised at how much of a beating Rice is taking in sabermetric circles. Again, 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, and 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, much like Mo Vaughn and Matt Williams, had too short a prime. All three were very good and occasionally great players. They may still get in.