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Looking at the Hall of Fame ballot

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The Hall of Fame ballot has been mailed to voters. It’s the smallest in history. The candidates are:

Harold Baines
Jay Bell
Bert Blyleven
David Cone
Andre Dawson
Ron Gant
Mark Grace
Rickey Henderson
Tommy John
Don Mattingly
Mark McGwire
Jack Morris
Dale Murphy
Jesse Orosco
Dave Parker
Dan Plesac
Tim Raines
Jim Rice
Lee Smith
Alan Trammell
Greg Vaughn
Mo Vaughn
Matt Williams

I don’t have a vote yet. That requires 10 years in the BBWAA and I’m two years from that. I’m looking forward to having a vote because it’ll be fun to do the research and solicit opinions.

The Hall is a complicated process. There are no set standards, which makes it difficult to vote. Old-time writers used to look at statistical plateaus (500 home runs, 300 wins, 3,000 hits, etc.) or how players did in terms of making the All-Star team or in the MVP votes. Some still do.

As sports medicine and conditioning improves, compiling statistics is not especially impressive to me. If Mike Mussina hung around for three years and got 30 more wins, would that make him a more worthy candidate than he is today? I don’t think so.

Basing much of anything on All-Star selections or BBWAA award voting makes little sense as well. We all know how flawed those can be.

But here’s the problem, the Hall of full of players who were elected based on those standards. So should Jim Rice suffer or Bert Blyleven be elevated because smart people came up with better, more revealing statistics?

Nobody cared about on-base percentage in the 70s and 80s. Rice’s job was to swing for the fences. But now we know OBP matters. But Jim Rice can’t get in the DeLorean and take more pitches because it would make the Baseball Prospectus guys respect him more.

Every voter, in essence, must create his or her own standard. When my turn comes, I’ll try and have it both ways and make the best decision I can based on the best data available, comparisons to players in the same era and my own personal research. I do believe there is value in asking players, broadcasters, managers and coaches what they think. Why would you not?

If I had a vote this year it would go to Blyleven, Henderson and Rice. This post will stretch to 1,000 words if I go into all the reasons why. Maybe some other time. Rickey seems pretty obvious. People smarter than I have convinced me Blyleven belongs and I think Rice was the dominant hitter in the AL for a long enough period of time. That he was a first-class jerk hasn’t helped his candidacy.

It’s likely only Henderson and Rice get in. The Hall of Fame should be really tough to get into it and I would hope all my colleagues are tough graders. Hopefully as the electorate gets younger, more enlightened and includes people from different forms of media, the selections will make sense.

But mistakes will be made. Players you think should make it won’t and players I don’t support will. It’s what makes baseball so much fun to debate. You don’t get these kind of debates with other sports.