Cooperstown: A proper noun that describes baseball immortality and a word associated with greatness. In shortly under two hours, the 2012 Baseball Hall of Fame class will be announced on MLB Network and like every year, there is a lot of intrigue. Two players, Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven, were enshrined last year and we might get lucky if even one name is called today. There are several legitimate candidates that return to the ballot (including two former “Nationals”) and may very well end up in the Hall one day. However, most would have to make a huge leap to have a fighting chance for 2012. Lets not even look at the first-year eligible players because that list is laughable. At any rate, here’s my ballot (if I had a vote).
1B Jeff Bagwell (1991-2005)
.297 AVG/1517 R/449 HR/1529 RBI/202 SB/2314 H
Bagwell was a young kid that was swapped with reliever Larry Andersen during the 1990 season, the latter helping the Red Sox to the AL East crown. But that’s the only two months Andersen spent with the team and the Astros had one of the best trades in MLB history. #5 had two 30-30 seasons playing first base and was always a threat to hit for extra bases every time he stepped up to the plate. His impressive 1,529 RBI total ranks him in the Top 50 all-time, ahead of Mickey Mantle. An MVP award, Rookie of the Year, a Gold Glove, and a few Silver Sluggers will definitely help his case, but steroid allegations by some people certainly will not. The home run total is nice, but just imagine if he played at Minute Maid Park (not the Astrodome) for the majority of his career? We’d be talking about 600 homers and a lock for the Hall. This isn’t his year, but Bags will be there soon.
SS Barry Larkin (1986-2004)
.295 AVG/1329 R/198 HR/960 RBI/379 SB/2340 H
A big plus for me for a Hall of Famer is a player who stayed with one team their entire career and excelled. Larkin did both with elegance and class. He won an MVP award in 1995, which is rare for a shortstop to win. He won three Gold Glove awards and would have won more if some guy named Ozzie Smith wasn’t around. His 9 Silver Slugger awards are only topped by Mike Piazza (10) and Barry Bonds (12), regardless of position. Getting 62.1% of the vote in 2011 during his first year of eligibility, it won’t be surprising at all if the former Michigan Wolverine gets his place in Cooperstown. The counting stats don’t look amazing, but he was the best all-around shortstop of his time and would have been even better had injuries not haunted him near the end of his career. Larkin had a 30-30 season as a shortstop, which at the time, was unheard of.
DH Edgar Martinez (1987-2004)
.312 AVG/1219 R/309 HR/1261 RBI/49 SB/2247 H
If you’re the best at your position in the history of baseball, you deserve to be in the Hall of Fame… enough said. The knock on him is that he was a designated hitter, but he did what he was supposed to do. He got hits, drove in runs, and drew a lot of walks. The DH award is named after him and like Larkin, played his entire career with one team, the Mariners. Martinez hit better than .337 three times in his career and had an absurd .479 on-base percentage in 1995, finishing 3rd in the AL MVP. And it’s not like he was a DH his whole career. Until 1995, he played first base and third base. His 514 doubles are impressive and his attitude for the game is bar none one of the best there is/was. If voters say that Edgar can’t be elected because he didn’t play the field, there’s a simple solution: Baseball should get rid of the DH rule.
OF Tim Raines (1979-1999, 2001-2002)
.294 AVG/1571 R/170 HR/980 RBI/808 SB/2605 H
The only leadoff hitter better than Raines in the history of baseball is Rickey Henderson and it’s a crime that the man known as “Rock” is not enshrined yet. His consistent play at the top of the order cumulated into a .385 OBP, which was aided by having 350 more walks than strikeouts. He’s fifth all-time in stolen bases and it will stay that way forever because nobody is passing 808 steals. He had six straight seasons with 70 steals or more and was an even better base-stealer than Henderson because he knew when to run. He won a batting title and made seven All-Star games. He’ll be one of the last Montreal Expos to be in the Hall. The only knock on Raines is that he was never considered one of the best players in the game when he played.
OF Larry Walker (1989-2005)
.313 AVG/1355 R/383 HR/1311 RBI/230 SB/2160 H
This Canadian battled durability issues, but when he was on the field, there weren’t many players better than Walker at the time he played. He was a five-tool player that struck fear in every pitcher he faced, whether they admit it or not. His .400 OBP was a staple in the middle of the Colorado order for years. During a three-year stretch, he hit .369 over 1701 plate appearances. Yes, that’s BATTING AVERAGE. I don’t think there is a steroids suspicion to him, but his numbers were inflated due to Coors Field. He won an NL MVP and three batting titles. An interesting note that he hit .366 one year and wasn’t batting champ (Gwynn: .372). One can only wonder what he could have done had he been healthy, but until then, put him in as the first Rockies player.
For the last few years, I’ve wanted to say that Jack Morris belongs in the Hall of Fame and as another year went by, I still can’t see it. His ERA would be the highest out of any starting pitcher currently in Cooperstown and wins are starting to be not as significant. Morris was the winningest pitcher of the 1980s and it wasn’t even close and who can forget those epic playoff games? Alan Trammell is another guy that is interesting because I’ve always valued great defense and he and Lou Whitaker was the best defensive middle infield ever. Another thought is that the voting process should ditch the “5% to be eligible for next year’s ballot” rule. Pitcher Kevin Brown didn’t get enough support on last year’s ballot and if countless number of players get a chance for 15 looks, can’t Brown get at least 2? Best of luck to this year’s candidates!