The Hall of Fame Ballot-Returning Players

Because only two players were elected to the Hall of Fame last year, and the absence of many strong Hall of Fame candidates making their first appearance on the ballot this year, the 2012 ballot looks a lot like the 2011 eleven ballot. Last year, although I do not vote in this election, I supported ten players for election to the Hall of Fame. Of those ten, two, Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven were elected; one more, Kevin Brown, dropped off the ballot due to lack of support; and seven others, Jeff Bagwell, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell and Larry Walker.

Although a number of other players on the ballot, notably Jack Morris, Don Mattingly and Lee Smith have their supporters, I am not convinced that any of them are good enough to be Hall of Famers. Mattingly’s peak was too short, Morris was a very good pitcher for a long time, whose candidacy rests too heavily on one great game. Smith’s major credential seems to be that his career was perfectly timed for him to hold the save record until better pitchers such as Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera obliterated his record. Smith was not as good as either the fireman of the Rollie Fingers-Goose Gossage-Bruce Sutter ilk or the best one inning specialists such as Hoffman, Rivera or Dennis Eckersley.

The two returning players who caused me the most pause were Larry Walker and Dale Murphy. The argument against Walker depends on how much of his hitting is attributed to playing in Coors Field. Walker was a significantly better hitter in Coors Field, but he hit with the Cardinals and Expos as well as with the Rockies, and accumulated an OPS of .865 when playing away from home. Given the length of Walker’s career, in which he only came to the plate 8,030 times, and having played the less demanding defensive positions throughout his career, Walker no longer makes the cut for Cooperstown. There are a number of very good hitters coming up in the next few years so voting for Walker, an inferior hitter to, for example, Edgar Martinez, would open up the Hall of Fame for too many otherwise borderline candidates such as Jason Giambi or Vladimir Guerrero. Had Walker had a longer career, hit better on the road or contributed more defensively he would still get my vote, but this year he comes up a little short.

Dale Murphy is an intriguing Hall of Fame candidate. In some respects he is like Mattingly. Both had peaks during which people assumed they would be Hall of Famers, but both declined substantially after these peaks. Mattingly from 1984-1989 (.327/.372/.530 (OPS+147) was a slightly better hitter than Murphy was during his six year peak from 1982-1987 (.289/.382/.531 OPS+145), as well as over the course of his career. Murphy, however, played longer and contributed more defensively, mostly because of his position. Murphy was also perhaps the game’s best center fielder between Willie Mays and Ken Griffey Jr. Murphy is a strong Hall of Fame candidate who, like Larry Walker, would not be among the worst players elected to the Hall of Fame, but his peak was not enough to outweigh his long years of decline. Moreover, soon after Murphy’s peak, a cadre of center fielders including, Griffey, Kirby Puckett, Bernie Williams and Jim Edmonds emerged. All of them were better players than Murphy.

If I had a vote for the Hall of Fame, I would drop Walker from my ballot, but would not add Murphy, so the returning players who would get my vote are Bagwell, Larkin, Martinez, McGriff, Raines and Trammell, as well as first time candidate Bernie Williams.