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Monday, November 30, 2009
Vetting the BBWAA's Hall candidates


There are some tough ones on the BBWAA's Hall of Fame ballot this year.

Sure, there are some not-so-tough ones, too. First-timers Roberto Alomar and Barry Larkin both are among the top dozen or so players at their positions, ever. That seems to me an automatic qualifier. Holdovers Bert Blyleven and Tim Raines seem to me obvious choices, too (in case you've missed them, here's a case for Blyleven and the case for Raines). I've also advocated for Alan Trammell in the past, and I'll continue to; if he's not one of the 12 greatest shortstops, he's close enough (and if you think Trammell didn't play enough, there are eight Hall of Fame shortstops who played less than he did).

So that's five candidates who I've essentially finished thinking about. I mean, not finished. I'm willing to think about anyone. But I've thought about those guys a lot already, and if I had to vote today I would place checks next to their names and move along to the more difficult decisions.

There are four other candidates who give me pause: Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, and Dale Murphy.

The first three of those were excellent, immensely strong hitters who offered little else of value. Which certainly does not disqualify them -- Lou Gehrig probably wasn't much of a fielder, and I would happily vote for Frank Thomas -- but I do think it's worth noting.

We still tend to overrate players who drive in runs. While Joe Mauer's nearly unanimous MVP finish might be seen as a blow for substance over context-driven statistics (read: RBI), a quick look at the complete results might suggest otherwise. Here are the top seven finishers, position only: catcher, first base, shortstop, first base, first base, first base, left field.

The catcher is Mauer; the shortstop, Derek Jeter (who deserved his spot). With the possible exception of Kevin Youkilis (who finished sixth), the other five candidates are all regarded as "run producers," which essentially describes corner players who bat in the middle of the order and drive in a lot of runs.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. But until there's room near the top of the ballot for players like Ben Zobrist (eighth) or Chone Figgins (10th), it would be naive to think that the voters are properly weighing speed and defense (let alone on-base percentage) when determining value.

I grew up with this stuff, and there's still a small part of me, usually but not always buried, that tends to overrate runs batted in. Which is why I have to be careful when it comes to Martinez and McGriff and McGwire. I think you can make a good case for all of them, none of them, or some number in between.

Dale Murphy is a different sort of case. His time as an elite player lasted for only eight seasons, and he is generally considered to have too few great seasons for a Hall of Famer. But he did win two MVP Awards, he was one of baseball's five best players for about six years running, and he was a fine defensive player in center field. And about the playing time -- it feels like Murphy's career was short -- there are only six center fielders in the Hall of Fame who played more than Murphy (and many who did not).

No, Dale Murphy was not Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays. But that's never been the standard, and it's not fair to hold him to that standard now.

And finally, there are two popular candidates who I don't have to think real hard about. Jack Morris was a good pitcher who pitched for a long time, mostly for good teams. And Andre Dawson was a fine player who didn't deserve his MVP Award and finished his career with a .323 on-base percentage and a sub-.500 slugging percentage. Sorry, but no.