Wednesday, December 31, 2003 Updated: January 2, 3:07 PM ET
Voters need to open Hall's doors
By Jim Caple ESPN.com
Cooperstown may be an idyllic little town of 2,400 tucked away in upstate New York, but it has a serious traffic problem. Deserving Hall of Fame candidates keep coming down the conveyor belt and voters are as overwhelmed as Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory.
Ryne Sandberg batted .285 during his 16-year career in the majors.
There's Ryne Sandberg, back for his second year after half the voters somehow passed on the game's greatest second baseman of the '80s and early '90s. There's Alan Trammell, back for his third year because 86 percent of voters forgot he was a six-time All-Star and a four-time Gold Glove winner who hit .300 seven times. There's Goose Gossage, on the ballot for his fifth year because 58 percent of voters somehow can't put a checkmark next to a nine-time All-Star who was the game's most feared reliever back when closers still had to work for a living.
They aren't alone. There's Jack Morris (fifth year on the ballot), Bert Blyleven (seventh year) and Jim Rice (10th year).
And they keep coming, faster and faster. Here's Paul Molitor (eighth on the all-time hit list) and Dennis Eckersley. And that's Wade Boggs down the line, ready to appear next year.
There hasn't been a backup of this many great players since the 1927 Yankees got trapped behind Babe Ruth in the line for the postgame spread.
A fellow voter called this week to say that he was just about to sign his Hall of Fame ballot, but felt uncomfortable including nine names. I understood his hesitation -- voting for nine Hall of Famers in one year is like voting for three Miss Americas -- but what choice is there? We're in a golden age of baseball and we need to acknowledge it. Our ballots should look like Richard Daley Sr. is paying us to vote.
Don't get me wrong, I am not saying we should lower our standards. But we do need to make sure our standards fit the period as well as a New Era cap.
Jack Morris will forever be remembered for his gutsy, 10-inning masterpiece in Game 7 of the '91 Series.
Jayson Stark wrote a terrific piece last January about how the best players of the '80s have been placed in Hall of Fame limbo. Just as we've forgotten that Wham! was really, really popular in the 1980s, voters have forgotten what qualified as a really great season in the 1980s. Sandberg led all second basemen in batting, OPS, home runs, runs, RBI, Gold Gloves and All-Star selections from 1982-1992 -- and won an MVP to boot -- but only half the voters thought he belongs in Cooperstown last year. I guess that's partly because voters attributed his offense to Wrigley Field (unfair) and partly because even his 1984 MVP season (.314, 19 home runs, 84 RBI, 32 steals), doesn't seem that extraordinary compared to a Jeff Kent season in this inflated age.
But it was extraordinary. And we need to make room for Sandberg, Morris, Gossage and the others quickly because more candidates are lining up on that conveyor belt.
Boggs may be the only selection next year and there may be no one in 2006 (unless it's Pete Rose), but then comes Tony Gwynn, Mark McGwire and Cal Ripken Jr. in 2008. And soon afterward we'll have Rickey Henderson (if he ever retires), Rafael Palmeiro, Robbie Alomar, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson and on and on.
It was bad enough when Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey banned Timothy Robbins and Susan Sarandon from Cooperstown last year. We voters need to relax our own velvet rope before the steps outside the museum look like the backup outside Annie Savoy's bedroom.
(Oh, and by the way, I voted for Molitor, Eckersley, Morris, Rice, Gossage, Trammell, Sandberg and, for the first year, Blyleven.)
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.