Underwhelming additions to HOF ballot
The players debuting on the Class of 2012 Hall of Fame ballot are as underwhelming as Republicans seem to find their current crop of presidential candidates.
In 2011, 20 newcomers were on the ballot and at least five required serious consideration, but there are only a meager 13 first-timers on the Class of 2012 ballot. Forget about a first-ballot Hall of Famer emerging from this group -- I wouldn't put much money on Phil Nevin, Terry Mulholland and Tony Womack lasting past the Iowa caucus. I predict only one player, Bernie Williams, will even get the required 5 percent vote total to survive to the 2013 ballot (which will be very crowded, indeed).
The only upside to this year's unimposing group is that I don't have to listen to the Hall of Fame candidates repeatedly debate each other over taxes, immigration and the budget. Anyway, here's my annual look at the ballot newcomers:
Jeromy Burnitz: It tells you something about the new candidates when Burnitz is one of the best players in the group. He averaged 31 home runs and 94 RBIs per year from 1997 to 2004 and signed a $6 million contract with the Pirates in 2006. Naturally, he hit .230 with 16 home runs and 49 RBIs for Pittsburgh and retired. Way to go, Pirates! Said Burnitz during a slump that year: "I'm your highest-paid free agent. That, in and of itself, should tell you the big picture that the team's in."
Vinny Castilla: Born in Oaxaca, Mexico, Castilla is the all-time leader in hits (1,884), runs (902), RBIs (1,105) and home runs (320) by a Mexico-born big leaguer. One of the original Rockies, he hit 40 home runs in three different seasons, including 1998 when he hit 46 with 144 RBIs. Hitting in Coors Field before the humidor was a very, very good thing.
Brian Jordan: Jordan played 15 seasons in the majors, made the 1999 All-Star team, hit a walk-off homer against Trevor Hoffman in the 1996 NL division series and received MVP votes in three seasons. He also started 31 games in the NFL, intercepted five passes and had two tackles that produced safeties. I once asked him to compare NFL training camp to baseball's spring training: "You're throwing up, you're dehydrated, you're sucking down water and fluids wherever you go," he said of training camp. "You go back to your room and you've got jugs of water lying around just to make it through the night because your body is cramping up so much. It's a brutal sport." And spring training? "You have to make sure you get your suntan lotion on right so that you don't burn in the sun."
Javy Lopez: The backstop for most of those great Atlanta teams of the '90s, Lopez got to catch Greg Maddux (well, sometimes), Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, plus all the other excellent pitchers who came through the Braves' clubhouse. On the other hand, he also had to go out to the mound and talk with John Rocker.
Bill Mueller: After winning the 2003 batting title, Mueller subsequently hit the walk-off home run that ended that famous brawl-filled Yankees-Red Sox game on July 24, 2004, and singled off Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS to tie the game. Those accomplishments are not nearly enough to get him into Cooperstown, but they do mean he will never have to buy a drink in Boston. So he's got that going for him, which is nice.
Terry Mulholland: He changed teams 15 times in 20 seasons before finishing with a career record of 124-142 and a 4.41 ERA. But the enduring image most fans have of Mulholland is that blooper video from 1986 when a Keith Hernandez come-backer got stuck in the webbing of his glove and he threw the glove with the ball in it to first baseman Bob Brenly for the out. Said Brenly afterward: "I should have flipped the glove around the infield."
Phil Nevin: Despite facing intense competition, Nevin is the official winner of the annual "What The Hell Is He Doing On The Hall of Fame Ballot?" award. This is also likely the only post-career honor he will ever receive.
Brad Radke: I recall covering Radke when he was a young rookie with Minnesota, and now you're telling me he's been out of the game for five years? As if I didn't feel old already. Sigh. I guess I'll take it as a reminder to schedule my colonoscopy.
Tim Salmon: Mr. Angel played all 14 seasons of his career with the same team, though he always had to think twice before saying whether he played for California (1992-96), Anaheim (1997-2004) or Los Angeles of Anaheim (2005-06).
Ruben Sierra: He played 20 seasons, hit 306 home runs (the sixth-most belted by a switch-hitter), drove in 1,322 runs and made four All-Star teams. But those numbers don't begin to capture High Sierra's wild career. He signed at age 17, made his big league debut at 20, changed organizations 16 times (he played for the Rangers on three separate occasions), played for eight minor league teams after the age of 30 (including the independent Atlantic City Surf in 1999 but not including the Mexican League Cancun Lobstermen in 2000), was traded for Jose Canseco, Cecil Fielder and Danny Tartabull at different points of his career, and was released eight times (the final time was by the Twins in 2006). I would be tempted to vote for him, but I don't they think could fit all the information onto his plaque.
Bernie Williams: Finally, we get someone who merits serious Cooperstown consideration. Williams was a four-time Gold Glove-winning center fielder on the Yankees' four World Series champions, batted .297 with a .381 on-base percentage for his career, hit .300 eight times, won a batting title, scored 1,366 runs, drove in 1,257 more and appeared in October prime time more often than promos for the Simpsons' "Treehouse of Horror" while driving in a record 80 postseason runs. He'll probably finish just shy for me, but I'll continue to consider him based just on his great "Seinfeld'' appearance, when he asked George, then the Yankees' assistant traveling secretary, "Are you the one who put us in that Ramada in Milwaukee?"
Tony Womack: Womack finished with a career .273 average and .673 OPS, but he almost gets my vote for driving in the game-tying run in the ninth inning against the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.
Eric Young: Young's appearance here means that five men on Kirk Gibson's Arizona staff have been on a Hall of Fame ballot, counting the man himself: Gibson, Alan Trammell, Don Baylor, Matt Williams and Young. And it also means that after the votes are announced in January, there will still be zero Hall of Famers on Gibby's staff (though Trammell should be).
CSI: BOX SCORE
You know the rules. You get a fragment from an old box score and the challenge of determining what game it is from and why it is significant. For Christmas, I give you a tough one -- I give this one a difficulty rating of 10.
BASEBALL CARD OF THE WEEK
Merry Christmas, everyone. May you all get your version of an official Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock. (The card is from the 1980 Waterbury Reds team set.)
YEAH, WELL, THAT'S JUST, LIKE, YOUR OPINION, MAN
Before It's All Finally Over, Barry's Head Size Might Be Back To Normal: I would say our long national nightmare finally ended last week when the judge handed Barry Bonds a sentence of two years' probation and one month mansion-arrest, but Bonds might appeal and keep the eight-year-old case alive for another year or two. Eight years and who knows how many millions of dollars and man-hours, and we still haven't reached the end -- what a great use of government power and taxpayer money.
Too Many Great Candidates Is Never A Problem With The Presidential Ballot: While this year's Hall of Fame ballot is underwhelming, in 2013 the fun starts when a landslide of worthy (and often controversial) candidates hits, beginning with Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa and Craig Biggio. Then come Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas, as well as Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent. Here's the problem: For some reason that has never been adequately explained to me, you can vote for a maximum of only 10 players. And as I've written before, given the election of several stars being held back due to suspected steroid use, there will quickly be a backlog of far more worthy candidates than room on the ballot. This rule needs to be changed. You can choose not to vote for a player because of whatever reason, but don't prevent others from voting simply due to some housekeeping red tape.
Far Better Than Pink Bunny Pajamas: If you're looking for a gift for a baseball fan, several packs of baseball cards are always welcome. But you might also want to consider Chad Harbach's "The Art of Fielding," the best baseball novel to come out in years. I go into why the sports novel faces a lot of challenges, and how "The Art of Fielding" overcomes them, in my latest Page Turner book column.
CSI: BOX SCORE ANSWER
Reward yourself with extra eggnog if you figured this one out. There are a couple of minor clues -- the names DiMaggio, Gehrig and Williams could tell you this game was played in 1939 (Lou Gehrig's final season and Ted Williams' first). But perhaps only fans who have baseball-reference.com as their home page would also know that Gehrig and Williams played in only one game together -- and that was this game played on April 20, 1939, Ted's major league debut.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter at jimcaple.