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Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Baseball Hall of Fame Modern Era Ballot: A Preliminary Look

Ten names are appearing on the Modern Era ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame election that will take place on December 10th. These are players and instrumental figures who have thus far missed out on having their achievements in the game recognized with a plaque in Cooperstown, New York.

A 16-person committee will be voting for these candidates (who by definition had their greatest contributions to baseball occurring between 1970-1987), who were dropped from the writer’s ballot but are believed to be worth a second look. 12 votes (75%) are needed in order for any of these 10 to start looking at flights to rural New York for next July. Let’s take a look at these candidates and briefly look at their chances.

Steve Garvey: The former first baseman has some hallmarks of a Hall of Famer (an MVP award and five other top-ten finishes; five World Series appearances; six 200-hit seasons) but some others that suggest otherwise (never led the league in home runs, RBIs or batting average; overall numbers are merely good). Additionally, while a reputation for being a good defender helped him win four Gold Gloves, subsequent advanced metrics suggest he was subpar at the position. It would be a significant surprise to see him get the requisite votes.

Dale Murphy: From 1982-1987 Murphy was in all likelihood the best player in the National League, winning two MVP awards. However, he barely has 2,000 hits; (2,111) fell short shot of 400 home runs (398); and spent the bulk of career playing for the then moribund Atlanta Braves. To a certain extent, he’s the poor man’s Jim Rice, who although a Hall of Famer, is one that traditionally gets a lot of hard looks for his inclusion. 

Jack Morris: Morris was a stout starting pitcher who won 254 games; tossed 175 complete games and surpassed 240 innings in a season 10 times in his career. He also won Game 7 of the 1991 World Series for the Minnesota Twins by throwing a 10 inning shutout.  On the other hand, his 3.90 ERA (which would be the highest of any Hall of Famer) and never having reached higher than third in any Cy Young Award voting are major detractors.

His supporters have rallied around the idea that because he often pitched so deep into games, he “pitched” to the score,” which helped inflate his ERA. However, that notion has been thoroughly debunked. If advanced stats mean anything, his 105 career ERA+ places him just a tick about average. He was obviously a very talented pitcher but signs point to his success also being aided by his teams’ offenses, which scored more than the league average in runs in 13 of the 17 seasons he was a regular.

Alan Trammell: The longtime teammate of Morris has a much more compelling case for an excursion to Cooperstown. An outstanding defensive player at shortstop, he also hit .285 in his career with 2,365 hits, 185 home runs and 1,003 RBIs at a time when players at his position were typically lightweights with the bat.

Trammell’s 70.4 career WAR would put him just a smidge above fellow shortstop Barry Larkin (70.2), who was inducted in 2012. It would also outpace other Hall of Fame shortstops like Pee Wee Reese (66.4) and Luis Aparicio (55.4)

Marvin Miller: Miller’s role in heading the Player’s Union and helping bring about the advent of free agency makes him a titan on the side of baseball innovators. This one is actually a no-brainer that should have been resolved long before this.

Don Mattingly: Donnie Baseball patrolled first base for the New York Yankees from 1982-1995. He was perhaps the poster child of baseball during the last half of the ‘80s before back injuries significantly slowed him down following the 1989 season. 

Other than his MVP season in 1985, Mattingly had five other “star” seasons. He had a reputation for a slick glove but advanced metrics paint a more indifferent story. Although a very good player, it’s hard not to think that if he had spent his career outside of the Bronx he might be considered Wally Joyner (which is meant as no slight to either player, who both had fantastic careers!).
Ted Simmons: The switch hitter was the best catcher in the National League during the 1970s outside of Johnny Bench. He hit .285 with 248 home runs and 2,472 hits during his 21-year career and made himself into a capable fielder. He rarely struck out (just 694 times in his career), was an eight-time All Star and hit righties and lefties almost identically. Aside from home runs, his career numbers, particularly on the offensive side, match up strongly with Carlton Fisk, who easily got in to the Hall on just his second year on the ballot.
Luis Tiant: The right-handed Cuban pitcher was a rising star with the Cleveland Indians during the 1960s, endured several years of injuries and then remade himself as a star again with more of a junk ball repertoire to compensate for his diminished stuff. All told, he lasted 19 years and racked up 229 wins, a 3.30 ERA, 187 complete games and 49 shutouts.

Despite winning 21 games with a 1.60 ERA and 264 strikeouts in 1968, he had the misfortune of being up against Detroit Tigers right hander Denny McLain, who swept the Cy Young votes that year on the strength of his 31-win season. Despite winning over 20 games three other times later in his career, Tiant never finished higher than fourth in any other Cy Young voting.

Tiant’s career 66.1 WAR puts him snugly between Hall of Famers John Smoltz (66.5) and Bob Feller (65.2) on the all-time list. He may not have received the accolades when he was playing but he has a surprisingly strong case that deserves more attention than it has received.

Dave Parker: Built like a linebacker, the left-handed hitter punished pitching instead of quarterbacks during his 19-year career. He hit a combined .290 with 339 home runs, 1,493 RBIs and 2,712 hits. He won the 1978 National League MVP with the Pittsburgh Pirates and finished in the top five in voting an additional four times. Sadly, one must wonder what impact his admitted drug use had on his career.

While a first-ballot Hall of Very Good player, Parker just doesn’t fully measure up when it comes to the Hall of Fame.

Tommy John: The lefty was on the operating table and successfully came back from the eponymous surgical procedure that addressed the arm issue that had claimed the careers of many pitchers before him. While he has 288 career wins and a 3.34 ERA, he did this over the course of 26 seasons. If you take out a four year stretch (1977—1980) when he won a combined 80 games, finished in the top-five in Cy Young voting three times and made three Al Star teams, he won 202 games (only more than 15 wins in a season once) over his other 22 seasons with no other All Star appearances or Cy Young ballots.

John is a classic case of being an accumulator rather than a long-term star. It’s difficult to concoct a scenario where he is a truly deserving candidate.

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