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December 8, 1997

Talking about the Hall of Fame Ballot

A look at this year's possibilities for the Hall

by Greg Spira

This year's Hall of Fame ballot is considered weak by many observers. Indeed, several players who should have been elected have seen their eligibility dry up in recent years, and it's not until next year that such luminaries as Robin Yount, Carlton Fisk and Nolan Ryan will appear on the ballot. But this year's ballot is filled with candidates who do deserve careful consideration by voters. That said, it's appropriate to review and evaluate the candidacy of the players on the ballot, as done below.

Bert Blyleven - A vastly underrated pitcher during his career, Blyleven spent most of his career playing for bad teams in hitters' parks. Clearly the equal career-wise of more heralded pitchers like Steve Carlton, Blyleven was probably the best pitcher in the AL in the early 1970s, and continued to pitch well for more than twenty years over almost 5000 innings. Blyleven will probably have an even more difficult time getting in than Phil Niekro did, but he is very much deserving of entrance into the Hall.

Bob Boone - Although Boone was much praised for his catching while an active player, and although he did set the record for most games caught (later broken by Carlton Fisk), Boone cannot be taken seriously as a Hall candidate. There probably isn't a non-pitcher Hall of Famer who was as inadequate as Boone as a hitter, and his defensive accomplishments aren't particularly special. It's quite possible that Boone did help his team in ways not seen in his statistics, as people like Gene Mauch would claim, but there's no reason to believe that those efforts would even bring him into the range where you would give his candidacy a second thought.

Gary Carter - Carter was the dominant catcher in the major leagues for a decade - from 1977 to 1986 he was arguably the best all-around catcher in the NL every single year - and is an easy choice for the Hall. Though the brightest memory people have of him is probably during his time with the '86 Mets, Carter's true glory days were with the Expos, for whom he provided the complete package, with both excellent offense and excellent defense. He is just as deserving of the Hall as the other great catchers of recent times, Johnny Bench and Carlton Fisk.

Jack Clark - Some people don't take Clark's candidacy very seriously; they're wrong. Clark was an awesome hitter by any measure, ending up with a career OBP of .383 and a career SLG of .476. He was also better than average in right field for the first half of his career, but people remember the hobbled Clark of later years and don't remember that detail. Certainly there are many players in the Hall less deserving of the honor than Clark. Nevertheless, those mistakes are not a justification for letting a player in, and Clark's career accomplishments fall short of what makes a Hall of Famer.

Dave Concepcion - An excellent shortstop for the Big Red Machine, Dave Concepcion is a reasonable candidate for the Hall of Fame. Some similar candidates - Phil Rizutto, for one - have made the Hall. But players of this type belong in the Hall of the Very Good, not the Hall of Fame. Concepcion was above average at everything during the Reds' glory years, but his career took a very sharp dive in his last five years, preventing him from accomplishing the career achievements that would make him deserving of the Hall.

Rick Dempsey - Dempsey was an average catcher who maintained his skill set for a long time, enabling him to earn a place on the ballot. He is not any kind of candidate for the Hall.

Dwight Evans - With one of the more intriguing careers in baseball history - how many players start out as a defensive specialist and end up an offensive star? - Evans is a reasonable candidate. With a career OBP of .373 and a career SLG of .470, along with spectacular defense for much of his career, Evans' twenty year career is full enough of accomplishments to make him a marginal choice for the Hall of Fame, and I'd vote for him. Of course, I am a Red Sox fan.

Mike Flanagan - An average pitcher who lasted a very long time, partially thanks to his one very good year in 1979 and the basically undeserved Cy Young he won that season, he is not a serious candidate.

Steve Garvey - One of the most overrated players of all time, Garvey has gotten consideration from the writers but doesn't deserve any. At his best, Garvey was a slightly above average first baseman who was too impatient as a hitter, who never slugged .500 in a season, and who played first with the range of a stop sign and the arm of a scarecrow. His star status came from his image, his team, and an over reliance on the RBI stat. He has no business getting support for the Hall of Fame.

Pedro Guerrero - At his best, Guerrero was one of the mightiest hitters in baseball. The flip side is that his defense was nightmarish at most times, and we rarely got to see the oft-injured Guerrero at his best. He finished his career of 1536 games with an excellent .374 OBP and a .480 SLG, but in the end his achievements are clearly too thin to give him serious consideration.

Ron Guidry - The pitcher they called Louisiana Lightning was a terrific pitcher, especially during his legendary 1978 campaign, but his 2392 career innings is a very low total - only Sandy Koufax and Addie Joss pitched less innings among Hall of Fame starters - and Guidry's peak, while very good, was nowhere near that of Koufax. Guidry's candidacy deserves a thought, but there's really not enough meat there to justify electing him.

Keith Hernandez - A very good hitter who is considered one of the great defensive first basemen of all time, Hernandez deserves much more consideration than he's gotten as a Hall candidate. While he doesn't fit the profile of a Hall of Fame first baseman because of his lack of home runs - only 162 career - he at least partially made up for that with his sterling .388 lifetime OBP and his innovative defense. He has a lot of strikes against him - in addition to his drug problems, he did not handle his last few years well, but his on-field achievements definitely earn him consideration as a Hall candidate, and I'd vote for him.

Tommy John - A good pitcher whose pitching arm was famously reconstructed, John's career lasted an amazing 26 years, but at no point during his career was he one of the top 5 pitchers in his league. Until his career went downhill in the mid-eighties, John was a consistently good, above average pitcher, but he had only three outstanding years, 1968, 1977, and 1979. A little bit of greatness is a necessary requirement to earn a spot in the Hall, and John's career doesn't really have much of it, so he falls just short of deserving the Hall.

Jim Kaat - Another good pitcher who pitcher forever (25 years), Kaat lacks a great peak and faltered too much in the second half of his career to earn a spot in the Hall. One of the better pitchers in a weak field in the mid-60s AL, Kaat never put together a long string of good years after pitching 304 innings in 1966, mixing lots of mediocre seasons and a few bad ones (and only a few good ones) during the last 17 years of his career, and that does not translate into a Hall of Famer.

Carney Lansford - A plus hitter but a vastly overrated fielder who had extremely limited range afield, Lansford overall was little better than mediocre. He is not a reasonable candidate for the Hall.

Mickey Lolich - A pitcher known more for his heft than his pitching, Lolich had an up and down career which lasted for a fairly long time, but it was clearly not a distinguished run by any standards, and no one considers him a real candidate for the Hall.

Minnie Minoso - Minoso was an excellent hitter and solid fielder whose career would ordinarily be thought of as a near Hall of Fame calibre. However, Minoso was prevented from playing in the major leagues during most of his prime because of his race; he was in the Negro Leagues early on in his career instead, and ended up entering the minors in his mid-twenties (though the Indians, who signed him, thought he was younger than that). While "what ifs" generally shouldn't matter in discussing qualifications for the Hall, it's different when a player was actually playing professional baseball, as Minoso was. Minoso's major drawback as a Hall of Fame candidate is the shortness of his career, but when you add in his other professional baseball accomplishments, it's clear that Minoso would be a worthy choice.

Dave Parker - If you had watched Dave Parker in the mid- to late-70s, you would have thought he was a sure Hall of Famer. A tremendous hitter who also handled himself well in the field, Parker easily established himself as one of the greats in the game. But after the Pirates won the World Series in the "We are Family" year of 1979, Parker's game went downhill sharply, with injuries and his subsequently revealed drug use probably at the core of his difficulties. In the last twelve years of his career, only in 1985 did he show any signs of being the player he had been before. In the end, his peak years and 1985 are just not enough to elevate Parker to Hall of Fame status.

Tony Perez - Perez has gotten a lot of support for the Hall, but he really doesn't deserve it. He was at best the fifth best player on the Big Red Machine, behind Morgan, Bench, Rose, Concepcion, and in later years, behind Foster as well. He was only a major contributor from 1968 thru 1973 - during the rest of his career he was nothing more than an average player. His reputation comes at least partly from his high RBI totals, but those were more the result of the great players around him than his own proficiency (.463 lifetime SLG). He fared poorly at getting on base (.344 lifetime OBP) for a first baseman, and was nothing special in the field. He was a good player, but he was not a primary engine of the Big Red Machine, and does not deserve to be among the honored in the Hall.

Willie Randolph - An excellent second baseman with a long and distinguished career, Randolph deserves at least a look from Hall of Fame voters. During his career, Randolph distinguished himself most with his terrific on-base skills (.375 lifetime OBP) and his excellence at turning the double play. However, the rest of his skill set wasn't quite strong enough to make him a deserving Hall of Famer; he had minimal power and only average range in the field.

Jim Rice - An awesome slugger at his peak, Rice fell short of having Hall of Fame type career achievements, and that makes him a marginal candidate for Cooperstown. During the period that Rice was at the top of his game, he slugged .593, .600 and .596 in consecutive years. But Rice never again reached those heights, slugging over .500 only twice more in his career. As a result, his career numbers are not so awesome, especially in the context of having played half his games in Fenway Park. He wasn't known as much of a contributor away from the plate, though he did master playing the Fenway left field wall quite well, and his arm was generally effective. I can't quite say I'd vote for Rice, but his candidacy deserves careful consideration.

Ron Santo - The best player on the ballot, Santo's absence from the Hall is disgraceful. One of the best all-around players of the 60s, Santo combined terrific on-base skills, excellent power, and awesome fielding (he led his league in total chances more often than any third baseman in history) to make himself one of the dominant players of the decade, only clearly behind Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson. His career is somewhat shorter than your ideal Hall of Famer, but not nearly enough to justify keeping such a great player out of the Hall.

Bruce Sutter - The job description of a relief ace has changed so much over the past 30 years it's extremely hard to rate them. Sutter was one of the last closers to average 100 innings a year, as he did with the Cubs and Cardinals from 1977 to 1984. Considered the best closer of his time, Sutter is a reasonable candidate for the Hall, but the shortness of his career weakens his case too much to say that he truly deserves entry.

Don Sutton - Sutton is the most difficult case on the list. He never had a really dominant year, and was never the top pitcher in his league in any year. In his 23-year career, he had only 5 seasons which can reasonably be called very good. Yet he pitched 5282 innings, the seventh highest total of all time, and there were very few years he pitched badly; he kept his teams in ballgames throughout his career. Is a slightly above average pitcher who pitches 5000 innings a Hall of Famer? I wouldn't end up voting for him, but his longevity makes him a worthy candidate.

Luis Tiant - A solid pitcher and a definite fan favorite, Tiant's career isn't quite good enough or long enough to be a serious Hall candidate. Tiant was a very good pitcher, and led the American League in ERA twice during his career, but he pitched only 3486 innings, and his peak falls short of being great enough to compensate for a somewhat short career.

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