As we wait for the Hall of Fame announcement to come sometime Monday morning – for the record, I'm predicting that Barry Larkin will be the only new inductee this year, with Jack Morris getting dangerously close to the 70% mark – it seems like the perfect time to go back and look at how the main candidates on this year's ballot looked coming into the major leagues. Using my collection of annual baseball preview magazines from the likes of Street and Smith's and The Sporting News, I've gone back and found each candidate's name in the various "minor leagues" sections of the magazines. It's always fun to see what everyone was saying about some of the game's greats before we knew them to be so. Also, it shows just how great the rookie class of 1987 really was.
The 1977 Detroit Tigers farm club
From the 1978 Street and Smith's Baseball Yearbook: "Shortstop has been handed to '77 minor leaguers with the departure to Cleveland of light-hitting Tom Veryzer. Mark Wagner has the inside track, after hitting .306 at Evansville. But Alan Trammell, just 20, comes off a .291 year in Double A, lashing out 19 triples at Montgomery. That could be a dogfight. Lou Whitaker, also 20 is set to fill Tito Fuentes' spot at second after switching from third in '77. Whitaker hit .280, stole 38 bases in AA-ball. … But 21-year-old Jack Morris (6-7, 3.60 at Evansville), came up and split two decisions with the present club in only his second pro season."
1978 Street and Smith's: "Last year's top prospect remains this year's top prospect. Dale Murphy is a 6-4 catcher, just 21, and a No. 1 draft pick of the Braves in '74. He had a reputation for having a gun. But the weapon misfired more often than not last year at Richmond, where pitchers were in mortal fear – even when they hit the dirt – in steals of second. He also had 14 passed balls. His erratic throwing was mental, not physical, Richmond manager Tommie Aaron said. Braves' rookie skipper Bobby Cox, the former Yankee coach signed to steer Ted Turner's listing ship, saw Murphy at the of the '76 International League season, while piloting Syrcause against Richmond in the playoffs. If Murphy can't make it back of the plate – don't bet against him – he did get some experience at first last season, when he hit .305, had 22 home runs and an IL-leading 90 RBIs. He gained Topps' AAA All-Star status. Some day soon, he'll be big on Peachtree Street."
1981 Street and Smith's: "Second baseman Tim Raines, the Sporting News' minor league player of the year and second in league MVP voting to [Randy] Bass, hit a league-leading .354, set a loop record with 77 stolen bases, had 64 RBIs while batting leadoff, and was named the Association's top rookie."
1983 Street and Smith's: "Outfielder-first sacker Don Mattingly has big-league hitter written all over him. A Double-A all-star in 1981, when he batted .314, he didn't skip a beat in AAA, where he hit .315 with 75 ribbies. Mattingly, a line-drive hitter who always makes contact, can only be questioned for a lack of power."
1987 Street and Smith's: "The Reds could have a home-grown double-play combination on opening day. Veteran Ron Oester may be teaming with young shortstop Barry Larkin, who spent two months in '86 with the Reds (.283, 3, 19 in 41 games). The former University of Michigan star was Most Valuable Player in the American Association, where he authored great Triple-A numbers at Denver (.329, 31 doubles, 10 triples, 10 homers, 19 stolen bases)."
1987 Street and Smith's: "Mark McGwire came off the Southern Cal campus a first-round draft pick whose name had an unusual spelling. And he was a first baseman. Last season, the 6-foot-5 McGwire left plenty of question as to whether he'll ever be able to play third base (41 errors). But there's no question he can hit. His offensive totals at Huntsville/Tacoma were on the awesome side: .312, 23 homers, 112 RBIs in 133 games."
1987 Street and Smith's: "Fred McGriff has never posted big numbers in AAA ball. Yet there is little doubt he's one of the top prospects challenging for a big-league berth in 1987, and one of those most highly regarded from the International League's '86 crop. The angular, lefty-swinging first baseman batted .259 last year at Syracuse, poked 19 homers, and had 74 RBIs. McGriff has great power potential and could be a 25-homer man in the bigs."
1987 Street and Smith's: "Rafael Palmeiro proved the Cubs knew what they were doing in June '85, when they made the left-handed hitting outfielder their top pick. At Pittsfield, his credentials (.306, 12, 95) included the Eastern League RBI title and just 32 strikeouts in 577 plate appearances. A college teammate of the Giants' Will Clark at Mississippi State, Palmeiro was the Eastern's MVP."
(The Sporting News minor league coverage is in a different format than Street and Smith's. To save space, each team's top prospects are listed with a single line describing their status. Martinez had an interesting pair of lines in back-to-back years.)
1988 The Sporting News Baseball Yearbook: "Smooth fielder can make contact but lacks corner power."
1989 TSN: "Pure hitter with solid defense makes Jim Presley available for trade."
1991 TSN: "A legitimate hitter for average who is learning to turn on ball."
1993 Street and Smith's: "Switch-hitting Bernie Williams was also an IL all-star (.306, 20 stolen bases). The Yankees' likely starter in center field, Williams is no rookie, having split time the last two seasons between Triple-A and the Bronx."