The Hall of Fame ballot is out there and in the hands of longtime BBWAA members (which leaves me out). In my mind there's just one big question but more on that in a moment. First the source material:
Suspected steroid users Rafael Palmeiro and Juan Gonzalez are on baseball's Hall of Fame ballot for the first time and join Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar, both having fallen just short in last year's vote.
Former Most Valuable Players Jeff Bagwell and Larry Walker, and former Rookies of the Year Benito Santiago and Raul Mondesi also will be on the 33-man ballot, the Baseball Writers' Association of America said Monday.
When Andre Dawson was elected in January, Blyleven fell five votes short in his 13th season of eligibility and Alomar finished eight shy in his first season of eligibility. It was the first time two candidates in the same election missed by fewer than 10 votes.
Pitcher Jack Morris (282 votes, 52.3 percent) and shortstop Barry Larkin with (278 votes, 51.6 percent) were the only others on at least half the ballots.
The complete ballot: Roberto Alomar, Carlos Baerga, Jeff Bagwell, Harold Baines, Bert Blyleven, Bret Boone, Kevin Brown, John Franco, Juan Gonzalez, Marquis Grissom, Lenny Harris, Bobby Higginson, Charles Johnson, Barry Larkin, Al Leiter, Edgar Martinez, Tino Martinez, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Raul Mondesi, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, John Olerud, Rafael Palmeiro, Dave Parker, Tim Raines, Kirk Rueter, Benito Santiago, Lee Smith, B.J. Surhoff, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker.
Just off the top of my head, I would definitely vote for Alomar, Bagwell, Blyleven, Larkin, Raines, and Trammell. One might also make compelling cases for Kevin Brown, Edgar Martinez, Murphy, Mattingly, McGriff, McGwire, Palmeiro, Lee Smith, and Larry Walker. Not to mention Jack Morris and Dave Parker, who certainly have their partisans (granted, Morris more than Parker).
It's safe to say that this is one mighty crowded ballot. Which, paradoxically enough, just makes it harder for any particular player to be elected.
Blyleven's going to make it this time, and probably Alomar. Larkin figures to improve upon last year's showing, but will have to wait a while longer. Raines and Trammell will continue to be terribly under-appreciated by the voters. The real question, I think, is Bagwell's fate.
I don't think he'll be elected this time. But I don't have any feel at all for how close he'll come.
Just in terms of winning games, Bagwell is overly qualified for the Hall of Fame. He's fourth on the career Wins Above Replacement list among first basemen. I know that might seem hard to believe, and if you want to knock him down a few slots he's in the same territory as contemporaries Palmeiro, Olerud, McGwire, and Will Clark.
I wouldn't knock him down a few slots, though. Bagwell was an outstanding hitter, an outstanding fielder, and an outstanding baserunner. Essentially, he had no weakness (unless you count his anemic hitting in October).
But Bagwell's been overshadowed by Albert Pujols -- who already ranks third on the WAR list, behind only Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx -- and I doubt if the voters are going to give him much credit for his defense and his baserunning. Also, Bagwell will probably be at least grazed by the same suspicion that's going to cost Rafael Palmeiro a great deal of support.
Practically speaking, we can't put all the great first basemen of the last 30 years into the Hall of Fame. There are just too damned many of them (in addition to those mentioned already, we've also got Keith Hernandez and Todd Helton). I just happen to think Bagwell was the best of them. My guess, though, is that he doesn't get named on more than 50 percent of the ballots in this, his first try.