Welcome to what some call the back door into the Hall of Fame. I don’t think that’s necessarily fair; the plaques in Cooperstown don’t say anything about how you got elected and the simple truth is that the Baseball Writers Association has swung and missed on some strong candidates through the years.
Still, it’s an interesting process that allows a candidate to be rejected numerous times by a voting bloc that had swelled to more than 500 voters in 2015 (only to be culled back the past two years) and then receive another opportunity from a committee of 16.
This year’s Modern Era ballot -- candidates whose greatest contributions came from 1970 to 1987 -- contains familiar names who have been voted on before, but also two new players who stand a good chance to be the first post-1950 players elected by a veterans committee since Ron Santo in 2012. If you’re a Detroit Tigers fan, you may want to block out late July on your calendar.
Let’s look at the 10 names on the ballot, ranking them in order of likelihood of getting elected, because candidates must receive 12 of the 16 votes.
Alan Trammell: The longtime Tigers shortstop makes his first appearance on the Modern Era ballot. While he topped out at 40 percent on his final BBWAA ballot in 2016, he’s an extremely qualified Hall of Famer who ranks eighth all-time in WAR among shortstops, squeezed in between Derek Jeter and Barry Larkin. Other than Jeter, the top 16 shortstops are all in Cooperstown -- except Trammell.
So why wasn’t he elected by the BBWAA, while a similar player in Larkin made it on his third ballot? I’ve written before that Trammell suffered from being a contemporary of Cal Ripken. Trammell was generally considered the second-best AL shortstop of the 1980s (and for a couple of years, also ranked behind Robin Yount). Larkin was the best NL shortstop post-Ozzie Smith. That label helped Larkin get in with nearly identical career stats to Trammell. Trammell also had the bad timing of hitting the ballot in 2002, right when the new breed of shortstops like Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Miguel Tejada and Jeter was putting up big offensive numbers that exceeded Trammell’s.
Trammell’s all-around excellence -- accumulating over 2,300 hits and 1,000 RBIs plus four Gold Gloves -- should be rewarded, however, and I think that oversight will be corrected.
Jack Morris: Maybe the most controversial nonsteroids candidate in recent decades, Morris reached 67 percent of the vote on his 14th year on the BBWAA ballot, but instead of receiving that final-ballot boost he fell off to 61 percent.
Morris’ case basically comes down to how much weight the voters will put on his Game 7 shutout in the 1991 World Series. Otherwise, his case has a lot of holes. He went 254-186, but with a 3.90 ERA, never ranking higher than fifth in his league in ERA and ranking in the top 10 just five times. His career WAR of 43.8 is well below Hall standards and he ranked in the top 10 in his league just four times.
He was a workhorse in the 1980s, an era when many of the top starters got injured and lacked Morris’ longevity, and his supporters will often roll out the “most wins in the 1980s” stat. He started for three World Series winners -- the ’84 Tigers, ’91 Twins and ’92 Blue Jays -- and that helps.
I think Morris gets elected. The Hall of Fame hasn’t released who is on the committee -- it’s a mix of Hall of Fame players, writers and executives -- but I think there’s a general belief that Morris “feels” like a Hall of Famer. Game 7 puts him over the top. He won’t be the worst player in the Hall.
Marvin Miller: The former head of the MLB Players Association has been on veterans committee ballots before and fell one vote short of election in 2010. He’s now deceased and was bitter about not getting elected, saying near the end of his life that he’d rather not get elected.
Bud Selig got elected last year. If you’re going to put Selig in, you have to elect the individual more responsible for changing the way the game operates than any other.
What’s interesting is that Miller is the only nonplayer on the ballot. George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin, on this ballot in the past, didn’t make it past the screening committee this time.
Dale Murphy: The two-time MVP certainly deserves to have his case heard again, although he never received much support from the BBWAA, peaking at 23 percent in 2000 before falling off the ballot after 2013. He wasn’t on the 2014 Modern Era ballot, so this is his first shot via a veterans committee.
He was one of the icons of the 1980s, but his run of excellence was too short. He had six seasons of 5-plus WAR, but those six seasons account for 82 percent of his career value of 46.2 WAR. He hit 398 home runs and drove in 1,266 runs, but just didn’t do quite enough before or after his peak.
Don Mattingly: Like Murphy, he had a Hall of Fame peak, but his peak was even shorter, with four dominant seasons from 1984 to 1987, two good seasons in 1988 and ’89 and then six mediocre seasons to finish his career. I’d argue that Keith Hernandez -- who leads Mattingly in WAR 60.0 to 42.2 -- is the stronger candidate if you want a New York first baseman from the 1980s. I’m not sure why the committee would exclude Hernandez in favor of Mattingly.
In fact, I’d suggest the screening committee that selected the 10 finalists did a pretty poor job with the names this time around. The rest of the ballot is comprised of players who have all appeared before on a veterans committee ballot and did not come close to election -- Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons and Luis Tiant.
None of those guys has suddenly gotten better from 2014, when four of them each received fewer than six votes. Tiant received fewer than three in 2011 (although he’s probably the best candidate of the five).
Instead, the committee should have put some new names on the ballot to discuss. Besides Hernandez, we could have had Dwight Evans (66.9 WAR), Bobby Grich (70.9), Willie Randolph (65.5) or -- to complete the Tigers theme -- Lou Whitaker (74.9).
Those players are all sabermetric darlings, but that’s kind of the point in the need to include them and not the others. Nothing against Garvey or John or Parker, but why vote on the same measurements that got them turned down 15 times in a row before? With better statistical analysis now available, maybe Whitaker or Evans would have a chance.
Prediction for Mattingly, Garvey, John, Parker, Simmons and Tiant: Out.