What's amazing about the current Hall of Fame ballot is how many viable candidates there are, candidates about whom we can argue.
Personally, I would vote for only six players on the ballot (I'll name them later). But I believe I might be wrong about five or six others, and there are still more candidates who have their rabid supporters, and wouldn't be among the most undeserving Hall of Famers if they were elected. There are 33 players on the ballot this time around, and 19 are viable candidates according to at least somebody's standards.
The other 14? Brett Butler, Vince Coleman, Darren Daulton, Mark Davis, Sid Fernandez, Rick Honeycutt, Danny Jackson, Darryl Kile, Tony Pena, Danny Tartabull, Mickey Tettleton, Fernando Valenzuela, Mitch Williams, and Todd Worrell.
All of those men were good ballplayers and some of them were great for a few years, but none of them played well enough for long enough to merit serious consideration for the Hall of Fame, and it's likely that each will fail to draw support from five percent of the voters, and thus drop from the ballot.
But still, that leaves 19 candidates, and of course each voter is allowed to vote for up to 10. And meaning no disrespect, it seems to me that too many voters have difficulty separating the wheat (Gary Carter, Bert Blyleven) from the relative chaff (Dave Concepcion, Jack Morris).
Concepcion isn't one of the 20 greatest shortstops who ever played. But he won five Gold Gloves and he played for the Big Red Machine; for 60 or 70 voters every year, that's enough.
Morris isn't one of the 100 greatest pitchers who ever played. But he won 254 games and he pitched brilliantly in the 1984 and 1991 postseasons; for 100 voters ever year, that's enough.
I don't mean to pick on Concepcion and Morris. One could write the same sorts of things about Jim Rice and Steve Garvey and Andre Dawson and Don Mattingly. You can make logical arguments for all of these guys, but I don't think any of them pass muster when you compare them to players like Carter and Blyleven (and a few others).
Who would I vote for? I believe it's impossible to construct a reasonable argument, based on the standards that have already been established, against the candidacies of Bert Blyleven, Gary Carter, Goose Gossage, Alan Trammell, Eddie Murray and Ryne Sandberg. In my mind, all six not only meet the standards of the Hall of Fame, but raise them. Blyleven was a better starting pitcher than Jack Morris (and Tommy John and Jim Kaat), Gossage was a better relief pitcher than Bruce Sutter, Trammell was a better shortstop than Dave Concepcion, and Eddie Murray was a better first baseman than Steve Garvey.
I've written about Blyleven at length, and Carter too. And anyway, it's too late to influence anybody's vote, so I won't belabor those arguments again. Gossage was the top reliever in the game for roughly a decade, and Trammell was one of the dozen or so greatest shortstops ever. Carter's going to make the Hall of Fame eventually, maybe this time but more likely in 2005 or 2006, when the crops of first-year eligibles aren't particularly impressive. Neither Blyleven nor Gossage really have any chance to get elected under the current rules, but they do draw enough support to remain on the ballot.
Trammell, on the other hand, drew support from only 15 percent of the voters a year ago. I'm not exactly sure why Trammell doesn't get more support, just as I'm not exactly sure why Dale Murphy doesn't get more support (I'm not quite sold on Murphy, but he was certainly a better player than Steve Garvey, and he was better than Jim Rice, too).
But all of those ships have sailed, and there's nothing I can write today that's going to change anybody's mind. So that leaves Murray and Sandberg, the two first-timers who are, I think, deserving of plaques in the Hall.
I actually got an e-mail message yesterday from a well-meaning fan who doesn't believe that Eddie Murray should be in the Hall of Fame. His argument, I think, went something like this ... "Murray was a very good player for a long time, long enough to clear 500 homers and 3,000 hits. But he wasn't really a great player, and greatness is what the Hall of Fame is about."
The problem with this argument, of course, is that the Hall of Fame is not about Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and Willie Mays and Mike Schmidt. Maybe you think it should be, but it's not. The Hall of Fame is also about Reggie Jackson and Charlie Gehringer and Wade Boggs and Al Simmons and, yes, Eddie Murray.
Which is fine with me. Murray's very best seasons might fall somewhat short of absolute brilliance, but there's value in consistency and durability, and Murray was as consistent and durable as they come. In my book, he's one of the eight or 10 greatest first basemen who ever played. And isn't that the very definition of a Hall of Famer?
Ryne Sandberg is also one of the eight or 10 greatest players at his position -- which makes him a Hall of Famer, too -- though of course he gets there in an entirely different way. Looking at Bill James' Win Shares, Murray never got more than 33 Win Shares in a single season. Sandberg, on the other hand, had three seasons with more than 33 Win Shares, including seasons with 38 (1984, his MVP season) and 37 (1991).
But Sandberg has "only" nine seasons with 20 or more Win Shares, while Murray has 15 such seasons (including 14 straight, beginning with his rookie year). I happen to think there are too many first basemen in the Hall of Fame already, but that's no reason to leave Murray out. Steve Garvey and Don Mattingly? Sorry, fellas. But leaving Eddie Murray out of the Hall of Fame would be like leaving out Reggie Jackson or Charlie Gehringer.
Or Gary Carter.
Senior writer Rob Neyer, whose Big Book of Baseball Lineups will be published next spring by Fireside, will be appearing here regularly and irregularly during the offseason. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.