ESPN Network: | | | | ABCSports | EXPN | INSIDER | FANTASY   
Jayson Stark

ALSO SEE Baseball Page

Puckett, Winfield receive Hall passes to Cooperstown

2001 Hall of Fame Ballot - ESPN Writers

The soon-to-be hat dilemma

Jayson Stark 2000 archive

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Stark: My Hall of Fame ballot
By Jayson Stark

It ain't easy.

Maybe some people can hold that Hall of Fame ballot in their hands and fill it out in five minutes. I'm not one of them.

I rumble through the encyclopedia. I crunch the numbers. I confer. I agonize. I stare at the names.

Then, finally, I mark the ballot.

And when I'm through, I know two things:

1) Having the opportunity to cast a Hall of Fame vote is one of the greatest honors in my profession.
2) And having the opportunity to cast this vote is as awesome a responsibility as anyone can have in my profession. When you try to draw that line between who is a Hall of Famer and who isn't, you are taking on a job that is, essentially, impossible.

But I do it, anyway. So here's a look at one man's ballot -- both the yeas and the nays.

Got my vote
1. Dave Winfield
Somewhere out there, there will be people who find a way not to vote for this man. But it's hard to imagine how.

Dave Winfield
Winfield retired following the 1995 season with 3,110 hits, 465 HR, 1,833 RBI and a .283 average.

Twelve All-Star teams. Seven Gold Gloves. Eight 100-RBI seasons.

And he's one of just seven men in the 3,000-hit, 400-homer club. Of the others, Cal Ripken is still playing, and Eddie Murray is not eligible yet. The other four are not just Hall of Famers, they're legends: Aaron, Yaz, Musial, Mays. Case closed.

2. Kirby Puckett
Contrary to popular opinion, Puckett might not sail in on his first try. There undoubtedly will be voters who look at his 207 career homers and his .318 average and think, "What's the big deal?" But here's the big deal:

This man was a great player practically from the first day of his career to the last.

  • Ten All-Star teams in a row.
  • More hits than any player in baseball over the duration of his career ('84-95).
  • More hits over his first 10 full seasons than any player in the 20th century.
  • Finished in the top 10 in the MVP voting seven times in 12 seasons -- meaning he made the top 10 in more years than he didn't make it.
  • Was an LCS MVP, an All-Star Game MVP and easily could have been World Series MVP.

    So he may lose some points because of the tragically abbreviated length of his career. But if you just judge the quality of his career, he's a no-brainer.

    3. Gary Carter
    I've said this before. I'll say it one more time: If Carlton Fisk is a Hall of Famer, how can Carter not be?

    He won more Gold Gloves than Fisk (3-1), had more 100-RBI seasons than Fisk (4-2), had more 20-homer seasons than Fisk (9-8), started more All-Star games than Fisk (8-7). They had almost identical careers. Fisk's just happened to last a little longer.

    But Gary Carter was the best catcher in his league in his time -- without question. When I watched him play, I thought I was watching a Hall of Famer. That simple.

    4. Bruce Sutter
    With every year that goes by without Sutter even coming close to getting elected, I begin to wonder if my fellow voters even know how to measure the greatness of the modern closer.

    Bruce Sutter revolutionized his position. (He was a one-man Nelson-Stanton-Rivera tag team, pioneering the concept of "shortening the game.")

    He popularized the most devastating new pitch of the last 20 years -- the splitter. He was the only relief pitcher in history to finish in the top 10 in the MVP voting six times in eight years.

    He gobbled up innings. He won a Cy Young. He carried a team (the '82 Cardinals) to the World Series.

    But what puts him over the top is the way hitters shook their heads in awe when they talked about him. That's what separates him from the Reardons and the Henkes and the Bedrosians and all the closers whose plaques will never hang in Cooperstown.

    5. Goose Gossage
    All that stuff I just said about Sutter? Just read it all again and substitute Goose for Bruce.

    Nine All-Star teams in 11 years. A 10-year run of microscopic ERAs and frightening strikeout totals. More than 130 innings in relief three times. Never broke down. Never refused the ball.

    And for more than a decade in his prime, everybody in the park knew the game was over the second he opened the bullpen gate. I don't know what more my peers are looking for in a closer. But I've seen more than enough.

    6. Jack Morris
    Morris is where this starts getting tough. I recognize why Morris is such a tough call for others -- because he was tough for me.

    His ERA (3.90) would be the highest of any pitcher in the Hall of Fame. He won "only" 254 games.

    But Jack Morris was a true ace. He started Opening Day. Every year. He started Game 1 in October. In three different Octobers. He pitched possibly the greatest Game 7 of all time (Metrodome, 1991).

    He started three All-Star games. (Only Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux have matched that feat since the '70s). He pitched a no-hitter.

    And Jack Morris not only was the winningest pitcher of his generation, he was the winningest pitcher of his generation by a mile (41 wins), by the equivalent of two full seasons' worth of wins. (Morris from '79-92: 233 wins. Runner-up Dave Stieb: 192.)

    So to me, he pokes his head above that fine line between Cooperstown and not-quite. Barely, but he does.

    7. Dale Murphy
    Here's another guy who was a tough call. But if we vote for Morris because he dominated his league at his position in the '80s, then why shouldn't we do the same for Murphy?

    In the '80s in the National League, three names topped the leader board: Mike Schmidt, Hall of Famer. Andre Dawson, future Hall of Famer. And Dale Murphy.

    Through virtually the entire decade, if you asked the question. "Who's the best player in the National League?" one of those three was the answer. And when the '80s were over, Murphy had led everybody in his league in runs and hits, tied with Schmidt for the most RBI and finished second to Schmidt in home runs.

    But Dale Murphy was more than that. He was a back-to-back MVP, a five-time Gold Glove winner, a 30-30 man, a leading vote-getter in the All-Star balloting and one of the great baseball citizens of modern times.

    So that, to this voter, makes him a Hall of Famer. And if he isn't, he sure deserves more than 116 votes.

    Didn't get my vote
    Jim Rice
    In my time as a voter, no player has caused me more aggravation, more second thoughts, more second and third and 47th looks than Rice.

    I recognize what a feared hitter he was in his heyday. I see that 11-year period from '75-85 in which he averaged .303, 32 homers, 116 RBI. I understand that he wound up with nearly 200 more RBI than Dale Murphy and a career average (.298) that was 33 points higher. But it takes more than just adding up numbers to define a Hall of Famer.

    My reservation on Rice is that he was a one-dimensional player whose career thundered to a halt just as he was on the verge of cementing his sure place in the Hall (only 31 homers, 162 RBI after age 34).

    And you essentially have to vote on him as a hitter only, because he DH-ed extensively. He gave you no speed, no Gold Gloves, no off-the-field "character-and-integrity" points.

    Ultimately, his career wound up being very comparable to my first favorite player as a kid, Dick Allen. I never could convince myself to vote for my favorite boyhood player. And I haven't been able to convince myself to vote for Rice, either.

    Bert Blyleven
    If Rice is the hardest hitter on the ballot not to vote for, Blyleven is the hardest pitcher not to vote for. You don't overlook 287 wins, or the third-highest strikeout total of all time (3,701), or 60 career shutouts.

    But unlike Morris, who was a certified ace, Blyleven made just two All-Star teams in 22 seasons. He dented the top three in the Cy Young voting only twice. He was traded five times.

    People often compare him with Don Sutton. But opposing hitters batted only .236 off Sutton -- .247 against Blyleven. And all that, in the end, leaves him on the not-quite list. But I still look at him closely every single year.

    Don Mattingly
    His career numbers are similar to Puckett's. His career profile is similar to Murphy's. So the more I thought about Mattingly, the closer I came to voting for him.

    It's hard not to be swayed by his credentials: A batting title. An RBI title. Four AL player-of-the-month awards in a span of 12 months from 1985-87. More hits over his first 10 seasons (1,752) than any Yankee since Gehrig.

    And he was the greatest-fielding first baseman of his day: Most Gold Gloves (nine) of any AL first baseman in history

    But on the other hand ...

  • He was thought of as a "power" bat at a power position, but finished with only 222 homers in 14 seasons. That ranked only 32nd during the time span of his career -- lower than Rob Deer, Howard Johnson, Danny Tartabull, Lou Whitaker or Dwight Evans (who didn't even survive to appear for a second year on the ballot).
  • Over the last six years of his career, he hit only 58 homers, batted .300 just once, averaged only 64 RBI a season.
  • Unlike Puckett and Murphy, he never did carry any of those Yankees teams into the postseason.

    So ultimately, it seemed to this voter that Mattingly's period of legitimate "greatness" was really only three years. After that, he had too steep a decline to get himself over the line that separates the Hall of Famers from the near-misses.

    Other holdovers
    Steve Garvey, Dave Parker, Luis Tiant, Tommy John and Jim Kaat all have compelling credentials. Just not quite enough of them.

    Garvey was a 10-time All-Star -- but not quite a good enough all-around player to get this vote. Parker was a great hitter at times but didn't maintain the discipline to sustain his greatness.

    Tiant was a thrill to watch, one of the best big-game studs of his time. But I look at him as sort of the Dave Stewart of his day -- periods of brilliance, without quite enough around them to send him to Cooperstown.

    John and Kaat hang around with Blyleven as the pitchers with the most wins who are not in the Hall. But you have to draw that line somewhere. And they seem to fall just a shade below that standard of greatness.

    Other first-timers
    Lou Whitaker: His career numbers look attractive by second-base standards. But it's hard to remember any period when Whitaker was looked upon as the greatest second baseman of his era. "Just" a very good player. There's no shame in that.

    Dave Stewart: In his prime, there was no greater admirer of Stewart than this voter. But outside of those four 20-win seasons and his remarkable Octobers (8-0 in the LCS), there's just not enough surrounding his peak years to make him a Hall of Famer.

    Lance Parrish: Finished with exactly as many home runs as Gary Carter (324). But after a few peak years, his reputation exceeded his skills for the second half of his career. Played the same number of seasons as Johnny Bench (17) but had 300 fewer RBI.

    Tom Henke: Almost no one we've spoken with even seems to be aware Henke is on the ballot. Yet since the Rolaids people started keeping blown saves, only Trevor Hoffman has a higher career save percentage than Henke (.869). But he also swooped in there in the ninth to get the save in a zillion games in which Duane Ward did the inning-eating dirty work in Toronto. So he's another not-quite.

    Jim Deshaies, Andy Van Slyke, John Kruk, Jose Rijo: If there's a wing in the Hall of Fame for baseball writers, there ought to be another wing for the guys they quoted most. And if there were, these four guys would be first-ballot entries.

    Heck, Deshaies was almost worth voting for simply on the basis of his innovative Hall of Fame Web site alone ( The one goal of that site is to make sure this great American collects just one vote. And after all Jim Deshaies has done to make my life easier, it was tempting to grant him that one request.

    But alas, there's a certain responsibility that comes with the privilege of voting -- a responsibility that stops you from voting for even the best guys you ever covered. So hard as I tried, I couldn't do it.

    Plus, I remembered that Deshaies was a man who once called himself "the poster boy for bad pitching." And suppose too many people voted for him. That quote might have ended up on his Hall of Fame plaque. And Cooperstown might never be the same.

    But it sure would be a funny place to visit.

    Jayson Stark is a Senior Writer for

    Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories