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Marc Topkin's Hall of Fame ballot



Ricky Typically, filling out my Hall of Fame ballot is an emotionally draining, deep-thinking, hours-consuming, angst-causing, mind-changing (and changing and changing again) kind of experience.

This year, not so much.

Maybe it’s cause I’m getting older. Or crankier. Or wiser. Or maybe just busier.

But this year’s ballot, one of the smallest ever, seemed so simple and straightforward.

Of the 10 new additions, there was only one player who stood out to be worthy of consideration, Rickey Henderson.

The Steroids Era debate remains essentially on hold for awhile, outside of the curiosity if Mark McGwire’s vote total goes up or down, with Rafael Palmeiro joining the ballot in two years, and Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds two years after that.

And, trying to have some consistency, the four players I’ve voted for the last couple years are the same ones I’m going to vote for now.

Still, it’s a thought-provoking process. The ballot is mailed to the 575 or so active and honorary members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (you have to be a 10-year member to have voting privileges) in early December, and is immediately a subject of conversation at the annual winter meetings.

I usually wait until the holidays to get serious about it, spending an afternoon or two for reflection and research. It’s always fascinating, and somewhat typical, to compare my recalled perception of a player with the reality of his stats.

The absolute best and worst part of the voting process is the freedom afforded. There are really no “right” or “wrong” answers. Even the absolute best players aren’t unanimous selections. The only guidance is to consider “the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

Some voters go with gut feelings and instinct — whether a player “seems” like a Hall of Famer. Others go purely by the numbers — career totals, within a period of time, or sabermetric formulas too complex to explain.

I try to do a little of everything, combining what I know, what I think I know and what I hope to know, seeking to reward the players who were truly dominant in their era.

I start by going through and eliminating the obvious “No Way” candidates, the good but not great players who end up on the ballot, such as Jay Bell, Ron Gant, Dan Plesac and ex-Ray Greg Vaughn. (Players who get less than 5 percent of the vote are dropped.)

Then I lock in on the obvious “Yes” candidates, who, for me , at this time, are Andre Dawson, Henderson, Jim Rice, Mark McGwire (in short, he did what he did, but others did, too), and Lee Smith.
That leaves the toughest part, the “Are They or Aren’t They” group, such as Bert Blyleven, Jack Morris, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell and (if you listen to John Romano) Harold Baines. In the oddest part of the process, these guys regularly gain and lose votes annually during their 15 years on the ballot without playing an inning.

With voting to be announced Monday, this is how my ballot looked and some of the thoughts that went into it:

Harold Baines — The 2,866 hits do make you stop and think, but just for a moment.

Bert Blyleven — The 3,701 strikeouts (fifth all time) and 287 wins say yes, the 250 losses and lack of more than one 20-win season say no.

Andre Dawson — Eight Gold Gloves and All-Star selections, an MVP and three other top-7 finishes, and he played the game right.

Rickey Henderson — The object of the game is to score runs, and no one has more than his 2,295. Nor has anyone stolen more than his 1,406. Nor could anyone’s acceptance speech be expected to be any funnier.

Tommy John — Last call for the 288-game winner who will always be more well-known for the surgery that bears his name.

Mark McGwire — Until someone tells me how many he wouldn’t have hit without (allegedly) using steroids, I’m counting all 583.

Jack Morris — Annually, seems like my toughest call to omit since he dominated the entire 1980s and was as tough as they come. Just hard to get past that 3.90 ERA, that would be highest in the Hall.

Jesse Orosco — If there was a Hall for glove-tossing celebrations, he’d be a shoo-in.

Dave Parker —  Probably deserves more attention than he gets given his six top-10 MVP finishes (and one award).

Tim Raines — He was better than you remember, with 7 All-Star appearances and top-20 MVP finishes, 2,605 hits, 808 steals. Just not quite good enough.

Jim Rice — Sixteen votes short last year, he’s expected to “rally” in his final year of eligibility. Dominated a 12-year stretch (1 MVP award, 5 other top-five finishes). Two knocks are that he didn’t hit well outside of Fenway and played only 16 seasons.

Lee Smith — There’s lots to criticize, but 478 career saves (including 13 straight of 20-plus) should be the last word.

Greg Vaughn — Nice to see him repping the Rays. Fred McGriff, who joins the ballot next year, has a much better shot.

Mo Vaughn — Surprised to see he hit fewer homers than Greg.

(Pictured: Rickey Henderson. AP photo.)

-- MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

[Last modified: Monday, December 21, 2009 12:44am]


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