Few things cause as much arguing during baseball's offseason as the annual Hall of Fame Ballot. Last week's announcement included 19 newcomers to the ballot and a total field of 34 names. Interestingly, this year's class is pretty loaded (though not quite as loaded as I had suggested it could have been a few years ago).
This is also the season where we hear griping from sportswriters that the wrong people are voting and that the BBWAA should change the rules on who votes (and they have a point). There are also complaints that it's unfair to limit a voter to 10 players on the ballot (I disagree). There are a few easy choices right off the bat (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas are all no-brainers to me). What to do with the remaining 7 votes is a little trickier. Here's my list of 7 players who would earn a place on my ballot and whether I think they will be inducted.
1. Jack Morris - it's his last year on the ballot. Last year he garnered 67.7% of the vote (2nd highest total). His 254 career wins are a good number but not the automatic induction number that 300 wins represents. If it were any other year without the three clear inductees on the list I would say he has a better chance of getting in. I think he'll still get a lot of votes and may manage to squeak in.
2. Craig Biggio - he had the most votes of any player last year. 3060 hits is good enough in my mind to warrant automatic induction. The big negative - PEDs. Not because he necessarily was guilty but because voters have sought to punish a lot of guys unfairly because of the rampant steroid use of the 90's. If he doesn't make it this year it has more to do with who is getting in rather than a knock against him. It's only his second year so if not this year he should be a favorite to get in next year.
3. Jeff Kent - His 377 career home runs are the highest for any second baseman. However, the Hall tends to overlook second basemen as they are typically valued for their glove more than their bat. That puts guys like Kent at a disadvantage when voters are looking to offensive statistics as a guide to determine whether they are worthy of enshrinement. I think he's got a good case to be inducted in the Hall but he may be waiting a couple of years before that call comes.
4. Tim Raines - along with Rickey Henderson (who's already in the Hall of Fame), Raines was considered one of the preeminent base stealers of his era. His 808 career steals are far above anyone else in this class. He's fifth all time in steals (and coincidentally all four players ahead of him are in the Hall). While it's unlikely to be inducted this year (it's his 7th year of eligibility) I think it's likely to happen at some point in the future.
5. Lee Smith - He's third all time in saves. The two pitchers ahead of him (Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman) are sure to be inducted on their first ballot. .He has nearly 100 more saves than Dennis Eckersley who is in the Hall of Fame. He also happened to be (along with Eckersley) one of the most dominant relievers of his era. His candidacy has suffered in part because of who he has been up against for election. If he doesn't make it in by his final year of eligibility it's a safe bet the Veterans' Committee will vote him in.
6. Jeff Bagwell - A key part of Houston's playoff teams in the late 1990's and 2000's, Bagwell should be eventually enshrined. He spent his entire career in Houston. And although his overall offensive numbers are solid but not spectacular his home run total (477) should be enough to convince voters on the fence that he belongs.
7. Mike Piazza - Another solid player with good but not great numbers. However, he was a prodigious home run hitter (427 for his career) makes him worth consideration. He has two big strikes against him. First, he was primarily a catcher which is a position that is woefully under-represented in the Hall. Second, he played during the Steroid Era and has been treated by many voters as guilty-by-association rather than there being any clear evidence of steroid usage. It will probably take more years than it should for the steroid outrage to die down enough for him to get the consideration he deserves.