Today at 2:00, we'll find out whether Barry Larkin becomes a baseball immortal or if he has to wait another year. I've already expressed my cautious optimism on Barry's chances based on him being the top returning candidate. But there are a few other characters with him on the ballot worth mentioning. Below are my hypothetical choices, which include six "yes" votes in addition to Larkin. The "ahead in line" guys are better players who aren't in the Hall, while the "better than" crew is my stab at similar but inferior players who are already enshrined.
Jeff Bagwell: 80 WAR, 2,150 games, .297/.408/.540, 149 OPS+.
His numbers are rock-solid, so let's get right to the PEDs issue. What we know about steroids as it pertains to Bagwell is: (1) he's a pretty big dude who displayed HOF power over a 15-year career; (2) he was not a ballyhooed minor league prospect; (3) there's no evidence whatsoever that he used; and (4) MLB did not test for PEDs until 2006, after Bagwell retired. The last point is easily the most important to me. While I'm not happy with the rampant use of steroids during the Selig Sillyball era, it's hypocritical to now punish players suspected of juicing when the league, players, media, corporate sponsors, fans - everybody - all willingly turned a blind eye to it. If voters want to ding those that have actually tested positive under the official program implemented in 2006, then fine. But withholding votes for the merely suspected players represents a discomforting whitewashing of baseball history. If I visit the Hall in ten years and guys like Bagwell and Barry Bonds aren't in the plaque room, it will feel disingenuous.
Ahead in line: Nobody. Bagwell is pretty clearly the best 1B not yet in the Hall, McGwire included.
Better than: Plenty, including Eddie Murray, Willie McCovey, and Tony Perez.
Alan Trammell: 67 WAR, 2,293 games, .285/.352/.415, 110 OPS+
You probably know that Trammell compares well with Larkin, falling just behind Barry in WAR (by two wins) and OPS+ (by six points). Trammell in fact comes up as the most similar player in baseball history on Larkin's bb-ref page. It's a mystery why he has done so poorly with the voters, but my guess is that stiffer competition during Trammell's prime made him look worse than he was. Larkin passed Ozzie Smith for good as the NL's best Shortstop around 1990 and didn't have a serious challenger for the rest of the decade. And from 1992 to 1996, Larkin was the best Shortstop in the game. Meanwhile, Trammell's peak (1980-1990) almost perfectly coincided with Cal Ripken Jr.'s (who won MVPs in 1983 and 1991). Through 1984, Trammell was also overshadowed by Robin Yount, the AL MVP in 1982.
One other point - Trammell finished his career much worse than Larkin. Larkin accumulated 32 WAR after turning 30, while Trammell tallied only 18. It's possible that Trammell's final, mediocre impressions haven't sat well with the writers.
Ahead in line: Nobody. And unless Trammell starts making a serious run in his last few years on the ballot, he'll remain the standard for Shortstops on the outside looking in.
Better than: Luis Aparicio, Pee Wee Reese, Phil Rizzuto, probably others.Tim Raines: 65 WAR, .294/.385/.425, 123 OPS+.
There are Leftfielders with more homeruns or higher batting averages, but none with Raines' all-around game. From 1983 to 1987, Raines enjoyed an excellent peak worth six WAR per season, and he accumulated enough value before and afterwards to push him over the top. His HOF sound bytes are (1) he got on base more times than Tony Gwynn and scored more runs; and (2) he stole a ridiculous amount of bases at a higher success rate than any prolific base stealer in history.
Also, I can't remember where I read this, but Raines was probably more affected by labor issues than any player since Curt Flood. Raines had an excellent season in the strike-shortened 1981, and he was still a full-time player who missed out on games in 1994 and 1995. To top that off, he also missed about a month to start 1987 because he rightfully felt that he was getting jobbed in the collusion mess. In the aggregate, that's close to a full season lost.
Ahead in line: Jimmy Wynn? Bobby Bonds?
Better than: Lou Brock, for one. Former teammate Andre Dawson, for another.
Larry Walker: 67 WAR, .313/.400/.565, 140 OPS+.
Walker is the Outfield version of Larkin in many ways. He had a well-rounded game, hitting for average and power, drawing walks, playing good defense (7 Gold Gloves), and running the bases well (230 steals). He also had a long career but had trouble staying healthy, averaging 128 games per season. Both Walker and Larkin have one MVP and one ring.
The elephant in the room with Walker's case is the Coors factor. Walker's best Colorado seasons by OPS+ were stellar - 174, 163, 160, 158, and 150. But I'm a little skeptical when it comes park adjustments an extreme environment like pre-humidor Coors. His career road line of .278/.370/.495 doesn't place him in elite company, but that's unfair because players generally play better at home. Ultimately, Walker's legs, glove and arm are enough when considered with a very good bat to convince me that he's worthy.
Ahead in line: Nobody. Seriously.
Better than: Dave Winfield, Chuck Klein.
Edgar Martinez: 67 WAR, 2,055 games, .312/.418/.515, 147 OPS+
Dave Cameron makes a good case for Edgar, which is essentially "if Edgar didn't hit enough as a DH, then who does?" Martinez has an interesting career arc. His first full season wasn't until he was 27, partially because the Mariners were enamored with Jim Presley for some reason. After finally getting his shot, Edgar took full advantage and put up three terrific years at the hot corner before losing large chunks of 1993 and 1994 due to injuries and the strike. Once Seattle decided to make him a full-time DH, all he did was put up a 153 OPS+ in ten years (163 in the first seven).
Beyond the numbers, Edgar was someone I always rooted for because he was unsung. The iconic image of the classic Mariners-Yankees '95 LDS is Junior beaming at the bottom of the dogpile after scoring the winning run. But it was Edgar who drove in the tying run and Griffey with a double. Martinez hit .571 in that series. Mariano Rivera has called him the toughest batter he ever faced. Yeah, he's in.
Ahead in line/Better than: This one's tricky because there's no standard for Designated Hitters in the Hall. Edgar hit better than Paul Molitor (122 OPS+), but Molitor didn't DH as much and was a better runner and defender before he did. Some voters seem inclined to rule out DHs as a matter of course, but that's unfair. I can appreciate the objection to the DH, but if we're going to be electing pitchers who throw 70 innings a year, then we need to do the same for guys who hit in the middle of the lineup every day.
Mark McGwire: 63 WAR, 1,874 games, .263/.394/.588, 162 OPS+
The career numbers aren't overwhelming, but everyone knows that McGwire was a Very Big Deal in baseball for a good four years. Actually, he had two four-year terms of dominance. During the Oakland term from 1987-1990, McGwire hit 153 home runs and OPS+'d 143. His confidence shaken by an October 1990 whoopin' from Jose Rijo and the Nasty Boys, McGwire suffered through a terrible 1991 season and then debilitating injuries in 1993 and 1994. But starting up again in 1997 McGwire went on his historic power surge, hitting 254 home runs in just 650 games to finish his career. He didn't do the little things, but his power-fueled twin peaks are just enough for me.
Ahead in line/Better than: McGwire would be towards the bottom of HOF 1Bs. This is easily the toughest call for my "yes" guys.
Dale Murphy, Don Mattingly, Bernie Williams: Good peaks, but not great enough to overcome short careers. Murphy is very close. There's something about the stars from the '80s that rendered them useless after they left their early 30s.
Fred McGriff, Rafael Palmeiro: Good careers, but not great enough to overcome relatively underwhelming peaks. Palmeiro gets dinged for testing positive, particularly after that finger-waiving nonsense in front of the Congressional committee. McGriff is the victim of poor timing.
Lee Smith: I think the bar for relievers should be very high. For at least a few years, the candidate needs to have been considered the most dominant closer in the game. A guy who intimidated opposing lineups simply by strolling to the mound. Smith was never that guy.
Jack Morris: Pass.