Of all the Hall of Fame articles you will see this year, this will be the only one to lead with Sean Casey. Today is the deadline for the 600-some voting members of the BBWAA to submit up to 10 names on their Hall of Fame ballots, and for maybe the first time in history that won’t be enough. The Mayor, of course, isn’t going to be checked on many ballots. But one thing I enjoy about this process is looking back every winter on players who enjoyed long, productive major league careers. Casey hit .302 over 12 seasons and made 3 All-Star games, and becomes the fourth Red from the 1999 team to appear on the HOF ballot after Barry Larkin, Greg Vaughn, and Hal Morris. It was a very nice career.
The other Reds among the 36 players on this year’s ballot are … well … let’s see. Combined, Lee Smith and Todd Jones saved 3 games for Cincinnati. Jacque Jones was invited to Spring Training once. So was Jack Morris. There’s been an article or two written about his HOF candidacy.
Casey debuts in this year’s super stacked field as one of nine first basemen. Six of them - Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Fred McGriff, and Don Mattingly - have legitimate arguments for induction. It’s the deepest position in a historically deep ballot. It’s not under-represented in the HOF in the way third base is, but it does skew much older.
Dave Cameron has argued that the writers need to start inducting players born in the 1960s. That’s particularly true for first base. Only 4 "true" HOF first basemen debuted after the war (we can quibble about the definition, but I’m leaving out those who accumulated more value at other positions, like Ernie Banks and Rod Carew) out of 15 total. Eddie Murray, born in 1956, is the only baby boomer of the bunch. Tony Perez is the only one who debuted between 1960 and 1976.
Meanwhile, seven HOF third basemen debuted during or after the war, and six of them are really good. Ron Santo’s 71 WAR is the second-lowest of that bunch. It’s higher than any of the four post-war HOF first baseman. But the prominent first basemen on this ballot, all children of the 1960s, are pretty good. Here’s how they compare with the four post-war inductees:
My ballot would include Thomas and Bagwell, easy. No to McGriff and Mattingly. McGwire and Palmeiro come down to whether there's space - and it looks like there isn't any left. For the other position players, I'd pick Bonds, Piazza, Biggio, Trammell, Raines, and Walker first (and maybe Edgar too). Among the pitchers, Maddux, Glavine, Mussina, and Schilling. That's already 12.
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Going back to the dearth of post-war first basemen in the Hall - is there anything other than random variation which explains it? While we shouldn't expect perfectly proportional generational representation at each position, I suspect that there's more at issue here.
Teams focused less on developing first basemen between the offensive booms of the 1930s and 1990s, using the position more as a downward destination on the defensive spectrum rather than a place to start the careers of their most promising hitters. Just looking at guys who put together cromulent careers at first base - there are 122 players who have at least 3,000 PAs and 10 WAR while playing two-thirds of their games at first. 34 have debuted since 1986 - a great rookie class that includes McGriff, Palmeiro, and McGwire (and Larkin) - through 2007, Joey Votto's rookie year. That goes down considerably if we look at the prior 22 years (1964 - 1985: 22 players) and the one before that (1942 - 1963: 17 guys). But then it goes up again to 24 for the 1920 - 1941 time period. Adjusting for expansion, that was the most prolific period for producing first basemen. But the most recent period is also impressive, and could grow in the coming years as newer guys establish themselves.
Looking ahead at the ballot battles in a decade or two, Joey Votto is going to have some serious competition. Albert Pujols has already punched his ticket for Cooperstown (over 90 WAR), regardless of what he does in Anaheim. Miguel Cabrera is five months older than Votto, but got a much earlier start. Adrian Gonzalez is slowing down but could be in the HOF running when it's all said and done. But I'm getting really ahead of things here. Joey Votto is awesome, will again lead the league in OBP in the new year, and lead the Reds back to the playoffs over the tut-tutting of the Brennamania. Happy baseball and new year.