Saturday, November 28, 2009

2010 Hall of Fame class could be crowded

Due to an influx of worthy first-timers on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, the 2010 class could be very crowded. Some of the greatest hitters of their generation are newcomers to the ballot this year. While none of them hit the magic 3,000-hit mark that virtually guarantees a player will make the Hall, several have made strong cases for induction.

Take Roberto Alomar for example. Before retiring in the spring of 2005, he amassed a lifetime .300 batting average, 2,724 hits, 1,134 ribbies and 474 stolen bases. He also won a record 10 Gold Gloves at second base. Alomar is widely considered one of the best, if not the best, second baseman of his generation. And he was a key player on the World Series-winning Toronto Blue Jays in 1992-93. Alomar makes it in fairly easily, unless there is some lingering resentment about his well-publicized spitting incident, for which he has made amends, or his puzzling collapse with the Mets.

Seattle first baseman/designated hitter Edgar Martinez had a career BA of .312, hitting 309 home runs and knocking in 1,261 runs. He fell far short of the 3,000 hit threshold, ending up with 2,247 hits. He could be hurt by the fact that he was the DH in more than 1,400 of his 2,000-plus games, but he is the best DH in baseball history. Martinez was one of the most feared hitters in baseball, especially by Yankee fans. It's going to be a closer vote than Alomar, and he may even have to wait a few years, but I think Martinez makes the Hall.

Barry Larkin makes an interesting case for induction as one of the best-hitting shortstops in baseball during his generation. His career BA of .295 with 2,340 hits and 379 stolen bases is at the core of his solid resume. He also has a World Series championship (1990) and a National League Most Valuable Player award (1995) to bolster his chances. Larkin doesn't fare as well when compared with the current generation of shortstops, including Derek Jeter, who has surpassed him in most major categories. But really the comparison is Larkin's fellow shortstops and there is no question he was at the top of his class.

First baseman Fred McGriff put together a solid campaign for the Hall of Fame during his career. He hit 493 home runs, which is just shy of the 500-home run threshold that used to be considered an automatic validation of a Hall-worthy career before the shroud of steroids. He had 2,490 hits and drove in 1,550 ribbies. McGriff was also a leader on the World Series-winning 1995 Atlanta Braves squad. Yankee fans could have seen him playing in pinstripes had the team not foolishly traded him away as it was prone to do in the 1980s with young players.

Of the remaining first-time players, I think Andres Galarraga makes the best case for induction. The Big Cat was one of the strongest hitters in baseball before cancer twice interrupted his playing career. His numbers are still strong: lifetime .288 batting average, 399 home runs, 2,333 hits and 1,425 ribbies. But he's hurt by playing for Colorado for several years and the numerous injuries he experienced early in his career. His popularity in baseball will garner him some support, but not enough for the Hall of Fame.

Andre Dawson and Bert Blyleven felt several dozen votes short of induction during the last round of voting. I imagine Dawson will make it in at some point, but you have to wonder if the influx of worthy hitters hurts his chances. I think Blyleven's best chances to make it in on the writers' ballot are behind him, but he can be elected later by the Veterans Committee.
To me, the key question for induction is whether a player dominated at his position for most of his career and on that there is no question that Alomar, Martinez and Larkin should make the Hall. I would particularly like to see players like Martinez and Larkin who played with one team their entire careers make it to the Hall. Should be a crowded dais at the induction ceremony in July.

Thanks to Rdikeman via en.wikipedia for the photo.

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