Matthew Pouliot

Breaking down the “Eras” Hall of Fame ballot

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Monday’s reveal of the “Eras Committee” ballot brought us 10 candidates for the Hall of Fame. Five are players and five are not, which means the committee voters actually have to weigh the merits of Harold Baines versus George Steinbrenner as they make up to four selections.

How silly is that?

Two more managers (Davey Johnson and Lou Piniella) are being considered, three years after three (Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre) were selected. I think managers are pretty well represented at the moment. Heck, if Johnson were elected, that’d make Hall of Famers of one-third of the managers who were active in 1984 (right now, it’s eight of 26). That’s a tad excessive. Those voting on the Hall of Fame should be at least as selective with managers as it is with players, and it keeps getting pickier when it comes to players (of course, those are different electorates, with the BBWAA selecting most of the players).

The other non-players are Steinbrenner, longtime Royals and Braves GM John Schuerholz and former commissioner Bud Selig. Selig is a shoo-in.

I’m more interested in the players. It’s not a bad group, with one exception:

Harold Baines: The exception. Baseball’s Hall of Fame loves longevity. If it’s quantity versus quality, quantity usually wins out. Baines’ staying power was remarkable, and from age 22 to age 40, he never had a truly off season. His worst OPS+ in a 19-year span was 108, which is pretty incredible. Baines, though, was also never especially valuable. He wasn’t a very good outfielder the first part of his career, and 60 percent of his starts came at DH. He finished in the top 10 in his league in OBP and slugging once apiece. He finished in the top 10 in homers once (ninth in 1984). He finished in the top 10 in doubles once (sixth in 1988). He was a good, solid player for a very long time, but his spot on the ballot should have gone to someone who achieved greatness.

Albert Belle: This is more like it; Belle’s is a case that deserves to be revisited. In his 10 full seasons, he averaged 37 homers and 120 RBI to go along with a .298/.374/.571 line. His career OPS+ of 144 puts him in the same range of Jim Thome, Edgar Martinez, Lance Berkman, Mike Piazza, Chipper Jones, Larry Walker and Vladimir Guerrero. Belle, though, had fewer at-bats than all of those guys because of a degenerative hip condition that ended his career at age 33. He also had a bad reputation on and off the field. Still, he had a three-season run as the AL’s scariest hitter and some fine years beyond that. Belle wouldn’t get my vote, particularly since guys I consider superior candidates like Martinez, Walker and Tim Raines aren’t in yet. Still, he’s worthy of thought.

Will Clark: Clark had the look of a Hall of Famer early in his career. By the time he was 25, he already had three top-five finishes in the NL MVP balloting. The power, though, vanished early. He hit 35 homers at age 23 and 29 at ages 24 and 27, but he never topped 16 homers from ages 28-33. He spent those years largely viewed as a disappointment, rather than as a guy who was still a fine regular with his excellent OBPs and quality defense at first base. At age 36, he had his best offensive season in 11 years, hitting .319/.418/.546 in 507 at-bats, only to retire immediately afterwards. When he came eligible for the Hall of Fame, no one gave him a second look. However, the analytics movement shed some new light on his career. I still don’t think he’s over the cut line (I’m more interested in seeing Keith Hernandez in), but he’s not all that far off.

Orel Hershiser: Hershiser debuted on the HOF ballot in 2006 with 11.2% of the vote, a number that suggested he’d stick around for a while. However, when Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn became eligible the next year, Hershiser fell under 5 percent and was removed from the ballot. Hershiser had some greatness, bookending his 1988 NL Cy Young Award with fourth-place finishes in 1987 and 1989. He finished 2nd or 3rd in the NL in ERA every years from 1985-89. However, after suffering a torn labrum in 1990, he was an average starter for the duration of his career, going 105-85 with a 4.17 ERA and a 100 ERA+. I think Hershiser’s case is worth the revisit, but I prefer David Cone, Kevin Brown and Dave Stieb as Hall of Fame candidates. They had greatness, too, and Cone and Brown had it for more than five years.

Mark McGwire: McGwire would still be on the BBWAA ballot if not for the rule change dropping eligibility from 15 to 10 years. I think he belongs in the Hall of Fame… the numbers are there, and I’m not sure how you tell the tale of 1990s baseball without him. 15 years after his retirement, McGwire ranks 11th all-time in homers and ninth in OPS. He cheated, but he was far from the only one.

My guess is that the new committee makes it four in a row in failing to elect a player. Not that it’s necessarily such a bad thing, since I have no faith in the ability of this committee to elect the most deserving players. Selig will get in, probably unanimously. I think Schuerholz has the best shot of the other options.