2009 MLB Hall of Fame: Rickey Gets In, Does Rice??

On Monday, January 12, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America will announce this year’s induction class into the Baseball Hall of Fame. This year’s ballot showed only 23 candidates, the fewest number of eligible candidates in MLB history. Of those 23, 10 are on the ballot for the first time. Out of that group, only Rickey “I am the GREATEST” Henderson will actually get in this year.

The 10-time All-Star and 1990 AL MPV played an amazing 25 years for 10 different ballclubs. During that time, he became the all-time leader in both stolen bases (1406) and runs (2295). He is also ranked 2nd on the all-time career leaders in walks (2190) behind only Barry Bonds (2558). If you take away the intentional walks (Bonds – 688, Henderson – 61) then Henderson would be the all-time leader in that category as well.

Henderson is a lock for the Hall of Fame this year. Other first-timers that will have to wait a little while longer include:

Batter   Pos BA H HR R RBI
Jay Bell SS 0.265 1963 195 1123 860
Ron Gant LF 0.256 1651 321 1080 1008
Mark Grace 1B 0.303 2445 173 1179 1146
Greg Vaughn LF 0.242 1475 355 1017 1072
Mo Vaughn 1B 0.293 1620 328 861 1064
Matt Williams 3B 0.268 1878 378 997 1218

Of the above listed, only Mark Grace and Matt Williams have any real shot of getting in, although neither will get in on their first ballot. Not reaching 200 HR will really hurt Grace, and Williams’ .268 BA will be a motivator for a lot of voters to keep him off, despite the fact that he hit over 375 HR. The rest of the bunch will be lucky to get the 5% needed to stay on the ballot for next year.

The group of first-time pitchers include the following:

David Cone 194 126 56 22 1 3.46 2668 1137
Jesse Orosco 87 80 0 0 144 3.16 1179 581
Dan Plesac 65 71 0 0 158 3.64 1041 402

Of this group, only David Cone has a chance of getting in, eventually. But, not reaching 200 wins will really hurt his chances, perfect game on his resume or not. Orosco and Plesac better frame this year’s ballot because they may not see another one.

Out of the remaining 13 candidates, only Jim Rice (15th and final ballot) has a legitimate shot of getting in this year.

Although he continues to receive more votes every year, Rice continues to get snubbed by the voters. He came very close to getting in last year, receiving 72.2 of the 75 percent needed for enshrinement. If he doesn’t reach the required 75% this time, he will have to rely on the Veteran’s Committee to put him in.

But, looking at his numbers from 1976-1985, it seems almost ludicrous that he’s not a Hall of Fame member already. According to MLB.com, during this time period, Rice led the AL in games, at-bats, runs, hits, homers, RBIs, slugging percentage, total bases, extra-base hits, go-ahead RBIs, and multi-hit games. There simply was no better hitter in that time span.

The eight-time All-Star earned the AL MVP award in 1978, and came in the top 5 five other times. He led the league in HR 3 times and in RBI twice. He finished in the top 5 in BA 5 times. If not for his decline his last 3 seasons, he’d have well over a .300 average.

In past ballots, his .298 batting average has hurt him, as well as just coming shy of 400 HR (382) and 1500 RBI (1451). Hopefully this year, the voters will look beyond those antiquated wickets and give the man his due for all that he accomplished in his career.

The other candidates (Batters) are as follows:

Batter   Pos BA H HR R RBI
Harold Baines DH 0.289 2866 384 1299 1628
Andre Dawson CF 0.279 2774 438 1373 1591
Don Mattingly 1B 0.307 2153 222 1007 1099
Mark McGwire 1B 0.263 1626 583 1167 1414
Dale Murphy CF 0.265 2111 398 1197 1266
Dave Parker RF 0.29 2712 339 1272 1493
Tim Raines LF 0.294 2605 170 1571 980
Alan Trammell SS 0.285 2365 185 1231 1003

Andre Dawson, who is in 8th year of eligibility, has a good shot of getting enough votes, but not this year. Last year he received 65.9%, a nice jump from the year before (56.7%), but he won’t get a big enough bump to put him in now. While his run production (438 HR, 1591 RBI, 1373 R) is quite impressive, his batting average (.279) will continue to haunt him.

Don Mattingly has the opposite problem. While he has a very good lifetime batting average (.303), his HR total is a little low for a first baseman (222). But it should not be overlooked that he finished in the top 5 in batting average 5 times, winning the batting title in 1984 (.343). He came in 2nd the next season with a .356 average.

The 6-time All-Star also earned the 1985 AL MVP award. But strangely, it was the next season that he led the league in hits (238), slugging (.573), OPS (.967), doubles (53), and RBI (145). That season he came in 2nd in MVP voting to Roger Clemens (Rice came in 3rd that season).

One other point worth mentioning: Mattingly earned 9 Golden Glove Awards from 1985 to 1994. The only season he missed earning one in that time frame was in 1990.

Sadly, his shortened career (14 years) due to chronic back problems, will hurt his Hall of Fame chances just as much, if not more, than his low HR total.

The remaining candidates (Pitchers) are as follows:

Bert Blyleven 287 250 242 60 0 3.31 3701 1322
Tommy John 288 231 162 46 4 3.34 2245 1259
Jack Morris 254 186 175 28 0 3.9 2478 1390
Lee Smith 71 92 0 0 478 3.03 1251 486

Blyleven and John are very close in most of their stats and might get in one day, except for the minor fact that this is John’s last season of eligibility. I think he’s going to have to wait on the kindness of the Veteran’s Committee. What has hurt them both is that neither of them reached the 300-win plateau and their winning percentages are not that great (Blyleven – .534, John – .555). Other current Hall of Fame pitchers who have similar stats include:

Fergie Jenkins 1965 1983 284 226 0.557
Red Ruffing 1924 1947 273 225 0.548
Red Faber 1914 1933 254 213 0.544
Robin Roberts 1948 1966 286 245 0.539
Ted Lyons 1923 1946 260 230 0.531
Eppa Rixey 1912 1933 266 251 0.515

Of the above named pitchers, Robin Roberts comes closest to both Blyleven and John in winning percentage, and number of wins and losses. He also had 305 CG, 45 SHO, and a 3.41 lifetime ERA.

One knock on Bert Blyleven is that he only had one 20-win season (1973) to his credit, and never came in first in any major category in any season, nor has he won any major awards. Although he did come in the top five in Cy Young Award 3 times.

Tommy John, by comparison, had three 20-win seasons, (’77, ’79, ’80), but also has no major awards (also finished in the the top five in Cy Young Award 3 times), and has also never finished first in any major category in any season.

Roberts, on the other hand, has six 20-win seasons and finished first in Wins 4 times (’52-‘55). He also finished in the top five in ERA 7 times and led the league in fewest walks per 9 innings four times.

This is Blyleven’s 9th ballot, so he still has more time.

Both he and Andre Dawson may have a pretty good shot next season. The only probable new players on the ballot will be Fred McGriff, Andres Galarraga, Edgar Martinez, Roberto Alomar, and Barry Larkin.

Alomar has a slight shot, but not likely in his first ballot. Voters will remember that he spit on an umpire a few years ago and will probably hold it against him, at least for a while. Martinez may have a shot, once the voters get over their DH bias.