The 2013 Hall of Fame ballot has been released, and it's a big one. There are 37 names this time around, ten more than last year. There are 13 players returning from last year and 24 who will be on the ballot for the first time. And some rather notorious names are among them.
The new guys, as always, divide into two groups: the ones who won't get the 5% necessary to stay on the ballot, and the ones we'll be arguing about for a while. I would assume that the One-and-Done group will consist of: Sandy Alomar, Jeff Cirillo, Royce Clayton, Jeff Conine, Steve Finley, Julio Franco, Shawn Green, Roberto Hernandez, Ryan Klesko, Kenny Lofton, Jose Mesa, Reggie Sanders, Aaron Sele, Mike Stanton, Todd Walker, Rondell White, and Woody Williams.
Most of the other new guys will take their place alongside the returning class in the three established Groups of candidates, and two of them will create their own exclusive group. Naturally, three of those four groups have something to do with PEDs:
Group One - These men were obviously Hall of Fame quality players, but some folks are just plain suspicious of them. New guy Mike Piazza joins Jeff Bagwell in this decidedly strange club.
Group Two - These men were obviously Hall of Fame quality players, but everybody believes they did something that might be sufficiently wicked to disqualify them anyway, their other accomplishments notwithstanding. This is a new group, and has but two members: Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens
Group Three - These men obviously achieved things worthy of the Hall of Fame, but they almost certainly wouldn't have achieved those things unless they had taken measures generally frowned on. The new guy is Sammy Sosa, who joins Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro.
Group Four - The guys we feel free to argue about their accomplishments on the field. It's a hell of a group, by the way. Every one of these guys is a good deal better than many, many players who are already in the Hall. Only three of the new players on the ballot crack this group: Craig Biggio, Curt Schilling, and David Wells. They join the holdovers from last year's ballot: Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Tim Raines, Lee Smith, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker, and Bernie Williams.
Jack Morris came pretty close last year, and most guys who get that close do eventually make it. However: this is Morris' 14th time on the ballot. He's got to do it this year or next. Otherwise, he's putting his fate in the hands of the veterans Committee, who have good reason to never induct anyone who's still alive. As Ron Santo would tell you. If he could.
And for Dale Murphy, it's now or never.
Random thoughts on some of the other contenders. First, some of the new guys
Biggio - He had more than 3000 hits, more than 1800 runs scored, he won four gold gloves at second base. There's simply no precedent for a player of this quality not making it. Probably this year.
Schilling - They might make him wait, and he's an irritating enough personality that I won't mind if they do. But he a) was a great, great pitcher, who b) sustained that greatness for an impressive length of time. And he's one of the greatest post-season performers in the history of the game, and that surely ought to count for something, too.
Piazza - He was easily the greatest hitting catcher in the history of the game, and you have to have a lot of faith in what Murray Chass says he saw on his back, and what that might mean, to keep him out.
And some of the holdovers...
Raines - He's kind of a sexy pick among statheads, especially now that Blyleven has gone to his reward, and I had always more or less assented. This year, I'm feeling contrary for some reason. Well, his career OPS+ is 123, which doesn't seem all that eye-popping for a left fielder. So I'm saying that once we decide whether or not Bernie Williams is a Hall of Famer - I'm not sure - then we can talk about Raines. The Rock's situation might be a little like Trammell's - while he was a truly great player for a few years, he spent about fifteen years after that being merely a good or decent player, which somehow seems to linger longer in the memory. Raines was certainly better than Kenny Lofton and Steve Finley; I don't see that he was as good as Jim Edmunds or Larry Walker.
Trammell - Trammell at his peak was quite a bit like Derek Jeter but with a good glove. There are some differences - Trammell had about six of those seasons, and Jeter's had about fifteen of them. I actually think Lou Whitaker, who tumbled off the ballot immediately, was a better player than Trammell...
McGriff - One of my favourites but I don't like his chances. His timing was just terrible. He was an elite player, one of the very best hitters in the game for about seven years - but this was just before the offensive explosion of the late 1990s made McGriff's numbers look positively ordinary. If he'd come along 15 years earlier or 15 years later, he'd be an almost automatic selection.
Martinez - Edgar was one of the greatest hitters in the game for more than a decade. His career got started very late because the Mariners were run by idiots. He was only able to play a position for three years because he kept hurting himself. These things hurt his candidacy, quite a bit. And although he played until he was 41, he only played 2055 games. That's a rather low total for someone who wasn't playing a key defensive position. Even Jim Rice, who retired young, played more games than that.
Mattingly and Murphy - Both had about a four year as an utterly awesome player; unfortunately neither hung around long enough to do anything impressive with their counting numbers. Jim Rice - similar type of career - eventually made it, but Mattingly and Murphy are almost out of chances.