Taking a look at the Hall of Fame ballot's one-and-done club

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In 2004, Dennis Martinez got 16 votes for the Hall of Fame. I'm fascinated by the players who get between 15 and 20 votes their first year -- because that indicates that:

1. They were good enough that a handful of baseball writers believe they deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.

2. They did not inspire enough votes to remain on the ballot for a second year.

It's a small group, those between 15 and 20 votes who got one shot on the ballot. Here they are:

Whitaker's No. 1 comp is Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg. Whitaker played in more games than Sandberg, and he had a better OPS+, scored and drove in more runs. This is not to say that Whitaker was as good a player as Sandberg ... I'm not making a detailed comparison here except to say that Sandberg is in the Hall of Fame. And Whitaker never even got out of the starting gates.

In this case, I HAVE done intensive study comparing Quisenberry and a Hall of Famer, Bruce Sutter. And there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Quiz was as good a pitcher as Sutter. Absolutely no question. They pitched almost exactly the same number of innings over more or less the same era, and while Sutter had more saves (the difference being when Sutter was an overpaid and mediocre closer in Atlanta), Quiz finished more games, gave up fewer runs (both earned and unearned) and, like Sutter, led the league in saves five times. Quiz finished second in the Cy Young voting twice and third twice more. I do wonder how many votes he would have received with even one Cy Young Award. Maybe he would have received exactly 18 -- I don't know.

My original thought was that these voters were just wishful thinkers -- those romantics who voted for Gooden based on his brilliant first two seasons (41-13, 2.00 ERA, 176 ERA+, 11 shutouts). But there's a little bit more here: Gooden did win 194 games and he had a 111 ERA+. He won a Cy Young and Rookie of the Year. His comps include Hall of Famer Dazzy Vance, who sort of had Gooden's career in reverse.

I think Carter might be a good example of the so-overrated-he's-underrated theory. True, he did not get on base much, which is the most important offensive skill (.306 lifetime on-base percentage). And this has made him the target of many people trying to make the point that RBIs don't paint a true picture of a player's talents. That's fine. He was probably overrated in many ways. But Carter was remarkably durable -- he played 155 or more games nine times. He did drive in 100-plus runs 10 times. And he hit one of the greatest home runs in World Series history.

This, I think, really WAS a case of romantics who remembered Fernandomania in 1981. He was remarkable that year -- or, anyway, he was in his first 10 starts of that year. He was just OK the rest of the year. And he was just OK for the rest of his career. Here's one for you: After that first year, Valenzuela had a couple more good seasons but overall he was 158-146 with a 101 ERA+.

He had more than 2,700 hits and a 124 career OPS+. Not bad. He was basically Harold Baines before Harold Baines. But unlike Baines, he played in a lousy hitting era and played in crummy hitting ballparks most of his career. That really hurt him. In 1967, playing in the Astrodome, he hit .350/.421/.502 on the road. In 1969, playing for an expansion Expos team in Jarry Park, he hit .306/.423/.572 on the road. Neutralize his numbers, and he has almost 3,000 hits.

Frank is a friend of mine, so it's hard for me to be neutral about him. Plainly, his career mirrors Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski's. They were both brilliant defensive second basemen -- eight Gold Gloves each -- and neither could get on base. Maz turned the double play better and did get on base a touch more. Frank had great range and hit with more power and stole more bases. Maz hit the big home run in the World Series. Frank, though, hit cleanup in the World Series and was the first ALCS MVP. Maz's induction was quite controversial. Frank never made a second ballot.

Bill James in the New Historical Abstract ranked Simmons the 10th best catcher of all time. He had a reputation as a lousy defensive catcher, which probably is not fair. Either way he was a very good hitter, posting a .300 batting average, a .369 on-base percentage and a 132 OPS+ from 1972-1980. Over a long career (he caught more games than Johnny Bench), he hit as well as Carlton Fisk and better than Gary Carter. But his Hall of Fame case never never took off.

The original Mad Dog -- and the nickname always fit him better than Greg Maddux anyway -- Madlock is unique, I think. Eleven players have won four or more batting titles. Ten are in the Hall of Fame -- Cobb, Gwynn, Wagner, Carew, Hornsby, Musial, Williams, Boggs, Clemente, Heilmann. One is not: Madlock. He had a career .305 batting average. Madlock was a good base runner, really wasn't too bad defensively and he hit .375 in his one World Series appearance. But he only twice played 150 or more games in a season and he was traded four times, and he was widely viewed as a pain in the neck, and he was done at 36. Bill James wrote that he could think of no player who wanted to win batting titles as much as Madlock, and he did win batting titles, and I think that pretty much sums up a distinct career.

He hit .303 for his career, cracked more than 2,700 hits, won a batting title and hit between 11 and 20 home runs every year from 1969 through 1980. Oliver hit the ball hard almost every time up, but he didn't walk and he couldn't run and he didn't offer much defensive value and he did not hit for quite enough power to make up the difference. Oliver used to say that he was every bit as good a hitter as George Brett and I suppose in the purest sense of hitting -- speaking only of his ability to hit a baseball squarely -- he was probably right. But there's more to it.*

*Oliver is one of five players in the exclusive non-Hall of Fame club with between 2,700-2,900 hits and an OPS+ around 120. Call it the Harold Baines club.

1. Harold Baines, 2,866 hits, 120 OPS+2. Rusty Staub, 2,716 hits, 124 OPS+3. Al Oliver, 2743 hits, 121 OPS+4. Dave Parker, 2,712 hits, 121 OPS+5. Andre Dawson, 2,774 hits, 119 OPS+

Of this group, Dawson is considered the best defender and he stole the most bases, and I suspect he will get elected into the Hall. Parker was probably the best player in his prime, though Dawson was close. Parker is the one who got the least out of his talents. Parker should be a Hall of Famer.

There is an argument to be made -- and there was probably an even better argument to be made in 1988 -- that Belanger was the best fielding shortstop in baseball history. There is also an argument to be made -- one I doubt many people would dispute -- that Belanger was the worst hitter to play 2,000 games in the big leagues. I suppose in many ways, they are the same argument. Only a brilliant fielding shortstop could play 2,000 games with a career 68 OPS+.

Of the 25 retired players since 1959 who played 1,000 games and had a better than .300 career batting average, Mota is one of the more stunning names on the list. He hit .304 for his career. Others you might not expect who hit better than .300 include Mike Greenwell (.303), Rusty Greer (.305) and Hal Morris (.304). Mota played 20 seasons and never once got enough plate appearances to qualify for a batting title. That's too bad, because he hit well enough: In 1966 to finish second; in 1967 to finish seventh; in 1969 to finish fifth; in 1972 to finish third. From 1977 through 1980, he got 141 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter and hit .358. Lovable player. Still -- 18 Hall of Fame votes. That seems like a lot.

A perfectly fine player who made a couple of All-Star teams and he is the only catcher since 1901 to lead a league outright in triples. Still, it seems that 16 votes is an awful lot. Writers in those days, I think, were more likely to vote for a likable player. Jim Sundberg was not quite as good a hitter as McCarver, but he had a much better defensive reputation and he got exactly one Hall of Fame vote.

And finally: Back to Dennis Martinez. He is an interesting case to me because he is the first big league player from Nicaragua, he spread out his success over a very long career and, yes, when you add it all up he has a very similar case to Jack Morris, who is gaining Hall of Fame momentum.

Morris: 254-186, 3.90 ERA, 2,478 Ks, 1,390 walks, 1.296 WHIP, 28 shutouts, 105 ERA+

Martinez: 245-193, 3.70 ERA, 2,149 Ks, 1,165 walks, 1.266 WHIP, 30 shutouts, 106 ERA+

Morris pitched one of the great World Series games ever.

Martinez is one of 16 players since 1900 to have thrown a perfect game.

Morris led the league in wins twice, complete games once.

Martinez led the league in wins once, complete games twice, innings pitched once, shutouts once and ERA once.

Morris won 20 games three times and was selected to five All-Star Games.

Martinez never won 20, but he had three good years shortened by strikes and he was selected to four All-Star Games. And from age 32 through 40, he had a 129 ERA+ -- Morris only once in his career managed a single season with an ERA+ of 129 or better.

Morris -- like Jim Rice -- is a Hall of Fame lightning rod. There are people who are ABSOLUTELY SURE he's a Hall of Famer, and there are people who are ABSOLUTELY SURE he is not. The truth is that as much as we like to compare this player to that player, that's not really how Hall of Fame voting works. People use such wildly different standards when choosing their Hall of Fame candidates, and each player triggers his own emotions. It often feels like "I like this color blue better than that color blue." One of my absolute favorite Baseball Think Factory comments of the year came from Pyrite, who was trying to decipher Keith Olbermann's Hall of Fame ballot.

Keith -- who is a smart baseball guy -- had some rather odd thoughts in his ballot. For instance, he has decided that Morris should be in the Hall of Fame, which is fine. Morris has a fine case. But Keith's reasoning confused me:

Jack Morris: Another beneficiary of a little perspective. I used to flinch at that 3.90 ERA. There seems very little doubt that Tom Glavine will go in on the first ballot at 3.54. I'm looking more at the 254 wins and the clutch performances. Aye.

Huh? I really don't understand this. Best I can tell:

1. Glavine's 3.54 ERA on its own is significantly better than Morris' 3.90 ERA. I mean, isn't this like saying: I used to flinch at Joe Carter's .259 batting average, but Cal Ripken Jr. went first ballot when he hit .276?

2. Glavine pitched in a much higher scoring environment -- which is why his ERA+ is 118 to Morris' 105.

3. Glavine won 50 more games than Morris -- I mean if you're quoting wins, then this isn't a small difference.

But my point is not to rip Keith's ballot -- quite the opposite, in fact. When it comes to Hall of Fame voting, smart people and passionate baseball fans have wildly different views about what defines greatness in baseball. The commenter Pyrite went to Sean Smith's page to find the Top 500 players in WAR -- Wins Above Replacement. And then he compared those numbers to Keith's ballot.

Rank 58: Barry Larkin, 68.8 WAR. Keith's vote: No.Rank 65: Edgar Martinez, 67.2 WAR. Keith's vote: No.Rank 67: Alan Trammell, 66.8 WAR. Keith's vote: No.Rank 79: Tim Raines, 64.9 WAR. Keith's vote: No.Rank 84: Roberto Alomar, 63.6 WAR. Keith's vote: No.Rank 87: Mark McGwire, 63.2 WAR. Keith's vote: No.Rank 128: Andre Dawson, 56.8 WAR. Keith's vote: Yes.Rank 163: Fred McGriff, 50.5 WAR. Keith's vote: Yes.Rank 225: Dale Murphy, 44.4 WAR. Keith's vote: Yes.Rank 278: Don Mattingly, 39.8 WAR. Keith's vote: No.Rank 308: Dave Parker, 37.9 WAR. Keith's vote: No.Rank 324: Harold Baines, 36.9 WAR. Keith's vote, impossibly: Yes.Rank 375: Dave Concepcion, 33.8 WAR. Keith's vote: Yes.

As you can see, Olbermann's ballot is almost in direct opposition to what WAR would tell you makes a great player. That doesn't mean WAR is right and Keith's wrong or vice versa. I obviously have my own opinion, but the point is that Hall of Fame voting sparks remarkably different points of view.

Morris sparks emotions in many different kinds of voters, while Dennis Martinez does not. Over a career, I would say that Martinez was about as good as Jack Morris. But that's not really what the Hall of Fame is about. Or, anyway, it's not what Hall of Fame VOTING is about.