Enshrinement in Cooperstown shouldn't be about numbers. If anyone thinks so, let's trash tradition and have a computer select the honorees.
The Hall of Fame should be about who starred and who dominated. And about who made an impact.
It should be about greatness.
I know my annual ballot would be rejected by stat aficionados, number crunchers and many Moneyball disciples. I have one player with a .323 on-base percentage on my ballot, and another even lower, at .322. But numbers don't tell everyone's story.
Nobody's ballot is perfect. Like Roger Clemens' overzealous lawyer, I am conducting my own investigation; I need to find the eight dopes out of 545 who didn't vote for Cal Ripken Jr. last year, not to mention the two ultra-morons who DID vote for Bobby Bonilla.
It's an inexact science, to be sure, and part of the imprecision involves the few idiots who get to vote. Dante Bichette, by the way, got three votes last year.
Some may call me an idiot, as well. But one thing I have going for me is that I am old enough to have seen and followed the entire careers of 24 of 25 players on this year's ballot (I was two when Tommy John broke in so I missed some of the pre-surgery John).
That in mind, I don't feel the need to study the stat sheets too hard. I look, but I don't obsess.
I think I know who was great, who was close to great and who doesn't even belong on the ballot. Travis Fryman, anyone?
Bert Blyleven is one Cooperstown candidate who stirs a lot of emotion, sometimes from folks who barely saw him pitch and instead spent the past 10 years with their heads buried in a stat book. And there's no question he and several others on this year's ballot are very close to deserving.
On his own Web site, Blyleven suggests you look at where he ranks on all-time lists to see whether he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. And if you go only by who amassed numbers, he probably does deserve it.
I still am unconvinced that he deserves enshrinement. But I do think he deserves an explanation.
Blyleven did some great things in his career, and he pitched a lot of dominating games. Yet he never had a truly dominating season. He threw 60 shutouts -- but won 20 games only once in an era when 20-game winners weren't nearly so rare as they are today.
Blyleven lasted a long time, long enough to have been the youngest player in the majors when he broke in as a Twin and the oldest when he bowed out as an Angel. As an Angels beat reporter in the late '80s, I was a traveling writer who covered Blyleven's last great year, when I recall him as the cutup of a surprising 1989 California Angels team. He also managed to go 17-5.
I do admire Blyleven's talent, and his longevity as well. But I still think Blyleven falls into that group of great compilers who weren't quite great enough players to make Cooperstown. Lee Smith, Harold Baines and John also fit that category -- though Blyleven's the closest of that group to making my ballot.
Beyond Blyleven, there are the Cooperstown candidates who were great for a short period of time but perhaps not for quite long enough to make the Hall of Fame, players such as Don Mattingly and Dale Murphy.
And then there's one player who fits his own special category. That's Tim Raines, who was great for the first third of his career, then hung around for 15 more years and compiled some pretty good numbers as well. I didn't vote for him his first year on the ballot. But he's one of a few cases where I reserve the right to change my mind.
And unlike Bonilla and Bichette, if Raines doesn't make it this time I am sure he will garner more than enough support to be on the ballot again next year.
I have broken the candidates on my ballot into six categories: "The Chosen'' (the six I actually did pick), "Close, but not quite Cooperstown'' (the near misses), "Close to Close'' (excellent careers but not Hall of Famers), "Nice Careers, not a Chance'' (self explanatory), "How'd they make the ballot?'' (more a question for the vetting committee) and "If not for one bad day in Washington'' (you know who).
Here's my ballot, along with my logic...
1. Rich Gossage. Goose has waited long enough, and if he doesn't make it this time, it's the voters who have laid an egg. One of the best relief pitchers ever, he was absolutely dominant for two Yankees championship teams. Never a doubt, at least not on my ballot.
2. Jack Morris. The ace of three World Series teams, it's an abomination he may never get in. Morris made 14 Opening Day starts, tied with Steve Carlton, Randy Johnson, Walter Johnson and Cy Young, behind only Tom Seaver's 16 (the others already are or will be in Cooperstown). Also pitched the greatest game of the past 25 years, winning Game 7 of the 1991 World Series 1-0 in 10 innings against a young John Smoltz. The only two reasons I can think of for him not making it are: 1) he got hit hard his final couple years and finished with a 3.90 ERA, and 2) he was no charmer. Neither is a good enough reason to omit him. His impact was great.
3. Andre Dawson. On ravaged knees, he made eight All-Star teams, hit 438 home runs, drove home 1,591 runs, won eight Gold Gloves and finished in the top two in MVP voting three times, winning for the last-place Cubs in 1987.
4. Rice. An absolutely dominant hitter for a decade in Boston. Like Morris, I think, Rice loses points on personality. And that's not right.
5. Dave Concepcion. This is his 15th and last year on the ballot, and he's probably going to get his usual 10 percent of the vote again. The reason I am in that 10 percent is that I think he was perhaps the best all-around shortstop of his generation and an underrated piece of the Big Red Machine. Great defender (five Gold Gloves) and superb stealer (321 stolen bases), his career looks a lot like Hall-of-Famer Phil Rizzuto's to me -- without the announcing, of course.
6. Dave Parker. He was an MVP, an All-Star Game MVP, a two-time batting champion, a seven-time All-Star and a three-time Gold Glove winner. I always figured he was a better player than Jim Rice, with more speed and a better arm, and Rice is going to get in eventually -- at least I think he will.
7. Mattingly. Every year, I am more and more tempted to vote for him. But this makes it eight years I've resisted so far. One of the game's best players from 1984-89, a back injury sapped his strength and greatness. Won an MVP, a batting title, nine Gold Gloves and the hearts of New Yorkers. His career isn't all that different from Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett's (without the two World Series titles). I am still not there, but maybe next year.
8. Raines. He made the All-Star team his first seven seasons, then didn't make it the next 16. Certainly appeared to be on his way to Cooperstown early, and he lasted long enough to compile some impressive numbers, including 2,605 hits and 808 stolen bases. But for two-thirds of his career, he was merely a very good player, not an All-Star player. Good enough for review in future years, though.
9. Murphy. Double-MVP winner made seven All-Star teams, hit 398 home runs and was a credit to his profession. Flamed out just a little too quickly. Very close, but not quite.
10. Blyleven. Stat gurus love this guy, and it's understandable. One of the great compilers of his generation, he's fifth all-time in strikeouts, ninth in shutouts and 25th in wins. There's no doubt he was a superb talent who played a long time. But he was rarely among the ultra-elite in his 22-year career.
11. John. Frank Jobe gets the credit for the surgery. But this guy had a tremendous career, pitching for an entire generation (26 years, a record), winning 288 games and posting a lifetime 3.34 ERA. Very good in the postseason, as well. While he didn't have the strikeouts and shutouts of Blyleven, he did finish second in Cy Young voting twice. Right there with Blyleven.
12. Alan Trammell. The argument that the Tigers never would have traded Trammell straight-up for Ozzie Smith isn't completely unpersuasive. He played 20 seasons for Tigers and hit .300 in seven of them. Not far off.
13. Baines. A superb and consistent professional hitter who amassed some very nice stats in a pleasant career, including 2,866 hits and 1,628 RBIs, but never rose to the level of great. Never finished higher than ninth in MVP voting.
14. Lee Smith. Another of the great compilers. Was the career saves leader until Trevor Hoffman eclipsed him recently. Extremely good for a long, long time. But not a Hall of Famer.
15. Robb Nen. Saved 314 games in only 10 seasons. Not a thought, though.
16. Chuck Finley. Disregarding that his recent years were known more for his tumultuous marriage to B-move star Tawny Kitaen, this guy won 200 games and finished in the top 10 in ERA five times. Better than you think, but clearly not a Hall of Famer.
17. David Justice. That lifetime .500 slugging percentage is only two points below Rice's lifetime mark. Had some huge homers, including the game-winner in the 1995 World Series Game 6 clincher, but didn't impress me as Cooperstown worthy (or anyone else, I assume).
18. Jose Rijo. Lost his chance when he missed five years due to injury. He made a comeback after a five-year absence, which eclipsed his 1990 World Series performance as his most impressive achievement. But overall, his career total of 116 victories isn't Cooperstown material.
19. Rod Beck. He didn't have to wait the prerequisite five years since he died this summer, sadly and suddenly at 38. Very good closer and a three-time All-Star. But not the dominator or even compiler that would make me look twice.
20. Chuck Knoblauch. Like Justice, he was a 1991 Rookie of the Year. And like Justice, he was cited as a Kirk Radomski customer by the Mitchell Report. Despite his world-class case of the yips, which may have been the only natural thing about him in those Yankees years, he was a productive leadoff hitter even in New York. Eventually though, his hard-partying ways and all-around bad attitude killed what looked like a potential Hall-of-Fame career.
21. Shawon Dunston. Great guy who seemed to enjoyed everything and everyone, even his time with Barry Bonds. A No. 1 overall pick who stayed 18 seasons but never really became a star despite "8'' speed and an "8'' arm on a scout's 2-8 scale.
22. Travis Fryman. Nice player who made the All-Star team five times (remember, every team needs a rep, and the Tigers were often dreadful), yet did nothing else especially memorable. Truth be told, I needed the cheat sheet to recall the All-Star appearances, as well.
23. Brady Anderson. Mysteriously hit 50 home runs out of nowhere in 1996 and also stole a bunch of bases throughout his tenure in Baltimore. Not that I needed to study his accomplishments too closely, but I was surprised to learn that he hit only .256 for his career. If he gets a vote, I may demand a recount.
24. Todd Stottlemyre. Not a bad career. Not sure why I had to go through the exercise of reading his stats, however.
25. Mark McGwire. A clear Hall of Famer on his accomplishments. If anyone says otherwise, it's a complete copout. However, without the condo-like body (and the steroids), I seriously doubt he would have hit 70 home runs in a season.
Some will claim that he hasn't been proven to have taken performance enhancers, but almost three years later I can think of no other reason why he stonewalled Congress and refused to answer questions under oath about "the past'' after previously claiming he didn't partake in the hard stuff. It's true he helped save the game, but I suspect he did it for himself, not the game.