By Joe Posnanski
January 05, 2010

Every December, my life turns upside down as I break down the Hall of Fame ballot point by point by point by point. I never feel entirely good after finishing my research and sending in my votes. I always feel like I may have left deserving candidates off my ballot.

But, in the end, voting for the Hall of Fame is about drawing lines. Everyone on the ballot had a good major league career, and most had excellent careers. I voted for eight players for the Hall of Fame this year, the most names I've ever checked. Here's a rundown of my views on all 26 candidates, listed alphabetically.

Verdict: Yes

Alomar inspired many emotions in his heated career -- the umpire spitting incident is one of the game's most infamous moments -- and so it might be more telling to look at his career as dispassionately as possible.

Alomar is one of 10 second basemen to steal 400 bases. He's one of six second basemen to hit 500 doubles and one of 12 second basemen to hit 200 homers. He scored 1,500 runs (one of seven), and he drove in 1,000 (one of 14). He won 10 Gold Gloves, which is more than any second baseman ever. He led the league in sacrifice hits and sacrifice flies, which seems to indicate that he would do the little things. And yet he's also one of only two second basemen in baseball history to score and drive in 120 runs in the same season (the other is Rogers Hornsby). He batted .300 nine times -- the only second baseman since World War II to do that.

Put it all together, and Alomar was one of the great combinations of power, speed, defense and baseball intelligence ever to play the game. That sounds like a slam-dunk Hall of Famer to me.

Verdict: No

His career didn't last quite long enough, but from 1990 through 1997 Appier was a great pitcher. He led the league in ERA in 1993, and he posted a 121 or better ERA+ in all eight years. Put it this way: His 140 ERA+ over those eight seasons was third among regular starters -- behind a couple of guys named Maddux and Clemens.

Verdict: No

He didn't hit quite enough to make my Hall of Fame, but his career should be honored. I think that we should start calling "Professional hitters" -- "Baines hitters." As in, "David Ortiz may no longer be the 50-home run man, but he's still a Baines hitter."

• Baines hit between .290 and .310 ten times -- more than anyone ever.

• Baines hit between 15 and 25 homers 15 times -- more than anyone ever.

• Baines hit between 20 and 30 doubles 11 times, scored between 70 and 90 runs eight times and drove in between 88 and 105 runs eight times.

I don't think he's quite a Hall of Famer, but I do think he's the most professional hitter in baseball history and it would not bother me one bit if they opened a Baines Wing at the Hall of Fame and put Chili Davis, Steve Finley, Fred McGriff, Carney Lansford and others in there.

Verdict: Yes

I have spilled way too many adjectives on Blyleven in a rather desperate effort to get people to see what seems obvious to me: Blyleven should be in the Hall of Fame. But I guess if a casual baseball fan asked me to reduce the argument down to three talking points, I would pick these three:

1. He ranks fifth all-time in strikeouts.

2. He won 287 games -- 60 of those by shutout.

3. He won more 1-0 games than any pitcher the last 80 years.

I could -- and have -- gone on and on about Blyleven, but I suppose it's all there if you want to see it. The knock on Blyleven seems to be that he did not do cosmetic things like win 20 games enough times or win 300 for his career. More to the point: The knock on Blyleven seems to be that he does not FEEL like a Hall of Famer. Longtime baseball writer Murray Chass recently found "new ammunition" to knock Blyleven's Hall of Fame case by pointing he did not pitch well for the Minnesota Twins in 1988. Of course, Blyleven was THIRTY-SEVEN years old at the time and had already thrown more than 4,250 innings. Seems pretty harsh to me. Christy Mathewson pitched lousy for the Giants when he was 34, too.

But Blyleven inspires those sorts of emotions within people on both sides of the argument. Some feel sure that he belongs. Some feel sure that he doesn't. I guess the simplest way to say it is: Every eligible pitcher with 3,000 strikeouts is in the Hall of Fame except Blyleven (he has 3,701). Every eligible pitcher with 50 or more shutouts is in the Hall of Fame except Blyleven (he has 60). Every eligible pitcher who has thrown 4,000 innings with a better-than-110 ERA+ is in the Hall of Fame (he has a 118 ERA+). Can we find reasons to keep him out? You can always find reasons. But why?

Verdict: No

Remember when 30-30 seasons were the "It" thing in baseball? It still has been done by only 31 players in baseball history. Burks pulled off an even rarer feat -- the 40-homer, 30-stolen base season. Only nine players have done that. Burks did it in 1996 in Coors Field... back when Coors Field was one of the greatest hitting parks in baseball history. How good a hitting park?

• In 1996 Burks hit .344, slugged 40 homers and stole 30 bases.

• In 1996 Andres Galarraga hit 47 homers and drove in 150 runs, and followed it up with a 41-homer 140-RBI season.

Vinny Castilla hit 40-plus homers three times.

• In 1996 Eric Young hit .412 at home, .219 on the road.

• In 1995 Dante Bichette hit .340 with 40 homers -- 31 of those at home.

• In 1997 Larry Walker hit .366 with 46 doubles, 49 homers and 143 runs scored.

• In 1999 Walker hit .379 with 37 homers and 115 RBIs.

• In 2000 Todd Helton made a serious run at .400 and hit .372 with 42 homers and 127 RBIs.

That was some hitting park. Burks was a very good player who only twice played 150 games in a season, and as such never had the great counting stats that lead to All-Star Games (he played in two) or awards (he only once got serious MVP consideration... in that historic 1996 season).

Verdict: No

Dawson has long been my least favorite decision on the ballot because I liked him very much. He was a classy player who fielded his position well (before his knees went bad), who hit with power, who stole bases, who threw with purpose, who commanded respect from teammates and opponents alike. I know that he's one of only three players to hit 400 home runs and steal 300 bases, and the other two are Barry Bonds and Willie Mays.*

*I did not know, until recently, the the only two players to hit 300 homers and steal 400 bases are... Bobby and Barry Bonds.

But I also believe that the most important thing a baseball player can do on offense is get on base. And Dawson, throughout his career, did not get on base -- not even in his prime. He only once had even a .360 on-base percentage... and that was in the 1981 strike season. He never walked 45 times in a season -- even though he often drew double-digit intentional walks. But this is not just about walks. He did not hit for high batting averages, either. Dawson's .279 career average would be tied for second-lowest among Hall of Fame outfielders. And every Hall of Fame outfielder with an average in his neighborhood -- Willie Stargell, Harry Hooper, Ricky Henderson, Ralph Kiner and Reggie Jackson -- all walked a lot more than him, and therefore had much higher on-base percentages.*

*It has been hinted that Dawson -- had he known that on-base percentage would become the statistic du jour -- would have gotten on base more. I wish I could buy that, but I can't. There was never a time in baseball history that making outs was considered good (except in sacrifice situations). A big part of the job has always been to not make outs. And Dawson made lots of outs.

A good comparison is Dwight Evans. Why? They basically played in the same time period -- they overlapped for 15 years -- and they played almost exactly the same number of games (Dawson played in 19 more). They were both considered superior fielders (they each won eight Gold Gloves). Dawson was much faster -- he stole 30-plus bases three times and Evans never even got double digits -- and Dawson also hit with a bit more power (he hit about 50 more homers in his career). They each drove in 100 runs four times. It seems like a decent edge for Dawson.

But it comes back to the same thing: Evans got on base more. A lot more. In his career he got on base 400 more times than Dawson. That's almost two seasons for Dawson. And, in the process, Evans made more than 600 fewer outs. What does this mean? The advanced stats will tell you that it means a lot. Evans created more than 100 more runs than Dawson. (Evans twice led the league in runs created; Dawson never did.) It means that Evans had more career Win Shares than Dawson (347-340). It means that Evans' OPS+ is markedly better (127-118). It means that Evans has about five more WAR (Wins Above Replacement) than Dawson.

Maybe you don't buy into these statistics. That's fine. Many people don't. Many people would say that Dawson was better than Dewey because he was just better -- you could SEE it -- and he did so many other things well that you should overlook his sub-par .323 career on-base percentage. I see that argument. Dawson was a fabulous baseball player. I would never try to argue someone into not voting for Dawson.

But in the end, to me, getting on base is the best way a player can help his team offensively. It is hugely important when judging a player's contribution to his team -- more important than anything else. I believe that Dawson will get into the Hall of Fame, and I will be happy for him when it happens. But one more time, I voted a regretful "No."

Verdict: No

Known in the early part of his career as a good defensive first baseman, known late in his career as a huge power hitter who led the league in hitting once, homers once and RBIs twice. Missed the 1999 season while undergoing chemo for lymphoma and won the Comeback Player of the Year award in 2000. A fine career.

Verdict: No

Won the Cy Young in 1996, and was quite good in 1997 and then, at 29, he dealt with injuries and was more or less finished as an effective starter. Why? Well, it's only a guess, but it could be that he threw 529 innings in those two seasons -- he's the only pitcher since the strike to throw back-to-back 260-inning seasons.

Verdict: No

He did not become a full-time closer until 1998, when he was 33 years old and he had one of the best closer years of the 1990s -- 40 saves, a 1.55 ERA and an 0.875 WHIP. He had 39 saves the next year but was not nearly as effective. And then he was injured and he had four saves the rest of his career.

Verdict: No

I wonder if there's another player in baseball history who drove in 100-plus RBIs five times and was never selected to an All-Star Game. I'll bet not. I've often written that RBIs are an overrated stat... but that doesn't change that fact Karros did drive in 100 runs more times than Cal Ripken, Andre Dawson, George Brett, Frank Howard, Willie McCovey and, yes, Mickey Mantle.

He also hit more home runs than anyone born in New Jersey (284).

Verdict: No

Lankford came up as a slappy hitter who was supposed to just find a way on base and steal bases. He ended up as a power hitter who hit 31 homers in back-to-back seasons, 1997 and 1998. He is 208th all-time in stolen bases and 219th all-time in home runs.

Verdict: Yes

One thing that often gets lost when talking about baseball is how hard it is to be good at everything that the game demands. Most teams have their best hitters at first base or in left field. Why? Because most great hitters are not athletic enough to play a premium defensive position. Most teams hit their shortstops or catchers low in the batting order. Why? Because most great defensive players are not also great hitters.

There are exceptions to the rules, though, and those players who CAN do everything well demand our awe. Barry Larkin was probably never seen as a huge star outside of Cincinnati. He had enough nagging injuries to keep him from putting up many big number seasons. He had an understated style about him that did not demand "Hey, look at me."

But Barry Larkin could do anything and everything well, He hit for average. He walked more than he struck out. He stole bases. He hit home runs. He played a great shortstop. He was one of the most complete players in baseball history -- and completeness is the toughest trick the game has to offer. Larkin could have some trouble getting into the Hall of Fame because he only played 150-plus games three times in his career. But I think he will get in eventually.

Verdict: Yes

I thought that Edgar would be a close call for me because he spent so much of his career as a designated hitter. In the end, though, it wasn't close at all. Because Martinez was SUCH a good hitter, that I simply think it trumps everything. His .418 on-base percentage is 12th all-time among players with 2,000 or more games.

I'll just give you one chart: Here is the complete list of non-Hall of Famers who played in 2,000 games and hit .310 or better and had an on-base percentage better than .400.

1. Edgar Martinez.

Yep. That's it. Every other player who did it -- Ruth, Williams, Gehrig, Hornsby, Cobb, Foxx, Musial, Speaker, Heilmann, Collins, Waner, Gehringer, Boggs -- they're all in the Hall of Fame. They're all slam dunk Hall of Famers. Martinez wasn't a good hitter, and he wasn't a great hitter. He was a legendary hitter. To me, that trumps the DH role.

Verdict: No

I gave Mattingly another look this year based on an upcoming story I am finishing on the best players in baseball since 1970. Basically, I broke down the players in five-year segments -- 1971-75, 1972-76, 1973-77 and so on -- and tried to determine (using Bill James' Win Shares) who was the best player in the game.

My feeling is that anyone who was the best player in the game for five years -- or anyone who was in the conversation for seven or eight years -- is probably a viable Hall of Famer in my book. I know others want more than just seven or eight years of greatness. But I've thought a lot about it, and to me, if you peak THAT HIGH -- even if you tail off rather quickly -- you have made a really good Hall of Fame case.

By my calculations, Mattingly was never quite the best player in baseball. I have him in the discussion twice -- from 1984-88 and from 1985-89. But both times, I think, he was noticeably behind Tim Raines and Wade Boggs. But being in the discussion makes him a viable Hall of Famer.

The trouble is: He wasn't at his peak quite long enough for me. Mattingly was really excellent for six years. And then he was pretty much finished. He's one of my favorite players -- he's just about everybody's favorite player -- but just wasn't good enough for long enough to get my vote (see Murphy, Dale).

Verdict: No

McGriff has a powerful Hall of Fame case. He hit 493 home runs. He put up a 134 OPS+, which is excellent. He hit 30-plus homers 10 times -- twice led the league -- and he drove in 100-plus runs eight times. He would not be anywhere close to the worst player in the Hall of Fame.

But McGriff's argument is sort of the opposite of Mattingly's: At no point was Fred McGriff one of the best players in baseball. He only once managed 30 Win Shares, which is sort of the MVP cutoff point, and he wasn't an especially good defensive first baseman, and he could not run and so on. To me, if you are going to get to the Hall of Fame entirely on your bat, you need to hit at a historic pace -- like Edgar Martinez or Mark McGwire did. McGriff, I think, is a notch or two below Martinez and McGwire. I think he's probably a notch below his contemporary Will Clark, who did not get much Hall of Fame consideration.

But McGriff was really good, and I expect to re-examine his case for the next few years.

Verdict: Yes

We can argue back and forth about whether McGwire -- a probable steroid user -- should get a Hall of Fame vote. People feel strongly both ways. I have felt strongly both ways. I have finally come to this: The game was different then. There was no testing, and steroid use was tolerated AND accepted AND probably encouraged. It was part of the game the way spitballs were part of the game, the way gambling was part of the game, the way segregation was part of the game, the way amphetamines were part of the game and so on and so on. Baseball is testing now, and they seem reasonably committed to eliminating performance-enhancing drugs, and that's good. I'd prefer a clean game. But it doesn't change what baseball was in the Selig Era*, and McGwire towered over that era by mashing long home runs.

*By the way, did anyone understand why commissioner Bud Selig, the Czar of the Steroid Era, was giddy with excitement when it was announced that McGwire was coming back into the game? "I have no misgivings at all," Selig said when it was announced. "Mark McGwire is a very, very fine man and the Cardinals are to be applauded."

Applauded? Look, I'm perfectly fine that McGwire is coming back to the game and I wish him the best. And I have no reason to doubt that he deserves two "verys" before "fine man." But Selig has supposedly been so angry about steroid use on his watch -- remember the awkward dance he made during the Barry Bonds home run chase -- and now he's practically doing cartwheels because Mark McGwire is back in baseball? I'm not knocking Selig or McGwire, I'm just wondering what's going on in the commissioner's mind.

One thing that does bother me is that I've heard some people say that McGwire was not a Hall of Fame player -- steroids or not. The idea is that he was a one-dimensional player. I never liked this argument much -- if someone's one dimension is that he hits a home run every 10.6 at-bats (best rate in baseball history), well, that's pretty good.

Anyway, he wasn't one-dimensional. He was at least two-dimensional -- he walked a ton and, as such, had a career .394 on-base percentage, which is better than Tony Gwynn, Rod Carew and Ichiro. He led the league in on-base percentage twice. And he probably wasn't a terrible defensive first baseman either -- I'm not sure he deserved the Gold Glove he won in 1990, but he did win it.

Verdict: No

The people who vote "No" on Jack Morris -- and I can fall into this trap myself -- will often try to make their point by unfairly besmirching his terrific career. I don't want to do that here. Morris won more than 250 games in his career. He was a workhorse pitcher, good for 240 or 250 innings every year, he had memorable big-game performances, especially his wonderful 10-inning shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

He also had a 3.90 ERA, which is higher than any pitcher in the Hall of Fame. I ran a statistic the other day... of the 26 pitchers between 1970 and 2000 who threw 3,000 innings, Morris had the highest ERA. He was remarkably durable and he kept his team in games, but he falls just short for me.

Verdict: Yes

Here is my wild-card pick -- one that most people I know disagree with. I get that. Murphy's career numbers fall short. He burned out young -- he was excellent for about eight years and not especially good on either side of those eight years.

But, as I mentioned in the Don Mattingly section, I put together a list of the best players in baseball since 1970. And from 1980 through '87 -- that's four five-year periods -- Murphy was smack in the discussion as the best player in baseball. I'm not sure he ever was quite the best -- Mike Schmidt was awfully good -- but you could make a viable argument for him. He was, in his prime, a Gold Glove center fielder who got on base, hit with power, stole bases and willingly was the face of baseball as the (only) star attraction for Ted Turner's Atlanta Braves. The Hall of Fame does ask its voters to consider a player's character... a slippery slope. But Murphy surely must get bonus points.

I will concede that Murphy is an emotional pick -- I was living in the South when Murphy towered as a larger-than-life character who signed every autograph, spoke up for every charity and played brilliant baseball every day for mostly doomed teams. But my new theory this year is that if a player is in the discussion as the best in baseball over a substantial period of time, he deserves serious consideration. Murphy gets my vote.

Verdict: No

Was Andre Dawson better than Dave Parker? It's an interesting question, since they are both on the ballot. I think Dawson probably WAS better. But look at them a little more closely.

Dawson: .279/.323/.482 119 OPS+Parker: .290/.339/.471 121 OPS+

Advantages for Dawson: He played about one more full season -- scored about 100 more runs, hit 100 more homers, knocked in 100 more runs. He played six years in center field, and he won eight Gold Gloves to Parker's three, stole twice as many bases while getting caught less, and was one of the classiest players of his era.

Advantages for Parker: Two-time batting champ, he had a better peak, got on base about as many times in a shorter career while making 500 fewer outs, was a star player on a World Series champ, and had a 147 OPS+ over his five-year peak, while Dawson only once had that high an OPS+ for a single season. Parker had three 30-plus Win Shares seasons plus a 29. Dawson never had a 30-win share season -- he peaked at 29.

Truth is that even though Parker basically threw away four or five years of his mid-career -- drugs, mid-career malaise, got out of shape, whatever -- it's still hard for Dawson to separate himself from Parker. You may think that Dawson is better -- you may even KNOW that Dawson is better -- but Bill James in the New Historical Abstract ranked Parker ahead of Dawson, and Bill studies this stuff pretty hard.

Verdict: Yes

I think Raines was the best player on this year's ballot. A couple of weeks ago I drew a few angry emails when I tried to show that, by the numbers, Raines was comparable to Roberto Clemente. This was simply outrageous to many people who saw Clemente play and remember him as one of the most complete talents in baseball history. They were not happy with the comparison -- it seemed almost sacrilegious.

Well, hey, I think Clemente WAS one of the most complete talents in baseball history. And he had a cultural effect on baseball that makes him one of the most important players, too. But my point was not to disrespect the Great Clemente but to make the simple point: Tim Raines was REALLY good.

Perhaps a comparison with Tony Gwynn would be even more apt. Here you have two corner outfielders from the same era. They played about the same number of games and got about the same number of plate appearances. Neither hit with great power -- Raines as a leadoff hitter actually hit more triples and home runs, Gwynn because of his average and doubles had a better slugging percentage.

• Gwynn hit .338 for his career and won eight batting titles. Raines hit .294 for his career and won one batting title.

• Gwynn won five Gold Gloves and played in 15 All-Star Games. Raines never won a Gold Glove and never had the reputation as a great outfielder. He played in seven All-Star Games.

So it's Gwynn all the way, right? Well, maybe not. Yes, Gwynn hit 44 points higher than Raines, but their on-base percentages are almost identical (Gwynn at .388, Raines at .385). Yes, Gwynn won all those batting titles, but Raines led the league in times on base three times, Gwynn only once. Yes, Gwynn drove in a few more runs with his sizable advantage in hits, but Raines scored almost 200 more runs in his career and scored 100 or more in six seasons (Gwynn scored 100-plus in two seasons). Yes, Gwynn had a defensive advantage, but Raines stole about 500 more bases and might be the best pure base stealer in baseball history.

Other numbers:

• They created exactly the same number of runs in their careers (1,636).

• They had about the same number of Win Shares (Gwynn had 398, Raines 390).

• By my count, Raines was the best player in baseball from 1983 through '87 and was in the discussion for best player throughout the 1980s. Gwynn was in the discussion as well, but in their primes, I think Raines was more valuable.

The point is not to diminish Gwynn -- who got about 98% of the Hall of Fame vote his year on the ballot and deserved to get 98% of the vote. The point is to get people to reconsider just how good Tim Raines really was.

Verdict: No

He led the league in starts twice and won 19 games one year. He was generally a good strikeout pitcher with outstanding control.

Verdict: No

Solid player who played almost 1,500 games and hit for average (hit .300 five times) and some power (twice slugged .500). He is the son of Diego Segui, a nice man who played in the big leagues and has -- no exaggeration -- the firmest handshake I have ever felt.

David Segui is one of the few players who has admitted to using steroids and has been fairly open in talking about it. I talked above about McGwire and I wonder if at some point, as part of his reentry into baseball, he will speak honestly about his career. Many people think he will. I'm not sure. It's a hard thing to do.

Verdict: No

It's hard to know what to do with closers. People seem reluctant to put in a remarkable hitter like Edgar Martinez because he was a DH -- well, closers are much more specialized than designated hitters. Smith led the league in saves four times and he finished with 478 saves, which was the record at his retirement. He had a fabulous career. But as a specialist, he falls just short of the line for me -- he gave up his share of base runners, had a 71-92 won-loss record and bounced around quite a lot.

Verdict: Yes

See comment on Barry Larkin. There have been so few complete players in baseball history. Trammell was a complete player.

In fact, Trammell at his best -- I'd say 1983-1988 or so -- was about as good as Cal Ripken at his best. He was not superhuman like Ripken, though, and missed a lot of games because of injuries. That hurt his numbers. I still think Trammell should have won the MVP in 1987, and I wonder if losing that MVP in some way hurt the perception some people have of him as a great player.

Verdict: No

He was a very good defensive third baseman -- six Gold Gloves -- and he hit 20-plus homers nine times. The Hall of Fame could use more third basemen. Ken Boyer and Ron Santo have great cases, Dick Allen and Graig Nettles have cases, too. Ventura is probably just a cut below those guys, but he certainly was a good and underrated player.

Verdict: No

Started out as a catcher and he actually pitched in two games -- one scoreless inning for Colorado and one disastrous five-run inning for the Mets. He was a solid player who hit double-digit home runs every year from 1993 through 2003 and who drove in between 90 and 99 runs four straight years in the late 1990s. He was also white hot in the 1996 ALCS against the Yankees -- he might have been MVP of the series if the Orioles had won.

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