By Cliff Corcoran
The National Baseball Hall of Fame announced the 10 candidates on this year's Eras Committee ballot (formerly the Veterans Committee) on Monday. This year's era is "Modern Baseball," focusing on candidates who had their greatest impact from 1970-87, with the ballot consisting of nine players, seven of whom have appeared on the Baseball Writers' Association of American ballot in the past ten years, along with former executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association Marvin Miller.
Miller, one of the most important and transformative figures in Major League history, has been passed over by Veterans and Eras Committees four times before, and his Hall omission is something I hope the Committee will correct this year.
As for the players, eight of the nine spent a full 15 years on the BBWAA ballot, but five of them never received even a third of the writers' vote. Those five, with their peak percentages, are Tommy John (31.7), Luis Tiant (30.9), Don Mattingly (28.2), Dave Parker (24.5) and Dale Murphy (23.2). Three others each exceeded 40 percent of the writers' vote: Alan Trammell (40.9), Steve Garvey (42.6), and Jack Morris (67.7). The last player on the ballot, catcher Ted Simmons, received just 3.7 percent of the vote and fell off the BBWAA ballot in his first year of eligibility, but also appeared on the Expansion Era Committee ballots in both 2011 and 2014.
Simmons, John, Tiant, Garvey, and Parker have all appeared on previous Veterans/Era Committee ballots without success. Of that quintet, I'm sympathetic to arguments in favor of all but Parker. Simmons is close enough to the JAWS standard at his position to get the sabermetric stamp of approval. John and Tiant come close. Garvey and Parker fall far shy of the standard by the numbers, but Garvey was unquestionably one of the signature players of the era as a 10-time All-Star and former National League MVP who played on five pennant winners.
I don't see much reason for Murphy, Morris, and Mattingly to receive reconsideration so soon after falling off the writer's ballot in 2013, 2014 and 2015, respectively. Of the three, I'm partial to Murphy, the two-time NL MVP who had a Hall of Fame peak but was finished as a great player by the age of 32. I grew up rooting for Mattingly, but his back problems left his career short of Hall-worthy, and his managerial career has yet to make up the difference and seems unlikely to do so in the future. As for Morris, I'm not sure more words need to be spilled on his candidacy. Per his BBWAA support, he's the man most likely to be elected by this Committee, but, per his playing record, I don't believe he should make it.
That leaves the one player of the nine that I think is not only the best of this group, but is clearly deserving of induction: Trammell. To their credit, the writers appeared to be on their way to correcting their mistake before Trammell's eligibility ran out. After receiving vote percentages in the teens in his first nine years on the ballot, with no clear forward momentum, Trammell surged from 17.4 percent to 36.8 percent from 2009 to 2012. At that point, he was hurt by the crowded ballots of recent years, but still received a big spike to 40.9 percent in his final year of eligibility. I suspect that if he had begun his time on the writers' ballot in 2010 or later, he would have gotten in by that method even with the smaller 10-year eligibility window. Instead, it falls to the Modern Baseball Committee to right the wrong. Here's why they should do so.
Trammell is a clear-cut case by the numbers. Jay Jaffe's JAWS places him well above the Hall's standard for shortstops by both peak and career measurements. Of the 16 men above that standard, only three aren't in the Hall: Derek Jeter, who will go in on the first ballot once eligible, turn-of-the-century fielding wiz Bill Dahlen, who has largely been lost to history and may never get in, and Trammell. Even more striking is Trammell's JAWS position relative to Jeter's: He's one spot above the Yankees captain.
I'm not going to argue that Trammell is a more deserving Hall of Famer than Jeter, but I'd like to discuss just how good he was. Trammell's skill in the field is greatly underappreciated. That's likely due in part to the fact that he was an exact contemporary of the greatest fielding shortstop of all time, Ozzie Smith, and may also be due to the fact he wasn't a particularly showy fielder. However, Trammell did win four Gold Gloves early in his career, and likely deserved several more.
Jeter isn't the most illustrative comparison for Trammell, however. Far better are two middle infielders the writers inducted during the Detroit Tigers star's time on the BBWAA ballot: fellow shortstop Barry Larkin and second baseman Roberto Alomar. The primary arguments against Trammell are that he didn't sustain his peak long enough and missed too much time due to injury. Comparing him to Larkin and Alomar, both of whom got in on their second year on the ballot, exposes both arguments as insubstantial. Trammell played in more games than Larkin (2,293 to 2,180), collected more hits than Larkin (2,365 to 2,340), had 12 seasons with 500 or more plate appearances to Larkin's 10 and Alomar's 14, and had more seasons with a 120 OPS+ or better over 500 or more plate appearances than either (six for Trammell to five each for Alomar and Larkin).
If a visual aid would help, here's a graph of each of those three players' best seasons, from best to worst, per FanGraphs' WAR:
Like Alomar and Larkin, Trammell was a five-tool middle infielder who could run (averaging 21 steals a year from the age of 24 to 29), field, throw, hit (.285 career hitter with seven seasons at or above .300 including a high of .343 in 1987), and hit for power (185 career home runs with double-digit totals in eight seasons, and a high of 28 in '87). He was also arguably the best player on one of the best teams of the decade. By that I don't mean just the 104-win 1984 Tigers, for whom he hit .419/.500/.806 in the postseason, earning World Series MVP honors, but the 1978-1988 Tigers, who had a winning record in each of Trammell's first 11 full seasons and, not coincidentally, made their two postseason appearances over that stretch in Trammell's two best seasons, 1984 and 1987.
I say Trammell was arguably the best player on those Tigers not because of Morris, who joined the Tigers' rotation full-time in 1979, but because of one of the more frustrating omissions from this ballot, Trammell's longtime double-play partner Lou Whitaker. Whitaker hit for lower averages and was slightly less valuable defensively than Trammell, but he hit for more power and was more consistent, and consistently healthy. Despite that, Whitaker fell off the BBWAA ballot after receiving just 2.9 percent of the vote in his first year of eligibility, one of the writers' biggest Hall blunders.
Still, this committee is all about correcting oversights, and it's clear to me that at least Trammell deserves to get in. It would be a step in the right direction.
Cliff Corcoran is a Sports on Earth contributor and a regular guest analyst on MLB Network. An editor or contributor to 13 books about baseball, including seven Baseball Prospectus annuals, he spent the last 10 seasons covering baseball for SI.com and has also written for USA Today and SB Nation, among others.