On our first pass through this year's Hall of Fame ballot, after removing the candidates who either clearly didn't qualify on merit or whom were lost causes at this point in their time on the ballot, we were left with the following 19 names:
Today, we're going to eliminate a couple more by examining the larger-than-usual number of first time players who at least have an argument for a further look, before being set aside for more worthy candidates.
We'll start with Moises Alou, the man who was never quite able to escape "son of Felipe Alou" from following his name around everywhere he went. That's not a bad thing, of course; Felipe Alou was one of the better outfielders of his generation and his son would outdo him during his own playing days, playing the same 17 years in the league as his father while hitting a bit better -- Moises had a career 128 OPS+ compared to his father's 113. But Moises Alou was a left fielder in an age when left field was first owned by Ricky Henderson and then by Barry Bonds, and he was always one of the excellent but never as elite guys who came after them in the rankings. His case might be helped some if he hadn't missed the entire 1991 and 1999 seasons due to injury, but probably not that much; the problem with Moises Alou's candidacy is less what he did and more what everyone else was doing at the same time.
Alou had some fantastic single seasons in his own right, many of which came in the shadow of what other hitters in the National League were doing at the same time -- his 2000, for instance, when he hit .355/.416/.623 in 517 PA, was only good for 20th in MVP voting that year. That was a year where every hitter who received MVP consideration had an OPS over 1.000 save Jim Edmonds and Andruw Jones, a pair of elite defensive center fielders who still OPS'd in the .900 range. That's the problem with Moises Alou's candidacy in a nutshell; he's not even the best of the good-not-great leftfielders that are going to be eliminated from our ballot this round.
Which is not to say he won't get support; Alou figures get at least some votes from the steroid-pushback segment of the writers. Many will pin that on his family history, or his "old-school toughness" in never wearing batting gloves, but the writers have proven time and again that the most reliable metric for telling whether or not they'll champion a guy or buy into PED whisper campaigns about him is how big his arms were, and Alou's arms were muscular but lean and wiry. That's just how these things work.
Ray Durham only survived my ballot-narrowing this long because of his relative quality to his peers and because it's his first year on the ballot. He'll go no further. Durham was a rock-solid second baseman for the Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants over the course of his career. He hit well for his position, as even the great offensive explosion of the late nineties and early aughts wasn't enough to bring the sort of offensive revolution to second base as the shortstop position had been experiencing with Ripken, Yount, Larkin, Trammell and then Rodriguez, Jeter, Garciaparra and, at the very tail end, Tejada. The best offensive second baseman of Durham's era, Roberto Alomar, is one of the very few guys the writers have seen fit to add to the Hall in recent years; the best all-around second baseman, Craig Biggio, is likely going in this year; and we'll get to the guy behind those two in just a little bit. Durham was fourth in line, roughly, and while he was a clear head above guys like Bret Boone and Delino Deshields as an offensive player, his defense at second base was lacking, though in fairness to him there were very few wizards at the position who were able to deliver like he could with his bat.
As much as we want to give new players every possible chance to stay on the ballot --considering how cramped the current field is, it's far more desirable to let a guy who has had time to endear himself to voters and hasn't, like McGriff or Mattingly, fall off in favor of someone who won't get the attention he deserves because the newcomers are headlined by Maddux, Glavine and Thomas -- there's just no room in the Hall for guy with a league average bat for his career and no outstanding defensive contribution.
Luis Gonzalez is arguably the second best leftfielder of his time -- a far, far distant second, with Albert Belle and the aforementioned Alou coming in behind him. Gonzalez's season to remember came in Arizona Diamondbacks' magical 2001. He hit .325/.429/.688 with 57 home runs, and would have taken home the National League MVP award that year if not for those 57 home runs being good for only third in the league -- he lived in Barry Bonds's shadow as much as anyone else. His 2001 is most memorable not for his homeruns, however, but for a single: a walkoff single off of New York Yankees super-closer Mariano Rivera that gave the Diamondbacks their first and to date only World Series championship, and gave him the one thing Barry Bonds never got -- a ring. But rings don't count for as much in the baseball Hall of Fame as they do in its cousin over in football (a defense mechanism to save us from the horrors of about a hundred more Yankee inductees than are currently immortalized in its halls), and Gonzalez had only one other season in his career where he hit more than 30 homeruns. His power primarily came from doubles.
With offensive stats that lag behind a number of the bats currently fighting to get into the Hall, no special credits for defense, and the same sort of steroid rumors following him around as are following many of the sluggers of his era, Gonzalez follows Alou off the ballot.
Jeff Kent's case is basically Ray Durham's, but better in every way. He played longer than Durham did, won an MVP award, has a far better five-year peak from 1998-2002 and would generally hold court as the best second baseman in the game until Chase Utley arrived on the scene in 2004-5. Kent's MVP in 2000 is a piece of hardware no other pivot man of his era can lay claim to -- neither Biggio nor Alomar have one -- and while his ability to play his position defensively degraded significantly over the course of his career, his bat did not. Kent remained effective at the plate up until his retirement, also unlike Biggio and Alomar; there have been noises made by voters about Biggio's case in particular having been hurt by him sticking around longer than he should have chasing milestones. In almost any other year, Kent is a very compelling mid-to-back of the ballot case. In the class of 2014, he's the guy who comes in eleventh place when picking a top ten. If he's able to hang around long enough on the ballot for things to calm down, maybe he'll get another look later on. But suffice it to say, no one will be tossing Kent any career accomplishment votes because he was such a nice guy.
Which brings us to a discussion of cases like Kent's, and to a lesser extent Schilling's and even that of your good friend and mine, Jack Morris: Cases where sometimes you're tempted to make the criteria harder for a borderline because he comes off as any number of bad things when he opens his mouth in front of a reporter or a television camera. Personally, I have a very hands-off interpretation of the character clause. So long as a guy doesn't kill or sexually assault anyone, he can act like Eeyore on PCP to the assembled baseball media and I'll still say he should be in the Hall if his numbers are there. The fact that Schilling seems to have essentially bilked the government of Rhode Island out of millions of dollars to fund his vanity video game studio doesn't change anything about how well he pitched over his career -- just like how he pitched in his career won't change the particularly nasty court proceedings that Rhode Island is bringing down on his head. While it would be nice if baseball was a morality play where all the great players were particularly rosy and mythical riffs on Stan Musial, putting guys who were jerks in the Hall is much less about rewarding bad behavior than it is about demonstrating that the people who cover the sport for a living know who its greatest players are.
Which brings us to Kenny Rogers, who is not one of baseball's greatest players, though he was a very good one for a very long time and will likely never get the recognition for that which he deserves, pitching as he did in an era with such completely ludicrous talent on the mound. Rogers is going to be used quite a lot this winter as a foil for Jack Morris -- which makes sense, given that Rogers only pitched 500 fewer innings in his career than Morris, and Rogers' career ERA+ of 107 is a tick higher than Morris's 105. As fun as that game is (it turns out 1996 Steve Trachsel and 1998 Kenny Rogers are both better single seasons than any year Morris ever put together, unless you really love raw innings pitched totals), it ultimately does both Rogers and Morris a disservice.
Considered on his own merits, Rogers is in the tier below the Mike Mussinas, Curt Schillings and Kevin Browns of his era -- he and Kevin Millwood have much in common (though Rogers threw more innings), and I suspect Millwood will see little Hall support despite his presence in those storied Braves rotations at the beginning of his career. Rogers certainly had the name and the charisma to change that story around had he had gotten some help -- if, say, he'd been the one to pitch seven innings of shutout ball in Game Seven of his team's championship round series and somehow gotten named the series MVP, like Jeff Suppan of the St. Louis Cardinals did that year. But in the end, Kenny Rogers was just another very good pitcher in an age of all-time greats.
That leaves Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina and Frank Thomas on our ballot from the newly-eligible candidates, and trims the list to 14 players. Next time, we'll make our last four cuts from the ballot veterans -- and after that, positive arguments for why each of the 10 players on our ballot deserves to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.