Monday, November 26, 2007

Hall of Fame hot stove

It's an excellent year to be listed on the ballot for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, especially for those nominees who've been waiting patiently for election.

One of the challenges for Hall of Fame eligibles is that the newest names on the ballot seem to garner the most attention every year, leaving a handful of worthy former players struggling to accumulate the 75 percent of the available votes needed for induction. Last year, for example, superstars Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. were newly eligible, and the hubbub surrounding their arrival on the ballot pushed such holdovers as Jim Rice, Rich "Goose" Gossage, and Andre "The Hawk" Dawson further down the priority list.

Fortunately for the aforementioned gentlemen, none of the 11 first-time candidates on this year's Hall of Fame ballot warrant election. That could mean that deserving stars such as Rice, who's in his 14th year of eligibility, and Gossage, who's on the list for the ninth time, might have a better shot at swaying voters.

That's not to say that this year's ballot rookies are total scrubs. Outfielder Tim "Rock" Raines will probably get quite a few votes. A solid player with a long (parts of 23 seasons) and distinguished (a seven-time All-Star, with one batting title to his credit) career, Raines was a very good — though not quite Hall of Fame caliber — major leaguer.

David Justice was a pretty fair ballplayer in his best years, too, though Justice will probably be remembered most as "that lucky stiff who was married to Halle Berry for three years."

Three former Giants appear on the ballot for the first time: versatile Shawon Dunston, and relief aces Robb Nen and the late Rod "Shooter" Beck. As it has in the past for other prominent players who died either during or shortly after their active years, the Hall of Fame has waived the customary five-years-retired requirement to add Beck (who passed away unexpectedly in June) to this year's ballot. It won't help — Shooter was a terrific pitcher for several seasons, but not a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate. Nen and Dunston weren't even that close.

Of the holdovers, I'd vote for Rice, Gossage, and Dawson without batting an eyelash. Rice was the American League's best power-hitting position player in the late 1970s and early '80s. Gossage was as dominant a closer as baseball had seen up until that point. Eight-time All-Star Dawson suffered the indignity of being the best player on an interminable skein of crappy Montreal Expos and Chicago Cubs teams during his 21 years in the bigs. All three, in my never-humble opinion, should have been elected to the Hall long before now.

I'd vote for superstar reliever Lee Smith (a then-record 478 career saves) and longtime Detroit Tigers ace Jack Morris (the best starting pitcher in the American League throughout the 1980s), too.

But then, they don't give me a ballot.

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