They won't be elected this year, but one ex-Toronto Blue Jay and two former Montreal Expos are worthy of a plaque in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Onetime Jays first baseman Fred McGriff and longtime Expos outfielders Tim Raines and Larry Walker boast Cooperstown-worthy resumes. But thanks in part to playing in Canada for large chunks of their careers, they have yet to garner enough votes for induction.
These are three of the six names that I would include on my Hall of Fame ballot, if I had voting privileges.
Results of the Baseball Writers' Association of America voting will be announced Jan. 9. To be inducted, candidates must be listed on 75 per cent of the close to 600 ballots submitted by eligible BBWAA writers.
There are 27 names on this year's ballot, including 13 newcomers, none of which, in my opinion, have strong enough credentials to be honoured. This weak class of first-timers should open the door for ballot returnees prior to the avalanche of strong yet controversial candidates that will debut on next year's ballot.
Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio and Curt Schilling will all be eligible beginning in 2013.
Ron Santo was elected posthumously by the Hall's Golden Era committee on Dec. 5. But there's a good chance that no player will receive enough BBWAA support to be inducted this year.
The last time the BBWAA didn't elect anyone was 1996.
For the record, here's who I would vote for:
Larkin, a 12-time all-star, was named on 62.1 per cent of ballots in 2011 and will likely be the only player elected by the BBWAA this year. One of the best all-around shortstops of his era, he won a World Series ring in 1990, the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1995, three Gold Gloves, nine Silver Slugger awards and recorded 2,340 hits. Larkin also registered a .295 batting average, .371 on-base percentage (OBP), 198 home runs and 379 stolen bases.
Allegations of steroid use seem to follow Bagwell wherever he goes. But in the absence of proof (unlike Mark McGwire, who has confessed to using steroids, and Rafael Palmeiro, who tested positive), Bagwell merits induction. In 15 big-league seasons, nine of which were played in the pitcher-friendly Astrodome, the power-hitting first baseman hit .297, walloped 449 homers and recorded a .408 OBP. The 1994 NL MVP and Gold Glove winner's 79.9 career WAR (an all-encompassing statistic that measures how many wins a player adds above what a Triple-A replacement player at their position would contribute) is better than previous first-ballot inductees Rod Carew, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor and Reggie Jackson.
Raines played in the shadow of Rickey Henderson, but the former Expo is the second-best leadoff hitter of all-time. Drug problems early in his career and competing in the relative obscurity of Montreal have hurt his candidacy, but the fleet-footed outfielder stole 808 bases (fifth all-time) with the top success rate (84.7 per cent) in big-league history. He was also a seven-time all-star who recorded 2,605 hits and fashions a career .385 OBP. To put into perspective how good Raines was, he reached base more times in his career than Tony Gwynn, who was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Yes, Martinez was a designated hitter, but the fact that he contributed little defensively should be more than compensated for by his .312 batting average and .418 OBP (22nd all-time). Despite not toiling in his first full big-league season until he was 27, Martinez owns a 67.2 career WAR, which is superior to Hall of Famers like Eddie Murray, Gary Carter, Willie McCovey and Ernie Banks. One of the top five hitters of his era and arguably the greatest DH of all-time, this seven-time all-star and five-time Silver Slugger racked up 2,247 hits and more doubles than Babe Ruth during his 18-year big-league career.
Sure, Walker's stats line was inflated by playing at Coors Field (.381 batting average, .462 OBP in Colorado), but the outfielder from Maple Ridge, B.C., won three batting titles, hit 383 (steroid-free) homers, garnered seven Gold Gloves and was the 1997 NL MVP. His .565 slugging percentage ranks 13th all-time and he also swiped 230 bases. Aside from Barry Bonds, Walker was the best all-around player of his era.
Though it's not widely reported, McGriff finished with the same number of home runs as Lou Gehrig (493). Unfortunately, the Crime Dog's consistent power output was overshadowed by the artificially inflated statistics of some of his first-base contemporaries. The ex-Jay never clubbed 40 homers in a season, but he belted 30 homers in 10 different campaigns. A member of the 1995 World Series champion Atlanta Braves, McGriff retired with an impressive .377 OBP and knocked in 1,550 runs (42nd all-time).
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