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Future's bright for the Hall of Fame
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07/27/2003  7:46 PM ET 
Future's bright for the Hall of Fame
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Tony Gwynn, a lifetime .338 batter, appeared in 15 straight All-Star Games. (AP)
COOPERSTOWN -- The plaques of the Class of 2003, Gary Carter and Eddie Murray, are freshly hung on the hallowed walls of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but voters are already chewing their No. 2 pencils, ragged in anticipation of the 2007 ballot.

And Rickey Henderson is fresh off the 2008 ballot, now that he is in a Dodgers uniform, prompting some lesser Cooperstown candidates to sigh with relief.

That's the view into the immediate future from the manicured lawn of the Clark Sports Center, where Carter and Murray were inducted Sunday afternoon as the 255th and 256th members of the Hall.

The ballot of Hall of Fame eligibles evolves every year, as all 10-year veterans retired for five years are added and candidates who missed the five-percent-vote minimum the previous election are dropped.

It is an orderly, routine process year after year. Well, prepare for a major spike in 2007, when possibly the greatest group of first-year eligibles ever will land on the ballot.

Cal Ripken Jr., Tony Gwynn and Mark McGwire will headline a dozen-plus bona fide worthies making their first appearances on the ballot. Only Mr. 2,632, the greatest post-World War II hitter, and the charter member of the very private 70-homer club.

Other first-time candidates in 2007 will include Harold Baines, Scott Brosius, Jose Canseco, Eric Davis, Stan Javier, Wally Joyner, Paul O'Neill, and Bret Saberhagen.

Baines had 384 homers and 1,628 RBIs in a 22-year career, and was so good, the White Sox retired his number 12 years before he retired. Canseco bashed 462 homers and was a cornerstone of an Oakland American League West reign. Joyner had his own WallyWorld and O'Neill still owns The Bronx.

And that's still just for starters. Luis Sojo, Jay Buhner, Kevin Tapani, Bobby Bonilla, Dante Bichette, Darrin Fletcher, Todd Stottlemyre and Andy Benes are more names who will take their ballot bow in 2007.

The worthy candidates among them, for whom prospects will be dim in 2007, are looking a lot better for 2008, now that Henderson is out of the picture.

The 2008 freshman class will be far less imposing, with Tim Raines topping a modest list that will also include Dave Martinez, Mike Morgan, David Justice and Randy Velarde.

Hall balloting is competitive in the sense that voters, tenured members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, are limited to 10 selections annually. That is why, as blue-ribbon candidates are elected and leave the ballot, others' vote percentages rise yearly, perhaps hitting the 75 percent target for election.

For instance, Carter began his campaign with a mere 42 percent in 1998 and became a sixth-year electee with 78 percent. Murray was a first-year choice, with 85.3 percent.

Of the other 31 on the 2003 ballot, missing in 2004 will be another 14, 13 of whom didn't meet the five percent requirement and Jim Kaat, who used up his 15-year eligibility.

The holdovers will be Bruce Sutter, Jim Rice, Andre Dawson, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Goose Gossage, Bert Blyleven, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Jack Morris, Alan Trammell, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Dave Concepcion, Dave Parker, Fernando Valenzuela and Keith Hernandez.

They will be joined by a group of first-time eligibles that incudes at least one candidate considered by many a first-ballot lock: Dennis Eckersley, who revolutionized the art of the closer following a successful career as a starting pitcher.

Paul Molitor and his 3,319 hits will also surface on the 2004 ballot. Other newcomers will include Joe Carter, Jimmy Key, Dave Stieb, Lenny Dykstra, Dennis Martinez, Terry Pendleton, Juan Samuel, Bob Tewksberry and Joey Cora.

Wade Boggs, who retired with 3,010 hits, will headline a modest group of 2005 ballot newcomers also including Tom Candiotti, Chili Davis, Willie McGee, Jeff Montgomery, Terry Steinbach, Jeff King, Jim Abbott and Mike Macfarlane.

First sneak peak at the 2006 ballot: rookie candidates will include Albert Belle, Will Clark, Gary Gaetti, Orel Hershiser, Gregg Jeffries, Rick Aguilera, Hal Morris and Dwight Gooden.

All recognizable names who had their turns in the spotlight. An orderly, yearly trickle which will turn into a gusher in 2007. Can you stand the wait?

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.





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