Looking ahead at future Hall ballots
Wide-open balloting in 2006 could aid closers' causes
Orel Hershiser is most famous for his record streak of consecutive scoreless innings pitched, a record that hasn't been touched since he set it in 1988.There's another streak that Hershiser will challenge next year, but this one will be tougher to maintain -- especially since it's out of his hands to make it happen. For each of the past five Hall of Fame elections, including the one that this week installed Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg as the Class of 2005, at least one player in his first year on the ballot gained the 75 percent of the vote needed to gain entry to Cooperstown. When the 2006 ballot comes out, Hershiser, Will Clark and Albert Belle will represent the best of the first-time nominees. While all three are worthy of consideration, none exactly represents a lock to gain entry on the first ballot. That, of course, remains up to the voters of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. But there's little question the first-ballot streak is in jeopardy. The streak dates back to 2001, the year after Carlton Fisk earned the requisite votes in his second year on the ballot and Tony Perez did so in his ninth. Over the next four years, Dave Winfield and Kirby Puckett ('01), Ozzie Smith ('02), Eddie Murray ('03), and Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor ('04) didn't need a second chance to make their Hall of Fame impression.
| 2005 Hall of Fame
The complete vote (516 ballots, 387 to gain election, 26 to remain on ballot):
Wade, Ryno are Hall choices
No doubts about Class of 2005
Boggs hits his way to the Hall
Ryno charges into Hall of Fame
Red Sox lavish praise on Boggs
Rays react to Boggs Hall call
From Beantown to Bronx to Hall
Sutter closing in on Hall of Fame
Boggs is fans' favorite to make Hall
This year, Boggs became the 35th first-ballot Hall of Famer, and regardless of what happens in next year's vote, there will be others very soon. There very well may be a trio of first-timers in 2007, and Rickey Henderson might finally find his way to the ballot in 2009 -- assuming he, at long last, stays retired.As for 2006? Well, put it this way: It could be a good year for longtime bridesmaids like Bruce Sutter, Jim Rice, Goose Gossage and Andre Dawson to get a bump in their vote totals, perhaps even enough to get over that magic 75-percent line. Here's a look into the Cooperstown crystal ball:
2006: Orel Hershiser, Will Clark, Albert Belle
Hershiser, a 17th-round draft pick who became one of the premier pitchers of the 1980s and early '90s, probably represents the best chance at first-ballot consideration among his class.
Like Hershiser a rare combination of tenacity and talent, Clark -- known as "Will The Thrill" -- was a career .303 hitter, a standout first baseman and an old-school professional. A six-time All-Star, Clark became an icon with the Giants before playing five years in Texas and finishing out his career in Baltimore and one last pennant race in St. Louis.Belle, probably more renowned for his conflicts on and off the field, became the first player to hit 50 homers and 50 doubles in the same season in 1995. He was one of the most feared hitters in baseball during his tenure with the Indians, White Sox and Orioles.
Others eligible but not necessarily guaranteed to be placed on the 2006 ballot, according to the Hall of Fame: Rick Aguilera, Tim Belcher, Alex Fernandez, Gary Gaetti, Dwight Gooden, Ozzie Guillen, Juan Guzman, Gregg Jefferies, Lance Johnson, Doug Jones, Roberto Kelly, Mickey Morandini, Hal Morris, Jaime Navarro, Luis Polonia, Mike Stanley, Walt Weiss, John Wetteland and Mark Whiten.2007: Tony Gwynn, Mark McGwire, Cal Ripken Jr.
You can probably go ahead and set up three spots at the head table for these guys. Many observers would rate all three as locks to grab the key to Cooperstown on the first try. As affable a superstar player as baseball had seen perhaps since Ernie Banks, Gwynn won eight batting titles, tying him with Honus Wagner for the most crowns in National League history. He made a run at .400 in 1994 before a work stoppage left him at .394, and he hit .350 or better seven times. Gwynn amassed 3,181 hits, appeared in two World Series and 15 All-Star Games, and became known as Mr. Padre while playing his entire 20-year career in San Diego. McGwire burst onto the scene as half of the Bash Brothers in Oakland, playing in three World Series in his first five years in the big leagues. Traded to the Cardinals during his 12th season with the A's, McGwire took his power numbers to a new level in St. Louis. He staged his memorable rise to a then-record 70 homers in 1998, with Sammy Sosa pushing him toward surpassing Roger Maris' record of 61. A 12-time All-Star, McGwire retired at age 37 with 583 homers (sixth all-time) and 1,414 RBIs to his credit.
What can be said about Ripken that hasn't already been said? The man who ushered in the current golden era of shortstops, Ripken simply did everything anyone could ask of a player, racking up a record 2,632 consecutive games played to beat Lou Gehrig's longstanding record by more than 500, all the while making a record 17 consecutive All-Star appearances, collecting 3,184 hits and 431 homers and winning two AL MVP awards.Others potentially eligible for the 2007 ballot include Harold Baines, Derek Bell, Dante Bichette, Bobby Bonilla, Jeff Brantley, Jay Buhner, Ken Caminiti, Jose Canseco, Eric Davis, Tony Fernandez, Darryl Hamilton, Pete Harnisch, Charlie Hayes, Glenallen Hill, Ken Hill, Stan Javier, Wally Joyner, Ramon Martinez, Paul O'Neill, Gregg Olson, Bret Saberhagen, Jeff Shaw, Kevin Tapani, Devon White and Bobby Witt.
Here's a quick look at possible candidates for future ballots, according to the Hall of Fame: 2008: Shawon Dunston, Travis Fryman, David Justice, Mike Morgan, Tim Raines, Randy Velarde. 2009: Mark Grace, Rickey Henderson, Dean Palmer, Dan Plesac, Matt Williams. 2010: Edgar Martinez, Robin Ventura.
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.