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12/01/08 12:05 PM EST

Many Hall candidates out of left field

Stolen base king Henderson headlines Class of 2009 hopefuls

NEW YORK -- It has been 20 years since the Baseball Writers' Association of America has elected a left fielder into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The 2009 ballot that was released Monday features some prominent left fielders who may very well end that drought.

For Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice, there is a case of the first and the last. Henderson is among 10 newcomers to the Hall of Fame ballot. Rice, one of the 13 holdovers from the 2008 ballot, is getting his final opportunity for election by the writers.

Players may remain on the ballot for up to 15 years provided they receive at least five percent of the vote each year. This is the 15th and final year for Rice, as well as pitcher Tommy John. Of the two, Rice clearly has the best chance. He missed out being elected last year by merely 16 votes. John, on the other hand, was 250 votes short of the 75 percent of ballots required for election.

While Rice was knocking at the door a year ago with 392 votes among the 543 ballots cast for 72.2 percent, John's percentage was only 29.1. He has never gone past the 30-percent mark, with 29.6 percent in 2006 his best finish.

Rice's percentage last year was the highest for any player not elected. A .298 career hitter with 382 home runs and 1,451 RBIs over 16 seasons, all with the Red Sox, Rice had four seasons of more than 200 hits, led the American League in home runs three times and RBIs twice, and was the AL Most Valuable Player in 1978.

Henderson, the all-time leader in runs (2,295) and stolen bases (1,406), is an odds-on favorite for first-ballot election. He established himself as baseball's supreme leadoff hitter by banging out 3,055 hits in a 25-season career spanning four decades (1979-2003) that included four tours with the Athletics and stops with the Yankees, Blue Jays, Padres, Angels, Mets, Mariners, Red Sox and Dodgers.

A career .279 hitter with a .401 on-base average and 297 home runs, Henderson won World Series rings with the 1989 A's and '93 Jays, was the AL MVP in 1990 and set the bar so high with the single-season stolen base record of 130 in 1982 that no player since has come within 20 bags of equaling it. His 81 home runs leading off games are the most in Major League history.

Other left fielders on the 2009 ballot are Tim Raines, in his second year of eligibility, and newcomer Ron Gant. Raines, who received 132 votes (24.3 percent) last year, could benefit from Henderson's appearance among the contenders, considering their careers were similar. Raines had 808 stolen bases, fifth all-time, with the highest success rate (84.7 percent) of any base stealer with 300 or more attempts. Raines hit .294 over 23 seasons, won a batting title and holds Expos career marks in runs (947), triples (82) and stolen bases (635).

The last left fielder elected to the Hall by the BBWAA was Carl Yastrzemski in 1989, along with catcher Johnny Bench. Since then, players from every other position have been elected -- starting pitchers Jim Palmer (1990), Gaylord Perry (1991), Fergie Jenkins (1991), Tom Seaver (1992), Steve Carlton (1994), Phil Niekro (1997), Don Sutton (1998) and Nolan Ryan (1999); relief pitchers Rollie Fingers (1992), Dennis Eckersley (2004), Bruce Sutter (2006) and Goose Gossage (2008); catchers Carlton Fisk (2000) and Gary Carter (2003); first basemen Tony Perez (2000) and Eddie Murray (2003); second basemen Joe Morgan (1990) and Ryne Sandberg (2005); third basemen Mike Schmidt (1995), George Brett (1999) and Wade Boggs (2005); shortstops Ozzie Smith (2002) and Cal Ripken Jr. (2007); center fielder Kirby Puckett (2001); right fielders Reggie Jackson (1993), Dave Winfield (2001) and Tony Gwynn (2007) and designated hitter Paul Molitor (2004). Rod Carew (1991) divided time between first base and second base and Robin Yount (1999) between shortstop and center field.

The 23-player ballot, the smallest in history, contains players who accounted for eight MVP Awards, two Rookie of the Year Awards and a Cy Young Award. It was mailed to more than 575 voters with 10 or more consecutive years of membership in the BBWAA. Ballots must be returned by a Dec. 31 postmark. Results will be announced on Jan. 12.

In addition to Henderson and Gant, other first-year candidates are pitchers David Cone, Jesse Orosco and Dan Plesac; cousins Mo Vaughn and Greg Vaughn and three teammates from the 2001 World Series champion Diamondbacks -- first baseman Mark Grace, third baseman Matt Williams and shortstop Jay Bell.

Making his third appearance on the ballot will be Mark McGwire, slugger of 583 home runs but recipient of only 128 votes in each of the past two elections for less than a 25-percent plurality as voters are assessing the careers of players in an era confirmed in the Mitchell Report of widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Also returning to the ballot are pitchers Bert Blyleven, Jack Morris and Lee Smith; first baseman Don Mattingly; shortstop Alan Trammell; outfielders Andre Dawson, Dale Murphy and Dave Parker, and outfielder-DH Harold Baines.

Dawson, a former National League Rookie of the Year (1977) and MVP (1987), is on the ballot for the eighth time. He got close to the two-thirds mark last year with 358 votes (65.9 percent). Blyleven, who ranks fifth on the all-time strikeout list and is on the ballot for the 12th time, was at 61.9 percent in 2008 with 336 votes.

Other MVP winners on the ballot are Mo Vaughn (AL 1995), Mattingly (AL 1985), Parker (NL 1978) and Murphy, a two-time winner (NL 1982-83). Another Rookie of the Year winner was McGwire (AL 1987). Cone was the AL Cy Young Award winner in 1994.

Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.