01/04/11 7:33 PM EST
Alomar, Blyleven lead hopeful Hall candidates
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
Dave Van Horne, the Marlins' play-by-play man who spent 32 years in Montreal doing Expos games, won the Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in Major League broadcasting. Bill Conlin, a columnist and Phillies beat writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, was named by the BBWAA as this year's winner of the A.J. Spink Award for his longtime contribution to baseball writing. They will also be there for the big day this summer.Other significant names on this year's BBWAA ballot are first-timers Jeff Bagwell, Rafael Palmeiro, Larry Walker, Juan Gonzalez and Tino Martinez. Top returnees include Jack Morris, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Tim Raines and Lee Smith, all of whom finished in the top 10 of the voting last year. Though there is some sentiment for Bagwell, the first baseman who played his entire 15-year career with the Astros, none of them are expected to be elected this year. But Hall of Fame history suggests that Alomar and Blyleven will get in. All 21 of the previous players to receive 70-74.9 percent of the vote in a given election were eventually granted admission to the Hall, one way or another, 17 by the BBWAA the following year. Most recently, reliever Rich "Goose" Gossage missed by 21 votes in 2007 and was elected in '08, and Red Sox outfielder Jim Rice fell 16 votes shy in '08, but was elected in '09. Others on the ballot are probably beyond the quick-bump stage at this point. Morris finished fourth last year at 52.3 percent and now is in his 12th year on the ballot, Larkin had a strong debut at 51.6 percent and finished fifth, and Lee Smith finished sixth with 47.3 percent. Despite being third on the all-time saves list with 478, Smith is in his ninth year of consideration. Rice had a bit of advice for candidates who seem to miss the cut year after year. "Be patient and wait until the last out," said Rice, who was elected in his 15th and final year on the BBWAA ballot. The rules are simple: Five years after retirement, a player can remain on the BBWAA ballot for 15 consecutive years provided that he receives at least 5 percent of the vote each year. The remainder of this year's BBWAA ballot features returnees Harold Baines, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker and Alan Trammell, and first-timers Carlos Baerga, Bret Boone, Kevin Brown, Marquis Grissom, Lenny Harris, Bobby Higginson, Charles Johnson, Al Leiter, Raul Mondesi, John Olerud, Kirk Rueter, Benito Santiago and B.J. Surhoff. Eleven players on last year's ballot didn't receive the requisite 5 percent of the vote and won't return. Four of them -- Mike Jackson, Rick Lankford, Shane Reynolds and Todd Zeile -- received no votes. This year's ballot holds plenty of intrigue. The class includes a trio of slugging first basemen in Bagwell, McGwire and Palmeiro. The latter should have been a sure-fire first-ballot candidate as a member of the 500-homer, 3,000-hit club, but was suspended in 2005 after testing positive for steroid use. Palmeiro, with 569 homers and 3,020 hits, was only the fourth player in history to amass more than 500 homers and 3,000 hits. The others are Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray. That trio, of course, is in the Hall. McGwire, who hit 583 homers, was the first "test case" for players who used or were suspected of using steroids. Palmeiro was the first star to be suspended for such use, although he continues to insist publicly that he took a tainted shot of the vitamin B-12 administered by Miguel Tejada -- his Baltimore teammate at the time. McGwire has not fared well in his four years on the ballot, averaging 23.1 percent of the vote. He reached 23.7 percent last year, but that was before he returned to the Cardinals as hitting coach and publicly admitted to taking performance-enhancing drugs. Bagwell, his career cut short because of a shoulder injury, hit 449 home runs and batted .297. Though he also played under the shadow of PED use that plagued Major League Baseball, there's no concrete evidence that he ever used the drugs and he recently denied any rumors of doing so. Bagwell was National League Rookie of the Year in 1991 and Most Valuable Player in 1994. Returning to Blyleven, he'd be the first starting pitcher elected to the Hall of Fame since current Rangers president and all-time strikeout leader Nolan Ryan received 98.8 percent of the vote in 1999, his first year on the ballot. Blyleven had a 22-season career that spanned from 1970-92 with the Twins, Rangers, Pirates, Indians and Angels. He is 27th on the all-time wins list with 287, is fifth in career strikeouts with 3,701, and was a member of two World Series-winning teams: the 1979 "We Are Family" Pirates and the '87 Twins. Blyleven is 11th in games started with 685, ninth all-time with 60 shutouts and 13th all-time in innings pitched with 4,970. He's also 10th with his 250 losses. Blyleven's acceptance among the voting writers has been slow to build. After receiving just 14 percent in 1999, his second year on the ballot, Blyleven's vote totals have increased nearly every year. He goes into this election hoping to join 14 others who had to wait 10 or more seasons to gain entrance to the Hall via the BBWAA ballot. In contrast, Alomar almost became the 45th player to earn admission the first year he was on the ballot, and he clearly has the credentials after playing for seven teams: the Padres, Blue Jays, Orioles, Indians, Mets, White Sox and D-backs. His career numbers of 2,724 hits, 210 homers, 1,134 RBIs, 474 stolen bases and a .300 average in 2,379 games stand up favorably to second basemen who have recently reached the Hall of Fame. Ryne Sandberg, elected by the writers in 2005 -- his third year on the ballot -- had 2,386 hits, 282 homers, 1,061 RBIs, 344 steals and a career average of .285 in 2,164 games. But Alomar's near-miss likely had to do with a much-publicized spitting incident when he was with the Orioles in 1996. During an argument about a called third strike, he spat on umpire John Hirschbeck and was suspended for five games. Hirschbeck later accepted Alomar's apology, and the two have moved on amicably. "It is what is," Alomar said. "Sometimes in life, you learn from these things. I think when people get to really know you, they begin to understand who you are. People seem to hold grudges and they shouldn't." Signed by the Padres out of Puerto Rico in 1985, Alomar debuted at age 20 in '88 and was an All-Star before being traded to Toronto prior to the '91 season in a deal engineered by Gillick, then the Blue Jays GM. Alomar won the World Series twice with the Blue Jays, in '92 and '93, and was a key cog in helping two other teams into multiple postseasons -- the Orioles in '96-97 and Indians in '99 and 2001. Like Blyleven and the rest of the candidates on the 2011 ballot, Alomar is hopeful his on-field accomplishments will send him into the hallowed Hall of Fame. He'd be the third native of Puerto Rico to do it. Roberto Clemente was elected by the BBWAA in 1973 when his name was placed on the ballot months after he died in a New Year's Eve plane crash and Orlando Cepeda was chosen by a Veterans Committee in '99. "I think I did what I had to do on the field," Alomar said. "That's all I can say about that."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.