Considering the candidacies of four former St. Louis Cardinals on the 2011 Hall of Fame ballot.
Over on the main The Cardinal Nation site on Sunday, the feature article was from friend and fellow SABR member Bill Gilbert. It handicaps the chances of the former Major League Baseball players on this year’s Baseball Hall of Fame ballot using Bill James’ Win Shares.
Four ex-St. Louis Cardinals are among the 33 names competing for votes, but Gilbert forecasts that none of the four will be elected into the Hall of Fame in 2011. Two are holdovers in Mark McGwire and Lee Smith and two are first-timers, Larry Walker (pictured upon his induction into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame) and Tino Martinez.
Let’s look at each of the four.
By all measures, McGwire would seem to have the on-field credentials for Hall election. Voters have been torn over his candidacy due to the steroids issue and that may continue indefinitely.
Big Mac’s admission last winter that he used steroids in an attempt to recover from injury during his playing days but his denial that those substances boosted his on-field performance did not help his standing with the voters. In fact, he was one of the few players on the 2010 ballot whose support dropped from year to year. McGwire garnered approximately 23.5 percent of the vote in both 2008 and 2009, but slipped to just under 22 percent approval in 2010.
With no significant new revelations about the steroids era this past year, one might look at any uptick or downturn in McGwire’s 2011 votes to be a reflection of feelings over his return to the game. He is of course heading into his second season as the Cardinals hitting coach. At the time of 2010 balloting, there was still considerable concern over the media circus that might ensue over McGwire’s baseball re-entry. That was handled without significant incident and has died down to almost nothing since.
Smith was one of the dominant relievers of any era, though his then-record of 478 career saves is downgraded by some as being a by-product of the evolution to the one-inning specialist.
Until another former Cub-Cardinal, Bruce Sutter was inducted after tossing just 1,042 career innings, no pitcher with fewer than 1,700 frames had made it to Cooperstown. Smith finished with 1,289. At this point, only five in the Hall are considered to have been primarily relievers – Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley, Goose Gossage and Sutter.
Smith’s voting support has slowly crept up into the upper 40 percent range, but is far away from the 75 percent needed for induction. Despite being eligible to remain on the ballot until 2017, he is going to need a much more aggressive push of support to make it.
Walker is an interesting case. Gilbert’s Win Shares score places him third among first-year candidates behind Rafael Palmeiro and Jeff Bagwell and just ahead of John Olerud. Gilbert sees Walker securing more than the five percent of the vote needed to remain on the ballot, but fall short of the needed 75 percent for induction.
The former MVP (1997) has three Silver Slugger Awards, was a five-time All-Star and owns seven Gold Gloves, yet his Hall candidacy seems in a gray area.
Of the ten players listed at Baseball-Reference.com as having the closest career similarity to Walker, only four are in the Hall. They are Duke Snider, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Mize and Chuck Klein. On the other hand, two of the top four are Walker’s former teammates, Ellis Burks and Moises Alou, players seemingly destined to land in the Hall of the Very Good, not Cooperstown. Contemporaries in the top ten include some other borderline candidates, Vladimir Guerrero, Edgar Martinez and another duo of ex-Walker teammates, Jim Edmonds and Todd Helton.
As a point of comparison, Martinez garnered 36.2 percent of the vote in 2010, his first year of eligibility.
Needless to say, Tino Martinez is a celebrated New York Yankee who found himself in St. Louis for two unhappy late-career seasons, 2002 and 2003. Having been a very good player during four World Championships with New York means Tino may pick up a handful of recognition votes, but his numbers, including 339 home runs, are not Hall-worthy. Interestingly, among those in Tino’s top ten similarity scores is another former Cardinals and Yankees first sacker, Jack Clark.
Bios of all 33 candidates can be found at the Baseball Hall of Fame website. Results of the 2011 vote taken by 10-plus year members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America will be announced on January 5 and winners will be enshrined on July 25 in Cooperstown, New York.