(Rafael Palmeiro is congratulated by Orioles first-base coach Rick Dempsey after getting his 3,000th hit — a double — at Safeco Field against the Mariners on July 15, 2005. Palmeiro is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time. Seattle Times staff photo by Jim Bates).
The latest Hall of Fame ballot is going out to qualified members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (those with 10 years of service — nearly 600) this week, with ballots due Dec. 31.
The new class of Hall of Famers will be annnounced Jan. 5, and I’d expect two holdover candidates who came oh so close last year to make it this year: pitcher Bert Blyleven and second baseman Roberto Alomar (both of whom got my vote last year, by the way). Blyleven, who is on the ballot for the 13th time, fell five votes short of the necessary 75 percent needed for induction, receiving 400 out of the 539 cast (74.2 percent). Alomar, who was on the ballot for the first time last year, had 397 votes (73.7), the most ever for a first-year candidate without being elected.
It was the first time ever in BBWAA voting that two candidates failed to gain election by fewer than 10 votes. But past voting patterns suggest that both Blyleven and Alomar will make it over the top this year.
Who will join them? There are 33 names on the ballot — 14 holdovers and 19 new candidates. One of the holdovers, of course, is former Mariner Edgar Martinez, for whom I have long been a Hall of Fame advocate and about whom I’ll wrote more extensively in days and weeks to come. Martinez, after receiving 195 votes (36.2 percent) in his first go-round, is an extreme longshot to make the leap to 75 percent, but as I wrote last year after the totals were announced, Edgar stands a solid chance of eventually making it to Cooperstown if he can keep his vote total moving inexorably upward.
The new group of 19 players includes three other ex-Mariners — John Olerud, Bret Boone and Tino Martinez. All of them had noteworthy careers but realistically are not going to be Hall of Famers.
The new names include a few that are going to be make me do some heavy thinking — especially Jeff Bagwell and Larry Walker — and one that is guaranteed to give me (and most other voters) a migraine headache: Rafael Palmeiro. As a member of both the 3,000-hit club and the 500-homer club — a distinction he shares with just three players in history: Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray — Palmeiro would ordinarily be a no-brainer. But the fact that Palmeiro tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2005 (barely a month after getting his 3,000th hit at Safeco Field), receiving a 10-game suspension, severely muddles his candidacy. Palmeiro continues to assert that he never used steroids, and that he tested positive because of a tainted supply of vitamin B-12 he received from teammate Miguel Tejada.
I honestly haven’t decided yet how I’m going to handle Palmeiro. I also haven’t decided if I’ll keep voting for Mark McGwire in light of his admission last spring that he used steroids. Two-time MVP Juan Gonzalez is another new name on this ballot who has a link with performance-enhancing drugs. It’s a question voters will keep facing, with the likes of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez still to come on future ballots. To be frank, it’s taken a lot of of the fun and excitement out of Hall of Fame voting, which I still regard, after about 15 years of taking part, as a tremendous privilege. But also an increasing headache.
Here are the names on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot:
Returning, with last year’s voting percentage in parentheses: Robert Alomar (73.7), Harold Baines (6.1), Bert Blyleven (74.2), Barry Larkin (51.6), Edgar Martinez (36.2), Don Mattingly (16.1), Fred McGriff (21.5), Mark McGwire (23.7), Jack Morris (52.3), Dale Murphy (11.7), Dave Parker (15.2), Tim Raines (30.4), Lee Smith (47.3), Alan Trammell (22.4).
Newcomers: Carlos Baerga, Jeff Bagwell, Bret Boone, Kevin Brown, John Franco, Juan Gonzalez, Marquis Grissom, Lenny Harris, Bobby Higginson, Charles Johnson, Al Leiter, Tino Martinez, Raul Mondesi, John Olerud, Rafael Palmeiro, Kirk Rueter, Benito Santiago, B.J. Surhoff, Larry Walker.