The new ballot

Inexplicably, the U.S. Congress has failed to declare November 29 an official holiday, this even though today marks the release of the 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot. There are 29 players on this year's ballot, including 14 players appearing for the first time and 15 holdovers from last year. Among the first year candidates, Albert Belle and Orel Hershiser probably have the best chance for selection to the Hall, though neither's chances look all that good. Bruce Sutter, falling 43 votes shy of selection last year, is the top returning vote-getter.

Ten players listed on the 2005 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot received fewer than 5% of the vote and have been dropped from the 2006 ballot. Each was in his first year of Hall eligibility. Their failing Hall of Fame cases are reviewed after the jump.

  • Jim Abbott 1989-96 98-99 (13 votes)
    Pitched ten major league seasons despite being born without a right hand. Career: 87-108, 4.25 ERA, 888 K. Best year 1991: 18-11, 2.89 ERA, 222 IP, 158 K.

  • Darryl Strawberry 1983-99 (6 votes)
    National League Rookie of the Year in 1983. Made the All-Star team every year from 1984-91. Career: .259 AVG, .505 SLG, 335 HR, 256 2B, 221 SB, 1000 RBI. Best year 1987: .284 AVG, .583 SLG, 39 HR, 104 RBI, 32 2B, 36 SB.

  • Jack McDowell 1987-88 90-99 (4 votes)
    Three time All-Star (1991-93), won the 1993 Cy Young. Career: 127-87, 3.85 ERA, 1311 K. Best three years 1991-1993: 59-30, 3.31 ERA, 771.3 IP, 38 CG, 7 SHO, 527 K.

  • Chili Davis 1981-99 (3 votes)
    Strong armed switch hitting outfielder won 3 World Series championships and appeared in 3 All Star games. Career: .274 AVG, .451 SLG, 2380 H, 424 2B, 350 HR, 1372 RBI, 3914 TB.

  • Tom Candiotti 1983-84 86-99 (2 votes)
    Career: 151-164, 3.73 ERA, 1735 K. Best year 1986: 16-12, 3.57 ERA, 252.3 IP, 17 CG, 3 SHO, 167 K.

  • Jeff Montgomery 1987-99 (2 votes)
    Three time All-Star won the Rolaids Relief Award in 1993 with 45 saves. Career: 304 SV, 3.27 ERA, 7.6 K/9IP. Best year 1993: 45 SV, 7-5, 2.27 ERA, 87.3 IP, 65 H, 66 K.

  • Tony Phillips 1982-99 (1 vote)
    Was in the top five in bases on balls seven times after 1990, twice leading the league. Career: .266 AVG, 2023 H, 360 2B, 1319 BB, 2963 TB, 1300 R. Best year 1993: .313 AVG, 177 H, 113 R, 27 2B, 132 BB, 225 TB.

  • Terry Steinbach 1986-99 (1 vote)
    Three time All-Star anchored the Oakland As behind the plate during their late 80s not quite dynasty. Career: .271 AVG, 1453 H, 162 HR, 273 2B, 7505 PO, 615 A.

  • Mark Langston 1984-99 (0 votes)
    Four time All-Star won seven gold gloves and was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1984. Career: 179-158, 3.97 ERA, 2464 K.

  • Otis Nixon 1983-99 (0 votes)
    Career: .270 AVG, 1379 H, 620 SB.
None of these players were particularly serious Hall of Fame candidates, so there's no great injustice in the fact that they dropped off the ballot after a single year of consideration. Still, there are at least two players who deserved more votes than they got.

Looking just at the statistical record, Darryl Strawberry had a pretty nice career. While not quite Hall-worthy, his numbers are comparable to those put up by players who stuck around on the ballot for a few years. So why only six votes? Clearly the voters were punishing him for failing to live up to his potential. I suppose Strawberry did make a mess of his career, though I tend to be more upset by the moralistic pretensions of sportswriters than by squandered athletic promise.

More troubling is the lack of support given to Jeff Montgomery. His 304 saves are good for 17th on the career list and he was one of the top relievers in baseball at the peak of his career. It would be absurd to suggest that his record qualifies him for admission into the Hall, but it's equally absurd that he garnered fewer votes than Jim Abbott and didn't out poll the thoroughly mediocre Tom Candiotti.

The problem -- and this is something that has led to real injustices in other cases -- is that the Hall voters don't put enough value on relief pitching. Their view, I guess, is that even the top relievers only pitch 80 to 100 innings a year and so don't deserve the sort of respect owed to starting pitchers or everyday position players. That's a line of argument that sounds plausible unless you actually watch baseball. The fact of the matter is that the advent of dominant relief pitching has changed the game of baseball and that few teams win championships anymore without employing an elite closer. Even so, the only relievers in the Hall are Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers and Dennis Eckersley. Meanwhile, Bruce Sutter, Dan Quisenberry, Goose Gossage, and all-time saves leader Lee Smith are all on the outside looking in even though they're four of the greatest pure relievers ever to play the game.

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