We need a cause.
For many years, we had two of them.
On the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot, we had Bert Blyleven.
On the Veterans Committee ballot -- ballots, really; there have been so many permutations in the last decade or so -- we had Ron Santo.
Life was pretty easy. Because Blyleven was clearly the best pitcher on the BBWAA ballot who wasn't getting elected, year after year, and Santo was clearly the best player on the Veterans Committee ballots, year after year.
We wrote (roughly) the same pieces every time those guys weren't elected, pieces that wrote themselves because the facts, so compelling to us, never changed.
Now they're both in. Blyleven was inducted last summer; Sunday, Santo was elected.
So who's next? Who do we get upset about every year when he's spurned by the voters once more?
I don't think Barry Larkin is our guy on the BBWAA ballot; I think he's going to be elected very soon (and I'm not alone).
As he should be.
As you probably know already, the Nerd's Choice is.
As he probably should be.
I'm just not as wild about Raines as I have been.
Blyleven was clearly well above the established standard for Hall of Fame starting pitchers. Santo was in the same territory among third basemen.
Raines is not so obviously among the best at his position. Looking just at Wins Above Replacement -- and yes, I know there's more to life than WAR but please bear with me -- Raines's 65 WAR places him above some Hall of Fame outfielders, but below a number of non-Hall of Fame outfielders. Not far behind. But Raines does fall below Jim Edmonds, Larry Walker, and (by just a smidge) even Kenny Lofton on that scale.
Granted, Raines's baserunning probably isn't fairly accounted for by WAR. And Raines's peak was more valuable than those other guys' peaks. But I can't help shaking the feeling that we've not done quite enough to work yet to separate Raines from (say) Larry Walker. And if we're looking for a cause célbère, the argument should be compelling.
Which is why this nerd's choice is Alan Trammell. With 67 Wins Above Replacement, Trammell ranks seventh in major-league history among players who spent the great majority of their careers as shortstops. The top six: Honus Wagner, Cal Ripken, Arky Vaughn, Derek Jeter, Luke Appling, Barry Larkin.
Trammell is right behind Larkin, and ahead of everyone else. Am I sure that Trammell was really better than Pee Wee Reese and Ozzie Smith, next on the list? I am not. But I'm comfortable arguing that Trammell is one of the 12 greatest shortstops, which seems like as good a qualification for the Hall of Fame as any.*
* There are currently 17 shortstops in the Hall of Fame, with Larkin and Jeter on the way.
Meanwhile, Trammell's appeared on 10 Hall of Fame ballots, and this year's 24 percent was his best showing. He'll get a few more votes next year, probably. But then his percentage figures to plummet in 2013 when the ballot is flooded with outstanding (if steroid-fueled) candidates.
So Alan Trammell isn't the next Bert Blyleven; he's not going to be elected by the BBWAA, no matter how much you and I and Rich Lederer might scream about him. At best, he'll be the next Ron Santo. But that's many years off.
Right now, I'd like to come up with today's next Ron Santo.
When the Golden Era Committee convened yesterday, only three other players got more than two of the 16 possible votes: Jim Kaat with 10, Gil Hodges and Minnie Miñoso with nine apiece.
Kaat's case is simple: He won 283 games. Maybe that's enough, though if it's enough for Kaat then it's enough for Tommy John, too. For me, Kaat's relative lack of outstanding seasons and his 108 career OPS+ just doesn't get it done.
I've been writing about Hodges for a long time. Despite playing for outstanding teams, he never finished higher than seventh in MVP voting. You can make a case for him, but he certainly wasn't one of the dozen best first basemen ever. He might be in the top two dozen. But it's close. The case for Hodges essentially requires giving him extra credit for managing the 1969 New York Mets. Which is fine, except once you start giving really good players credit for their managerial successes, too, you'll have to open up a new wing in the Hall of Fame. There's just no precedent for doing that.
So in the absence of real support for guys like Buzzie Bavasi (who's on the ballot) and Bill James (who was not), I suspect our energies might best be applied to Miñoso. I've gone back and forth on him over the years, and just this fall I concluded that he fell just a bit short. But lately a lot of smart people have been writing about Minnie, and now I'm back on the other side. If you believe that baseball's color line cost him two or three (or more) seasons in the majors, he's got a great case. If you believe that his efforts allowed a number of Cuban players to play in the majors in the 1960s -- and argument I've seen, though not explored in depth -- that's another marker.
The Golden Era Committee is scheduled to meet again in 2014. The members will, I suspect, believe they have failed if they don't elect someone. Minnie Miñoso is 86 years old. According to him. It will be, shall we say, odd if the Hall of Fame's arcane procedures result in Miñoso finally gaining election shortly after he's around to enjoy it, as they did with Santo...
Finally, since this might be my last chance to mention this (without being completely gratuitous) ... In 1980, the first time Ron Santo appeared on the BBWAA's Hall of Fame ballot, he got 15 votes. Among the 23 candidates who fared better: Don Larsen, ElRoy Face, Lew Burdette, and Roger Maris. Oh, and Gil Hodges. Gil Hodges got a lot more votes than Santo. And yet, today Ron Santo's a Hall of Famer and Gil Hodges still is not.
I don't know how to explain it. So I will leave the floor to this wise fellow: