Hall of Fame Ballot: The Minor Characters

So, you probably know that today is the deadline for our Hall of Fame votes. And that means I’m putting together my massive Hall of Fame post. I believe that will be up at NBC tomorrow and then, on Thursday at noon, I’m planning a Hall of Fame chat here on the blog. Come one. Come all.

So, first, an appetizer. Everybody knows that this year’s Hall of Fame ballot is crazy. There has never been one quite like it. For the first time, you hear numerous baseball writers complaining that they are only allowed to vote for 10 players -- this is a group where people in the past have often voted for one or two. For the first time, the hardest decisions involved which Hall of Fame caliber player I would NOT vote for because I simply did not have the ballot space.

I can tell you now that for me it came do to this:

-- There are 15 players who I would vote for the Hall of Fame if I could. -- There are nine players I would not vote for the Hall, but they have pretty good cases. -- There are 12 players who were pretty clearly not Hall of Famers. Now, I’ve already written: I’m not sure those 12 clear non-Hall of Famers serve much purpose being on the ballot. Nobody thinks of them as Hall of Famers so they are kind of just taking up space. But, this is the way it’s done now. And, as mentioned, it’s an honor just to be on the ballot.

So, here’s a short bit on the 12 who were good players but clear Nos on the Hall of Fame:

-- Moises Alou: Probably the best player in this group. He was even better than his father Felipe, who was also a good player. A lifetime .300 hitter with more than 300 home runs. A six-time All-Star. Compares quite favorably with Hall of Famers Chuck Klein and Hack Wilson, among others.

-- Armando Benitez: A good reliever who pitched for seven different teams and had 289 career saves. Benitez could throw serious gas and averaged 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

-- Sean Casey: They called him the Mayor, and he was, more or less, every sportswriter’s favorite player. Approachable, quotable, funny ... he was also a line-drive hitter with a lifetime .300 average. Early in his career hit as many as 25 home runs, but his power more or less disappeared at age 30. He never drove in 100 RBIs, but he twice drove in 99.

-- Ray Durham: A survivor. Durham lasted in the big leagues long enough to get 2,000 hits and to score more than 1,2000 runs. He was fast when young and he walked a bit so he did have a knack for scoring runs -- he had a six -year stretch where he scored 100-plus runs every year.

-- Eric Gagne: Could never get it together as a starter, but he was dominant as a reliever for four seasons. He had a .830 WHIP and a 1.38 ERA between 2002 and 2005, and he averaged more than 13 strikeouts per nine innings. In that time, he won a Cy Young Award and finished in the Top 10 twice more. He was named in the Mitchell Report.

-- Jacque Jones: He never made an All-Star team but he was a key player in the resurgence of the Minnesota Twins in the early 2000s. His best year by far was 2002, when he hit .300 with 27 homers and 96 runs scored. The following year he hit .304 with somewhat less power in few games. He struck out a lot and seemed allergic to walks but he was solid and very popular in Minnesota.

-- Todd Jones: A durable reliever with more than 300 saves in his career. Jones pitched for eight different teams in 16 seasons and kept finding ways to survive in the big leagues without a great fastball or much of an out pitch.

-- Paul Lo Duca: He hit well in the minor leagues for years without getting a big-league shot. Finally when he was 29 he became the Dodgers everyday catcher, and he hit .320 with 25 homers and 90 RBis and received MVP votes. He was never again as good, though he was good enough to be selected to four All-Star teams. He was named in the Mitchell Report.

-- Hideo Nomo: There is a not unreasonable Hall of Fame argument for Nomo as a pioneer. He was the first Japanese League player to relocate in the United States. This, in itself, was a major step, but then there was immense pressure on him to succeed. He did. He was an immediate sensation with his unique pitching delivery; he led the league in strikeouts and shutouts in his Nomomania rookie season. He was never as good after that, His success certainly paved the way for Ichiro, Yu Darvish, Hideki Matsui and others. He was never quite as good again, though he did throw two no-hitters, again led the league in strikeouts and won 123 big league games.

-- Richie Sexson: A personal favorite. I’ve always liked those swing-for-the-fences players. There’s something forthright about them. Sexson hit 30-plus homers six times in his career -- twice hitting 45. He also had five seasons with 150-plus strikeouts. He was always a limited player. He couldn’t run, couldn’t field, couldn’t make enough contact, and he was done at 33. But at his best, Sexson would step in -- at 6-foot-6, 200-plus pounds you noticed him -- and he would swing big and hit massive fly balls and baseball’s more fun with players like that.

-- J.T. Snow: A solid player who got on base, hit 20-plus homers three times, had three 90-plus RBI seasons and won six consecutive Gold Gloves at first base. He was indeed a slick-looking fielder though the defensive numbers wildly disagree with the award voters -- for his career, his defensive WAR is minus-11.2 wins.

-- Mike Timlin: A versatile pitcher who lasted until he was 42. He did manage 31 saves one year, but he was mostly a middle-reliever or setup man. Perhaps the most amazing thing about Timlin is that he pitched in 46 postseason games for four different teams. He pitched in four World Series and his teams won them all.