WHEN the 2010 BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot arrived at the beginning of the month, I found myself poring over nothing less than an official '90s MLB All-Star Team. OK, it's short on pitching, catching and outfielding. As pitch-count hysteria and the transformation of the bullpen into a nightly, three-to-five-reliever relay, starters saw their win totals drop precipitously. Sixteen wins is the new 20.
But you can confidently go to war against the All-Stars of any decade since the dawning of the DH with the starting eight plus DH - all appearing on the ballot for the first time. Each retired 5 years ago and played at least 10 seasons in the major leagues. That would place the prime years of most in the '90s. Meet my team:
First base: Andres Gallaraga. The Big Cat was a five-time All-Star during his 19-season tour with seven teams. A huge, graceful man with a lethal bat and slick glove - two Gold Gloves and two silver sluggers - he won a "career" triple crown, leading the National League with a .370 average in 1993, 47 homers in '96, and in RBI twice - 150 in '96 and 140 in '97.
Second base: Roberto Alomar. Pristine numbers for the position. Made 12 consecutive All-Star teams. A brilliant defender with No. 3-hole power and leadoff speed, the lifetime .300 hitter appeared headed for 3,000-plus hits and possibly 500 homers. But he bounced around like a rubber ball his final three seasons, all injury-marred and subpar. Which Alomar will the voters remember?
Shortstop: Barry Larkin. First shortstop to join the 30-30 club when he hit 33 homers and stole 36 bases in 1996. A legitimate five-tooler, Barry spent his entire 19-year career with the Reds and went to 12 All-Star Games. A Spalding Guide player, Larkin played short with the same economy and grace that Mike Schmidt displayed at third.
Third base: Robin Ventura. A dangerous hitter with power who played for four teams, winning six Gold Gloves, driving in more than 90 runs eight times and hitting 294 homers, including 18 grand slams, tied for fourth all-time.
Catcher: Oops. Hey, Todd Zeile, if memory serves, you came up as a catcher with the Cardinals and donned the tools of ignorance in 130 career games. So, if you don't mind . . . As Casey Stengel once observed, if you don't have a catcher back there, the ball keeps going until it hits the backstop. Meanwhile, Todd, an ex-Phil during his 11-team odyssey, hit 253 career homers and is the only player in history to homer for more than 10 teams.
Outfield: David Segui. Sorry, David, you played 100 games in the OF. I'm heavy with your position, first base. You hit .291 with gap power, had 103 RBI in 2000 with 192 hits. Just play close to the line. Burks and Lankford will be windshield wipers out there.
Outfield: Ellis Burks. Played most of his career under the radar, but was a superb centerfielder who finished with a .291 average and 352 homers. Had a .510 slugging percentage, including a league-leading .639 in 1996.
Outfield: Ray Lankford. Another under-the-radar stealth bomber, he was a brilliant defender and a speed guy who stole 258 bags to go with 238 bombs. His 123 homers in Busch Stadium were the most by any player. Made just 41 errors in 1,138 games.
Designated hitter: Edgar Martinez and Fred McGriff. I'm cheating a little here, but the Crime Dog and the Big Cat both were too good to not be on the first team. Martinez could be the landmark first-ballot HOF DH with his .312 lifetime average, .418 OBP and 309 homers. In 2004, MLB named its annual Outstanding Designated Hitter Award for Edgar . . . For a long time during his career with the Blue Jays, Padres, Braves, Rays, Cubs and Dodgers, McGriff was the last guy you would want to see batting in the ninth inning with a game on the line. Hit 30 or more homers 10 times, including seven straight seasons, and had a .992 fielding percentage at first.
Anyway, despite the lack of a catcher and outfield scarcity, this is one of the most talented groups of HOF ballot first-timers ever. And therein lies the peril. You can only vote for a maximum of 10 players. I checked six names on my ballot and have never voted for more than six. Three are guys who have been knocking on the door and need to be affirmed by the BBWAA before they wind up being passed onto a dazed and confused veterans committee that last year honored World War II second baseman Joe Gordon. I voted for two pitchers, Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris, whose numbers look a lot better now that the 300-game winner is being excised from history by the pitch-countniks, and The Hawk, wonderfully talented rightfielder Andre Dawson.
From the impressive list of ballot virgins, I voted for Alomar, Martinez and McGriff. I'm already feeling guilt for not giving a nod to Gallaraga. Next year.
Here's what I fear: The 10 players on my All-'90s All-Stars played in 44 All-Star Games. They collected myriad MVP votes, Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers and Top 10 ratings in various categories. To avoid being one-and-done and therefore at the mercy of the ponderous, agenda-driven VC, they need to appear on 5 percent of the ballots. I would hate to see a solid ballplayer like Segui be tossed onto the discard pile so soon. Ditto pitchers Shane Reynolds (114-96) and Kevin Appier (169-137, 3.74).
After all, it's the quality of the players who don't wind up in Cooperstown that defines the excellence of the special few who do.
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