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Hall of Fame ballot: Support for Larkin, Morris, Raines, Trammell

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Trammel, here greeting Jack Morris, should get more than last year's 24.3 percent of vote. (Getty Images)  
Trammel, here greeting Jack Morris, should get more than last year's 24.3 percent of vote. (Getty Images)  

Numbers buzz around like summer flies. Comparisons are rife, like at a beauty pageant. Memories float in and out of focus the way ships do on the horizon.

Must be the holidays.

Or Hall of Fame balloting time.

My ballot was submitted just as New Year's Eve was approaching. Midnight ... and is Barry Larkin in yet? A champagne toast ... to Tim Raines. A New Year's kiss for ... OK, that's enough.

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Anyway. The years fly by much too quickly. So quickly that I went back and counted, and this is my 13th Hall of Fame ballot. Some things don't change, and may they never. The agonizing over each borderline name, the honor and the privilege it is simply to cast a vote. As I've written before, I view my job here as akin to that of a Congressman casting a vote on behalf of his constituents.

The Hall of Fame is your house. Those of us who vote, in my opinion, are casting that ballot on behalf of you. (And, by the way, I pledge not to irresponsibly hold up a vote to extend payroll tax cuts.)

Truth be told, it's not a very strong Hall of Fame year. None of the newcomers to the ballot are immortals, in my opinion. The best of this new lot? Bernie Williams, Vinny Castilla, Brian Jordan and, gulp, Jeromy Burnitz.

In the end, I voted for just four names on the 27-player ballot (as per rules, you can vote for as many as 10). My near misses were the same guys I sweated over -- and neglected -- last year: Jeff Bagwell, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Dale Murphy, Lee Smith and Larry Walker. Not necessarily in that order.

My 2012 Hall of Fame ballot:

Barry Larkin: Given the dearth of new blood on the ballot, the thinking is that Larkin will expand on the 62.1 percent of the vote he received last year and reach the 75 percent needed for election to the Hall. That he should is beyond debate. He was a 12-time All-Star, a five-tool player and, if you need any more convincing, he stars in my friend Jayson Stark's book The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History. Stark calls him the most underrated shortstop ever. There are many reasons for that, but here's just one, my favorite: Larkin's career on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) was .815. NL average for a shortstop during Larkin's career: .678. Only two shortstops in the last 30 years compiled an OPS that much higher than everyone else at his position: Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra.

Jack Morris: There is no bigger flashpoint on the ballot -- this side of the steroids debate -- than Morris. The anti-Morris crowd is insulted by the fact that anybody would even consider him. Among other things, his 3.90 ERA would rank as the worst of any starting pitcher in the Hall. But he also won more games and completed more games than any pitcher in the 1980s. Roger Craig, who came up as a player through the Dodgers' organization, was his pitching coach for five seasons in Detroit (1980-84) and told me last year that, "of all the pitchers I've ever been around -- Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Jim Bunning, Don Newcombe -- he's as good a big-game pitcher as I've seen." Morris was the ace for three different World Series champions -- the '84 Tigers, '91 Twins and '92 Blue Jays. How competitive was he? I love the story Craig told me for a column last year: Sometimes, manager Sparky Anderson would order him out to the mound to talk with Morris to calm him down when things weren't going well. On occasion, knowing how fiery Morris was, Craig would reach the mound and simply have a conversation with shortstop Alan Trammell instead as Morris glared. Then he would head back to the dugout and assure Sparky that all was well. Great story, great -- yes, great -- pitcher.

Tim Raines: Sometimes you overlook greatness. I did it with Raines, passing over him when he first appeared on the ballot. But I've now voted for him in each of the past four seasons. This side of Rickey Henderson -- Hall of Famer -- Raines might have been the greatest leadoff man ever. He certainly is on the short list. Three things (among others) stand out to me about Raines: Only 50 men in history crossed the plate more than Raines (1,571 career runs), he ranks second in history for highest stolen base percentage (300 or more attempts) at 84.7 percent and only 45 men ever reached base more than Raines (his 3,977 times on base ranks 46th in history). That's some serious, significant set-the-table, keep-the-line-moving, whatever you want to call it. Pick your description with Raines, it should include the phrase "Hall of Famer."

Alan Trammell: That he received only 24.3 percent of the vote last year is thoroughly embarrassing -- for the voters, not for Trammell. Three of his contemporaries at shortstop from the 1970s and 1980s sailed into Cooperstown: Cal Ripken Jr., Robin Yount and Ozzie Smith. No way the gap between them and Trammell is this large. I talked with retired manager Tony La Russa and Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick about for a column last week. Not only did La Russa rank Trammell in Ripken-Yount-Smith echelon, he also favorably compared him to Larkin. "To me, Barry is a Hall of Famer," La Russa said. "He had everything -- outstanding defense, speed, the bat." Then, he added: "I don't know that Barry was any better than Alan. There were some steals. Barry would steal a bag when you needed it." Larkin had 379 career steals, Trammell had 236. "Tram is in their class [Ozzie and Larkin] and he's in the class with Robin and Cal," La Russa continued. "He deserves so much more respect." Absolutely and unequivocally, yes.

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