Looking ahead at the '08 Hall ballot

Looking ahead at the '08 ballot

Everyone knew the Hall of Fame class of 2007 had two no-doubt-about-it candidates in Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. -- followed by an All-Star lineup of question marks.

With the newest members of the most famous Hall of Fame in sports still five months away from their official enshrinement in Cooperstown, N.Y., it's time to peek further into the future and explore the makeup for the 2008 class of Hall of Fame hopefuls.

The next Hall of Fame ballot will include 15 players that received at least five percent of the 545 votes cast by lifetime members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. That list starts with Rich "Goose" Gossage, who garnered 71.2 percent of the votes, and ends with Harold Baines, named on 5.3 percent of the ballots. A player needs 75 percent to be elected.

Besides the 15 returnees, a six-member screening committee will determine the remaining names on the ballot, and there is no limit on the number of players on the ballot.

But judging from the list of former players that played Major League Baseball for at least 10 years and have been retired for the past five years, surefire, first-year selections are sparse.

Among the names that stand out are: Shawon Dunston, Travis Fryman, David Justice, Mike Morgan, Tim Raines and Randy Velarde.

Of that group, Raines probably has the best chance to become a first-ballot selection. The switch-hitter had 2,605 hits during a 23-year MLB career that started with the Montreal Expos and ended with the Florida Marlins.

He was to the National League what Rickey Henderson was to the American League -- the most dominant leadoff hitter in his league.

Raines stole 808 bases -- including a career-best 90 in 1983 with the Expos -- and his success rate of 84.7 percent is higher than Henderson (80.8), regarded by most as the best leadoff hitter in MLB history and a probable first-ballot HOF selection when he becomes eligible in 2009.

Raines' impressive resume also includes 1,330 walks, just 966 strikeouts and a solid .385 on-base percentage. And he scored at least 100 runs six times in his career when he helped the Montreal Expos (1981), Chicago White Sox (1993) and New York Yankees (1996-98) reach the postseason. He was a seven-time All-Star and won the Midsummer Classic Most Valuable Player Award in '87.

Justice is probably best known for the home run he hit during Game 6 of the 1995 World Series that gave the Atlanta Braves a 1-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians as the NL champs in their only Fall Classic championship.

The former husband of Academy Award actress Halle Berry played for winners, participating in the postseason 10 times between 1991-2002.

Morgan has a couple of claims to fame.

The right-handed pitcher was drafted out of high school by the Oakland Athletics in June 1978, and his first professional start came several days later -- for the A's against the Baltimore Orioles. Morgan pitched a complete game, but he lost.

Between his first and last pitches, Morgan played for 11 organizations.

So, with perhaps one exception, the Hall of Fame class of '08 figures to focus on the carryovers from the most recent election. Without many (or any) can't-miss candidates, 2008 could be the year for reliever Gossage. One of the game's premier closers from 1977-85, Gossage received 388 votes this year, which left him 29 votes shy.

Former outfielders Jim Rice (63.5 percent) and Andre Dawson (56.7) are other prime candidates next year.

But the biggest question mark of all figures to be Mark McGwire.

Exactly one year ago, he was being mentioned in the same Hall of Fame sentence as Gwynn and Ripken. But in ensuing months leading up to the December voting process, the bright star above McGwire's head flickered and faded to the point where he received only 23.5 percent of the votes -- a mammoth McGwire home run away from the 75 percent needed.

The steroids issue -- did he or didn't he use them -- and his reluctance to discuss "the past" during a Congressional hearing on the subject turned off a lot of voters. So did the facts that he had just 1,626 career hits and never won a Most Valuable Player Award, not even after breaking the single-season home-run record in 1998.

McGwire finished his career with 583 home runs, which at the time was fifth on the all-time list. He still stands seventh on the career list, and is first all-time in the category of fewest at-bats per home run.

Perhaps those numbers will outweigh the other issues 11 months from now.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.