Andre Dawson will be on the alert, like a ... well, like a Hawk. It will be another flight of the Dutchman, and the first takeoff for such illustrious recent icons as Roberto Alomar, Robin Ventura and Barry Larkin.Fred McGriff and Andres Galarraga will get an inkling as to whether round numbers indeed have magic in them. And Edgar Martinez will ride as the knight of a new baseball era.
The 2010 Hall of Fame ballot, formally released on Friday, is one of the most fascinating in years, an eclectic mix of long-detained deserving candidates and newcomers of both obvious and debatable merit.The ballot, on its way to qualified voting members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, is headlined by Dawson, the outfielder who drove in nearly 1,600 runs across a 21-year career, and Bert Blyleven, the right-hander with the wicked curveball and 287 wins. The two contemporaries are the only ones among 11 incumbent candidates to receive more than 50 percent of the votes a year ago, with Dawson scoring 67 percent in his eighth year of eligibility and Blyleven 62.7 percent in his 12th year. A candidate must receive 75 percent of the vote from BBWAA members to gain election, with leadoff great Rickey Henderson and former Red Sox slugger Jim Rice reaching that threshold to gain entrance in 2009.
The 2010 ballot also heralds the arrival of 19 new eligibles -- veterans of 10-plus seasons retired for five years -- of whom Martinez is the most intriguing contender.Originally a third baseman, he was a designated hitter in 1,412 of his 2,055 career games, making him the first primary DH up for Hall of Fame consideration, and hence a test case. Hall of Fame traditionalists don't adapt easily. The bias against closers faded slowly, until three of them finally gained admittance the past six years. Martinez, however, isn't an ordinary trailblazer. The award annually given to the game's top DH bears his name, after all. Weighing in a few years ago, Commissioner Bud Selig called Martinez "the greatest DH since the rule was put in [in 1973]."
Looking ahead, the commissioner added, "I'll let the writers decide whether he is a Hall of Famer."
Martinez is the only one of 11 retired players to bat over .300 with a .400-plus on-base percentage and .500-plus slugging average in 2,000-plus games not yet in the Hall of Fame.The other ballot newcomers comprise an in-crowd of infielders. In an oddity, 10 of the 12 position players were infielders, the exceptions being outfielders Ellis Burks and Ray Lankford. Going around the horn, the marquee includes third baseman Ventura (294 homers and 1,182 RBIs in 16 seasons, six Gold Gloves), shortstop Larkin (.295 hitter with 2,340 hits in 19 seasons, a 12-time All-Star), second baseman Alomar (10 Gold Gloves, a 12-time All-Star, 474 steals and 1,134 RBIs in 17 seasons) and first baseman Erik Karros (1,027 RBIs in 14 seasons). Former first basemen also include McGriff, who fell short of his 500-homer goal but had 1,550 RBIs to accompany 493 homers across 19 seasons, and Galarraga, who hit 399 homers in a 19-year career that saw him hit .300-plus eight times. Other position players appearing on the ballot for the first time are David Segui and Todd Zeile. Among the modest sextet of pitchers, the biggest winner was Kevin Appier, who won 169 games across a 16-year career he finished with a 3.74 ERA. Right-hander Pat Hentgen won 131 games and the 1996 American League Cy Young Award. Mike Jackson, who had 142 saves and a 3.42 ERA in 17 seasons, is the bullpen fraternity's nominee. The other pitcher is Shane Reynolds. The ballot rookies need to attract a minimum of 5 percent of the votes to remain on the ballot in 2011. Dawson and Blyleven have already spent many years in that netherworld between 5 percent and 75 percent, as have the other returning candidates: Lee Smith (44.5 percent of the vote in 2009), Jack Morris (44), Tim Raines (22.6), Mark McGwire (21.9), Alan Trammell (17.4), Dave Parker (15), Don Mattingly (11.9), Dale Murphy (11.5) and Harold Baines (5.9). The climb up the totem pole can be slow and gradual. Dawson rose into pole position from a first-year score of 43.5 percent. Blyleven's pace has been even steadier. Each has hope of breaking through -- as had Rice, elected in his 15th and final year on the ballot. For one thing, Dawson has the ultimate respect and support of the peers who beat him to Cooperstown. "Talk to any player who saw him play or played with him or against him, and they don't understand why he isn't in the Hall of Fame," said former Reds first baseman Tony Perez, a 2000 inductee. Former Cubs teammate Ryne Sandberg lobbied for Dawson's election during his own induction speech, in 2005. Dawson also has the platform of numbers: the only one of six career 300-300 (homers and stolen bases) men not yet in the Hall, a guy who topped 20 homers in 13 seasons and 100 RBIs in four on his way to final tallies of 438 and 1,591. Dawson also is the only eligible player with 1,000-plus extra-base hits not yet in the Hall. Blyleven belongs to a similar exclusion club: His 287 wins are the most of any modern (post-1900) pitcher not in Cooperstown, with the exception of 288-game winner Tommy John, whose ballot shelf life ran out last year. Yet it is hard to argue that the Dutchman has been the victim of any ballot bias. The truth is, it has been a surprisingly arid era for starting pitchers, with only four elected by the BBWAA since their first year of eligibility, all of them 300-game winners: Nolan Ryan, Don Sutton, Phil Niekro and Steve Carlton. For Dawson and Blyleven, hope does not spring eternal. There is a time limit. We will know soon whether their time has come. Induction of the Hall of Fame's Class of 2010 will be on July 25, in Cooperstown.