Better a glut of candidates than a dearth of candidates for Cooperstown, but with the retirements of Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas, an already strong class of candidates became even more competitive than expected. The eligible first-time candidates for 2014 also include Greg Maddux, Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina.
The argument could be made that all five of those candidates should be voted into the Hall of Fame. But the reality is that they won't all make it, at least in the first year. The last time the voters elected even as many as three players in a single election was 1999 (Robin Yount, Nolan Ryan, George Brett).
Hall of Fame voters can vote for up to 10 candidates in a single year, but very few choose to do that. The majority of Hall voters -- eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America -- tend to err only on the side of caution. Holding a vote for the Hall of Fame is a rare privilege, and the mindset that goes with it is a gate-guarding mindset. Any uncertainty in a specific case means no.
As one of those voters, with that same mindset, I believe that these five men are all obviously worthy candidates, but I also believe that they aren't going to all get in the first time around. Three of them could. Three of them should, crowded field or not.
Maddux was one of the greatest pitchers of any era, a singular competitor who won on guts and guile. He was a triumph of head and heart over velocity. He ought to be not only a first-ballot selection, but a unanimous selection. Still, you know that somebody, somewhere, will submit a blank ballot in the misguided belief that this is a sacred duty, or something.
Glavine is a tick behind Maddux as a measure of greatness, but his overall body of work clearly indicates that he is a Hall of Famer. Again, the consistency, the competitive fire, the intelligence, all characterized a career that was built on finding a way to win.
Thomas' career numbers are suitably impressive by even the Hall's standards. The fact that he amassed many of these numbers while being a designated hitter is a point that should not be held against him forever. He had a rare combination of extreme power and astute selectivity at the plate. He was, after all, the "Big Hurt." He should get the big vote.
Mike Mussina was one of baseball's best starters for a long time, as clearly indicated by 17 years in a row with double-digit victories, 11 of which included 15 or more wins. He must be considered from the start, but those of us who have supported Bert Blyleven on an annual basis have seen this argument before.
Blyleven has some wonderful stats, such as being fifth all-time in strikeouts. But he has been annually punished by some voters for winning 287 games rather than 300. Mussina, who won 270 games, will run into this same sort of opposition, and possibly even more of it.
Kent set a record for home runs by a second baseman, which set him apart from the crowd, particularly at what had traditionally been a defense-first position. His career numbers are not overwhelming by Hall standards, but they're huge by second-base standards. Will it hurt Kent that in the later years of his career in particular he was a second baseman with truly limited range?
It is too early to tell that, but what can be safely predicted is that there won't be immediate room for all five of these players in Cooperstown. And apart from these five, there will be other notable candidates on the ballot, such as Luis Gonzalez, Moises Alou and Hideo Nomo. The bywords for this election could become "maybe later," or more generously, "probably later."
Maddux, Glavine and Thomas should receive first-ballot elections no matter how crowded or impressive the rest of the field is. The rest of the candidates have established their credentials, now they may have to work on their patience. This will be a difficult circumstance for some deserving players, but a surplus of terrific candidates is not a bad thing for the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.