Baseball Hall of Fame: 2012 Preview

HOUSTON: Houston Astros hitting coach Jeff Bagwell looks on during batting practice before the Houston Astros play the Cincinnati Reds at Minute Maid Park in Houston Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

With Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven safely (and justifiably) enshrined in the Hall of Fame, we may turn our attentions to what will happen a year from now ... or, perhaps, what will not happen.

Here's a list of the best players who will debut on the 2012 Hall of Fame ballot: Bernie Williams, Brad Radke, Tim Salmon. Frankly -- and with all due respect to Carl Everett, Terry Mulholland, etc. -- those are the only three first-timers on the ballot worth mentioning. And none of those three are really worth voting for. Williams obviously has the best case, as a good-hitting center fielder for a number of years. But you can make his case convincingly only if you can make a convincing case that he was a solid, at-least-average defensive center fielder ... and that's a tough case to make, if you trust modern defensive metrics.

But Williams was a fantastic player who did well in October; he deserves (and will receive) some real support, but will fall well short of 50 percent from the voters in his first year of eligibility. Radke and Salmon will probably fail to receive five-percent support, and drop from the BBWAA ballot forever.

Without any exciting first-ballotteers, it's the holdovers who will carry the Village of Cooperstown's hopes this winter, when the 2012 voting results are announced. Of course, the paradox is that the Hall of Fame -- which isn't really in the business of not honoring baseball players -- will be hoping that at least one player (ideally, more than one) who were deemed not Hall of Fame-worthy this year will be deemed, by almost exactly the same group of voters, Hall-worthy.

Yeah. I know. Don't get me started.

Anyway, last time only two players were listed on more than 50 percent of the ballots without getting the 75 percent necessary for election: Barry Larkin (62 percent) and Jack Morris (54 percent). Only two more topped 40 percent: Lee Smith (45 percent) and Jeff Bagwell (42 percent).

With no super-strong candidates being added to the 2012 ballot, most of the holdovers are going to fare better.

Is Jack Morris going to pick up 21 percent, though, and gain election? Probably not; 21 percent would be a massive leap (especially considering that he moved up just one percent this year). Lee Smith's been stuck at around 45 percent for four years, and will do well to top 50 for the first time. Bagwell's next appearance will be just his second; there are voters who simply refuse to vote for anyone the first time around, and his support should improve significantly. Not enough to get him elected, of course. And rumors about steroid use might keep him out forever. But Bagwell was a legitimately great player, and someday he'll be in the Hall. Somehow.

Which leaves only Barry Larkin having a good shot at BBWAA election in 2012.

In 2010, Larkin got 52 percent (which, by the way, was criminally low). And with Alomar and Blyleven, both outstanding candidates, on the 2011 ballot, Larkin still jumped 10 percent in his second appearance on the ballot.

In recent years, Andre Dawson went from 67 percent in 2009 to 78 percent in 2010 and -- in perhaps the most relevant example -- Ryne Sandberg went 61 percent in his second year of eligibility to 76 percent in his third. And that was with Wade Boggs debuting on the ballot (and getting elected).

So it might be a close-run thing, but I'll predict that Barry Larkin is elected in 2012, his third year of eligibility. And that he's the only one.

The only one elected via the BBWAA, anyway. This winter, a committee will consider the so-called (and ridiculously named) Golden Era, with the rules mandating a ballot listing 10 candidates. With the committee consisting of only 16 members -- and presumably allowing for old-school vote-swapping, etc. -- it seems likely that at least one candidate will get the necessary 12 votes. It's probably Ron Santo's turn, finally. You know, just in time for the first anniversary of his death. When he should have been elected 30 years ago.

Anyway, they'll almost certainly elect someone and Santo's the best candidate, and has received the most support in recent Veterans Committee elections (when nobody was actually elected, time after time). Gil Hodges and Tony Oliva will draw significant support, too. But in the first year of this new committee, it's hard to predict what will happen.

My money's on Larkin and Santo, though. And both are incredibly deserving of baseball's highest honor. Next year's class might be small, but it should be good.

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