It might even be a now-or-never ballot for the latter, which doesn't bode well considering that from among the returning candidates, only Barry Larkin was within shouting distance (62.1 percent) of election last season.
You just don't jump from the 50 percent range one year to the 75 percent-plus necessary for election the next, so don't expect it this time from Jack Morris (53.5 percent in 2010), let alone Lee Smith (45.3 percent), Jeff Bagwell (41.7 percent), Tim Raines (37.5 percent), Edgar Martinez (32.9 percent) or Alan Trammell (24.3 percent).
But that doesn't mean it's time to stop voting for anybody from that group, either. As Bert Blyleven showed last year, a candidacy can build over the 15-year eligibility period; and new statistical research can change opinions.
So here are some filled-in boxes on the Hall of Fame ballot — and in case you're wondering about a few notable admissions, there are no votes for those stained by PED or recreational-drug use sanctions or admissions:
Larkin wasn't first-ballot Hall of Fame material, but it's hard to argue against 12 All-Star selections, nine Silver Sluggers, nine .300-plus seasons, three Gold Gloves (post-Ozzie Smith), one world championship (1990), and one NL MVP (1995 — although debatable since Dante Bichette was unfairly penalized by voters for playing in Coors Field).
Larkin also was the first 30-homer/30-steal shortstop, was successful on 83 percent of stolen-base attempts and was the top-rated shortstop in the Elias ratings nine times.
It will be interesting to see how much Bagwell's percentage climbs in his second year on the ballot. Like Larkin, he wasn't a first-ballot-level player, and there is a segment of the voting population (this one included) who still vote that distinction. But unlike Larkin — and fairly or unfairly — Bagwell is linked to PED use even though he never faced any sanctions. So this year could be a key one for him.
Given that he played in the Steroids Era, his career numbers are borderline but with a lean to election, led by 35th all-time in homers (449), 36th all-time in slugging percentage (.540), 40th all-time in on-base percentage (.408), 46th all-time in RBI (1,529), 63rd all-time in runs (1,517), 66th in total bases (4,213) and 28th in walks (1,401).
Bagwell also is the leading candidate in WAR (wins above replacement, an overall measure of a player's contributions) at 57th all-time — just ahead of Rod Carew, Ken Griffey Jr. and Robin Yount.
Morris is down to his last three chances on the writers' ballot, and only in the last two years has he topped the 50-percent mark. The good news is Blyleven's percentage was at 47.7 in 2007, and three years later, he missed by the narrowest of margins before getting elected in 2011.
Morris also has become the best starting pitcher on the ballot who's not in the hall. Sometimes, that can be an impetus for momentum.
Smith, now in year 10 on the ballot, is a curious case in that his voting percentage has stayed in the narrowest of ranges — from 36.6 percent to 47.5 percent overall, with the last four years between 43.3 and 47.7 percent.
He's also hurt by the fact that his truly dominant years just preceded the 40-save-per-year era for closers. Otherwise, his career total would have been well over 500. With Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage in, Smith is next in line, but will he ever get over the hump?
Martinez's percentage actually decreased in his second year on the ballot — from 36.2 to 32.9, which isn't a good sign. Truth is, he's a borderline candidate who also faces the anti-DH sentiment.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Trammell most likely isn't going to get in, but it's the voting percentage that bothers me most. Last year was his high at 24.3 percent. Taking nothing away from Ozzie Smith's candidacy — he was elected at 91.7 percent — but there just wasn't that much difference in the two players. The WAR stat says as much — in fact, Trammell (66.9) tops Smith (64.6), and is a shade behind Larkin (68.9).
That said, the bigger injustice was done to Trammell's longtime double-play combo partner Lou Whitaker, who was ignored in his only year on the ballot in one of the BBWAA's biggest whiffs. Whitaker's WAR was 69.7 — making him a Veteran's Committee candidate waiting to happen.
Walker belongs on the short list of the most-talented players in the last quarter-century. He really was that good — a true five-tool player, and one of the best base-runners, too. Too bad he wasn't on the field enough to amass the needed career numbers.
The support for McGriff has been lukewarm at best — 21.5 and 17.9 percent in his two years on the ballot — so it doesn't look good for Crime Dog. Although borderline at best, he deserves a better fate voting percentage-wise, as he ranks 26th all-time in home runs, 42nd in RBI, 44th in extra-base hits and 48th in total bases.
Nobody from among this year's first-time-eligibles is a serious candidate, but Bernie Williams, Vinny Castilla, Ruben Sierra and Tim Salmon could draw more than the minimum 5 percent of votes to remain on the ballot.
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