The 2011 Hall of Fame ballot shapes up as possibly the most interesting ever with an exceptionally strong list of candidates appearing on the ballot for the first time. These players all appeared in the major leagues in 2005 but have not played in 2006.
In devising his Win Shares system, Bill James concluded that 400 Win Shares means absolute enshrinement in the Hall of Fame and 300 Win Shares makes a player more likely than not to be in the Hall. Six players with more than 300 Win Shares could appear on the ballot for the first time in 2011. One has over 400 Win Shares and a seventh player was a two-time MVP.
Possible first year players on the 2011 ballot include the following:
+ The greatest pitcher in the last 100 years with 7 Cy Young Awards.
+ A player with over 500 home runs and 3000 hits.
+ A former Rookie of the Year and MVP with 449 home runs.
+ A player with 588 home runs and an MVP Award.
+ A player who won 3 batting championships with averages over.350 and also won an MVP Award.
+ A player who won a batting championship with a .363 batting average and a .473 on-base average.
+ A two-time MVP who also led his league in home runs twice.
Most of these candidates are easily identified without their names but here they are along with their career Win Shares.
1. Roger Clemens (421). Clemens will drop off the 2011 ballot if he decides to come back and pitch in 2006. He could be the first unanimous selection in the first round and, if not, should beat the record of 98.8 % of the votes held by Tom Seaver in 1992 and Nolan Ryan in 1999.
2. Rafael Palmeiro (394). Every eligible player with over 500 home runs or 3,000 hits has been elected to the Hall. Palmeiro with 569 and 3020 has both. However, he also has a big cloud over his record as a result of a positive test for steroids in 2005.
3. Jeff Bagwell (387). A complete player with 449 home runs, five .300-30-100 seasons, two seasons with 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases, a career on-base average of .408 and a Gold Glove. He is the only player in the last 70 years to score 150 runs in a season.
4. Sammy Sosa (311). The only player to hit 60+ home runs three times led the league twice in homers, three times in runs and twice in RBIs. His 588 home runs rank 5th on the all-time list. However, his career had an ugly tail which may influence voters.
5. Larry Walker (307).
6. John Olerud (301). Olerud is not a serious Hall candidate because of his lack of power at a power position. However, he quietly put together an outstanding 17-year career with a batting championship, three Gold Gloves and a career on-base percentage of .398.
7. Juan Gonzalez (234). Once on track for a Hall of Fame career, his last productive season was in 2001 at the age of 31. He was the American League MVP in 1996 and 1998 and had five .300-30-100 seasons. Every other eligible player with 5 such seasons has been elected to the Hall.
Five other players with long and productive careers and over 200 Win Shares should also appear on the ballot for the first time in 2011 but they are not likely to survive the first round, Marquis Grissom (248), Kevin Brown (241), B.J. Surhoff (231), Tino Martinez (216) and Bret Boone (208).
Voting in 2011 will undoubtedly be influenced to some degree by the controversy surrounding performance-enhancing drugs. It should be an interesting time.
Bill Gilbert is a baseball analyst and writer and member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).