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Friday, November 25, 2016

The Expos' Last Hurrah

Tim Raines
The Baseball Hall of Fame just released the ballot for the Baseball Writers Association of America Vote. With no obvious first-timers on this year's list, and a few players on their last ballot, it should be interesting, and regular readers should know this fascinates me to no end.

What's intriguing about looking over the possibilities is that the Montreal Expos, who haven't played a game since the 2004 season, may have their last gasp of immortality, as there are two players with a decent chance of going in who played most of their career for them. The Expos were never in a World Series, spectacularly blowing the lead in game five of the 1981 National League Championship to the Dodgers on a Rick Monday home run. But Tim Raines and Vlad Guerrero are on the ballot, and are probably the last two players who would go in with the Expos logo on their helmet.

Raines has a much better shot. He is in his tenth and last year on the ballot, starting with a modest 24 percent and working his way up to 69 percent last year. Players who hit the magic sixty percent usually get in eventually (it takes 75 percent to enshrine) so he figures to finally hit paydirt. I, however, would not vote for him. He's said to be the second-best leadoff hitter of all time (after Rickey Henderson) but he's far in Henderson's shadow. He doesn't have 3,000 hits, did not have a .300 batting average, but he is fifth all-time in steals, which I find to be a lesser important stat. He only led the league once in on-base percentage and never in walks. He did the league twice in runs. I think he was a very good player but not Hall-worthy.

Guerrero may be the first-timer who gets the most votes, but I don't think he'll get in this year. He may have had more success with the Angels, but he played half of his career for the Expos. He finished with 449 home runs, a .318 batting average (higher than Raines) and 1496 RBI, all Hall-worthy stats. He was the 2004 AL MVP, won eight Silver Sluggers Awards, and is 24th all-time in slugging percentage. I would vote for him, but he'll probably have to wait a few years.

Who else besides Raines gets in this year? Most likely Jeff Bagwell, who had 71 percent of the vote last year, so only needs to pick up a few writers. In an interesting coincidence, he also had 449 home runs, but 1529 RBI, and was a Rookie of the Year and an MVP (in 1994). He played his whole career for Houston, so was not exactly a household name, which has hurt him, along with a shorter-than-normal playing career (only 15 years). But in those years he averaged 34 homers and 115 RBI a season. He's 22nd all-time in on base-plus-slugging.

Of the remaining returning players, Trevor Hoffman is on the cusp. He received 67 percent last year, so figures to get in, but is it this year? With sure-fire first-timers in the next three years (Chipper Jones, Mariano Rivera, and Derek Jeter) Hoffman might want to get it done this year. He is second all-time in saves to Rivera, with 601. But like Bagwell he toiled in relative anonymity with the Padres for most of his career (Raines did win two rings with the Yankees in the late '90s). Should be close for him.

Then there's an interesting group, led by Curt Schilling, who is hurting his chances ever year by being more obnoxious than ever in his politics. It shouldn't matter, but it's hard to ignore his offensive Facebook posts. It's as if he doesn't want to get in. I don't think he deserves it anyway, despite being the ace of three championship teams. Same for Mike Mussina, who has 270 lifetime wins, but just doesn't do it for me.

Then there's the PED guys: Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa. Not going to happen.

One notable this year is Lee Smith, who is in his 15th and final year. His vote total has hovered between 29 percent and a high of 50, but he has gone down in recent years. He was the first to get 300 saves, and is third all-time with 478, but seems to have left in the dust so much by Rivera and Hoffman. Maybe he'll get in a Veterans' vote someday.

Finally are a quintet of hitters that all have their champions: Edgard Martinez, Jeff Kent, Fred McGriff, Gary Sheffield, and Larry Walker. Kent and Sheffield are probably hurt by moving teams so much (and Kent was not a well-liked teammate). Martinez probably won't get in because of his being a career DH, which won't stop David Ortiz.

Other newcomers of note are Ivan Rodriguez, a great-hitting and fielding catcher who will take a few years to get in, and Manny Ramirez, who would be a shoo-in were it not for being nailed twice for PEDs. He had 555 career home runs, but he may well hang around in limbo like Bonds and Clemens for his full ten years on the ballot.

Some guys on the ballot who probably won't even get the five percent necessary to remain but have interesting career tidbits: Mike Cameron, who once hit four home runs in a game; Matt Stairs, who has the record for most pinch-hit home runs (23) in a career; and Edgar Renteria, who had the game-winning hit in the 1997 World Series, made the last out in another, and was MVP in yet a third Fall Classic. Jorge Posada, who was an essential part of the great five-title Yankees, just doesn't have the career stats to get in.

So, my votes would go to Bagwell, Guerrero, and Rodriguez. My gut is that Bagwell, Raines, and Hoffman will all get in. Vote is announced on January 18th.

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