I'll do something more in-depth later, tackling the roiders like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in more depth again, as before. And, I'll certainly write one more column about the one more year of effort needed to keep Jack Morris OUT for sound reasons; here's what I wrote about a year ago on that.
Right now, though, I want to focus on the first-year eligibles on this year's Hall of Fame ballot, especially the Big Five, if you will, of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent.
I think all five should be in the Hall. I think the first four, not just the first three, have strong legitimate arguments to be first-year HOFers, and even Kent isn't out of bounds, though I lean no. That said, I'm not on the BBWAA, so, as I look at each one individually, I'll also address what I expect to happen.
Maddux: We're talking one of the 10 best pitchers ever. We're also talking someone whose fastball couldn't break a pane of glass and about whom there have been zero steroid allegations. He's far above my career baselines for ERA+ and WHIP. He will get in, as well as should, and will likely hit or pass the 95 percent mark of ballots.
Glavine: It would be easy to call him a poorer-man's lefty Maddux. But, that would hide him behind his fellow long-time Brave without looking at him closely. And, more closely, while he's no Early Wynn, when you get past his 300-win mark, he's not quite so hot. His career WHIP of 1.314 is well above my normal HOF max of 1.25 and is, in fact ... in Jack Morris territory! (Actually, it's worse than Morris, and it is halfway to Wynn from Morris.) His ERA+ of 118 is strong but nowhere near that of Maddux. And his career WAA is a tick below 40. I think he still deserves in on the first ballot. But, I'm OK if he doesn't break 90 percent, but I think he will.
Thomas: The Big Hurt has a great career OPS+ and slugging, and broke 500 HRs, a key marker before the pre-1990s explosion. There's not been any real roiding allegations about him, either. That said, he also failed to break even 2,500 hits, and his career WAA of 39.1 is relatively low. Plus, he spent more than half his career at DH, yet, like Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz, still had injury problems. I think he's still a worthy first-ballot winner, but "should" get about the same vote percentage as what Glavine "should."
Mussina: He "should" get in, and actually, he's at least as deserving as Glavine. Higher ERA+, WHIP not just below 1.25 but below 1.2, higher WAR, much higher WAA, and better K/BB ratio. Of course, for the BBWAA voters still stuck in the pre-sabermetric era, he didn't win 300 games. Indeed, some of them might even want to "punish" him and make him weight a year behind Maddux and Glavine. In my book he should get in, and he should get in with a better vote than Glavine. As for will he? I think he gets in this year, but, he'll likely be below 85 percent for the reasons I mentioned.
Kent: A top slugging second baseman, he still fell short of 400 HRs and 2,500 hits. His career WAA (30 is my normal cutoff and 35 is preferred, and I am liking WAA more than WAR) is only 26.4. His career WAR, even oWAR, is below 60. As I said above, he's got a decent to good argument for eventual admission, but there's a good argument about him not being a first-year player, and the number-crunching at the bottom of his B-R page says about the same. (And, contra all the ESPN guys, I can see legitimate symbolic reasons for agreeing a guy is a HOFer, but yet not a first-year HOFer.) As for the writers? Kent doesn't seem to be a favorite of theirs. And, if Moose gets in, a five-person entry class, setting aside Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, not to mention Morris and the likely roiders, seems unlikely.
Off the top of my head, and hedging bets a bit, I say the top three, plus one of the four from Mussina/Piazza/Biggio/Bagwell gets in. I think Bags and Pizza Man are both more deserving, if we're talking about relative entry order, than Biggio.