Mark Grace led the major leagues in hits during the 1990s, played first base almost flawlessly, batted .647 for the Cubs in the 1989 playoffs and singled to begin the 2001 Diamondbacks' World Series-winning rally against supposedly unbeatable Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. Yes, Grace was a fine ballplayer. He simply wasn't a Hall of Famer.
Mark Grace led the major leagues in hits during the 1990s, played first base almost flawlessly, batted .647 for the Cubs in the 1989 playoffs and singled to begin the 2001 Diamondbacks' World Series-winning rally against supposedly unbeatable Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.
Yes, Grace was a fine ballplayer. He simply wasn't a Hall of Famer.
Hall of Fame first basemen hit dozens of home runs every season. Grace averaged fewer than a dozen. Hall of Fame middle-of-the-order hitters routinely drive in 100 runs. Grace never did; his norm was 72. Hall of Fame corner infielders have high slugging percentages. Grace's was .442 - lower than those of Eric Karros, Robin Ventura and John Olerud.
That's why, in his first (and only) year on the Hall ballot, Grace received little love from Baseball Writers Association of America voters (including me). Vote totals were released Monday and Grace was chosen on fewer than 5 percent of the ballots, so he no longer will be eligible for consideration.
It doesn't mean he wasn't good. It just underscores how difficult it is (and should be) to get elected into baseball's most exclusive club.
The announcement that Rickey Henderson (a no-brainer) and Jim Rice (finally!) will be enshrined in 2009 – and that Grace and the 20 others on the ballot won't be – got me thinking: Who among today's active ballplayers will make it?
Here's how one observer handicaps the field. (These projections are based on perceived likelihood, not necessarily on how I will vote.)
Tom Glavine, Ken Griffey Jr., Derek Jeter, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez, John Smoltz.
Ramirez is an all-time knucklehead – and an all-time offensive machine. Martinez was a dominant pitcher in an era known for steroid-swilling sluggers. Pujols and A-Rod will be ranked among the very best hitters ever before they're through.
Griffey, Johnson and Rivera set impressive standards of excellence. Jeter's a winner who will finish with more than 3,000 hits.
The recently retired Maddux will get in on the first ballot, ahead of still active Glavine and Smoltz. Too bad. It would have been fitting for the three former Atlanta greats to go in together.
Trevor Hoffman, Ivan Rodriguez, Curt Schilling, Frank Thomas, Jim Thome.
Thome's detractors say he's one-dimensional, but he bolstered his case these last few years with the White Sox by increasing his homer total to 541 and delivering the division-clinching HR in 2008. The only way Thomas doesn't make it is if voters show an extreme anti-DH bias.
Rodriguez might be the best catcher ever; only steroid rumors make Pudge less than a cinch. Though voters don't dig closers, it's hard to imagine Hoffman and his 550-plus saves getting denied.
Schilling's 216 victories don't impress but his postseason stats (11-2, 2.23 ERA, three titles) will sway voters who put extra weight on clutch performances (and bloody socks).
Carlos Delgado, Vladimir Guerrero, Jeff Kent, Chipper Jones, Ichiro Suzuki.
Many folks might not realize Delgado has 469 homers and a .929 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Or that Jones is a career .310 hitter with 408 HRs. Or that Kent will retire as by far the most power-packed second baseman ever. Or that the multi-talented Guerrero has a good shot at 500 HRs.
Most folks do realize Ichiro's special place in history. He's very close to shoo-in status.
OLD GRAY PLAYERS
Moises Alou, Nomar Garciaparra, Mike Mussina, Troy Percival, Omar Vizquel.
Mussina retired with 270 victories, fewer than shunned candidates Bert Blyleven, Tommy John and Jim Kaat. Garciaparra, once a trend-setting shortstop, has faded fast. Percival hasn't had enough great seasons. Alou has been steady but not spectacular. Vizquel deserves in as much as Ozzie Smith did, but defense-first ballplayers often are rejected; Vizquel and Mussina have the best odds in this bunch.
Bobby Abreu, Carlos Beltran, Lance Berkman, Mark Buehrle, Jason Giambi, Roy Halladay, Todd Helton, Torii Hunter, Magglio Ordonez, Andy Pettitte, Scott Rolen, Alfonso Soriano, Billy Wagner.
Very good players who won't have Hall-worthy numbers.
NO LINE YET
Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Roy Oswalt, Jonathan Papelbon, Hanley Ramirez, Francisco Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, Johan Santana, Grady Sizemore, Mark Teixeira, Brandon Webb, David Wright, Carlos Zambrano.
If told I had to choose the three most likely, I'd go with Ramirez (a five-tool shortstop), Wright (hits for power and fields superbly) and Teixeira (if his new-found zillions don't distract him). But it's really far too early to tell.
WILL "LASIX" HURT OR HELP?
Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa.
Bonds, who believes he was blacklisted last season, was a Hall of Famer before he allegedly began juicing in 1999.
Sosa, who is trying to make a comeback in 2009, was a bat-corker who ingested "Flintstone vitamins."
Statistically, they should be mortal locks for the Hall but their candidacies could be derailed by the "character" and "integrity" components of the voting instructions. The same could be true of Sheffield, whose 500-plus HRs might not overcome the outside issues. (Roger Clemens isn't "active," but he'd fall in this group, too.)
The lack of respect for Mark McGwire, whose vote percentage fell to 21.9 percent this time, doesn't bode well for these gentlemen.
Mike Nadel (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a GateHouse News Service sports columnist. Read his blog at TheBaldestTruth.com.