Everyone likes to debate whether their favorite player is worthy of the Hall of Fame, but there are fewer than 600 people in this country who actually get to make that decision. Later this afternoon, the esteemed Baseball Writers Association of America will make their collective opinion known, revealing the results of this year's voting.
Only 23 players appeared on this year's ballot, the fewest ever, although voters are free to vote for any of the 60 players who are eligible. There are too many eligible candidates to mention here, but here are some names you should be looking for during today's announcement.
-- Rickey Henderson. There may not have been a better leadoff hitter in the game -- and let's face it, if Rickey didn't love the game so much, he'd already be enshrined. Instead, he kept pushing his first year of eligibility back every time he latched on with another team -- he played for five different teams after turning 40 before finally playing his final season as a 44-year-old in 2003.
Truth be told, Rickey never officially retired: he continued to play in the independent leagues for several years, and if a team called him up today and extended an invitation to spring training, he'd probably show up next month in better shape than half the players in camp.
-- Jim Rice. Rice is notable for several reasons, including two that have nothing to do with his career statistics. First, he fell just a few percentage points shy of making the cut last year with 72.2 percent of the vote, mere percentage points short of the requisite three-fourths majority. Secondly, this is his 15th year on the ballot; per BBWAA rules, if he doesn't make the cut this year he'll no longer be eligible to be included on future ballots, which would then put his fate in the hands of the notoriously stingy Veterans Committee.
-- Bert Blyleven. Like Rice, he's the definition of a fringe candidate. Unlike Rice, he has until 2011 until it's his last chance. The voters can't seem to decide whether he's deserving or not -- he received 53.3 percent of the vote in 2006, 47.7 percent in 2007 and 61.9 percent last year. Maybe this is the year he tops 75 percent, or maybe he dips below 50 percent. The relatively short ballot might work in his favor this year.
-- Tommy John. There's a whole generation of baseball fans who know about Tommy John simply for the surgery named after him than what he did as a player, but that shouldn't diminish his accomplishments. He pitched 26 years in the majors, appearing in four All-Star games in three different decades (1968, 1978, 1979 and 1980), including three after undergoing the then-revolutionary arm surgery in 1974 that now bears his name. Like Rice, this is his 15th and final appearance on the ballot.
-- Mark McGwire. McGwire has fallen short each of the first two years he was eligible. At some point, though, the voters will need to decide what they want to do with players from the so-called Steroid Era, because if they continue to deny McGwire, they'll probably have to deny every power hitter from the early 90's until the Mitchell Report. So long as McGwire continues to garner at least 5 percent of the vote (he had 23.5 percent in 2007; 23.6 percent in 2008), the BBWAA can put this debate on the back burner.
There are some tough calls for the voters to make, but that's the way it's supposed to be -- the talented fringe players who don't make the cut make it all the more special for those who do.
The BBWAA will make their announcement at 2 PM; check back frequently for our coverage of today's news.