DDT's Pop Flies (53)

DDT (AKA Darryl Tahirali) is a freelance writer living in Orange County, California. Originally from Canada, DDT enjoys writing about music, baseball, and other areas of Western pop culture from the tasteful to the trashy. DDT can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

As a film genre, science fiction by its very speculative and imaginative nature holds the potential to be very good or very bad. Having to depict unreal circumstances can lead to very impressive or very embarrassing results depending on a number of factors, individually or in combination with other factors, from the skill and talent of the production team to the budget of the film. And no decade seemed to epitomize this more than the 1950s, which saw an explosion of sci-fi films both outstanding (The Day the Earth Stood Still) and awful (Plan 9 from Outer Space).

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Indeed, those Fabulous Fifties produced a plethora of sci-fi flicks that decades later remain memorable, for better or for worse. Partly this reflected the overall boom in post-World War Two popular culture, which in turn mirrored technological advancements of the period, from aerospace to atomic power. Yet those technological advancements also yielded fear and anxiety, which found their voice in sci-fi, as did concurrent fears about social and political realities. As the world moved through the Atomic Age to the Jet Age to the Space Age, films that explored the ramifications, both present and future, of those Ages grew in number and popularity.
Not in Hall of Fame has recently posted its updated list of artists not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and I was privileged to be asked to help rank that list. But as I was assiduously assessing all of the more than 500 of the artists under review, it occurred to me that there were several artists missing from that list.

Let's be clear: I wasn't digging deep down into the weeds for obscurities. In other words, I'm not bemoaning the omission of Trotsky Icepick (despite the coolly arcane historical reference in its name) or John Trubee and the Ugly Janitors of America, whose bitter, wildly uneven, and ultimately mediocre 1984 album The Communists Are Coming to Kill Us! once graced my collection but, alas, has been thinned out over time.

Quite the opposite. Of the 500 artists on the current list, my optimistic view is that at best the first 100 even merit any kind of hypothetical discussion. More pragmatically, I narrow that down to the first 50—if not just the first 25—as having a realistic chance of being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In fact, I have written extensively on this site, in a series of "audits" of the Hall's current inductees (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5, with Part 6 in the works—really!), that the Hall has been much too generous in its inductions—there are too many artists already in the Hall not deserving of enshrinement.

No, listing 500 artists is, in my view, only an acknowledgement of the artists and their contributions to the music. They made a mark that was more lasting than many, but except for the first few on the list, it isn't going to be enough to earn them a spot in the Hall of Fame.

To that end, make no mistake: None of the more than 50 artists listed below are a "find" that somehow mysteriously eluded discovery until now and should be put on the express train to Cleveland. However, these artists have, I believe, equivalent credentials to the 500 artists on the recently revised list, whether those artists are near the top of the current list, somewhere in the middle, or buried near the end of the list.

So even though I do not think that any of the artists I have listed below are likely to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a few could warrant at least polite discussion while all of them could easily supplant artists already on the current list. My point is to underscore just how broad and deep is the pool of artists from which we make our acknowledgements, considerations, and final assessments.

Presented in alphabetical order.

The Alarm. In the early 1980s, Rolling Stone dubbed them "worried men with worried songs," and these worried Welshmen's first full-length album, Declaration, did contain enough earnest social consciousness ("Sixty-Eight Guns," "Howling Wind") to suggest what the Clash would sound like as a folk-rock act. Then they got a U2 injection for Strength, which bought them US airplay ("Knife Edge," "Strength") even as they found themselves tagged as imitators.

Gregg Allman. The Southern rock Man of Constant Sorrow has kept a solo career going alongside the band he formed with dearly departed brother Duane, one long enough to merit the greatest-hits collection I saw recently in a bargain bin. After ratting out the Allmans' road manager on a drug charge and a quickie marriage to Cher in the 1970s, Gregg produced the fine confession "I'm No Angel" along with his own take on "Midnight Rider" and other notables.

Argent. All anyone remembers now is "Hold Your Head High"—and for good reason: it's moody, atmospheric, and encouraging without being overbearing. Leave that to "God Gave Rock 'n' Roll to You," although "Celebration" and "Thunder and Lightning" show that the band wasn't a flash in the pan—keyboardist Rod Argent (late of the Zombies) and singer-guitarist Russ Ballard (later of the solo hit "Voices") provided Deep Purple-like firepower.

Art of Noise. Producer Trevor Horn's ubiquitous presence in the 1980s shouldn't overshadow this out-of-left-field outfit's blending of synth-pop, light prog-rock, and early electronica. Art of Noise got Tom Jones to deliver a pretty decent version of Prince's "Kiss" while nuh-nuh-nodding to avant-television's Max Headroom (kids, ask your parents) with "Paranoimia" and taking the nostalgic route—with twangy Duane Eddy, no less!—on a swanky, swaggering "Peter Gunn."

Be-Bop Deluxe. It's tempting to call guitarist Bill Nelson the English Todd Rundgren with his double barrels sporting both technical flash and wistful romanticism—just check out the marvelous "Life in the Air Age" to hear what can make a robot cry. True, prog-rock was about to face the firing squad when this Nelson-led combo raised its polished head, which doesn't make "Sister Seagull" or "Sleep That Burns" any less endearing.

Big Brother and the Holding Company. You could say that the Hall has this one covered with Janis Joplin already inducted, and I would hardly argue that the 1960s is underrepresented in Cleveland. On the other hand, some of Janis's biggest numbers were done fronting this half-hard, half-sloppy proto jam band—it made "Down on Me," "Summertime," and "Piece of My Heart" that much more memorable, although "Combination of the Two" might be the sleeper whooper.

Big Country. Just when the early 1980s seemed awash with synthesizers, this Scottish post-punk quartet not only brought back wailing guitars—they sounded like bagpipes! Pitch transposers and E-bows aside, Big Country peaked early in the U.S.—1983's "In a Big Country" was the band's biggest Stateside hit—but the riff-happy "Wonderland," the winsome "Look Away," and even the bluesy screed "Republican Party Reptile" showed continued growth.

The Blackbyrds. Like the Crusaders and the Meters, this jazz-R&B band skirted the funk-rock-soul periphery although they charted big in 1975 with the infectious "Walkin' in Rhythm," with "Happy Music" the Blackbyrds' only other splash on the pop charts. But sinuous stuff like "The One-Eyed Two-Step" is for the adults while the percolating "Do It, Fluid," "Blackbyrds Theme," and other tasty treats proved to be prime sampling fodder for many latter-day hip-hoppers.

Blackfoot. These guys could make Lynyrd Skynyrd sound like genteel Southern gentlemen—Blackfoot veered closer to 1970s metal than any Dixie-rock outfit on roaring blasts like "Gimme, Gimme, Gimme," "Rattlesnake Rock 'n' Roller," and "Too Hard to Handle." Yet they slyly played to country corn with "The Fox Chase" and their signature anthem "Train, Train" while giving a fair shake to the often-overlooked Free gem "Wishing Well."

Bonzo Dog Band. How hard is it to combine music and humor? "Weird Al" never got past parody while Frank Zappa channeled Igor Stravinsky for credibility. These English looners sounded like a musical Monty Python—no surprise as Bonzo mainstay Neil Innes is known as "the Seventh Python"—on deathless tunes like "Can Blue Men Sing the Whites?," "I'm the Urban Spaceman," and "Death Cab for Cutie"; yes, the indie band took its name from that.

The Call. Perhaps a little too earnest at times—although "Oklahoma" remains refreshingly manic—the Call established itself in the 1980s with a edgy mix of the secular ("Blood Red (America)") and the spiritual ("I Still Believe (Grand Design)"), concocting a tough yet atmospheric sound that garnered heavyweight support from Peter Gabriel and the Band's Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson. "Everywhere I Go" and "Let the Day Begin" endure.

Clarence Carter. Not to evoke how low the Hall of Fame bar has fallen, but Carter is just as good a Southern soul singer as Percy Sledge is, and Carter has the cheese factor down cold—just check out his half-salacious, half-creepy cheatin' rap at the top of "Making Love (At the Dark End of the Street)." That shtick also worked for his nostalgic hit "Patches" while "Slip Away" became his other cheatin' anthem, with "Too Weak to Fight" splitting the difference. I think.

The Chi-Lites. Maybe because they came from Chicago instead of 1970s soul hotbeds Memphis or Philadelphia, the Chi-Lites get overlooked despite lead singer Eugene Record's memorable pleading on the group's biggest hit, "Oh, Girl," as well as his equally winsome heartbreak on "Have You Seen Her." The Chi-Lites weren't shy about adding a little social commentary in the form of "(For God's Sake) Give More Power to the People," either.

Circle Jerks. This, er, seminal L.A. hardcore band has its bona fides—singer Keith Morris came from Black Flag, and guitarist Greg Hetson split to Bad Religion—but its on-again, off-again romance with itself kept it from getting consistent traction. Too bad, because "World Up My Ass," "Coup d'État," and even "Exhaust Breath" remain prime underground fodder—and these guys played the lounge band in Alex Cox's terrific film Repo Man. That's punk.

Bruce Cockburn. Whether it's because this compelling folk-rocker is Canadian, Christian, or politically progressive—or any or all of those—Bruce Cockburn never became the star he should have been despite committed ("If I Had a Rocket Launcher"), wistful ("Wondering Where the Lions Are"), and simply gorgeous ("Lovers in a Dangerous Time") songcraft. Meanwhile, "Call It Democracy" crosses Noam Chomsky with Joe Strummer for a scathing social science lesson.

Bootsy Collins. True, this infectiously elastic bassist is already in the Hall as a member of George Clinton's whole Parliafunkadelicment thang. But Bootsy was practically the only one with the chops and the charisma to make it solo. True, he was still playing da funk with the same Parliafunkadelicment characters. But how can you resist "Psychoticbumpschool," "Bootzilla," and especially the irresistible "The Pinocchio Theory"? I know I can't.

The Crusaders. Had they kept the original "Jazz" modifier in front of "Crusaders" and kept with their straight-ahead sessions from the 1960s, I could see not mentioning these guys. But they got funky right around the time of Sly Stone—check their bravura take on "Thank You"—and proceeded to lay down some Grade A grease through the 1970s, including "Put It Where You Want It," the appropriately named "Greasy Spoon," and the infectious "Stomp and Buck Dance."

Bill Doggett. Granted, this soul-jazz organist had one claim to genuine rock and soul fame: the timeless instrumental "Honky Tonk," which became a huge hit in 1956—although it was actually the faster, peppier "Pt. 2" that was the ticket. But this isn't another Dave "Baby" Cortez here—Doggett delivered a series of appetizing sax-and-organ pieces, both slinky ("High Heels," "Slow Walk") and sprightly ("Leaps and Bounds," "Ram-Bunk-Shush") in a long career.

The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Oh, they've gigged forever, and bigger stars from Eric Clapton to Carlos Santana have always sung their praises, but the T-Birds just have never taken off despite singer-harmonica player Kim Wilson's engaging earnestness and a string of hotshot guitarists including Stevie Ray's older brother, Jimmie Vaughan. Still doesn't take anything away from "Tuff Enuff," "Wrap It Up," or even "Look at That, Look at That."

fIREHOSE. When he died, there was no way to replace D. Boon in the Minutemen, so survivors Mike Watt and George Hurley went the low-key route with singer-guitarist Ed fROMOHIO, spawning a stylized new name in the process. Which means that only the Minutemen are Hall of Fame-caliber, but fIREHOSE is still an appealing gusher of alt-rock, with three good indie albums (especially if'n) and one not-really-sellout major-label job (flyin' the flannel).

The Fixx. Speaking of the Minutemen, they once asked, "Do You Want New Wave or Do You Want the Truth?" With the Fixx, you got a little of both. This lean synth-rock outfit mixed vaguely urgent social warnings ("Red Skies," "Stand or Fall") with chichi social observations ("One Thing Leads to Another," "Saved by Zero") throughout the 1980s. You were never quite sure what they meant—"Less Cities, More Moving People"?—but it sounded pretty good.

John Fogerty. As the linchpin of the whole Creedence Clearwater Revival operation, hoarse 'n' wailin' John Fogerty seemed set for a bright solo career and a possible second Hall induction because of it. That never panned out for various reasons, but in the mid-1980s, after a decade's absence following the hit "Rockin' All Over the World," Fogerty emerged triumphant with Centerfield. And got sued by his label for plagiarizing himself. Talk about a bad moon rising.

Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Look, if Gwar manages to get onto the list of 500 either because the Committee Chairman wants to hear their acceptance speech or because Beavis loved them, then surely Frankie's fifteen minutes deserves a mention. Leaving aside the videos and T-shirts and even the not-bad "Relax," Frankie's eight-minute opus "Two Tribes (Carnage)," despite its end-of-the-world portentousness, is a driving, burning, compulsive highlight of the 1980s.

The Gap Band. All right, the album titles were as creative as Chicago's, and the Gap Band couldn't look much further than sex and partying, which ultimately limited their musical inspiration too. But even if this Johnny-come-lately funk band tried to keep it rolling on the dance floor (wink, wink), it still served up a delight or two with "Burn Rubber on Me (Why You Wanna Hurt Me)," "Party Train," and—you guessed it—"You Dropped a Bomb on Me."




Gloria Gaynor. It is of course entirely fitting that Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" has indeed become a cockroach of a single, able to withstand a nuclear blast without missing a beat. But this journeywoman singer already had another self-empowerment story ("(If You Want It) Do It Yourself"), a lust rap ("Casanova Brown"), and—best of all—a winning disco-medley strategy (the smoking first side of Never Can Say Goodbye) before that legacy bestowed itself.

David Gilmour. Pinpoint guitarist Gilmour let his hair down on his rocking first solo album while possibly expressing his claustrophobia with Pink Floyd ("There's No Way out of Here"), although he stayed and Roger Waters split. Gilmour's next effort had 1980s slickness, but—lo!—his late-middle-age On an Island reaffirmed his popularity. And then he acquitted himself rather nicely with the Orb on Metallic Spheres. But maybe they're dinosaurs now too.

The Golden Palominos. Led by drummer Anton Fier, with support from tireless bassist Bill Laswell and early appearances by Fred Frith and John Zorn, this avant-rock collective wears its guest stars like badges—Jack Bruce, Michael Stipe, Matthew Sweet, Richard Thompson—although singer Syd Straw made her auspicious debut here too. Sounds and textures change like New England weather even from song to song, but it keeps them from being too artsy-fartsy.

Robyn Hitchcock. Syd Barrett didn't go into seclusion after founding Pink Floyd—he just became Robyn Hitchcock. Of course, he formed the Soft Boys before going solo. Like Barrett, Hitchcock evinces plenty of childlike whimsy that can conceal more mature observations ("Balloon Man") along with a dreamy wistfulness ("Madonna of the Wasps"), gentle mocking ("So You Think You're in Love"), and even sighing resignation ("She Doesn't Exist").

The Holy Modal Rounders. It's the karmic balance of the universe—if the Fugs make the top 500, then 1960s relics the Holy Modal Rounders should as well. Besides, the Rounders made it onto the Easy Rider soundtrack and the Fugs didn't. This is what Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger would get up to if someone slipped them a mickey of LSD and crystal meth at a Disneyland church revival. I can't even begin to explain "Indian War Whoop" or "My Mind Capsized" . . . 

Ian Hunter. The man behind the shades wanted to be a rock star so badly that even when his first vehicle, Mott the Hoople, stalled, halfway to Memphis or elsewhere, he turned out to have a pretty substantial solo career. I like the slow burn of "Bastard" best, but he's better known for "Once Bitten, Twice Shy," "Ships" (a hit for—wait for it—Barry Manilow), and a song used as the theme to The Drew Carey Show that points to where Hunter wants to be: "Cleveland Rocks."

James Gang. Speaking of Cleveland rockers, Joe Walsh's first outfit has got to be more worthy than . . . Uriah Heep? Dr. Hook? Walsh masterminded the James Gang's trademark hard rockers ("Funk #49," "Walk Away," "The Bomber"), but he also shone with the more intricately arranged "The Ashes, the Rain, and I" and "Tend My Garden," ideas that he later developed in Barnstorm. Then the Eagles happened, and maybe all that cocaine finally did him in?

King's X. This melodic hard rock act's first album as King's X was released in 1988, recalling the Nirvana dilemma as to whether the band is truly eligible. It's not on the list now but it should be in subsequent revisions. The harmony vocals seem too sweet for hard rock—they take a moment to get used to—but King's X kicks out a dexterous, layered sound ("Fall on You," "Lost in Germany") that can really build up a head of steam in "Moanjam" and elsewhere.

Nils Lofgren. Already a teenage wunderkind when Neil Young used him on his 1970 After the Gold Rush album, Nils Lofgren seemed set: He soon formed his own band, the accessible if provincial Grin ("Moon Tears," "Lost a Letter"), before earning early solo acclaim ("Back It Up," "Keith Don't Go"). Alas, he soon lost his way for the rest of the 1970s; he joined Bruce Springsteen in the 1980s, but his moment for greatness passed. Such rich potential, though.

Maria Muldaur. Although this folk-blues singer's "Midnight at the Oasis" was both her biggest hit and a target for worst-song lists, Maria Muldaur was hardly a one-shot artist. After cutting her teeth in the 1960s folk scene, she established a folk-pop career in the 1970s that saw her lace her approach with some bawdy blues ("Three Dollar Bill," "Don't You Make Me High") before fading into the nostalgia circuit. C'mon, Prefab Sprout never had a hit as memorable as "Oasis."

The Neville Brothers. Part of New Orleans soul-R&B aristocracy for years, the Neville Brothers put meat on the funky bones laid down by the Meters (brother Cyril was a Meter) topped by the aching throb of brother Aaron's voice. The band whipped up a rich Crescent City gumbo ("Fiyo on the Bayou," "Hey Pocky Way") while developing a social conscience ("Let My People Go," "Sister Rosa"), all delivered with peerless appeal and musicianship. A pretty obvious omission.

The Outlaws. Critic Alan Niester nailed this synthetic Southern rock band as "the Sara Lee banana cake of rock & roll," but it really wasn't that dire. "Hurry Sundown" and especially "There Goes Another Love Song" were as engaging as Marshal Tucker and .38 Special, "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky" worked up a Skynyrd head of steam, and "Green Grass and High Tides" was the band's Allman Brothers opus. All right—it's banana cake. Still tastes pretty good, though.

Ray Parker, Jr. Although he's pegged as another worst-song candidate for the Ghostbusters theme song, this versatile soul-R&B impresario was actually a fairly imaginative practitioner. Parker led the mysterioso Raydio ("Jack and Jill," "You Can't Change That") in the late 1970s before going solo with the terrific rock-R&B blend "The Other Woman," the wry S&M follow-up "Bad Boy," and, yes, "Ghostbusters." Which you know you love, anyway.

? and the Mysterians. Not to play the equivalency card, but if the Kingsmen ("Louie Louie") and especially the 13th Floor Elevators ("You're Gonna Miss Me") make the list, then ? and the Mysterians and their awesome "96 Tears" deserve recognition as proto-punk cornerstones too. The good news is that the Mysterians' organ-fueled excursions "Don't Tease Me," "Midnight Hour," "Smokes," and "You're Telling Me Lies" are just as memorable as "96 Tears."

The Residents. Somewhere in the universe is a bizarro parallel Earth where Captain Beefheart is Justin Timberlake and the Residents are Pink Floyd. On our planet, it's tough to convince listeners that Eskimo or Third Reich Rock 'n' Roll are essential opuses because they defy conventional expectations, and even accessible nuggets like "Bach Is Dead," "Constantinople," and "The Electrocutioner" remain challenging. But on another world far, far away . . . 

The Rivingtons. Long before Frank Zappa's affectionate parodies, the Rivingtons were already taking the mickey out of doo-wop's melodrama with the tongue-in-cheek pleas "Cherry," "Deep Water," and "I'm Losing My Grip." They could cut loose, too—"Kickapoo Joy Juice," "Love Pill"—but the Rivingtons' lasting absurdity is this: Their manic "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow" and "The Bird's the Word" became the Trashmen's "Surfin' Bird." That's qualification enough.

The Roches. These deadpan singing sisters—Suzzy, Terre, and sardonic songwriter Maggie—were indie-irony inspirations years before college-educated slackers began whining and strumming in overpriced coffee houses. From '60s pastiche ("Another World") to winking David Byrne impersonations ("Nurds") to begging for your old job back ("Mr. Sellack"), the Roches were low-key, acute, wry commentators who deserved greater recognition.

Rose Tattoo. You think AC/DC are tough-rocking Aussies? Angus Young does the schoolboy shtick, but Angry Anderson's crew with its slide-guitar bite burst out of reform school ready to tear your head off. That seething class resentment gives social sting to "Scarred for Life" and "Branded" while "We Can't Be Beaten" is street-level resilience, "The Butcher and Fast Eddie" is switchblade opera, and the bounce of "Sydney Girls" is bawdy compensation.

The Screaming Blue Messiahs. A prime entry on the "Whatever happened to . . . ?" list because Messiahs front man Bill Carter burst from 1980s England as a left-field cross between Joe Strummer and Joe Jackson. The Messiahs' lean, biting, post-punk attack enlivened off-kilter blasts such as "Jesus Chrysler Drives a Dodge" and "Killer Born Man" while "Bikini Red" and "Wild Blue Yonder" promised depth and texture. Call the Missing Persons Bureau.

Social Distortion. Not just another high-energy purveyor of 1980s Orange County skatepunk, Social D. had a few stories to tell thanks to leading light Mike Ness. Borrowing plainspoken narrative from classic country—the band's cover of "Ring of Fire" wasn't merely affectation—Ness painted scenes of suburban disaffection in "So Far Away," "Ball and Chain," and "Bad Luck" while he and the band generated a hard, fast, heavy haymaker of guitar noise.

Edwin Starr. Don't peg this middleweight slugger as a strident one-hitter ("War") because although Edwin Starr lacked nuance—"Stop the War Now" was "War"'s carbon-copy follow-up—he split the difference between Motown's classic second generation (the playful "Agent Double-O Soul" and "S.O.S. (Stop Her on Sight)") and its funky third (the propulsive "Time" and "Twenty-five Miles"). Starr was a bit more than simply a one-"War" pony.

Al Stewart. This Scottish folk-rocker stretched "troubadour" to an overweening extreme, precious and eager to please while bent on displaying his arcane historical view ("Nostradamus," "Roads to Moscow"). Articulate without having much to say, he still scored with "Time Passages" and especially the Casablanca-inspired "Year of the Cat," with "Song on the Radio" epitomizing his engaging vapidity. Oddly, he got better as he became gradually forgotten.

10,000 Maniacs. Singer Natalie Merchant's alluring yet sexless purr blended with the band's friendly alt-rock like a jigger of cooking sherry in a wheatgrass shake—10,000 Maniacs was mildly exotic without being edgy, and it was supposed to be good for you ("Gun Shy," "What's the Matter Here?"). The band did seem made to cover another pointedly earnest voice, Cat Stevens, although something like "My Sister Rose" was still pretty darn winsome.

Pat Travers. Epitomizing "journeyman" in its most positive sense, this hard-rocking Canadian guitarist actually had a thing or two to say ("Life in London," "It Ain't What It Seems") before he made a brief flurry in the States ("Snortin' Whiskey," Little Walter's "Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights)"). He even tore off a hot lick or two before he outsourced the flash to Pat Thrall. Time was unkind to this archetypal classic rocker, but Travers deserved better.

Voivod. Starting as an agile speed-metal act from Quebec that strained for fearsomeness—Killing Technology sports both a "Killing Side" and a "Ravenous Side"—Voivod soon folded progressive rock into its dynamic formula. Nothingface stressed a bright, clean sci-fi angle with "Pre-Ignition" and "X-Ray Mirror" while its take on Pink Floyd's "Asronomy Domine" presaged a later cover of King Crimson's art-metal touchstone "21st Century Schizoid Man."

Roger Waters. Boy, did this guy need his old band, if only because it imbued this borderline misanthrope (and misogynist?) with needed humanity. Which is ironic because this brains behind Pink Floyd actually continued to examine the human condition in acute, sometimes insightful detail. The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking had some unsettling dreams but Radio KAOS was a serene nightmare; meanwhile, Floyd tottered on like a headless body. Brain-dead, meet brainy.

Wet Willie. Not a reference to former President Clinton's notorious trouser appendage but what the J. Geils Band might have sounded like had it had cut its teeth below the Mason-Dixon Line. Wet Willie could jam like proper Southern rockers ("Everything That 'Cha Do," "Lucy Was in Trouble") but Jimmy Hall's expressive vocals led a funky groove in "Dixie Rock," "Grits Ain't Groceries," and "Red Hot Chicken," among other delights. Unfairly overlooked band.

Peter Wolf. And speaking of J. Geils, I remember being blown away by the electro-funk shock of the band's fired lead singer's first solo album. "Lights out! Uh-huh! Blast blast blast!" Keeping his showman's spiel, Wolf had embraced the future while his erstwhile mates were sinking in the present. And "Mars Needs Women" was actually pretty funny! Faye Dunaway's former squeeze soon returned to his métier but he proved who supplied Geils's vital chemistry.

There you have it—more than 50 artists that did not appear on the list of 500 acts currently ranked on this site as not being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Again, my list contains only artists that I think have equivalent records and qualifications to those on the current list; in other words, I'm not bemoaning the absence of, for example for 1960s fans, It's a Beautiful Day or Lothar and the Hand People, or, for 1980s fans, D.O.A. or Government Issue. All right—I bemoan the absence of D.O.A. a little, which underscores just how many musical artists there are and just how do we evaluate their relative legacies for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

But what about you, dear reader? Which artists have you not seen listed, either in the site's official list or in my addendum, that you think deserve mention? Let us know!

Since we're in a "desert island" frame of mind—at least I am, anyway—why not look at the ten television series you'd want to have in that hypothetical zone of isolation designed to force you to evaluate and prioritize your tastes and preferences?

I know, I know: First, these are my picks, and they will not align with yours. Second, once we start looking at television, we're halfway home to civilization, right? How deprived can you be on that desert island if you've got hours and hours of programming to watch for just one series?

Leaving aside the picky ramifications of the whole "desert island" metaphor, I chose my ten television shows the same way I chose my movies—the channel-surf stop test—as I outlined in my list of desert-island movies.

However, I have to admit that while I've certainly spent my share of hours in front of the boob tube, and have certainly stopped to watch episodes of any number of shows from Mister Ed to Law and Order: Criminal Intent to Doc Martin, I've found that over the years there are actually very few television series that I find truly memorable enough to want to examine them again. That combines with the "phases" or "infatuations" I will go through with shows (recent ones have included Arrested Development and Malcolm in the Middle), but like a summer crush their appeal leaves me soon enough, and I let them go without missing them too much.

Furthermore, I simply haven't kept up with current programming in the last several years. People rave to me about shows they love such as Breaking Bad, Dexter, or Mad Men, and they all look very engaging, but I have become very selective in the amount and kinds of television I watch.

Make no mistake: I'm from the school that believes that the top-line television programs have gotten better in the last couple of decades compared to decades past, dating back to when former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Newton Minow famously declared in 1961 that television was "a vast wasteland." In an age with an explosion of cable and satellite channels to choose from, the proportion of quality shows to crappy shows has probably mushroomed in favor of the latter—how else to explain Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo?—but the best shows display tremendous talent and creativity, indicating that there is indeed continuous improvement.

Finally, though, I simply don't have time anymore to spend hours at a single sitting watching television. So, in choosing the ten television series for a desert island, I have kept with the series that have stuck with me over the years. Presented in reverse order of preference.

10. Nova

Nova

(1974 – present. PBS. United States)

To call Nova simply a "science show" is to call the Smithsonian simply a "museum": Yes, Nova covers typical science topics ranging from the structure of DNA to the structure of the universe, but just as the Smithsonian reflects just about every aspect of American life, Nova has reflected just about every aspect of life, the universe, and everything over its long television tenure. Along with branches of science from astronomy to zoology, Nova encompasses history, sociology, and anthropology in its quest to explore the natural (and sometimes supernatural) universe, emphasizing human interest and thus broadening its appeal to viewers who might find "science" too brainy or too boring.

Using a mix of talking heads, documentary footage, and animation, each episode tells a smooth story, using broad strokes to paint the framework in order to acquaint viewers with the overall premise before narrowing the focus to key details of the explanation. This usually produces an insight that helps the uninitiated understand the subject or that reveals new information or interpretations to expand existing knowledge. (Nova now points viewers to its website to learn more about the subject.) And even though not every topic will be of interest to everyone, you might find yourself surprised at how easily Nova pulls you into something you thought you'd never care to know.

9. BBC World News / BBC World News America

BBC World News America logo

(1991 – present. BBC; PBS [in United States]. Britain.)

It's an indication of how trivial and provincial American news broadcasting has become that you need to rely on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to learn not only what's going on in the rest of the world, but sometimes even what's going on in the United States if it doesn't involve a tawdry celebrity scandal. BBC World News (and the targeted BBC World News America) simply reports on the major news stories around the world, which might be a surprise to viewers who don't realize that events happen in Asia, Africa, and South America that don't always have to involve Americans.

BBC News properly insists on calling its on-air personalities "news presenters," but those "presenters" have journalistic instincts and general knowledge superior to American "anchors" and "reporters," which results in informed, intelligent discussion that assumes that the audience is informed and intelligent as well. The concept of "objective journalism" is a myth, and BBC World News is not free from bias (it is regularly accused by Israel's supporters of being "pro-Palestinian," which I take to mean that the BBC thinks the Palestinians are people who have a side of the story too), but minute-for-minute, you won't find a more substantial news program anywhere else. And every day you come away with a little better understanding of our complex world.

I'd also tack onto the schedule the BBC Newsnight program, a weekly, half-hour, in-depth examination of selected news stories.

8. Corner Gas

CornerGasLogo 250

(2004 – 2009. CTV. Canada. 107 episodes.)

This ensemble comedy, the Seinfeld of the Great White North, injected freshness and originality along with a deadpan prairie spin into its fish-out-of-water premise. Set in fictional Dog River, Saskatchewan, Corner Gas was based around Corner Gas station owner Brent Leroy (Brent Butt) and Toronto transplant Lacey Burrows (Gabrielle Miller), who inherited The Ruby, the diner that adjoins Corner Gas. Supporting them were an array of wryly colorful locals, from Brent's sarcastic, college-educated cashier Wanda (Nancy Robertson), his ornery parents Oscar (Eric Peterson) and Emma (Janet Wright), and bumbling slacker buddy Hank (Fred Ewanuick) to the town's Laurel and Hardy-like police duo Davis (Lorne Cardinal) and Karen (Tara Spencer-Nairn).

Similar to Seinfeld, each episode featured intersecting story threads, often with a droll finish; everyone was conversant in cultural references; and every character had occasionally annoying personality traits. Where Corner Gas parted company was with its gentler approach, offhand fantasy sequences, and stunt casting of Canadian cultural and political figures. Foregoing a live audience or a laugh track, the show's relaxed, offbeat approach didn't belabor punchlines and it didn't linger for the laugh. And Corner Gas struck an admirable balance between everyone's mutual antagonism and their grudging affection. Kind of like your family and friends, eh?

7. Barney Miller

Barney Miller

(1975 – 1982. ABC. United States. 168 episodes.)

More so than any other 1970s studio-bound series filmed before a live audience, Barney Miller had a very stagy manner: This was particularly so in the first couple of seasons, in which the actors' set-pieces, notably ones by Abe Vigoda's aging Detective Philip K. Fish, were executed with that crowd-pleasing, theatrical affect, and it continued through the series' run as the last few seasons featured one set, the detectives' squad room, almost exclusively. Not that it detracted from the show's droll dialog and thoughtful approach that deftly combined bright humor with gritty realism to emerge as one of the finest police shows in television history.

New York City Police Captain Barney Miller (Hal Linden) headed the 12th Precinct, a grimy, run-down Greenwich Village police station through which passed daily an array of arrestees from shoplifters and prostitutes to mad bombers and werewolves (or at least a man who thought he was one). Under his command were detectives Fish, kvetching his way toward retirement; Stan Wojciehowicz (Max Gail), gung-ho and a low-key womanizer; Ron Harris (Ron Glass), an urbane aspiring writer; Nick Yemana (Jack Soo), inveterate gambler and bad-coffee maker; and Arthur Dietrich (Steve Landesberg), the deadpanning intellectual. With consistently sharp writing and closely rendered performances that neatly underscored the mundane daily routine of police work along with the officers' fallibility—these were no glamorous supercops but neither were they Keystone Kops—Barney Miller remains a superlative ensemble comedy-drama.

6. Kolchak: The Night Stalker

Kolchak The Night Stalker

(1974 – 1975. ABC. United States. 22 episodes [includes 2 pilot movies].)

The music over the opening credits to Kolchak: The Night Stalker begins with a bright, cheerful melody and ends with a dark, ominous tone, signaling that beneath our benign natural world lurk malevolent, supernatural forces. Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) is an itinerant but intrepid reporter who keeps stumbling upon unearthly phenomena but can't convince the police or his editor, Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland), of their existence. The brief series offered essentially a monster-of-the-week format ranging from standard ghouls (zombies, a werewolf, vampires) to exotic entities from the East Indian Rakshasa (a deadly beast that took the form of the victim's most trusted intimate) to murderous mannequins, a beheaded biker, and an out-of-this-world, marrow-eating unseen force.

A meager budget meant minimal costumes and special effects, so the show's ghastly encounters look positively ludicrous by today's standards. The show, and McGavin, knew it; they labored to inject wit and intelligence into the premises, attaining a fairly high success ratio. (David Chase, later of Northern Exposure and The Sopranos, was one of the writers.) McGavin, though, sold it: Kolchak was by turns skeptical but credulous, brash but persuasive, ultimately coming up empty-handed but relentless nevertheless, the precursor to Fox Mulder in The X Files (and it's no coincidence that McGavin twice guest-starred on that show), with Oakland an engaging foil à la Mulder's sparring partner, skeptical Dana Scully. The series was preceded by two TV movies whose popularity fostered the series, with the first one, The Night Stalker, being the better of the two. (Vampires in Las Vegas—who'd a-thunk it?)

5. Lost

Lost

(2004 – 2010. ABC. United States. 121 episodes.)

One of the first truly 21st-century series, Lost broke free of most storytelling conventions while responding to its fan base's largely internet-based feedback, becoming as close to an interactive TV dramatic series as we've yet seen. It didn't hurt that this sci-fi thriller began with an explosive premise—a jet airliner crashes on a tropical island, with the survivors now forced to adapt to being marooned on a most unusual island—and then it parsed out tantalizing clues as to much, much bigger things controlling the survivors' destiny, provoking profound questions of both existential and spiritual reality.

Despite the superior writing and execution, there did come a point where one had to wonder: Are they just making this up as they go along? By abandoning even its own internal logic, at least as revealed to viewers, Lost became by definition untrustworthy, and viewers just simply had to go along for the ride to see how it all turned out. (It could be that the show's creative element was simply trying to stay one step ahead of the increasingly rampant internet speculation.) Still, the bravura blending of crime story, science fact and fiction, magical realism, political intrigue, romance, and Gilligan's Island Meets the Prisoner made Lost one of the most fascinating television series ever, with Ben Linus (Michael Emerson) becoming one of TV's most memorable villains. Chalk one up for the Dharma Initiative!




4. The West Wing

TheWestWing

(1999 – 2006. NBC. United States. 156 episodes.)

If you ever despaired about how we have been continually scolded for being ignorant about social studies and civics, a few episodes of the political drama The West Wing will get you back up to speed. And thanks to writer and series creator Aaron Sorkin's patented rapid-fire approach, you did need to pay attention to keep up. Originally centered on the key staff members to fictional Democratic President Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen), The West Wing provided a fairly realistic—if dubiously idealistic—behind-the-scenes look at governance from the nation's highest political office, often pulling real-life events and personalities into fictionalized accounts that were smart, riveting, and, for the most part, plausible. (We'll leave aside the kidnapping of Bartlet's daughter for now.)

Fumbling for style and pace, the first season was shaky and snarky, but by the second season The West Wing hit its stride, delivering intelligent, adult drama illustrating how many people, regardless of their political stripe, wished the country could be run, even if the series' original focus, Rob Lowe (as speechwriter Sam Seborn), had exited the show; this left Allison Janney (press secretary C.J. Cregg), Richard Schiff (communications director Toby Ziegler), John Spencer (chief of staff Leo McGarry), and Bradley Whitford (assistant chief of staff Josh Lyman) as the show's core (although, sadly, Spencer died in 2005). By the fifth season, Sorkin and producer Thomas Schlamme had left, buffeting the series' run until its demise although The West Wing was anything but a lame duck, finishing with a flourish that included added cast members Alan Alda as Arnold Vinick, a Republican presidential candidate, Jimmy Smits as Matt Santos, Bartlet's eventual successor, and, as Matt's wife Helen, Teri Polo (AKA the Angel of Death—Polo has appeared as a guest or new regular in a number of series nearing their demise, including Monk, Northern Exposure, and Sports Night). Thoughtful and topical, The West Wing still gets my vote.

3. Danger Man / The Prisoner

Danger Man

(1960 – 1962, 1964 – 1966. ITV. Britain. 86 episodes.) / (1967 – 1968. ITV. Britain. 17 episodes.)

If it looks as if I'm trying to squeeze two series into one slot, that's probably true. I'll explain. Both Danger Man and The Prisoner feature the same actor, Patrick McGoohan, possibly playing the same character (although I highly doubt it), and both shows were produced and aired by the same channel, Britain's Independent Television (ITV). Furthermore, The Prisoner had been designed as a limited-run series, so I'm treating it as a miniseries bonus to Danger Man. With me so far? No? All right, I'll continue.

McGoohan debuted as John Drake, a NATO secret agent, in the original (1960-62) run of Danger Man, a taut, well-executed, half-hour spy drama. Danger Man presaged the 1960s mania for spy shows from Mission: Impossible to Get Smart, with charming and resourceful Drake a thinking man's operative not afraid to duke it out. (McGoohan had been initially offered the role of James Bond; obviously, he refused.) Danger Man returned in 1964 (now called Secret Agent for the American market, with Johnny Rivers's theme song "Secret Agent Man" still a nostalgic favorite) in a one-hour format to expand the intrigue and character development, and with Drake now an operative for Britain's "M9" (a nod to Britain's actual MI6). Those typically smart episodes included "Colony Three," with Drake infiltrating a secret training village on the other side of the Iron Curtain, a seeming preview for The Prisoner.

The Prisoner

Tired of the standard spy formula, McGoohan instead wanted to produce a show that explored the individual's freedom in modern society. Enter The Prisoner, in which McGoohan played a British spy who angrily resigns his post and is then kidnapped and taken to the Village, a scenic prison where all the Villagers are known only by a number (he is Number Six)—and who is running the Village, for "which side," and for what purpose formed the show's dramatic tension.

Provocative, enigmatic, and compelling, The Prisoner examined questions of freedom, power, and control, and it has dated very little because it focused on the psychological dynamics of the adversaries rather than actual events or personalities. The series' 17 episodes were split among escape bids ("The Chimes of Big Ben," "Many Happy Returns"), Number Six's resistance to his captors' attempts at mind control and manipulation ("A, B, and C," "The Schizoid Man," and "Living in Harmony," with its striking Western motif), and his efforts to turn the tables on his captors ("Free for All," "Hammer into Anvil"). Debate has raged for decades as to whether Number Six was actually John Drake from Danger Man—and The Prisoner does offer tantalizing allusions to McGoohan's previous show—but in the last analysis Number Six remains a unique icon. The Prisoner's Kafkaesque "wilderness of mirrors" approach influenced later TV shows like The X Files and Lost, and despite a few outmoded details and a (perhaps deliberately) messy, bizarre final episode ("Fall Out"), it is still one of the most revelatory television series ever.

All make sense now? Right, be seeing you.

2. Doctor Who [Original series]

Doctor Who Logo 1973

(1963 – 1989. BBC. Britain. 693 episodes.)

With its multi-episode stories and cliffhanger endings, the original Doctor Who was a family-oriented serial designed to interest youngsters in science and history through the adventures of the Doctor, a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey who traveled the universe in his TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space) space-time machine. The original series was short on two vital commodities—time and money—and modern audiences might scoff at the low-budget props, costumes, sets, and special effects, which means they might also miss the imaginative stories and striking characters—particularly monsters such as the Daleks, which became Doctor Who icons—that came to epitomize this endearing science-fiction series.

During its original run, the Doctor was played by seven different actors, with changes explained as the centuries-old Doctor's "regeneration," or rebirth. Each Doctor had his distinct personality, which kept Doctor Who lively if somewhat uneven. Doctor Who hit its high-water mark in the 1970s: Despite then-producer Barry Letts's penchant for sprawling stories and a preceding storyline circumstance that kept the Doctor largely earthbound, Jon Pertwee's Third Doctor came on like a dashing superhero in exciting stories that dealt with technological arrogance ("Doctor Who and the Silurians") and environmental degradation ("The Green Death"), while battling his enemies the Daleks, relentless and merciless armored creatures bent on intergalactic domination, in "Planet of the Daleks" and "Death to the Daleks," as well as his arch-nemesis the renegade Time Lord the Master (Roger Delgado) in "Terror of the Autons," "The Daemons," "The Sea Devils," and several other episodes..

The Doctor best-known to American audiences, Fourth Doctor Tom Baker began under producer Philip Hinchcliffe, whose darker, more literary stories yielded at least two Who classics in "Genesis of the Daleks," a gripping Dalek origin story, and "The Talons of Weng-Chiang," a sci-fi romp set in Victorian London. Graham Williams produced the six stories of Season 16 (1978–79), arguably the greatest single season of the original series, which formed the Key to Time saga, with Baker's Doctor and another Time Lord, bright and fetching Romana (Mary Tamm), searching for the six pieces to the Key to Time before the Black Guardian found them and plunged the universe into eternal darkness. By the 1980s, though, Doctor Who was running out of gas—although the Seventh Doctor, played by Sylvester McCoy, was an overlooked but crucial link to the series' eventual reboot—and finally called it quits in 1989.

Or did it? Doctor Who "rebooted" in 2005 with a big production budget and state-of-the-art special effects, and it even sired a spin-off series, Torchwood. It also introduced romantic attraction between the Doctor and at least two of his female companions. Note: I enjoy the rebooted series, but while it maintains continuity with the previous series, it largely adheres to contemporary convention and lacks the seeming innocence and the charming spit-and-baling-wire approach of the original series. This is why I haven't included it here.

1. Northern Exposure

northern exposure

(1990 – 1995. CBS. United States. 110 episodes.)

"Quirky" was the adjective of choice used to describe this fish-out-of-water dramatic series set in the fictional Alaskan town of Cicely, but while each of the ensemble cast was certainly distinctive, the richly layered characters along with the thoughtful, sophisticated storytelling and, crucially, abiding respect for the audience's intelligence made Northern Exposure one of the greatest dramatic series in American television history, filled with intellectual expansiveness, endearing charm, and emotional complexity.

Mythical, remote Cicely's microcosm comprised diverse individuals, many of whom had come to begin new chapters in their lives. These included New York physician Joel Fleishman (Rob Morrow), recently arrived as Cicely's doctor in a quid pro quo with the state of Alaska for his medical education. This premise catalyzed self-absorbed Joel's rich contrasts and conflicts with the natives, including headstrong bush pilot Maggie O'Connell (Janine Turner), pompous astronaut-tycoon Maurice Minnifield (Barry Corbin), stoic outdoorsman-barkeep Holling Vincoeur (John Cullum), philosophical disc jockey Chris Stevens (John Corbett), wide-eyed, half-breed film buff Ed Chigliak (Darren Burrows), vain but cunning beauty-contestant waitress Shelly Tambo (Cynthia Geary), independent-minded general store proprietor Ruth-Anne Miller (Peg Phillips), and Joel's wise but taciturn Native American office assistant Marilyn Whirlwind (Elaine Miles), all of whom provided life lessons at one point or another with involving stories laced with humor and insight.

Indeed, dry wit was crucial to Northern Exposure's strategy: for example, Maggie's former boyfriends all died under odd circumstances, including one who was hit by a falling satellite ("Slow Dance"), while Maggie and Joel's stormy courtship climaxes in one of the nuttiest TV seductions ever ("Ill Wind"). Yet for all the left-field "quirkiness," the series' forte was conveying the rich and varied nuances of interpersonal relationships—this was very much a character-driven show—and even when Northern Exposure stretched into dream sequences ("Mr. Sandman," in which the aurora borealis causes townsfolk to have each others' dreams), magical realism (in "Fish Story," Joel, conflicted about his relationship with Maggie, is swallowed by a giant sturgeon along with his New York City rabbi), and historical flashback ("Zarya" details an abortive summit meeting in Cicely between Lenin and Princess Anastasia during the time of revolutionary Russia), it remained of a piece with an ensemble cast exploring the richness of human interaction.

For example, Joel receives a humbling reminder about dying and death in the moving "First Snow," which also sees a sobering revelation about Maurice and Shelly's prior relationship. "Three Doctors" finds Joel finally assimilated, via "glacier dropsy," with Cicely as Ed receives the calling to be a shaman. And in the final-season episode "The Quest," a gem of magical realism modeled on Joseph Campbell's "hero's journey" paradigm and arguably the greatest Northern Exposure episode, Joel and Maggie reconcile their long and stormy relationship as Joel returns to New York. Morrow did leave the show, and Northern Exposure limped onto its demise, losing its sparkle as exemplified by the disappointing finale "Tranquility Base."

Better to recall a quintessential Northern moment from "A-Hunting We Will Go": When Ed takes elderly Ruth-Anne to the hilltop burial plot he got her for her birthday, Ruth-Anne suggests that they dance—how often, she smiles, do you get the opportunity to dance on your own grave? And they do, to joyous music on the soundtrack. "Quirky," yes—but beautifully uplifting, too. Just like Northern Exposure.

Movie mania has gripped Not in Hall of Fame recently—hooray for Hollywood! (And Bollywood, and Hong Kong, and London, and Vancouver, and everywhere else that movies are made today.)

Without wanting to steal any thunder from my fellow bloggers Lisa McDonald (AKA Live Music Head) and Jack Ferdman (Jack's Movie Lists), both of whom have got the ball rolling on movies in fine style, I too want to jump in with my contributions as I am definitely a movie buff as well.

However, I will have to reach into the archives this time and dust off one of those hoary old "Desert Island" exercises from some time past. Looking at the list of the top ten, though, I don't see any changes, and here's why: the channel-surf stop test.

The Channel-Surf Stop Test

What? You don't know about the channel-surf stop test? You might not know the term, but I know you know how it works.

It's been a long day—you've worked hard, played hard, fulfilled your obligations, and now you settle in on the couch, remote control in hand, looking to find something on the television to watch as you unwind from a busy day. As you flip idly through the channels, you happen upon one of your favorite movies. You stop to watch. It doesn't matter how many times you've seen this movie. It doesn't matter where in the movie you've landed—you know it by heart, anyway—you stop to watch "this one scene." Or to hear "that line." The next thing you know, you've watched the movie all the way to the end. It's one of your favorites. You will watch it regardless.

That's the channel-surf stop test. Any movie that passes the test is automatically a candidate for any desert island list.

True story: Not too long ago I took a couple of friends to a "Classic Movie Night" at one of our local cinemas; it was showing Goodfellas. By some strange quirk, neither had seen it before. Not two nights later, as I was idly flipping through the channels late one night, I stumbled onto Goodfellas as it was just starting.

Now, I've seen Goodfellas a few times before. I have a DVD copy. I had just seen it two nights previously.

I sat there and watched it again, from end to end. The power of the channel-surf stop test.

Keep in mind, "desert island" selections are not lists of "the best" or "the greatest" films—at least mine isn't. They are a list of favorites, the movies that you can watch again and again, and they don't lose their luster. So, with that in mind . . .

Honorable Mention

. . . I cannot list a list without a preamble. So, this is a list of those that juuuust missed the big list. Of course, my initial list of "juuuust misses" had more than 50 films on it—either I need to get out more, and not just to the cinema, or I need to move onto other movies. Somehow I managed to whittle the list down to a mere 25 honorable mentions, which is still pretty ridiculous but perhaps you won't mind—all of these have passed the channel-surf stop test.

25. Eight Men Out (1988). Writer-director John Sayles packs in so much—baseball, hubris, conspiracy, recrimination, regret—that I soak up a new facet every time. Besides, I'll watch David Strathairn act any time.

24. The Andromeda Strain (1971). It can be too methodical, even plodding, at times, and director Robert Wise's style and design shows its age, but I still get spooked by the premise, and Kate Reid is still a feisty hoot.

23. The Sand Pebbles (1966). Another Robert Wise triumph, stretched a bit too thinly perhaps, although this is one of Steve McQueen's best performances; meanwhile, the political impact remains intact—and timeless.

22. Dr. Strangelove (1964). Made back when director Stanley Kubrick still had some humanity and emotional engagement in him—and he managed to blend geopolitical sophistication and locker-room sniggering into the blackest of comedy.

21. Ghostbusters (1984). Sure, the effects and soundtrack are dated. Director Ivan Reitman rose to the occasion here, and this is more than just Bill Murray's show—the ensemble cast always brings this one home. "You're more like a . . . game show host."

20. Ed Wood (1994). Big Fish comes pretty close, but this might be director Tim Burton's most touching film because his affection for the real-life Wood seems genuine. And, yes, Martin Landau is (ahem) spellbinding. He must be Hungarian and double-jointed.

19. Touch of Evil (1958). Just accept that this grimy, atmospheric who-cares-whodunit is gloriously rococo from the sweeping opening shot to Henry Mancini's score to Charlton Heston's risibly Anglo Mexican. It is also Orson Welles's best film since you-know-what.

18. Kelly's Heroes (1970). This Clint Eastwood vehicle never decides whether it's a caper flick, a combat film, or a comedy, so it mixes all three in a bold genre nose-tweak to emerge as the war-movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

17. Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993). When was the last time you saw a delightful—endearing, even—Woody Allen film? Allen and Diane Keaton are a big part of that, as are Alan Alda and a chops-licking Anjelica Huston. "Try giving her the present."

16. Apocalypse Now (1979)/Apocalypse Now Redux (2001). I didn't care for this initially, but the more I studied the Vietnam war the more it made sense. And Redux isn't just bonus footage—it recasts Martin Sheen's odyssey in an eye-opening new context.

15. Doctor Zhivago (1965). Lawrence of Arabia is grander, better. But Zhivago is more haunting, yearning, as befits a tragic love story writ large across the steppes. Yes, I'm a sucker for one of those—as long as it has villains like Komarovsky and Strelnikov.

14. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). William Goldman's sainted screenplays are losing their luster for me, but George Roy Hill's direction and the Newman-Redford double-punch make it hard not to stop and watch. Again.

13. The Great Escape (1963). This story never seems to get old, from the meticulous planning to the split-second execution to the pursuits across the Third Reich. The rich cast doesn't hurt, either, although director John Sturges makes it memorable.

12. Shaun of the Dead (2004). There are times throughout when this hilarious zombie spoof seems almost perfect. It never flags, and it never once winks at the camera to let you know how clever it thinks it is. Meet you down at the Winchester, then?

11. The Day of the Jackal (1973). Damn, is Edward Fox mesmerizing here. Director Fred Zinnemann sets it up so well that I always find myself rooting for Fox. And Mich(a)el Lonsdale is also terrific—enough to make me forgive him for Moonraker.

10. This Is Spinal Tap (1984). When spoofers love the subject they're satirizing (see: Shaun of the Dead), the jest goes well past eleven. Sheer headbanging bliss—and it takes the mickey out of Scorsese's portentous The Last Waltz to boot.

9. Bullitt (1968). Umpteen times seeing it and I'm still not sure I understand the story. So I keep watching. Much more than just the car chase, though—although that still blows the doors off today's CGI fantasies. Lalo Schifrin's score still kills, too.

8. State and Main (2000). Not only David Mamet's crackling dialog but the array of talent delivering it make this comic homage to Day for Night compulsively watchable. William H. Macy already has a spot reserved in actors' heaven based just on this.

7. Mister Roberts (1955). No matter how many times I see Jack Lemmon choke up at the end, I choke up too—Henry Fonda's Doug Roberts was just that kind of guy. William Powell is a sly old dog, and James Cagney is secretly brilliant here.

6. Rear Window (1954). The modest, stage-like set conceals the fact that this is one of Hitchcock's greatest efforts—who would have figured James Stewart for a Peeping Tom? Thelma Ritter is in a class by herself—and can you spot Mr. Drucker across the way?

5. Young Frankenstein (1974). Is there a line of dialog here that hasn't been quoted yet? Mel Brooks at the top of his game—but Gene Wilder owns this one. All right—he has to share with Marty Feldman. And Teri Garr. And Madeleine Kahn. And Peter Boyle.

4. The Right Stuff (1983). Having read Tom Wolfe's whooshing book enough times, I still wince at writer-director Philip Kaufman's clunky copy-and-paste job with the script. But the cast goes higher, farther, and faster than any American. Still a thrill.

3. The American President (1995). Yes, too much Aaron Sorkin can give you a case of the glibs. But Michael Douglas and Annette Bening really sell his Howard-Hawks -meets-Frank-Capra-at-the-Watergate-Bar dialog, as does the supporting cast.

2. L.A. Confidential (1997). A masterful crime epic, convincingly old-school yet thoroughly conversant in modern storytelling. The third great "L.A. noir" classic with The Big Sleep and Chinatown. Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, and Kevin Spacey excel.

1. The Maltese Falcon (1941). John Huston's brilliant directorial debut must also sub for a passel of film noirs that didn't make this cut. This riveting tale of the title dingus also taught me about chiaroscuro—the play of light and shadow. Been hooked ever since.



The Desert Island Top Ten

The ship is sinking, there is only so much room in the lifeboat (hope it's not one from Life of Pi), and I have to jettison the 25 honorable mentions and go with the 10 films I would have with me on that infamous desert island. I just hope the Dharma Initiative remembered to leave behind a solar-powered television set and DVD player.

10. Men in Black (1997)

men in black

Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Written by Ed Solomon. Produced by Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald. Columbia Pictures/Amblin Entertainment. 98 minutes.

Starring Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent D'Onofrio, Rip Torn, Linda Fiorentino.

When Barry Sonnenfeld gets hold of a crackling-good yarn, he can deliver a riotous joy-ride like this one about extraterrestrial immigration enforcement. With his background in cinematography, Sonnenfeld can certainly frame the visuals, but the storyteller in him won't let the still-impressive special effects overwhelm the taut narrative, smartly written by Ed Solomon from Lowell Cunningham's comic book. Indeed, what makes Men in Black so watchable is the inexorable drive to tell the story.

Portraying the two mysterious agents charged with repelling the next extraterrestrial threat, Will Smith plays straight man J to Tommy Lee Jones's wonderfully deadpan K as Vincent D'Onofrio, his yokel farmer expropriated by a giant cockroach from outer space, decomposes hilariously. Rip Torn, the droll Men in Black boss, and Linda Fiorentino, the smart, sexy coroner, lend distinctive support along with Siobhan Fallon and Tony Shalhoub. Men in Black is now a film franchise, with the corresponding diminishing returns, but the first in the series remains a refreshingly brisk, witty, irreverent sci-fi comedy.

9. Jaws (1975)

JAWS Movie poster

Directed by Steven Spielberg. Written by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb. Produced by Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown. Universal Pictures. 124 minutes.

Starring Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw.

Steven Spielberg demonstrated his mastery of horror with this tale of aquatic terror while avoiding his usual suburban over-sentimentality—although that does raise its dorsal fin at the Brody dinner table. With an opening that pays sly homage to The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Spielberg brilliantly keeps the monster under wraps until he needs it to make its stunning formal introduction. (Hint: "You're gonna need a bigger boat.") Then Jaws just keeps paying out the line until it has you fully hooked.

Robert Shaw, salt crusting over his avast-ye-matey delivery as the fisherman Quint, chews as much scenery as the shark does—although his USS Indianapolis monologue is as frightening as any of the attacks—while versatile Roy Scheider, as police chief Martin Brody, and believable Richard Dreyfuss, as shark expert Matt Hooper, ride with him to the white-knuckle climax as John Williams's instantly recognizable score ripples underneath. Shark-attack movies might have become more graphic—and this franchise quickly joined the chum line—but Jaws remains the one fish in the tank that I don't mind watching go around and around.

8. Rashomon (1950)

Rashomon 01

Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Written by Akira Kurosawa and Shinobu Hashimoto. Produced by Minoru Jingo. Daiei Film Co., Ltd., and RKO Radio Pictures. 88 minutes.

Starring Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Machiko Kyo, Masayuki Mori.

Just who is telling the truth here? More to the point, what exactly is "truth," anyway? Director Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon illustrates brilliantly how subjective perceptions color our understanding and interpretation of events. In this case that takes place in feudal Japan, the circumstances involving an assault, rape, and murder are told from different, conflicting points of view. The bandit Tajōmaru (Toshiro Mifune) admits in court to raping a samurai's wife, then killing her husband—but the wife (Machiko Kyō) says that he didn't kill her husband. Meanwhile, the slain husband—through a medium—provides a different account. Then there's the woodcutter (Takashi Shimura), who supplies yet another story, with all of them circling around what actually happened. Or do they?

Just about every subsequent movie that plays with objective reality takes some sort of cue from Rashomon, and it's not just the fascinating narrative that makes it so watchable. Working with cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa, Kurosawa's painterly eye frames each shot intimately while dappling the black and white photography to enhance the ambiguity inherent in each account as Fumio Hayasaka's evocative score borrows liberally from Western sources, notably Ravel's Bolero, to provide dramatic underlining. Mifune and Kyō provide different kinds of mania while Mori is enigmatic, impassive, painting further layers of doubt onto an already-muddled portrait. I keep watching to observe all the subtly sophisticated ways we can deceive each other—and ourselves.

7. North by Northwest (1959)

North by Northwest

Directed and produced by Alfred Hitchcock. Written by Ernest Lehman. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. 136 minutes.

Starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Leo G. Carroll.

At some point, it is fair to ask: How many innocent-man-wrongly-accused films could Alfred Hitchcock have made? If they are anywhere near as compelling as North by Northwest, the answer is: As many as he wanted to. Hitchcock's approach to filmmaking was so audience-accessible that he often gets overlooked as a master director. North by Northwest doesn't do him any favors because it is so eminently watchable—it is hard not to be pulled in from the very beginning. Moreover, it might be the quintessential Hitchcock tale of the wronged innocent out to clear his name, as charming Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is plunged into international intrigue when he is mistakenly abducted from a New York hotel, then is later framed for murder, forcing him to lam it on a path that takes him—you guessed it, north by northwest—ultimately to Mount Rushmore, though not without some memorable stops along the way.

As Bernard Hermann's vertiginous score dogs him at every step, Thornhill tangles with cool blonde beauty Eve (Eva Marie Saint), who might not be who he thinks she is, and suave enemy spy Vandamm (James Mason) with the subtly menacing henchman (Martin Landau)—and with the most sinister crop-dusting biplane in cinema history in a scene that has become an iconic Hitchcock image. Leo G. Carroll, as government operative the Professor, and Jessie Royce Landis as Thornhill's flippant mother supply the levity to contrast with the moments of tension and suspense, not the least the literal cliffhanger that brings North by Northwest to a dizzying climax. Grandeur, romance, suspense—and sly wit—enliven this MacGuffin-driven gem. I laugh every time I see the train going into the tunnel during the final shot. Who said Hitch didn't have a sense of humor?

6. Goodfellas (1990)

GoodFellas film poster

Directed by Martin Scorsese. Written by Martin Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi. Produced by Irwin Winkler. Warner Bros. 146 minutes.

Starring Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino.

The Three Sociopathic Stooges join the Mafia in this electrifying tale of the savage underbelly of the American Dream. Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather is mythic tragedy, but Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas is a visceral slice-of-life, fueled by Scorsese's and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus's kinetic camera work and a driving classic-rock soundtrack. Based on the true story of New York mobster Henry Hill, Goodfellas presents the criminal flip-side of post-World War Two American affluence in a series of gripping episodes that always threaten to explode in sudden violence—and often does—producing a corresponding series of knife-edge thrills for the viewer, even for those who have seen the film multiple times.

As Hill, Ray Liotta functions as the fulcrum between Robert De Niro's Bobby Conway, cool and calculating, and Joe Pesci's Tommy DeVito, psychotic and impulsive, as they carry out a string of robberies, hijackings, and murders for unassuming gang boss Paulie Cicero (Paul Sorvino); they become the Mafia's Three Stooges—uncouth, driven by id, they buy whatever they want and simply take what they can't buy. Meanwhile, Henry weathers an often tempestuous marriage to Karen (Lorraine Bracco), an outsider lured by Henry's illicit charisma. Scorsese makes a signature statement with Goodfellas, both on American society and on his own filmmaking prowess, while Pesci is simply terrifying here. Compulsively rewatchable.



5. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

bridge-on-the-river-kwai

Directed by David Lean. Written by Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson. Produced by Sam Spiegel. Columbia Pictures. 161 minutes.

Starring Alec Guinness, Sessue Hayakawa, William Holden, Jack Hawkins, James Donald.

Alec Guinness is enthralling as Colonel Nicholson, a captured British army officer locking horns with POW camp commander Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) while both obsess over building a railroad bridge in the Burmese jungle during World War Two. Director David Lean's lush, sweeping style epitomizes the epic motion picture—capped by the spellbinding climax—without missing the personal conflict at the story's core. Even under Saito's ruthless command, Nicholson is indomitable, displaying the will of a man driven to an undertaking that remains fascinating to behold. Guinness is so compelling that he overshadows the rest of the cast, but Hayakawa manages subtlety and emotional complexity in what could easily have been a stereotypical role.

Meanwhile, American prisoner Shears (William Holden) escapes, but only to find himself coerced into accompanying British commando Major Warden (Jack Hawkins) on a mission back into Burma to destroy the bridge, leading to the thrilling climax that remains unforgettable. True, if you think about Nicholson's motivations long enough, you'll realize how improbable they are. But Guinness's riveting performance—he is completely invested in the role of Nicholson, imbuing it with such an overriding sense of purpose that he nearly obscures the logical inconsistencies—combines with Lean's utterly compelling filmcraft to make The Bridge on the River Kwai truly larger than life, an epic film that rewards viewing time and again.

4. Chinatown (1973)

Chinatown poster1

Directed by Roman Polanski. Written by Robert Towne. Produced by Robert Evans. Paramount Pictures. 131 minutes.

Starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston.

So many elements blend to make Chinatown one of the greatest crime dramas ever, not the least being screenwriter Robert Towne's famously Byzantine tale of lust, murder, incest, and water rights in Depression-era Los Angeles. Then there is Jack Nicholson's tremendous performance as Jake Gittes, the savvy, sophisticated private eye who finds himself plunged into bizarre events beyond his ken, initiated by powerful patriarch Noah Cross (an effectively crafty, creepy John Huston) and featuring alluring, mysterious beauty Evelyn Mulwray, portrayed by Faye Dunaway, who matches Nicholson point for point in scenes of raw passion and sordid fascination. There is even Gittes's bandaged nose, sliced open by a low-level thug, a bold departure from the seemingly flawless hero.

That thug is played by director Roman Polanski, who is the real mastermind behind Chinatown, his sense of timing, pacing, and shot framing combining to keep the story sufficiently veiled yet still comprehensible while coaxing performances from his cast that make the story vibrate with vivid, often contradictory complexities of human emotion. Polanski is certainly conversant in the subtle intricacies of film noir—Chinatown is redolent with homage, not the least being its time period—but informed by the schools of subsequent filmmaking, he writes a whole new chapter on it, one that has been equally influential. I watch Chinatown again and again not to figure out the story but to marvel at how cleverly and seamlessly it is brought into brilliant focus by Polanski and his actors.

3. Citizen Kane (1942)

Citizen Kane

Directed and produced by Orson Welles. Written by Herman Mankeiwicz and Orson Welles. RKO Radio Pictures. 119 minutes.

Starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Everett Sloane, Dorothy Comingore.

So much has been made about how influential Citizen Kane has been—and it certainly is a textbook, maybe the textbook, on how to make an enduring film—that it's easy to miss what a great story it is: an epic tale of American hubris wrought large and of yearning for lost innocence ("Rosebud"). Infamously modeled on real-life media magnate William Randolph Hearst, Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) arose from Western obscurity to Eastern respectability as a crusading newspaper publisher who ultimately courts notoriety as his personal and professional ambitions threaten to engulf him in controversy and scandal. Welles's celebrated portrayal rockets from brash, youthful exuberance to arrogance and regret and finally to poignant, almost pathetic tragedy.

Told in episodic flashbacks, Citizen Kane features outstanding performances by Joseph Cotten as Kane's best friend Jed Leland, Everett Sloane as loyal Kane functionary Mr. Bernstein, and Dorothy Comingore as Kane's second wife Susan Alexander, who began first as his mistress and thus helps to propel the conceit that is Kane's downfall. Poor William Alland, whose face is never shown, portrays the reporter whose trek to discover the real Kane is the involving narrative device Welles and co-writer Herman Mankeiwicz use to convey the scope and grandeur of this sweeping story, with Gregg Toland's innovative photography earning him a spot on director Welles's title card—an auspicious honor for any crew member. In the end, though, Welles commands the center of Citizen Kane, which made him the patron saint of indie filmmakers, while his masterwork not only taught filmmakers how to make a film, it taught audiences how to watch one. Which is why I continue to watch it.

2. Casablanca (1942)

Casablanca

Directed by Michael Curtiz. Written by Julius Epstein, Philip Epstein, and Howard Koch. Produced by Hal B. Wallis. Warner Bros. 102 minutes.

Starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Paul Henried, Conrad Veidt.

The most remarkable aspect of this timeless classic is how essentially ordinary it is. Casablanca was just another Warner Bros. production-line melodrama—"a good hack job," to quote critic Pauline Kael—but all the elements of the Warners' approach somehow fused into cinematic immortality: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henried form a love triangle that reaches its apex against the backdrop of the Second World War while an array of colorful supporting players swirl around them in that Mecca for refugees fleeing the Nazis, Casablanca. Much of that comes courtesy of the celebrated script by Julius Epstein, Philip Epstein, and Howard Koch, which has yielded countless memorable quotes over the decades, and the swelling score by Max Steiner, which incorporates Herman Hupfeld's signature "As Time Goes By." And if director Michael Curtiz is relegated to the background, at least he had the good sense to get out of the way and let the narrative gather its momentum.

The centerpiece to Casablanca is of course the romantic relationship between Rick Blaine (Bogart) and Ilsa Lund (Bergman) during their affair in Paris just before its fall to Germany, even as Ilsa is secretly married to Victor Laszlo (Henreid), captured by the Nazis and presumed dead. Considering that Bergman and Bogart had a cool on-set relationship, it is a tribute to their acting abilities that they remain so convincing. And Casablanca swells with memorable performances by Dooley Wilson, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, S.K. Sakall, Leonid Kinskey, Madeleine LeBeau, and Joy Page. Did I forget someone? Sacre bleu! How about Claude Rains as wily Captain Renault? After all, Rains merely winds up stealing every scene he's in. As time goes by, Casablanca becomes a beautiful friendship.

1. M*A*S*H (1970)

M-A-S-H

Directed by Robert Altman. Written by Ring Lardner, Jr. Produced by Ingo Preminger. 20th Century Fox. 116 minutes.

Starring Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould, Sally Kellerman, Tom Skerritt, Robert Duvall.

M*A*S*H the television series compares to M*A*S*H the movie as cooking sherry compares to Jack Daniels. Oh, sure, the first couple of seasons tried to mimic the movie's anarchic spirit, and it almost worked at times before Wayne Rogers left and the series under Alan Alda eventually drowned in a syrupy sea of liberal sanctimony. (And I'm a fairly sanctimonious liberal myself.)

Even though both movie and television series, based on the novel by Richard Hooker, are set during the Korean conflict, director Robert Altman, ostensibly with screenwriter Ring Lardner, Jr., clearly makes the subtext for the film version the Vietnam conflict. Released at the height of the conflict, M*A*S*H features a colorful clan of countercultural rebels—all respected members of the medical profession, mind you—trying to subvert a rigid establishment, the American military, simply to keep from losing their sanity amidst the finely orchestrated madness known as war. And by staging the film in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH), with numerous scenes of vivid, graphic surgical operations, Altman and company make a tremendous antiwar statement without showing one scene of combat—and without a single antiwar speech.

Elliot Gould and Donald Sutherland are unforgettable as Trapper John and Hawkeye, respectively, the brilliant surgeons who with fellow traveler Duke Forrest (Tom Skerritt) nevertheless lead the parade of hijinks, often against self-righteous Major Burns (an underrated Robert Duvall) and officious Major "Hot Lips" Houlihan (a smoldering Sally Kellerman), in a series of hilarious yet pointed episodes: How Hot Lips got her nickname; how the camp determined that Hot Lips was—or was not—a natural blonde; and how the camp dentist the Painless Pole (John Schuck) came to commit a fake suicide to prove his manhood. Altman defined his trademarks with M*A*S*H including the ensemble cast, overlapping dialog, and episodic structure while delivering an outrageously irreverent satire that remains a landmark American film. It's such a hokey cliché to say that a movie changed my life, but that is exactly what M*A*S*H did. "That is all."

In Part 1 of this two-part series, we examined in detail the two salient qualities of the 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot: It is a ballot overstuffed with not just candidates—37 players!—but with qualified candidates, and it is a referendum on performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) because of the presence of the two most dominant players of the last 20 years: Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

Part 2 concentrates solely on the merits of all 37 players on the ballot. With respect to PEDs, they are part of the sometimes-tawdry, sometimes-laudatory history of baseball, and the witch-hunt mentality surrounding them has obscured the fact that no part of baseball history has ever been pure or pristine. In short, there is no stigma here regarding PEDs. They are a part of baseball history as much as institutional racism marked the game before 1947, as much as allegations of widespread amphetamine usage marked the game during the "Golden Era" of the 1950s and 1960s, and as much as Gaylord Perry marked his baseball before he threw it.

The bottom line is this: You evaluate the baseball you have, not the baseball you wish you had.

Candidates for the 2013 Hall of Fame Ballot

The following two tables list the 37 candidates on the 2013 ballot, first the 27 position players, and then the 10 pitchers. They are ranked by their career Wins Above Replacement from Baseball Reference (bWAR) along with other representative qualitative statistics (explained below each table).

Here are the 27 position players on the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot, ranked by bWAR.

Position Players on the 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot, Ranked by bWAR

Position Player

Slash Line

bWAR

fWAR

OPS+

wRC+

Bonds, Barry

.298/.444/.607

158.1

168.0

182

172

Bagwell, Jeff

.297/.408/.540

76.7

83.9

149

149

Walker, Larry

.313/.400/.565

69.7

73.2

141

141

Trammell, Alan

.285/.352/.415

67.1

69.5

110

111

Raines, Tim

.294/.385/.425

66.2

70.6

123

126

Palmeiro, Rafael

.288/.371/.515

66.1

74.2

132

130

Lofton, Kenny

.299/.372/.423

64.9

66.2

107

110

Martinez, Edgar

.312/.418/.515

64.4

69.9

147

148

Biggio, Craig

.281/.363/.433

62.1

70.5

112

115

McGwire, Mark

.263/.394/.588

58.7

70.6

163

157

Piazza, Mike

.308/.377/.545

56.1

66.8

143

141

Sosa, Sammy

.273/.344/.534

54.8

64.1

128

123

McGriff, Fred

.284/.377/.509

48.2

61.0

134

134

Williams, Bernie

.297/.381/.477

45.9

47.5

125

126

Murphy, Dale

.265/.346/.469

42.6

47.3

121

120

Finley, Steve

.271/.332/.442

40.4

44.2

104

104

Mattingly, Don

.307/.358/.471

39.8

45.8

127

124

Franco, Julio

.298/.365/.417

39.7

48.6

111

112

Sanders, Reggie

.267/.343/.487

36.7

41.8

115

115

Cirillo, Jeff

.296/.366/.430

32.0

36.4

102

104

Green, Shawn

.283/.355/.494

31.4

34.9

120

118

White, Rondell

.284/.336/.462

25.5

26.2

108

108

Klesko, Ryan

.279/.370/.500

24.6

32.7

128

127

Clayton, Royce

.258/.312/.367

16.4

21.7

78

76

Conine, Jeff

.285/.347/.443

16.2

24.4

107

107

Alomar, Jr., Sandy

.273/.309/.406

11.6

15.7

86

85

Walker, Todd

.289/.348/.435

8.3

11.5

98

98

 

Slash Line: Grouping of the player's career batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.

bWAR: Career Wins Above Replacement as calculated by Baseball Reference.

fWAR: Career Wins Above Replacement as calculated by FanGraphs.

OPS+: Career on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by Baseball Reference. Positively indexed to 100, with a 100 OPS+ indicating a league-average player, and values above 100 indicating the degrees better a player is than a league-average player.

wRC+: Career weighted Runs Created, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by FanGraphs. Positively indexed to 100, with a 100 wRC+ indicating a league-average player, and values above 100 indicating the degrees better a player is than a league-average player.

 

Here are the 10 pitchers on the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot, ranked by bWAR.

Pitchers on the 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot, Ranked by bWAR

Pitcher

W-L (S), ERA

bWAR

fWAR

ERA+

ERA-

Clemens, Roger

354-184, 3.12

133.1

145.5

143

70

Schilling, Curt

216-146, 3.46

76.9

86.1

127

80

Wells, David

239-157, 4.13

49.4

61.2

108

93

Morris, Jack

254-186, 3.90

39.3

56.9

105

95

Smith, Lee

71-92 (478), 3.03

27.9

29.0

132

73

Williams, Woody

132-116, 4.19

25.0

19.8

103

97

Sele, Aaron

148-112, 4.61

17.2

33.6

100

99

Hernandez, Roberto

67-71 (326), 3.45

17.2

15.2

131

77

Stanton, Mike

68-63 (84), 3.92

12.6

13.7

112

90

Mesa, Jose

80-109 (321), 4.36

9.5

13.5

100

100

 

W-L (S), ERA: Grouping of the pitcher's career win-loss record (and career saves, if applicable) and career earned run average (ERA).

bWAR: Career Wins Above Replacement as calculated by Baseball Reference.

fWAR: Career Wins Above Replacement as calculated by FanGraphs.

ERA+: Career ERA, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by Baseball Reference. Positively indexed to 100, with a 100 ERA+ indicating a league-average pitcher, and values above 100 indicating the degrees better a pitcher is than a league-average pitcher.

ERA-: Career ERA, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by FanGraphs. Negatively indexed to 100, with a 100 ERA- indicating a league-average pitcher, and values below 100 indicating the degrees better a pitcher is than a league-average pitcher.

 

The table below combines both position players and pitchers into a ranking by bWAR.

All 2013 Hall of Fame Candidates, Ranked by bWAR

Rank

Player

bWAR

fWAR

1

Bonds, Barry

158.1

168.0

2

Clemens, Roger

133.1

145.5

3

Schilling, Curt

76.9

86.1

4

Bagwell, Jeff

76.7

83.9

5

Walker, Larry

69.7

73.2

6

Trammell, Alan

67.1

69.5

7

Raines, Tim

66.2

70.6

8

Palmeiro, Rafael

66.1

74.2

9

Lofton, Kenny

64.9

66.2

10

Martinez, Edgar

64.4

69.9

11

Biggio, Craig

62.1

70.5

12

McGwire, Mark

58.7

70.6

13

Piazza, Mike

56.1

66.8

14

Sosa, Sammy

54.8

64.1

15

Wells, David

49.4

61.2

16

McGriff, Fred

48.2

61.0

17

Williams, Bernie

45.9

47.5

18

Murphy, Dale

42.6

47.3

19

Finley, Steve

40.4

44.2

20

Mattingly, Don

39.8

45.8

21

Franco, Julio

39.7

48.6

22

Morris, Jack

39.3

56.9

23

Sanders, Reggie

36.7

41.8

24

Cirillo, Jeff

32.0

36.4

25

Green, Shawn

31.4

34.9

26

Smith, Lee

27.9

29.0

27

White, Rondell

25.5

26.2

28

Williams, Woody

25.0

19.8

29

Klesko, Ryan

24.6

32.7

30

Sele, Aaron

17.2

33.6

31

Hernandez, Roberto

17.2

15.2

32

Clayton, Royce

16.4

21.7

33

Conine, Jeff

16.2

24.4

34

Stanton, Mike

12.6

13.7

35

Alomar, Jr., Sandy

11.6

15.7

36

Mesa, Jose

9.5

13.5

37

Walker, Todd

8.3

11.5


Picking off the Low-hanging Fruit

Of the 37 candidates, 14 can be dismissed immediately: Sandy Alomar, Jr., Jeff Cirillo, Royce Clayton, Jeff Conine, Shawn Green, Roberto Hernandez, Ryan Klesko, Jose Mesa, Reggie Sanders, Aaron Sele, Mike Stanton, Todd Walker, Rondell White, and Woody Williams. This might seem like a ruthless assessment made harsher because of the wealth of talent on the ballot, but while several of these candidates, all first-timers on the ballot, were solid role players, none were exceptional enough to merit serious Hall consideration.

Of these 14, Shawn Green is perhaps the best of the lot, having reached 2000 hits, 400 doubles, 300 home runs, and 1000 runs batted in with a five-year power peak that saw him hit 40 or more home runs in three different seasons, two of those while in Los Angeles playing in pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium. Reggie Sanders isn't too far behind, having displayed power and speed as he reached 300 home runs, hitting at least 20 in a season with six different teams, and 300 stolen bases to join a select group while winning a World Series in 2001 with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Aaron Sele had four consecutive years of at least 15 wins on his way to 148 career wins. (Although contemporary analysis holds that wins credited to a pitcher are not only overvalued but are not an accurate indication of a pitcher's ability—wins are a function of a team's dynamic, with too many factors that are beyond a pitcher's control—enough voters carry a residual attachment to them that they will continue to be noted.) Roberto Hernandez notched 30 or more saves in six years, including 43 in 1999, while amassing 326 in his career, 13th all-time; Jose Mesa is next on that list with 321. (Likewise with saves—they are an unreliable indication of a relief pitcher's true effectiveness.)

In addition to his being named in the Mitchell Report, Mike Stanton is in the midst of another unfortunate situation: As a middle reliever, he filled an unsung role for his entire 19-year career, and the Hall has not yet shown any interest in recognizing players in specialized roles beyond closers, and even there the reception is mixed. Stanton is the lifetime leader in holds—which is not an official Major League Baseball (MLB) statistic, anyway—but as a career setup man Stanton is not going to see any kind of recognition from the Hall.

Two position players, Steve Finley and Julio Franco, demonstrate the deceptive effects of counting numbers and traditional qualitative statistics. Franco, who came back from the dead (figuratively speaking) throughout his career, became the oldest regular position player in MLB history. (Franco's career began in 1982, one year after Cal Ripken, Jr.'s, debut season, and Franco's final season, in 2007, was the same year in which Ripken, Jr., was inducted into the Hall of Fame.) Franco boasts a .298 career batting average and led the American League (AL) in hitting in 1991, and he finished with 2586 hits, 407 doubles, 173 home runs, 1285 runs scored, and 1194 runs batted in. Franco began as a middle infielder, both second base and shortstop, but he was never considered to be a quality defender even after moving to first base later in his 23-year career.

Finley has an even stronger case: A respectable defender in center field (a career 2.9 defensive bWAR), he reached 2548 hits, 449 doubles, 304 home runs, 320 stolen bases, 1443 runs scored, and 1167 RBI in a 19-year career. Most of those counting numbers match or exceed another center fielder on the ballot, Bernie Williams, and although Williams beats him in the jewelry department—Williams won four World Series rings with the New York Yankees—Finley's sole ring came in 2001 when his Arizona Diamondback beat Williams's Yankees in one of the great World Series in baseball history. In addition, Williams was a lousy defender, with a minus-10.3 defensive bWAR lifetime and 118 runs below average in Total Zone rating. But Finley reached his totals in about 500 more games and 1500 more plate appearances than did Williams, which is why Finley's career OPS+ and wRC+ are just a few ticks above league-average (both 104) while Williams sports a more robust OPS+ of 125 and wRC+ of 126.

In short, both Finley and Franco were solid, durable players with their moments of glory (and with Franco providing a fine human-interest story), but ultimately they both compiled career totals that reflected longevity and not Hall of Fame excellence.


Sorting through a Crowded Borderline

Next come seven players on the borderline of Hall of Fame excellence: Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Lee Smith, David Wells, and Bernie Williams. In any other year, these seven would merit higher consideration, although four have extensive ballot experience already: Smith (11th year on the ballot), Mattingly (13th), and Morris (14th), while for Murphy this is his last chance to be elected by the voters of the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA).

Wells is the only first-timer in the bunch; I detailed the cases for the other six this time last year and have recapped them below.

A durable starting pitcher with surprisingly good control for a left-hander, "Boomer" Wells saw action with nine different major-league clubs including the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Yankees, earning a World Series ring with each club. Wells was a 20-game winner with Toronto in 2000 when he went 20-8 (.714) with a 4.11 ERA and led the AL in complete games (9), although his 1998 campaign might have been more impressive as he won 18 games for the Yankees against only 4 losses (an .818 winning percentage) with a 3.49 ERA. Those were two of the nine seasons in which Wells won 15 or more games on his way to 239 wins lifetime, tied for 57th with Hall of Famer Mordecai Brown, against only 157 losses for an excellent .604 lifetime winning percentage.

He did this despite an ERA over 4—his career 4.13 ERA would be the highest-ever by a Hall of Fame pitcher even if Jack Morris (3.90 ERA lifetime) gets in. Wells's fielding-independent ERA (FIP) of 3.99 suggests only marginal improvement once you factor out the defenses behind him; despite issuing only 719 walks in 3439 innings pitched, resulting in an impressive 1.9 walks per nine innings pitched—and with his 2201 strikeouts giving him an excellent career strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.06—he did allow 3635 hits, netting a walks-plus-hits-per-innings-pitched (WHIP) of 1.266, 334th lifetime. Instead, Wells enjoyed a career run-support average of 5.3 runs per game, better than a half-run above the MLB average of 4.7 runs per game over the course of his career. His ERA+ (from Baseball Reference) of 108 and ERA- (from FanGraphs) of 93 indicate a better-than-league average pitcher but hardly an elite one. Even if BBWAA voters toss out all the players with the steroids taint and Larry Walker for good measure, David Wells will still have a tough time securing that tenth spot on a voter's ballot, let alone garnering the 75 percent of the total vote needed for induction.

A much more likely choice is Jack Morris, who netted 66.6 percent of the vote last year, which many observers have noted indicates eventual election through at least 75 percent of the vote. And if this year's vote truly is a referendum on PEDs, then Morris is the old-school refutation both to PEDs and to sabermetrics. (To put it into terms of recent baseball movies, if Bert Blyleven was the Moneyball candidate of 2011, then Morris will be the Trouble with the Curve candidate of 2013.) In my assessment last year, I did indeed note that Morris was a throwback, the Gus Wynn of our time, the proverbial battler whose numbers are comparable to Wynn's, who fought and scraped his way to 300 wins. In an era of interventionist bullpens, Morris's 254 wins and 3.90 ERA are equivalent to Wynn's, who posted a career 3.54 ERA and finally retired in 1963 following a protracted struggle to earn that 300th win. Morris, despite his Game Seven immortality in the 1991 World Series, is similarly a just-above-league-average pitcher, as his 105 ERA+ and 95 ERA- indicate; even Morris's FIP of 3.94 suggests that his cumulative defenses helped him out a bit, while his run-support average of 4.9 runs per game is a half-run better than the MLB average of 4.4 runs per game during his career. Although my vote on Morris is still no, I strongly suspect that he will be elected this year.

Whether his son Chad's eleventh-hour "integrity" campaign will have any measurable effect or might even backfire, Dale Murphy is another borderline candidate who, like Morris, could be elected this year simply for being a good guy whose career predated the Steroids Era. (Chad Murphy's argument/online petition posits in part that if a player's decision to use PEDs reflects "negative" integrity that voters will use to not vote for that player, then a player's "positive" integrity, such as in Dale Murphy's case with its celebrated good-fellowship and charitable commitment, should be an incentive to vote for the player.) Beyond that, Murphy's case is one of a decent peak in his prime, which saw him win back-to-back National League Most Valuable Player Awards in 1982 and 1983, followed by the inevitable decline. Murphy led the NL in RBI in 1982 (he actually tied with the Montreal Expos' Al Oliver with 109) and 1983, and it is no coincidence that he won the MVP in those years as MVP voting has traditionally rewarded RBI leaders (as with wins and batting average, RBI are considered overvalued by current analytical standards, but they too retain a legacy sparkle), although in 1982 Mike Schmidt, Gary Carter, and even Pedro Guerrero all had equally strong cases for MVP. To be fair to Murphy, he stood out in a relatively offensively challenged period although not so distinctively that he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

As for the "integrity" angle, Chad Murphy raises an excellent point—perhaps we should nominate Dale Murphy for the Nobel Peace Prize? After all, Nobel has awarded the Peace Prize to any number of dubious recipients including Henry Kissinger, Mother Teresa, Barack Obama, and the European Union. Could Murphy be any worse?

Another borderline player who could benefit from the anticipated backlash against the PEDs-era players is Fred McGriff, whose peak came just before the offensive explosion of the mid-1990s. As I noted last year, those gaudy numbers of the Steroids Era overshadow McGriff's although they do not obliterate his record—"Crime Dog" was a durable, consistent power hitter with eight years of 100 or more RBI and ten years of 30 or more homers. He finished with just under 2500 hits (2460) and 500 home runs (493) and well over 1500 RBI (1550), and qualitatively his 134 OPS+ is 121st all-time and his 134 wRC+ is 112th all-time. McGriff has a strong—but not compelling—case for the Hall, but it could be strong enough this year if the voters' consensus is to bypass the PEDs users, actual or suspected, and "reward" the "clean" players. But Fred McGriff is at best the fourth-best first baseman on the 2013 ballot.

One of the first basemen not ahead of McGriff is Don Mattingly, whose retirement in 1995 after his age-34 season, the result of recurrent back problems, kept him from compiling greater counting numbers than the 2153 hits, 442 doubles, 222 home runs, 1007 runs scored, and 1099 RBI he did accumulate. A decade before the Steroids Era, "Donnie Baseball" hit a six-year peak from 1984 to 1989 that saw him deliver a .327/.372/.530 slash line and seasonal averages of 203 hits, 43 doubles, 27 home runs, 330 total bases, 97 runs, 114 RBI, a 147 OPS+, and 5.3 bWAR. In that time he led the AL in batting in 1984, was the MVP in 1985—not surprisingly, he led the league in RBI—and had three consecutive years of 30 or more home runs, including a record six grand slams in 1987—oddly enough, the only six grand slams of his career. Although Mattingly won nine Gold Gloves, Baseball Reference assesses him at a minus-6.8 defensive WAR but credits him with 33 Total Zone runs above average, as does FanGraphs, meaning that he was worth 33 more defensive runs overall than an average first baseman. Don Mattingly was an excellent player but not an elite one.

That is also still my assessment of another Yankee, Bernie Williams, who, as noted above, is a better center fielder qualitatively than is Steve Finley—at least offensively—but isn't quite ready to ascend to the lofty heights of storied Yankee center fielders Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, let alone follow them into the Hall of Fame. The switch-hitting Williams led the AL in batting (.339) in 1998, and during his eight-year peak from 1995 to 2002 he posted a .321/.406/.531 slash line with seasonal averages of 177 hits, 32 doubles, 5 triples (41 of his 55 career triples were hit during this period), 24 home runs, 105 runs scored, 102 RBI, a 142 OPS+, and a 4.9 bWAR, which is just about All-Star quality but isn't MVP quality. That sums up Williams's Hall chances as well—like Mattingly, an excellent but not elite player.

What to make of Lee Smith? By the midpoint of his career, he turned out to be the prototype of the contemporary closer, the reliever who entered the game to record the final three outs—for the last nine years of his 18-year career, Smith averaged 58 innings pitched in 56 games while notching 30 saves per season. He racked up 478 saves by the time he retired, the all-time record until Trevor Hoffman and then Mariano Rivera passed him. Smith's qualitative stats look good, a 3.03 ERA and a 2.93 FIP, 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings, a 132 ERA+, a 73 ERA-, and a 76 FIP- (fielding-independent pitching, league- and park-adjusted, negatively indexed so values below 100 indicate how much better than league-average the pitcher is).

Despite leading the league in saves four times, and ten seasons with at least 30 saves, Smith left no legacy of excellence. He finished in the top five for Cy Young voting three times; his best showing was runner-up in 1991, when he set a career-high in saves with 47, but he placed a distant second to a deserving Tom Glavine. Smith was part of no World Series champions; in fact, in four postseason appearances, two each in 1984 and 1988 in League Championship Series in the NL and AL, respectively, that totaled 5.1 innings pitched, Smith posted a cumulative 0-2 win-loss record with an 8.44 ERA and no saves.

As the model of the modern-day closer, Smith might get some further consideration—he reached the 50-percent mark on last year's ballot—but I still cannot muster more than a lukewarm non-objection should he be voted in this year. The save is such a cheap statistic, and I'm not sure that the peripheral numbers can be counted on to make the relief pitcher's case.


The Hall of Fame Cup Runneth Over

Undoubtedly your powers of deduction, or at your least arithmetic skills, have told you that there are 14 candidates remaining who are qualified for the Hall of Fame. This is an almost unprecedented embarrassment of riches for a voter: A voter can choose a maximum of ten players on the ballot, which means that at least four qualified players must be omitted.

(Why the qualifier for "unprecedented"? Consider the inaugural Hall of Fame ballot of 1936: Of the 47 candidates, while only 5 were elected that year, 37 of the remaining 42 were eventually elected to the Hall.)

These are the 14 potential Hall of Famers: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Kenny Lofton, Edgar Martinez, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa, Alan Trammell, and Larry Walker.

Of these, seven are on the ballot for the first time this year: Biggio, Bonds, Clemens, Lofton, Piazza, Schilling, and Sosa. Why the other seven have not yet been elected to the Hall underscores the roiling dynamics of Hall voting in recent years that inexorably reaches its head with this year's historic referendum (as expressed in great detail in Part 1 of this series).

McGwire and Palmeiro are PEDs poster boys being made examples of by the moral dudgeon impelling the backlash against the Steroids Era, with Bagwell lumped in through guilt by appearance—he just looks as if he took steroids, even if no evidence has surfaced to substantiate that. Walker seems to be penalized for park effects—the numbers he generated at pre-humidifier Coors Field are suspect, affecting his overall chances. Martinez reflects the ambivalence voters seem to have for a player whose primary role was as designated hitter. And Raines and Trammell are sabermetrics cases, their qualifications touted through abstract numbers-crunching and not through traditional statistical measures or the even old "eye test."

Based on this past experience, Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, and possibly Piazza will be treated as previous candidates with PEDs association—actual or implied—have been. That leaves Biggio, Lofton, and Schilling as the only unsullied candidates, and if they join Martinez—assuming negligible bias against the designated hitter—Raines, and Trammell, that leaves four slots available for the maximum of ten on the ballot, presumably to be filled by four of the borderline candidates described above.

Even when flatly removing the PEDs players, that still leaves numerous permutations, and trying to determine how a ballot of ten candidates would look is a crap shoot. However, in the interest of rolling for boxcars ("C'mon, baby, papa needs a new pair of shoes!" as they used to exclaim in old movies), the table below presents three possibilities based on hard exclusions, moderate exclusions, and soft exclusions.

Possible 2013 Hall of Fame Candidates, Various Scenarios

Hard Exclusions (PEDs Users and Other Factors)

Moderate Exclusions (PEDs Users)

Soft Exclusions (Some PEDs Users)

Biggio, Craig

Biggio, Craig

Bagwell, Jeff

Lofton, Kenny

Martinez, Edgar

Biggio, Craig

Mattingly, Don

Mattingly, Don

Bonds, Barry

McGriff, Fred

McGriff, Fred

Clemens, Roger

Morris, Jack

Morris, Jack

Martinez, Edgar

Murphy, Dale

Raines, Tim

Morris, Jack

Raines, Tim

Schilling, Curt

Raines, Tim

Schilling, Curt

Smith, Lee

Smith, Lee

Smith, Lee

Trammell, Alan

Trammell, Alan

Trammell, Alan

Walker, Larry

Walker, Larry

 

The Hard Exclusions column assumes that any player with even suspicion of PEDs association will not garner sufficient votes, and Edgar Martinez, primarily a designated hitter, and Larry Walker, a beneficiary of extreme park factors for part of his career, will also not garner sufficient votes. The Moderate Exclusions column admits Martinez and Walker while still shutting out any PEDs-associated player. The Soft Exclusions column relents on Bagwell while admitting Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, either because both of whom have been argued to have been Hall of Fame-caliber players before they were suspected of beginning a PEDs program or because their career numbers and sheer dominance are just too huge to be simply ignored.

Places assigned to players who have been on previous ballots were based on their voting trends, and that does establish a bias toward players already on previous ballots—Curt Schilling could leapfrog over a listed player in the Soft Exclusions column, and I am also assuming that Craig Biggio will be listed on even a Soft Exclusions ballot; leaving aside problematic members of the 3000-hit club (Rafael Palmeiro, Pete Rose), entrance into that select circle is not always an automatic first-ballot lock, but in this year's environment that could be a major factor, making Biggio a likely inductee.

The biggest assumption is that voters will choose the maximum number of ten candidates on the ballot. I considered ranking from most to least likely the candidates in each column, but that would quickly end up like trying to count the number of angels able to dance on the head of a pin, or on the tip of a syringe, as Keith Olbermann remarked recently. The point, of course, is to illustrate the sheer number of candidates—qualified candidates—and some of the various scenarios that could present themselves with this year's vote.


The 14 Most Qualified Players on the 2013 Ballot

It is no coincidence that the 14 players who I think are the most qualified for the 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot also happen to be the 14 players with the highest bWAR in the combined table above. Thus, it would be simple to merely list them in the order in which they appear in the table.

But although WAR (in whatever version) is a good quick-and-dirty sorting tool, as I explained in Part 1, I've ordered the 14 candidates below based on other factors such as positional scarcity (the idea that a player at a more-challenging defensive position such as catcher or shortstop, all other things being equal, has more value to his team than a player at a less-challenging position), the context of the player's active seasons, the magnitude of the player's accomplishments, and other considerations.

With that in mind, here, in reverse order, are the 14 presumptive Hall of Famers.

14. Sammy Sosa (first year on ballot)

A great irony of Sammy Sosa's career—detractors might call it a comeuppance—is that although Sosa is the only player in baseball history with three seasons in which he hit 60 or more home runs—in 1998 (66 homers), 1999 (63), and 2001 (64)—he never led the league in home runs in any of those years. He is one of only five hitters in baseball history to reach 60 homers in a season, and the other four all led their league—indeed the majors—in round-trippers when they reached that milestone, including Mark McGwire twice. Sosa did lead the league in homers in two other years, 2000 (50) and 2002 (49), and he was the NL MVP in 1998—the same year of the famous "home run chase that saved baseball" when McGwire set the single-season mark with 70 long flies—when he knocked in a league-leading 158 runs batted in and led his Chicago Cubs to the postseason.

Eighth in lifetime home runs with 609, Sosa is one of only eight men with 600 or more big flies, and his 1667 RBI are 27th all-time; he had eleven seasons with 30 or more homers, seven with 40 or more, and nine seasons, all consecutive, with 100 or more RBI. Sosa is also third in lifetime strikeouts with 2306, a career rate of 23.3 percent, with only 929 bases on balls in 9896 plate appearances. Sosa's career slugging percentage of .534 is within the top 50, higher than Hall of Fame sluggers Willie McCovey, Mike Schmidt, and Willie Stargell, but his career OPS+ of 128, equal to marginal Hall of Famers Goose Goslin's and Jim Rice's, challenges the effectiveness of those gaudy counting numbers, as does his wRC+ of 123. Defensively, Sosa was not terrible, costing his teams one win (a minus-1.0 defensive bWAR) over his career while saving 104 runs overall and notching 143 assists, 127 of those as a right fielder, tied for 23rd with Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, on the all-time list.

Sammy Sosa's power-hitting accomplishments have to put him into the discussion, but their impact is open to debate. Any of the other thirteen candidates deserve a ballot spot ahead of him.

13. Kenny Lofton (first year on ballot)

One player who might not have popped up on anyone's radar screen as a potential Hall of Fame candidate is center fielder Kenny Lofton, although he crossed mine a year and a half ago even if I thought then, as I do now, that the logjammed ballot will make his case even tougher than it is already. Runner-up for the 1992 AL Rookie of the Year Award to the Milwaukee Brewers' shortstop Pat Listach—yes, I had to look him up too—Lofton posted virtually identical numbers to Listach's while leading the league in stolen bases with 66, the first of five consecutive years in which Lofton led the league in that category. He swiped a total of 325 sacks during that time, more than half of his 622 career steals (15th all-time), while posting a career-high of 75 in 1996.

Alas, Lofton did this with the high-powered Cleveland Indians and was overshadowed by Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, and Omar Vizquel, among others. Too bad, because Lofton was essentially a poor-man's Tim Raines with much better defensive skills, posting many offensive numbers comparable to "the Rock" while playing in 400 fewer games and making 1000 fewer plate appearances. Lofton was practically a .300 hitter, sporting a .299/.372/.423 slash line while amassing 2428 hits, 383 doubles, 116 triples (tied for 106th all-time with Hall of Famer Jimmy Collins), and 130 home runs while scoring 1528 runs, 60th all-time.

But Raines's hurdle to overcome is being tagged as the poor-man's Rickey Henderson—so you can imagine the poverty gap Lofton has to cross being the poor-man's poor-man's Henderson. Not helping is Lofton's peripatetic path following his first nine years in Cleveland—with even that broken up by a one-year stint with the Atlanta Braves in 1997 before returning to Cleveland—as he played with nine more clubs in his last six years, including the San Francisco Giants during their 2002 World Series appearance and a curtain call with Cleveland in 2007, his final season. His career OPS+ of 107 and wRC+ of 110 make it hard to call Kenny Lofton an elite player, but he was an excellent leadoff hitter and an outstanding defender at a premium position, center field—he probably deserved more than the four Gold Gloves he did win—and he deserves serious consideration.

12. Mark McGwire (seventh year on ballot)

Apart from the PEDs issue that has defined Mark McGwire's Hall of Fame chances, the biggest knocks against "Big Mac" are that he was a one-dimensional player and that his career wasn't long enough. Like Harmon Killebrew, McGwire was known strictly for hitting home runs, and in 1874 games and 6187 at-bats, McGwire collected only 1626 hits for an unexceptional.263 lifetime batting average, although that would not be the lowest among Hall of Fame first basemen—Killebrew's .256 would still hold that dubious honor.

On the other hand, 583 of those hits were home runs and are tenth all-time, while his ratio of 10.61 at-bats per home run is tops in baseball history, more than a full at-bat better than Babe Ruth's 11.76. Moreover, as I noted last year, McGwire is a classic Three True Outcomes hitter: In addition to slugging home runs at a prodigious rate, which informed his .588 career slugging average that is bested by only seven other hitters, he either struck out—1596 times for a 20.8 percent clip—or walked: Mac drew 1317 bases on balls, with only 150 of those intentional, which puts his lofty .394 on-base percentage (81st all-time) into bold relief against his pedestrian batting average.

McGwire's long-ball prowess was demonstrated early, when he became the 1987 AL Rookie of the Year with the Oakland A's by smashing a record 49 long balls. That led to eleven years of 30 or more round-trippers, with six of those years netting 40 or more, while seven years of 100 or more RBI, including a league-leading 147 in 1999, led to 1414 for his career. His record might have been even more impressive had not foot injuries nagged him in his prime, limiting him to 74 games and 279 plate appearances total for 1993 and 1994. Qualitatively, McGwire's 163 OPS+ is 11th-best lifetime, while his 157 wRC+ is 12th-best lifetime and his weighted on-base average (wOBA) of .415 is 32nd lifetime. Defensively, Mac was a liability even at first base with a minus-12.8 defensive bWAR, costing his teams a net minus-29 runs overall. Mark McGwire might have been a one-dimensional player, which is why I have him ranked 12th out of 14, but that dimension was rather spectacular, which is why he is qualified for the Hall.

11. Edgar Martinez (fourth year on ballot)

Had Edgar Martinez become a full-time player sooner than his age-27 season, and had injuries not dogged him from the start, he might have compiled an even more auspicious batting record than he has currently, and his path to the Hall of Fame would be much smoother. Unfortunately, you have to evaluate player as he is and not how you wish he could have been, and so looking at Martinez's record requires just a little more discernment.

But not that much, because Martinez produced as much, if not more, in the 14 full years he played for the Seattle Mariners (not counting his first three seasons and his injury-plagued 1993 campaign) than have most ballplayers. I made a case for Martinez last year, and it still holds up now. What seems to be the biggest obstacle for Martinez is his status as a designated hitter. I'm a National League guy myself and admit to residual bias against the DH—which is why Martinez slides to just outside the top ten for this year—but the DH has been an official position in the AL for four decades now and is part of baseball whether we like it or not.

Moreover, the award given since 1973 (the year of the first designated hitter) to the best DH, the Outstanding Designated Hitter Award, was renamed in 2004 the Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award. And why not? In the seven prime years that Martinez was the Mariners' full-time DH, from 1995 to 2001, he posted a .329/.446/.574 slash line while averaging 171 hits, 42 doubles, 28 home runs, 298 total bases, 107 walks, 100 runs scored, 110 runs batted in, a 164 OPS+, and a 5.5 bWAR—All-Star quality, as he was for five of those seven years. Martinez was the first—and remains the only—DH to win a batting title when he hit .356 in 1995; he won his first batting title in 1992 with a .343 average while starting 102 games at third base. Martinez lifetime rankings include 21st in on-base percentage with .418, 41st in OPS+ with 147, 57th in wOBA with .405, 91st in fWAR (position players only) with 69.9, and 108th in bWAR (both position players and pitchers) with 64.4. Edgar Martinez is a Hall of Fame hitter.



10. Alan Trammell (twelfth year on ballot)


In one sense, it is remarkable that Detroit Tigers' shortstop Alan Trammell has survived for so long on the Hall of Fame ballot; this is his 12th year as a candidate. His career largely predates the offensive explosion that began in the mid-1990s, and although he might have been the prototype for the modern offensively-charged shortstop, he was overshadowed by Cal Ripken, Jr., and the wave of super-shortstops who followed them, including Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Miguel Tejada.

Yet Trammell, both with the bat and with the glove, was remarkably consistent and consistently excellent. During the 1980s, from 1980 when he batted .300 to 1990 when he batted .304, Trammell generated a .291/.359/.433 slash line while averaging 152 hits, 28 doubles, 13 home runs, 81 runs scored, 66 RBI, 16 stolen bases, a 119 OPS+, and a 5.2 bWAR—again, at an All-Star level, as Trammell was in six of those eleven seasons. He was the 1987 AL MVP runner-up to the Toronto Blue Jays' George Bell, who hit 47 home runs and led the AL in RBI with 134. But Trammell, whose 8.0 bWAR was third-best that year (behind Roger Clemens and Wade Boggs), had an MVP-caliber season: .343/.402/.551 slash line, 205 hits, 34 doubles, 28 home runs, 109 runs scored, 105 RBI, 21 stolen bases, 329 total bases, and a 155 OPS+.

But if the primary value a shortstop can deliver is his defensive ability, then Trammell did just that. This four-time Gold Glover ranks 17th in career assists by a shortstop with 6172, 23rd in career fielding percentage by a shortstop with .9768, 28th in career putouts by a shortstop with 3391, 34th in lifetime defensive bWAR with 22.0, and 53rd in career range factor per nine innings by a shortstop with 4.711 (the ratio of putouts plus assists over nine innings of play).

This is the biggest factor in Alan Trammell's favor—positional scarcity. He was consistently excellent defensively at one of the two hardest defensive positions on the diamond, and he supplied a strong, if not overpowering, bat at the plate. Trammell is not an obvious Hall of Fame choice, and on such a crowded ballot as this year's he can be overlooked quite easily. But he should not be overlooked in this or any other year.

9. Rafael Palmeiro (third year on ballot)

Divorced from the PEDs opprobrium that engulfs Rafael Palmeiro, his accomplishment of being just the fourth batter in major-league history to collect at least 3000 hits (3020) and 500 home runs (569) should have made him a first-ballot inductee, as it had for the previous three: Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Eddie Murray. In addition to both Murray and Palmeiro manning first base for the Baltimore Orioles for a significant stretch of their careers, Palmeiro posted numbers that are remarkably similar to Murray's.

Obviously, with just 11.0 percent and 12.6 percent of the vote on his first two ballots, Palmeiro has been handed his standing by the BBWAA. And even if you consider the Steroids Era to be a colorful if ugly but still-valid period in baseball's history—as I do—Palmeiro's angry denial of PEDs usage before a Congressional committee in 2005, only to fail a drug test months later, still resembles the kind of sitcom-like hubris that befalls the villain who justly deserves his comeuppance.

But had the PEDs notoriety not grabbed Palmeiro, it is not clear that he would have stood out in voters' minds, anyway. Yes, he did achieve the rare feat of 3000 hits and 500 home runs, and for a 15-year period, mostly with the Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles, the first baseman was a consistently excellent hitter: From 1988 to 2002 he generated a .294/.375/.523 slash line with seasonal averages of 170 hits, 34 doubles, 32 home runs, 303 total bases, 94 runs scored, 102 RBI, a 136 OPS+, and a bWAR of 4.1. Yet Palmeiro was never a dominant hitter; he led the league once each in hits, runs, and doubles, none in the same year; his best showing in MVP voting was sixth in 1996, with a strong but not exceptional year; and he was named to only four All-Star squads.

Palmeiro finished with 119 sacrifice flies, 8th all-time (coincidentally, Murray is the lifetime leader with 128); 5388 total bases, 11th all-time; 569 home runs, 12th all-time; 585 doubles, 16th all-time; 1835 runs batted in, 16th all-time; 3020 hits, 25th all-time; and 172 intentional walks, 28th all-time. A neat footnote to Palmeiro's record is that he did walk five more times than he struck out (1353 bases on balls to 1348 strikeouts), unusual for a power hitter of his era. His PEDs notoriety might keep him out of the Hall of Fame for the duration of his stay on the ballot and even through any future veterans' committees. But many years from now, regardless of how the PEDs furor is resolved, people are going to look at Rafael Palmeiro's record and ask, "Why isn't this guy in the Hall of Fame yet?"

8. Mike Piazza (first year on ballot)

So, how is the fairy tale going to end for Mike Piazza, with his being treated like Cinderella or like one of the wicked stepsisters? Piazza of course was drafted in the 62nd round by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988, essentially as a favor by family friend Tommy Lasorda. Encouraged to play catcher in order to enhance his chances of making it to the majors, Piazza did make it to the big-league club full-time in 1993 and merely became the NL Rookie of the Year with a .318/.370/.561 line, 35 home runs, and 112 RBI along with a 153 OPS+ and 6.8 bWAR. That ushered in a career that saw Piazza become one of the greatest-hitting catchers—arguably the greatest-hitting catcher—of all time.

That is the Cinderella scenario, and Piazza, the only catcher in major-league history to combine a .300 or better lifetime average (.308; .313 as a catcher) with 400 or more home runs (427; 396 as a catcher—the most all-time at that position), would be a shoo-in as a Hall of Famer. Among catchers with 7000 or more career plate appearances, only Mickey Cochrane (.320), Bill Dickey (.313), and Deacon White (.312) posted a higher batting average than Piazza, and White, a Pre-Integration Committee Hall of Fame inductee this year, not only played in the 19th century, when the game was markedly different than it was in even Cochrane's and Dickey's day, let alone Piazza's, he actually played more games at third base (827) than he did at catcher (458). Also among catchers with 7000 or more career plate appearances, Piazza ranks first in OPS+ with 143.

The wicked-stepsister scenario involves the PEDs taint coloring his career. Piazza did admit to using androstenedione ("andro") early in his career, which would have been before it was made illegal by Major League Baseball, but in this witch-hunt environment that is worse than Jeff Bagwell's being merely suspected of using PEDs. It's a crap shoot as to whether Piazza's inaugural year on the ballot coinciding with the debuts of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa is a help or a hindrance: Is he screened by the higher-profile cases, or he is lumped in as yet another miscreant?

In any event, Piazza's Hall of Fame case does rest on his offensive prowess. At the toughest defensive position on the field, Piazza was not an auspicious defender. With 1400 stolen bases allowed, Piazza ranks 7th all-time, while he ranks 111th lifetime with 124 errors and ranks 122nd lifetime with 102 passed balls (he led the league twice in passed balls and reached double digits four times). Yet despite being 61 runs below average in Total Zone total runs as a catcher, Piazza still wound up with a career defensive bWAR of 1.0 win above a replacement player. That means that Piazza's defensive play did not offset significantly his offensive contributions.

For a ten-year period, from 1993 to 2002, Piazza flashed a .322/.389/.579 slash line with seasonal averages of 162 hits, 25 doubles, 35 home runs, 292 total bases, 85 runs scored, and 107 RBI while establishing a 155 OPS+ and a 5.2 bWAR; he was an All-Star in all ten years and twelve times in his career. That is a Hall of Fame career.

7. Craig Biggio (first year on ballot)

Although every eligible member of the 3000-hit club except Rafael Palmeiro is in the Hall of Fame, not every member was a first-ballot inductee. Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker, and Paul Waner all had to wait at least a year before getting the call. (Or was it the telegram back in those days? Who remembers what a "telegram" is now?) Waner might have had to wait five years before getting the call/telegram in 1952 (rules were different then—Waner had retired in 1945 and was on his first ballot in 1948), but every eligible player with 3000 hits since Waner and up to Palmeiro went in on his first ballot.

(Pete Rose, the all-time leader in hits with 4256, had agreed to permanent ineligibility from baseball in 1989, three years after he had retired, for allegedly gambling on baseball, an accusation that at the time he denied. In 1991, the Hall of Fame made formal its informal ban of any player deemed so ineligible, the year prior to Rose's first year of hypothetical eligibility; thus, Rose has never been an eligible candidate for the Hall. In 2004, Rose admitted that he had indeed bet on baseball games, even on—though not against—his own team, the Cincinnati Reds.)

Palmeiro might still be waiting for his call, but Craig Biggio, 21st lifetime with 3060 hits, could very well find himself entering Cooperstown on his first ballot. It is unfair to say that Biggio might not have had an inside track to the Hall had there not been so many players with PEDs association on this year's ballot, along with the backlash against such players, because Biggio compiled an impressive record in his 20-year career. Yet despite the inevitable whispers concerning PEDs that touches anyone who played in the Steroids Era—Biggio was a long-time teammate of Jeff Bagwell's, don'tcha know?—Biggio is generally regarded as one of the "clean" ones, even one with "integrity" almost comparable to Dale Murphy's, and that might be the, er, performance enhancement that could get him elected on his first try.

Which is academic, because Biggio is a Hall of Fame-caliber player in any event. And it's not just the 3000 hits that make him so, although obviously they don't hurt. Biggio is 5th in doubles with 668, 15th in runs scored with 1844, 33rd in total bases with 4711, 64th in stolen bases with 414, and—ouch!—2nd in hits by pitch with 285. What makes these numbers so impressive is that for his entire career, Biggio was an up-the-middle defender. His first four seasons were spent primarily as a catcher, starting 391 games, before moving to second base in 1992, a position at which he won four consecutive Gold Gloves, amassing a defensive bWAR of 2.3 during that period, while starting 1959 games at the keystone sack overall. Then late in his career he took a turn in the outfield, starting 252 games in centerfield and 98 in left field, before winding up his time back at second.

Truth be told, Biggio was not a defensive standout at any of the three positions. Altogether for his career, he was 70 runs below average in Total Zone analysis and at minus-50 in defensive runs saved, while his career defensive bWAR was minus-3.8. In essence, Biggio was a little below league-average at any of these positions—which, recall, are three-fourths of a team's defensive core—while providing offensive power well superior to a league-average defender at those positions. As a leadoff hitter in 1560 games started and 7297 plate appearances, Biggio sported a .284/.370/.447 slash line with 1800 hits, 426 doubles, 181 home runs, 2833 total bases, 1128 runs scored, and 238 total bases. He started another 1000 games batting in other positions in the lineup, notably second, at which he roughly duplicated his leadoff output.

The 3000 hits might be the sparkly stat that gives him first-ballot entrée. The parade of PEDs-associated might clear the path even more. But is Craig Biggio truly a Hall of Famer? In the history of this sport, who are the only two players other than Biggio to have combined more than 3000 hits, more than 600 doubles, more than 400 stolen bases, and more than 1800 runs scored? Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker. And while Speaker might not have been voted in on his first ballot, his ballot was even tougher than Biggio's.

6. Larry Walker (third year on ballot)

In my very first column for this website, I had Larry Walker pegged as a Hall of Famer, and of course I stated his case for the 2012 ballot. So I am getting tired of pointing out that Walker is a genuine five-tool right fielder whose career performance—capped by three batting titles, the 1997 NL MVP Award, and seven Gold Gloves—has earned him a spot in Cooperstown.

Yes, I know—Coors Field. Walker spent nine full seasons with the Colorado Rockies, from 1995 to 2003, playing in 38 games for the Rockies in 2004 before going to the St. Louis Cardinals. Seven of those seasons were before the Rockies began using a humidor to store baseballs, with the aim of neutralizing the altitude effects in "the Mile-High City" of Denver that makes Coors Field a hitters' dream park. The knock against all Rockies, including Walker, who won all three of his batting titles playing in pre-humidor Colorado, is that those extreme park effects inflated their numbers, with the corresponding depreciation of their overall records.

There is no doubt that Walker feasted while playing at Coors Field, particularly in the pre-humidor days. In 427 games, 1820 plate appearances, and 1527 at-bats at Coors from 1995 to 2001, Walker boasted a lusty .396/.466/.754 slash line while notching 623 hits, 141 doubles, and 126 home runs (including a league-leading 49 in 1997, although only 20 of those were hit at Coors that year), with 428 runs scored and 396 RBI. The humidor cooled him down somewhat: His combined 2002-03 effort at Coors, in 143 games, 581 plate appearances, and 477 at-bats included a .350/.461/.612 line with 126 hits, 33 doubles, 26 home runs, 116 runs scored, and 116 RBI. Between 1995 and 2003, for a total of 570 games, 2401 plate appearances, and 2050 at-bats, and he posted an overall .385/.465/.721 line with 790 hits, 174 doubles, 152 home runs, 544 runs scored, and 512 RBI while playing in Coors Field.

By contrast, Walker was more human on the road. From 1995 to 2003, Walker's line away from Coors, in 562 games, 2256 plate appearances, and 1918 at-bats, was .279/.382/.508 with 536 hits, 114 doubles, 100 home runs, 326 runs scored, and 316 RBI. Over his entire career, Walker hit much better at home than on the road—a whopping 70 points higher in batting average (.348 at home versus .278 on the road), 61 points higher in on-base percentage (.431 versus .370), and an eye-popping 142 points higher in slugging percentage (.637 versus .495).

If you simply removed Walker's home record for the entire time he was in Colorado, you would end up with the following career record: a .282/.372/.499 slash line in 1418 games, 5629 plate appearances, and 4857 at-bats, with 1370 hits, 297 doubles, 231 home runs, 2426 total bases, 157 stolen bases, 811 runs scored, and 799 RBI. That reflects the removal of 570 games, 2401 plate appearances, and 2050 at-bats from his record, leaving him as a solid, though not quite Hall of Fame-caliber, hitter.

But that is only a crude exercise that does not make any accounting for the roughly 29 percent of Walker's games played at Coors Field. Nor does it account for the fact that like any player at any time in baseball history, Walker had very little control over park factors. Should the opportunity present itself, through trade or free agency, a player might be able to choose a team with which to play, and thus a home park in which to play, but that is not always an option, and it certainly wasn't an option prior to the 1970s, when free agency ushered in the current era of players having more control over their careers.

Baseball Reference features a comparison tool developed by sabermetrician Jay Jaffe called JAWS, the Jaffe WAR Score system, that measures a player's Hall of Fame-worthiness by position. Walker ranks ninth in JAWS, ahead of Hall of Fame right fielders Tony Gwynn, Harry Heilmann, Sam Crawford, Paul Waner, and Dave Winfield. Of the eight players ranked higher than Walker, all but Reggie Jackson enjoyed the advantages of hitting at home. Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial (an odd inclusion as he played more games at first base and in left field), Mel Ott, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente, and Al Kaline all posted overall slash lines higher at home than on the road. Spending his entire career with the New York Giants, Ott hit 63.2 percent (323) of his 511 home runs in the Polo Grounds—by contrast, 152 of Walker's 383 home runs, or 39.6 percent, were hit in Coors Field—while Robinson hit 54.8 percent (321) of his 586 home runs in his home parks, and Kaline hit 56.6 percent (226) of his 399 homers in Tiger Stadium, the only home park he knew. Even Musial, who famously split his lifetime 3630 hits equally between home and the road, hit 29 more home runs (252 at home to 223 away) and 61 more doubles (394 to 333) at home. Only Jackson had a stronger slash line during away games, although his home runs were a wash, 280 at home and 283 on the road.

Home-field advantage has been a positive factor for almost all of the right fielders ranked higher than Walker—and we haven't yet examined his early career with the Expos, playing in Montreal's cavernous Olympic Stadium. In the five full seasons Walker played for the Expos, three of those seasons, 1990, 1991, and 1993, had Olympic Stadium considered to be a pitchers' park, with the corresponding effect on Walker's performance. Even in 1992, which found Olympic Stadium more of a hitters' park—and Walker did hit 13 of his 23 home runs that season there—he still hit better on the road. Overall, Walker did hit slightly better in Montreal: a .286/.364/.500 slash line—coincidentally, fairly close to his line with all his Coors Field games removed—with 311 hits, 75 doubles, 47 home runs, 543 total bases, 181 runs scored, and 188 RBI in 319 games, 1243 plate-appearances, and 1047 at-bats. In 355 away games, with 1447 plate appearances and 1279 at-bats, Walker posted a .278/.350/.468 line with 355 hits, 72 doubles, 52 home runs, 599 total bases, 187 runs, and 196 RBI.

There is no doubt that playing at Coors Field boosted Walker's numbers. But consider this: In his 1997 MVP season, Walker posted a .346/.443/.733 slash line on the road while hitting 29 of his 49 home runs in other ballparks; despite hitting 30 of his 46 doubles and all four of his triples in Coors, he actually slugged better on the road. In 1997, Walker swung a hot bat anywhere he played, not just in Denver. Walker's final season was in 2005, his only full season in St. Louis, and he did hit significantly better in Busch Stadium II, which that year did favor hitters slightly.

Throughout his career, Walker did hit significantly better in his home park, whichever park that was, than did the right fielders with whom he is ranked. Do we penalize Walker for this—and not other hitters who also enjoyed their home-field advantage? Perhaps some kind of weighting or neutralizing could scale Walker's output at Coors Field, both before and after the introduction of the humidor, to approximate how Walker would have done in a "normal" home park. But the logical extension of this thinking is to then re-evaluate every player based on his specific advantages—and then to re-evaluate based on his disadvantages.

All this would be done to "adjust" the results of roughly 30 percent of Walker's games although in the other roughly 20 percent of his home games other than in Coors Field—more "normal" ballparks—he demonstrated a less extreme if still significant propensity to hit well. That is just a fact of Larry Walker's career, and even if we scale back some of Walker's stratospheric numbers in Coors Field, he still remains a Hall of Fame-worthy candidate.



5. Tim Raines (sixth year on ballot)


Another player whom I endorsed in my very first column and again last year, Tim Raines actually showed up on my radar screen in 2001, when the speedy left fielder was winding up his career. I was taking a course on writing up various kinds of reports including feasibility studies, or the evaluation of various options with the eventual recommendation of one of those options.

As it was summer and as I'm a baseball fan, I concocted an exercise in which I was writing on behalf of a fictitious "Underdog Committee" recommending potential Hall of Fame candidates among players who would be retiring soon and who were likely to be undervalued or overlooked in the upcoming years. (Recall that Wade Boggs, Tony Gywnn, and Cal Ripken, Jr., were expected to be elected in those upcoming years.) I chose four players, examined their records, and made my recommendation.

Barely sabermetrics-aware at the time, I did stick mostly to traditional qualitative and quantitative statistics, although I did use on-base percentage and positional scarcity. (Also, I could not assume that my intended audience—my course instructor—was a baseball fan.) The four players I chose were—don't laugh at the first one—Andres Galarraga (hey, he looked fairly impressive at the time), Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, and Tim Raines. Going into the exercise, my assumption was that Martinez would emerge as the best-qualified of the four. However, after crunching the numbers, my recommendation was for . . . Tim Raines.

Even with my rudimentary analytical skills, I realized that Raines was the poor man's Rickey Henderson—what really pushed me over was that Raines is fifth in stolen bases, with 808. Subsequent examination shows that Raines's success rate—he was thrown out only 146 times—was an outstanding 84.7 percent. And in a decade, the 1980s, that predated the offensive explosion of the Steroids Era, Raines posted a consistently excellent record.

For a fifteen-year period, from 1981 to 1995, Raines established a .296/.386/.429 slash line with seasonal averages of 153 hits, 25 doubles, 7 triples, 10 home runs, 221 total bases, 75 walks (including 9 intentional walks), 51 stolen bases against only 9 failed attempts, 91 runs scored, and 55 RBI, generating a 126 OPS+ and 4.2 bWAR. As a leadoff hitter in 1415 games (of 2502 total) and 6514 plate appearances (of 10,359 total), Raines's slash line of .294/.385/.427 is virtually identical to his lifetime line while yielding 99 home runs, 1011 runs scored, and 584 stolen bases. Interestingly, for a leadoff-type hitter, Raines was walked intentionally 148 times, 48th all-time, two ahead of Mike Piazza and two behind Mark McGwire; by contrast, Rickey Henderson was walked intentionally only 61 times.

Raines led the league in stolen bases for four consecutive years and had six consecutive years of at least 70 thefts including a career-high of 90 in 1983, the 35th-highest single-season total in baseball history with 21 of those seasonal highs coming in the much-looser 19th century. But unlike, say, Vince Coleman, Raines was hardly one-dimensional, leading the league in both batting average and on-base percentage in 1986 while, as a full-time player, hitting .300 or better six times and reaching base at a .400 or better clip four times.

Even a basic examination, such as the one I did more than a decade ago, of Tim Raines will tell you that he is a Hall of Famer.

4. Curt Schilling (first year on ballot)

Even more so than Craig Biggio, Curt Schilling stands to benefit from the expected backlash against PEDs-associated players with respect to his Hall of Fame chances. The more PEDs players the voters ignore (disregard, snub, punish—choose your favorite verb), the more attractive a Schilling vote becomes. This is not to say that Schilling isn't a qualified candidate—I picked him as one my "tough sells" a year and a half ago—but throughout his career he has found himself in the shadow of other pitchers.

Never a Cy Young Award winner, Schilling was runner-up three times, two of them, in 2001 and 2002, to his Arizona Diamondbacks teammate Randy Johnson, who just happened to establish himself as one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, and he certainly showed it in both of those years as both his ERA+ and bWAR topped Schilling and everybody else. But in 2001 Schilling actually led the NL in wins with 22, one more than Johnson, against only 6 losses (a .786 winning percentage), and in innings pitched (256.2) while posting an ERA a notch under 3 (2.98) and piling up just under 300 strikeouts (293); and with only 39 walks, Schilling also led the league in strikeouts-to-walks ratio with a superlative 7.51. In 2002, Schilling picked up one more win from 2001 (23–7, .767), pitched a shade more innings (259.1), and exceeded 300 strikeouts (316)—and still took a back seat to the Big Unit. Yet because Schilling walked a measly 33 batters, he led the league not only in WHIP with 0.968 and in walks per nine innings with 1.1, but also in strikeouts-to-walks with an incredible 9.58, the fifth-best single-season mark in baseball history (and two of those marks are held by 19th-century pitcher Jim Whitney, playing in an entirely different environment from Schilling).

Even in the American League in 2004, Schilling took a back seat to the Minnesota Twins' Johan Santana although Schilling led the league in wins and winning percentage (21–6, .778), and with only 35 walks against 203 strikeouts, he again posted a league-leading strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 5.80, human but still excellent.

But Schilling shone on the big stage of the postseason, taking a back seat to no-one since Christy Mathewson. He even engendered some modern-day mythology with the famous "bloody sock" of Game Six of the 2004 American League Championship Series, a seven-game series that saw the New York Yankees win the first three games, including the opener against a hobbled Schilling, only to watch the Boston Red Sox battle back to win the last four games—the only time in a baseball seven-game series that the feat has ever occurred. In Yankee Stadium for Game Six, Schilling, pitching atop a hastily-repaired ankle that soon began to bleed through his sock, went seven innings, giving up only four hits and one run while striking out four as the Red Sox beat the Yankees and forced a Game Seven.

Schilling had helped to defeat the Yankees on the bigger stage of the World Series in 2001, as his Diamondbacks won the Series in seven games, and Schilling was named co-MVP of the Series, out of the shadow of and instead alongside co-winner Randy Johnson. We might forget that Schilling, although he lost Game One of the 1993 World Series to the Toronto Blue Jays while pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies, pitched a superb five-hit shutout in Game Five of that Series to keep the Phillies' chances alive after being down three games to one.

There are only 16 men who have struck out 3000 or more batters in their big-league careers; Schilling's 3116 ranks 15th. Every one of those pitchers eligible for the Hall of Fame has been inducted. Not that the 3000 punch-outs are a lock—Bert Blyleven, fifth on the list, had to wait 14 years before getting the call. But among active pitchers, only C.C. Sabathia has a realistic chance of reaching this milestone in the next few years while younger hurlers Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, David Price, and Justin Verlander have a lot of ground to cover before they can get close. And with just 711 walks issued in 3261 innings, Schilling owns a career strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 4.38, topped only by 19th-century pitcher Tommy Bond, meaning that Schilling's is the best mark of the much tougher modern era.

Over his career, Curt Schilling might have been overshadowed a few times in the regular season, but it was very difficult to top him in the postseason, and his overall record points only to one conclusion: He is a Hall of Famer.

3. Jeff Bagwell (third year on ballot)

The first baseman for the Houston Astros for his entire career, Jeff Bagwell has been long on my list of worthy Hall of Fame candidates, from the very beginning to my ballot assessment last year. As with Larry Walker and Tim Raines, I begin to sound like a broken record (or a sticking disc for any younger readers) making the case for the closest thing to a five-tool first baseman we have seen for a long time.

Well, maybe not a true five-tool first baseman. Bagwell's defensive capabilities have been downgraded recently—he now sports a minus-7.9 defensive bWAR, meaning that he cost his team nearly eight wins over the course of his career because of his defensive play, along with a bit more positive 12 career defensive runs saved and 31 career Total Zone runs above average. He did win a Gold Glove in his MVP year of 1994 (a strike-shortened season), but as the old saying goes, he hit well enough to earn that Gold Glove.

Bagwell is the only first baseman with at least 400 home runs and at least 200 stolen bases. He had six years with a batting average of .300 or better and finished with a .297/.408/.540 slash line. He had eight years with 30 or more home runs, and three years with 40 or more. His highest total was 47, in 2000, which coincided with the Astros' first year in Enron Field (now Minute Maid Park), a much more hitter-friendly park than their previous park, the cavernous Astrodome, in which Bagwell had played for the first nine years of his career. In 2000, 28 of those homers were hit in Enron Field. Bagwell did hit 43 home runs in 1997, with 22 of those coming in Houston, and he did hit 42 homers in 1999, although a mere 12 were hit in his last year in the Astrodome.

What we're getting at are the intimations, the insinuations, that Jeff Bagwell used PEDs at any time during his career. If he did, he was a very smart, very discreet player because he never exploded for an eye-catching number of home runs at any time during his career. In fact, he never led the league in home runs, and in the 14 full seasons in which he played, he averaged 32 home runs a season. A knock on Bagwell from another angle is that in nearly 8000 at-bats he didn't reach 500 home runs. In 1994, his fourth season and his age-26 season, Bagwell hit 39 home runs as he began his peak years; by 2004, he had dropped to 27 homers in his age-36 season (and 18 of those were hit at the friendly confines of Minute Maid Park) as age and injuries slowed him; he limped through the 2005 season, long enough to make his only World Series appearance, before retiring.

Unless evidence emerges that can identify Jeff Bagwell as having used PEDs at any time during his career, his exclusion from the Hall of Fame exemplifies the witch-hunt mentality that has engulfed baseball, as I detailed in Part 1 of this series. Lacking that evidence, not voting Jeff Bagwell into the Hall of Fame is an embarrassment to say the least. And I will say only the least.

2. Roger Clemens (first year on ballot)

The other side of the steroids coin from Jeff Bagwell is Roger Clemens, whose name was splashed all over the Mitchell Report as a PEDs user (while making trainer Brian McNamee's name a near-household one); who came off as surly, defensive, and unconvincing in a 2008 60 Minutes interview; and who faced prosecution no less than twice by no less than the federal government as its first attempt ended in a 2011 mistrial (because of prosecutorial misconduct), and the second with Clemens's 2012 acquittal on six counts of lying to Congress about his PEDs usage.

So much for the "integrity, sportsmanship, and character" terms of Rule Five of the Baseball Writers' Association of America's (BBWAA) election rules for Hall of Fame voting, right? Well, what about his playing record?

Similar to attempts with Barry Bonds's record to split the "clean" player from the "PEDs" player, trying to determine what—and even whether any—part of Clemens's playing record is issue-free could be like trying to split the atom: It will wind up being explosive with radioactive fallout in any case. Cut loose at the end of the 1996 season by the Boston Red Sox after enduring only one of two losing seasons in his 24-year career, a 10­13 win-loss record with a 3.63 ERA, Clemens regrouped with the Toronto Blue Jays. (In 1993, Clemens was 11–14 with a 4.46 ERA, and in his final season, 2007, he went 6–6 with a 4.18 ERA.)

In his age-34 season, Clemens clinched the AL pitching Triple Crown with 21 wins (against only 7 losses for a .750 winning percentage), a 2.05 ERA, and 292 strikeouts; he also posted a rarefied 222 ERA+ and otherworldly 11.6 bWAR. Clemens merely repeated the feat in 1998, leading the AL with 20 wins (against only 6 losses for a .769 winning percentage), a 2.65 ERA, and 271 strikeouts, generating a more mortal, though no less impressive, 174 ERA+ and 7.8 bWAR. Needless to say, he walked away with the Cy Young Award in both seasons, his fourth and at-the-time record-breaking fifth awards. (We should note that both Randy Johnson, in 1997, and Pedro Martinez, in 1998, were close on Clemens's heels in performance if not in votes.)

Was 1997 when Clemens began taking PEDs, if in fact he did? Certainly, the record of his last 11 seasons, from 1997 to 2007, his age-34 to age-44 seasons, when he pitched for the Blue Jays, the New York Yankees, and the Houston Astros, is proportionally identical to the record of his first 13 seasons, from 1984 to 1996, all with Boston, as this table illustrates.

Roger Clemens's Career Record, by Seasonal Grouping

Seasons

W–L (Pct.)

ERA

GS

IP

SO

ERA+

bWAR

1984–1996

192–111 (.634)

3.06

382

2776

2590

144

77.7

1997–2007

162-73 (.689)

3.21

325

2140.2

2082

140

55.4

Totals

354–184 (.658)

3.12

707

4916.2

4672

143

133.1

 
GS = Games started; IP = Innings pitched; SO = Strikeouts


In those last 11 seasons, Clemens won the Cy Young Award four times, adding to the three times in his first 13 seasons.

Nolan Ryan was a freak of nature, a legendarily hard thrower who pitched until he was 46. In his age-34 season, Ryan too won an ERA title and posted an ERA+ of 195, the highest rating of his 27-year career. Yet in the succeeding 12 seasons, Ryan established an ERA+ of 140 or above only twice, and he was a near- or below-league-average pitcher, meaning an ERA+ of 110 or lower, seven times despite winning another ERA title and leading the league in strikeouts for four consecutive seasons, including 301 in 239.1 innings in 1989 at the age of 42.

By contrast, Clemens posted a near-league-average ERA+ only three times following his age-34 season but generated an ERA+ of 140 or higher four times during that period, including a career-high 226 in 2005, when he led the majors in ERA with 1.87, and a 194 ERA+ the following year when he posted a 2.30 ERA, albeit in just 113.1 innings.

Had Roger Clemens called it quits after the 1996 season, he would have had conceivably a Hall of Fame career. His win total, eight shy of 200, might not have looked impressive, ranking 136th instead of his being ninth among the 24 members of the 300-win club. His bWAR of 77.7 would have ranked 21st all-time among pitchers, just ahead of Hall of Famers Bob Gibson, Ferguson Jenkins, and Nolan Ryan, and just below Hall of Famer Pud Galvin, the 19th-century pitcher who was reputedly among the earliest PEDs users. He would still be tenth in ERA+ with 144, while he would have to settle for 26th on the all-time strikeouts list instead of his spot as the man with the third-highest number of career strikeouts in baseball history.

But he didn't call it quits, and he and Barry Bonds, the most dominant hitter of the last 30 years as Clemens was one of the most dominant pitchers of the last 30 years—unlike Bonds, who has no equal, Clemens faced competition from Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, and, at least for a stretch, Pedro Martinez as the era's greatest pitcher—epitomize the sorry, squalid state that Major League Baseball now finds itself in, officiously trying to enforce morality in a morally ambiguous environment, like Captain Renault in Rick's Café Americain, declaring that he is "shocked, shocked, to find that gambling is going on in here!"—even as he pockets his own winnings from the gambling tables in Casablanca.

Hell, Roger Clemens just as a Red Sox is a better pitcher than Catfish Hunter, Herb Pennock, or Early Wynn, pitchers the writers have voted to enshrine in the Hall in previous decades. He is a better pitcher than Jack Morris, whom the writers seem likely to enshrine this year in part because he is not Roger Clemens. But Clemens should be enshrined all the same, although I will be "shocked, shocked" if he is this year or even the next.

1. Barry Bonds (first year on ballot)

Should Barry Bonds not be elected to the Hall of Fame, either this year or in subsequent years, there would be a perverse symmetry in that the all-time leader in home runs joins the all-time leader in hits, Pete Rose, on the curb outside Cooperstown, looking in. And that both situations reflect both personal and institutional failings.

In Pete Rose's case, it might seem hard to blame institutional failing for his lifetime ban from baseball. The proscriptions and the penalties for gambling were explicit and unambiguous when he decided to begin betting on baseball games while still an active player; he was caught, and has remained ineligible for the Hall of Fame ever since. By contrast, the proscriptions and penalties for using PEDs were not explicit and unambiguous, at least not until they were defined by 2005, and that has put Barry Bonds and all other PEDs users, or suspected users, into a legal and moral No Man's Land; furthermore, while it might ultimately have remained a personal failing for Bonds and any other player to have chosen to use PEDs, that adds up to a lot of personal failings—and at what point does that become a reflection on the institution itself?

Because that institution, Major League Baseball, could very well find itself without its all-time hits leader and all-time home run leader represented in its own shrine to legacy excellence, the Hall of Fame. (Or its only seven-time Cy Young Award winner, Roger Clemens, and other notable individuals described above.) Regardless of personal failing, that is also an institutional failing. Does the sport attract "bad apples," ones who nevertheless rise to the top of the profession, and are tolerated, or at least unrecognized, until they transgress? Or does the sport foster the environment in which "good apples" can nevertheless be tempted to go bad? Perhaps that reflects the fact that men can be paid millions of dollars a year for excelling at a child's game while the teams that employ them can compel municipalities to subsidize the considerable cost of building the ballparks in which they play—that's called welfare—and then charge admission to everyone in those municipalities who wants to see them play.

We are drifting off into an area that starts to fall outside the scope of this article and of this website, but it does underlie the entire rationale of professional sports. For our purposes, it does highlight the institutional nature of the PEDs problem. Time and again, players have noted that their decision to use PEDs, or at least the temptation to use them, stemmed from the intense competition and the knowledge that they could be easily replaced, either by players who are better or who are willing to take PEDs to become better. That speaks to the conditions inherent in the workplace—in other words, institutional factors. (And, yes, skeptics will wonder, who forced these men to have to play baseball for a living?)

Furthermore, it also speaks to the question of "integrity" that Chad Murphy, Dale Murphy's son, has broached with his plea to reward his father and other like players for, in essence, being nice guys who played fair, were actively involved in community and charitable affairs, were ambassadors for the game of baseball, and who otherwise also fulfilled the other two "morals" terms of Rule Five of the BBWAA's election rules: "sportsmanship" and "character." Were those terms earnestly applied to every inductee in the Hall, that Hall would empty in a hurry, taking Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Gaylord Perry, and who knows how many more players with them.

(It is intriguing to note that this year the Pre-Integration Era Committee inducted one player among the three inductees it chose: James "Deacon" White, an excellent barehanded catcher who in the 19th century also stood apart from his rough-and-tumble contemporaries as a churchgoing teetotaler—hence the nickname "Deacon." Without putting too fine a point on it, White's closest player competition on the ballot was "Bad Bill" Dahlen—you could hardly find a better example of "good versus evil" nicknames, if not actual character; ironically, Dahlen's nickname derived from his arguing style with umpires when, near the end of his playing days, he managed for four years, the first two as a player-manager; otherwise, Dahlen was regarded as a quiet ballplayer who kept to himself. Meanwhile, Deacon White reputedly believed that the earth was flat; nowhere in the rules does it say anything about intelligence or gullibility.)

In one sense, this all seems to boil down to the hoary platitude that professional athletes are supposed to be "role models." One would have thought that the squalid saga of O.J. Simpson, and more recently (and more appropriately) that of Lance Armstrong, would have put paid to that idea. And as Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson once put it so incisively, "Why do I have to be an example for your kid? You be an example for your own kid." But as the overarching theme of this two-part series emphasizes, this year's Hall of Fame vote is indeed a referendum on PEDs users, and that ultimately means a referendum on cheating.

In case you think we have drifted away from the evaluation of Barry Bonds, we haven't. Divorced from how his career statistics were derived, Bonds is ridiculously qualified for the Hall of Fame, and you don't need me to elaborate. (And exercises such as determining whether the "clean" Bonds had Hall-worthy credentials before the "steroids" Bonds appeared are laudable if pointless ones—as we saw with Roger Clemens, voters are not going to elect half a player.) Moreover, as I pointed out in Part 1 of this series, the BBWAA has already made its pronouncement of Bonds (and to an extent Clemens), and it is unambiguously positive: The BBWAA named Bonds the National League's Most Valuable Player in four consecutive years—and those years, 2001 to 2004, were right when the entire PEDs issue was heating to a boil. This is after the BBWAA had named Bonds the MVP in three previous seasons, giving Bonds an unprecedented seven MVP Awards.

Coupled with Clemens's unprecedented seven Cy Young Awards, including those awarded in 2001 and in 2004, this is also why this year's ballot is a referendum on performance-enhancing drugs: Bonds was the most dominant hitter of his era, and Clemens was one of the most dominant pitchers of his era. Period. Their career numbers place them among the best players ever to have played baseball. Period. However, their use of PEDs—alleged, accused, denied, partially proved and partially disproved on narrowly technical grounds (much like O.J. Simpson's murder charge)—and the backlash, the moral dudgeon, against PEDs usage will prevent them from being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, at least this year. Period.

To which I say: bunk. You evaluate the baseball you have, not the baseball you wish you had. Had I a ballot for this year's election, these would be my top ten votes, followed by the four I would vote for were there the ability to do so.


Postscript: The Sound and the Fury

With apologies to two Williams, Shakespeare and Faulkner, all I have done here is add my shout to the torrent of voices arguing vociferously across the range of opinion on this year's vote. It is indeed a sound and fury signifying nothing more than the attempt to influence the voters of the BBWAA who will decide which candidate or candidates—if any—are elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2013.

Regardless of how the vote emerges this year, neither the overstuffed ballot nor the controversy over players who might have used PEDs will disappear; both topics will continue to provoke heated discussions as more qualified candidates become eligible for the Hall in upcoming years—including those with associations with steroids.

This in turn will continue to generate sound and fury from those of us who, like with the game itself, are spectators in the stands. We can cheer, and we can boo, and we can simply watch and wonder, but in the end we have to accept the call no matter how we feel about it.

And perhaps some years in the future, we will look back at this historic, tumultuous period in baseball's history and its initial assessment of this era's legacy and exclaim, "Wasn't that a time!"

The vote for the candidates on the 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot is without a doubt historical because of two salient and unavoidable facts: One is that this year's ballot is overstuffed with potential Hall of Fame candidates—presenting an even bigger logjam to entrance to the Hall—and the other is that this year's vote is an inescapable referendum on the stance toward the "Steroids Era" as even more players active during the period of the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s implicated with performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) are newly eligible.

Note: Part 1 of this two-part series goes into detail—considerable detail—to examine both the overstuffed ballot and, more comprehensively, the atmosphere of moral dudgeon surrounding the suspected and admitted usage of PEDs by players on previous ballots and especially by players eligible for the Hall for the first time this year. If you want only to read the players' evaluations, skip to Part 2.

Foremost among those newly eligible players are Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who were not only among the most dominant players in Major League Baseball (MLB) during this period, but who both became embroiled in high-profile legal battles connected to PEDs-related issues. Bonds was convicted of obstruction of justice in 2008 for his involvement during the investigation of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO), while Clemens, indicted for lying to Congress in 2008, was acquitted of all charges in 2012 during his second trial (the first having ended in a mistrial).

Also prominent among the newly eligible is Sammy Sosa, whose name in 2009 was listed among 104 players who tested positive for PEDs in 2003 but who—unlike Alex Rodriguez, whose name was also on that list and who admitted to taking PEDs during his career—has stayed mum, insisting that his record is sufficient to gain him entrance to Cooperstown. Sosa did "testify" before the U.S. Congress in 2005—his attorney read a written statement on Sosa's behalf—about PEDs usage and denied using PEDs, which was later contradicted by the 2009 PEDs list; however, if Congress had wanted to investigate Sosa for perjury (as it had done to Clemens), it needed to have acted by 2010, before the statute of limitations expired, and it did not do so. Also tainted by the PEDs brush is Mike Piazza, who had admitted to using androstenedione ("andro," which Mark McGwire had admitted to using) briefly early in his career, but otherwise seems to be given the same guilt-by-appearance accorded to Jeff Bagwell.

Embarrassment of Riches: The Overstuffed Ballot

But regardless of which players might or might not have used PEDs—and we will examine this explosive issue soon enough—the fact is that the 2013 ballot has 37 candidates on it. That is 24 first-time candidates added this year joining the 13 still qualified to remain from the 2012 ballot. (A player must receive at least 5 percent of the vote to remain on the ballot; from last year, the only first-year-eligible player in 2012 to receive at least 5 percent of the vote was Bernie Williams.)

Last year, the voters of the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) elected only one candidate to the Hall: Barry Larkin. To be elected to the Hall, a player must receive 75 percent of the vote. For 2012, there were 27 players on the ballot, 10 fewer than this year, and the voters elected one player. A voter can vote for a maximum of 10 players, and last year I thought there were eight qualified candidates, one of whom, Larkin, was elected, but this year's ballot with 37 candidates, including seven I thought should have been elected last year, spells one thing: logjam. This year's ballot is not only overstuffed with candidates, it is overstuffed with qualified candidates.

To make matters worse, the next few years will see more Hall of Fame-quality players added to the ballot including Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and Frank Thomas in 2014; Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz in 2015; Ken Griffey, Jr., in 2016; Manny Ramirez and Ivan Rodriguez in 2017; and Chipper Jones in 2018. Those are only the players I think have the career records to qualify unreservedly for the Hall of Fame, leaving the PEDs factor neutral in the cases of Ramirez and Rodriguez; players such as Jim Edmonds, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Jeff Kent, Mike Mussina, Gary Sheffield, and Billy Wagner could have strong cases made for them; but unless the BBWAA begins to elect players to the Hall in big batches in the next few years, the logjam problem will remain for some years to come, and these seven players will fall far behind more likely candidates, if not off the ballot altogether.

Based on the historical record, that is unlikely to happen. The most the BBWAA has inducted in any one year is five players, and that was in the Hall's inaugural year of 1936. The writers have elected four in one year three times, in 1939, 1947, and 1955, and they have elected three in one year six times, most recently in 1999. However, since 1999, the BBWAA has elected only 21 players in those intervening 13 years, less than two per year. Despite this parsimony, the writers have, since 1999, elected a few candidates who are on the borderline, including Andre Dawson, Kirby Puckett, Jim Rice, and Bruce Sutter.

That will not be a problem this year. A voter could easily select the maximum of ten qualified candidates (leaving aside any question of PEDs association) and still omit a few qualified candidates.


Candidates for the 2013 Hall of Fame Ballot

The following two tables list the 37 candidates on the 2013 ballot, first the 27 position players, and then the 10 pitchers. They are ranked by their career Wins Above Replacement from Baseball Reference (bWAR) along with other representative qualitative statistics (explained below each table).

Here are the 27 position players on the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot, ranked by bWAR.

Position Players on the 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot, Ranked by bWAR

Position Player

Slash Line

bWAR

fWAR

OPS+

wRC+

Bonds, Barry

.298/.444/.607

158.1

168.0

182

172

Bagwell, Jeff

.297/.408/.540

76.7

83.9

149

149

Walker, Larry

.313/.400/.565

69.7

73.2

141

141

Trammell, Alan

.285/.352/.415

67.1

69.5

110

111

Raines, Tim

.294/.385/.425

66.2

70.6

123

126

Palmeiro, Rafael

.288/.371/.515

66.1

74.2

132

130

Lofton, Kenny

.299/.372/.423

64.9

66.2

107

110

Martinez, Edgar

.312/.418/.515

64.4

69.9

147

148

Biggio, Craig

.281/.363/.433

62.1

70.5

112

115

McGwire, Mark

.263/.394/.588

58.7

70.6

163

157

Piazza, Mike

.308/.377/.545

56.1

66.8

143

141

Sosa, Sammy

.273/.344/.534

54.8

64.1

128

123

McGriff, Fred

.284/.377/.509

48.2

61.0

134

134

Williams, Bernie

.297/.381/.477

45.9

47.5

125

126

Murphy, Dale

.265/.346/.469

42.6

47.3

121

120

Finley, Steve

.271/.332/.442

40.4

44.2

104

104

Mattingly, Don

.307/.358/.471

39.8

45.8

127

124

Franco, Julio

.298/.365/.417

39.7

48.6

111

112

Sanders, Reggie

.267/.343/.487

36.7

41.8

115

115

Cirillo, Jeff

.296/.366/.430

32.0

36.4

102

104

Green, Shawn

.283/.355/.494

31.4

34.9

120

118

White, Rondell

.284/.336/.462

25.5

26.2

108

108

Klesko, Ryan

.279/.370/.500

24.6

32.7

128

127

Clayton, Royce

.258/.312/.367

16.4

21.7

78

76

Conine, Jeff

.285/.347/.443

16.2

24.4

107

107

Alomar Jr., Sandy

.273/.309/.406

11.6

15.7

86

85

Walker, Todd

.289/.348/.435

8.3

11.5

98

98

 

Slash Line: Grouping of the player's career batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.

bWAR: Career Wins Above Replacement as calculated by Baseball Reference.

fWAR: Career Wins Above Replacement as calculated by FanGraphs.

OPS+: Career on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by Baseball Reference. Positively indexed to 100, with a 100 OPS+ indicating a league-average player, and values above 100 indicating the degrees better a player is than a league-average player.

wRC+: Career weighted Runs Created, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by FanGraphs. Positively indexed to 100, with a 100 wRC+ indicating a league-average player, and values above 100 indicating the degrees better a player is than a league-average player.

Here are the 10 pitchers on the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot, ranked by bWAR.

Pitchers on the 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot, Ranked by bWAR

Pitcher

W-L (S), ERA

bWAR

fWAR

ERA+

ERA-

Clemens, Roger

354-184, 3.12

133.1

145.5

143

70

Schilling, Curt

216-146, 3.46

76.9

86.1

127

80

Wells, David

239-157, 4.13

49.4

61.2

108

93

Morris, Jack

254-186, 3.90

39.3

56.9

105

95

Smith, Lee

71-92 (478), 3.03

27.9

29.0

132

73

Williams, Woody

132-116, 4.19

25.0

19.8

103

97

Sele, Aaron

148-112, 4.61

17.2

33.6

100

99

Hernandez, Roberto

67-71 (326), 3.45

17.2

15.2

131

77

Stanton, Mike

68-63 (84), 3.92

12.6

13.7

112

90

Mesa, Jose

80-109 (321), 4.36

9.5

13.5

100

100

 

W-L (S), ERA: Grouping of the pitcher's career win-loss record (and career saves, if applicable) and career earned run average (ERA).

bWAR: Career Wins Above Replacement as calculated by Baseball Reference.

fWAR: Career Wins Above Replacement as calculated by FanGraphs.

ERA+: Career ERA, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by Baseball Reference. Positively indexed to 100, with a 100 ERA+ indicating a league-average pitcher, and values above 100 indicating the degrees better a pitcher is than a league-average pitcher.

ERA-: Career ERA, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by FanGraphs. Negatively indexed to 100, with a 100 ERA- indicating a league-average pitcher, and values below 100 indicating the degrees better a pitcher is than a league-average pitcher.


WAR: "What Is It Good For?"

With apologies to Edwin Starr (technically, Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield), WAR is good for making a quick-and-dirty assessment of a player's value. The concept, which has been tried in various forms, is to determine how much an individual player contributes directly to his team's winning (or losing); in the case of WAR, the baseline is a replacement player, either a league-average player or a minor-league player called up to the major leagues, and the measurement is to determine how many more wins a player contributes to his team—his overall value to his team's success—compared to this hypothetical league-average replacement player.

WAR has proved to be controversial for a number of reasons. One reason is that there can be a tendency to use WAR as a single, or ultimate, unifying statistic to establish the last word in a player's relative worth, a direction suggested by the two tables above, which have ranked both position players and pitchers using the Baseball Reference version of WAR. Another reason is that there are a number of different versions of WAR, each calculated using a slightly different approach, although both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs use run analysis—creating runs and preventing runs—as its basis. Because of the differences in calculation, FanGraphs's WAR values tend to be higher than Baseball Reference's; for career WAR assessments, FanGraphs's values tend to be between approximately five and ten wins-above-replacement higher than Baseball Reference's.

Finally, because WAR is often used as an omnibus statistic to measure a player's worth, it is erroneously considered to be an event to be watched for, just like watching for a batter to hit a milestone home run. This perception was stated on this website in an interview with former catcher Gregg Zaun: "You can’t really itemize the exact moment that a player hits a 100 lifetime in WAR." True enough, but even with classic calculated statistics such as batting average and earned run average, you don't "itemize" those exact moments, either. You never see a hitter reach a .300 batting average directly—you can see the hit he produced that led to the .300 batting average, but unless the scoreboard flashes the change in the hitter's average (or you are computing it yourself independently), the .300 average itself is an abstract concept. Earned run average is even more opaque—you can watch a pitcher record the outs that contribute to his innings pitched along with the earned runs he does or does not allow that determine what his ERA is, but you cannot see that ERA itself rise or fall directly on the field.

Yet both batting average and earned run average have been used for decades to determine player value, including that final legacy—is that player a Hall of Famer? Assuming his career was sufficiently long enough, a hitter who averages .300 for his career is automatically in consideration as a qualified Hall candidate; similarly, a pitcher whose ERA is below 3.00 is also a definite Hall candidate. These two qualitative evaluations had been integral—and in many cases crucial—to the selection process for many years. Now we have a wealth of other qualitative statistics to measure performance and value that includes WAR, which has often been used, or has often been interpreted as being used, as the One Statistic to Rule Them All—the be-all and end-all to determining a player's value.

On the other hand . . . if you look at the list of lifetime leaders in WAR, either on Baseball Reference or on FanGraphs, you will see at the top the names of many players who have historically been considered to be the greatest ever to have played the game, most of whom had been judged before the advent of advanced statistics such as WAR to be Hall of Fame players and so were duly elected to the Hall. This includes hitters such as Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Eddie Collins, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby, Mel Ott, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, and Joe Morgan, and pitchers such as Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Pete Alexander, Lefty Grove, Warren Spahn, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, and Steve Carlton. Although we cannot rule out entirely the possibility of confirmation bias here with respect to WAR, voters from bygone decades, without the benefit of sabermetrics, determined that these players were among the best-ever in baseball history—assessments reinforced through advanced measurements such as WAR.

Narrowing the Ballot

This is why I used a version of WAR to list the 2013 candidates: It is the best single measure for ranking the candidates. Also, it is the only way to rank both position players and pitchers as their specific measures of offensive and defensive performances are complementary and incompatible. I did also list universal qualitative statistics for both position players (OPS+, wRC+) and pitchers (ERA+, ERA-) as additional comparative metrics. You will notice a close correlation of those metrics with the WAR rankings.

The table below combines both position players and pitchers into a ranking by bWAR.

All 2013 Hall of Fame Candidates, Ranked by bWAR

Rank

Player

bWAR

fWAR

1

Bonds, Barry

158.1

168.0

2

Clemens, Roger

133.1

145.5

3

Schilling, Curt

76.9

86.1

4

Bagwell, Jeff

76.7

83.9

5

Walker, Larry

69.7

73.2

6

Trammell, Alan

67.1

69.5

7

Raines, Tim

66.2

70.6

8

Palmeiro, Rafael

66.1

74.2

9

Lofton, Kenny

64.9

66.2

10

Martinez, Edgar

64.4

69.9

11

Biggio, Craig

62.1

70.5

12

McGwire, Mark

58.7

70.6

13

Piazza, Mike

56.1

66.8

14

Sosa, Sammy

54.8

64.1

15

Wells, David

49.4

61.2

16

McGriff, Fred

48.2

61.0

17

Williams, Bernie

45.9

47.5

18

Murphy, Dale

42.6

47.3

19

Finley, Steve

40.4

44.2

20

Mattingly, Don

39.8

45.8

21

Franco, Julio

39.7

48.6

22

Morris, Jack

39.3

56.9

23

Sanders, Reggie

36.7

41.8

24

Cirillo, Jeff

32.0

36.4

25

Green, Shawn

31.4

34.9

26

Smith, Lee

27.9

29.0

27

White, Rondell

25.5

26.2

28

Williams, Woody

25.0

19.8

29

Klesko, Ryan

24.6

32.7

30

Sele, Aaron

17.2

33.6

31

Hernandez, Roberto

17.2

15.2

32

Clayton, Royce

16.4

21.7

33

Conine, Jeff

16.2

24.4

34

Stanton, Mike

12.6

13.7

35

Alomar Jr., Sandy

11.6

15.7

36

Mesa, Jose

9.5

13.5

37

Walker, Todd

8.3

11.5

 

This table gives a clear indication of just how overstuffed is the 2013 ballot. Even if we cut the list after the median player, Steve Finley at Number 19, that leaves nearly twice as many candidates for consideration as can be voted upon—remember, voters can choose a maximum of ten—while three candidates cut from the list—Don Mattingly, Jack Morris, and Lee Smith—have survived many previous ballots with cases made regularly for their inclusion in the Hall.

For sake of argument, voting for the top ten players ranked by bWAR would still omit players with significant milestones in their records, who on a less-crowded ballot would garner a vote, including Craig Biggio (3060 hits, 668 doubles, 291 home runs, 1844 runs scored, 414 stolen bases), Mark McGwire (583 home runs, 1414 runs batted in, 1317 bases on balls, .394 on-base percentage, .588 slugging average, first in lifetime at-bats per home run with 10.61), Mike Piazza (the greatest-hitting catcher of all-time: 2127 hits, 427 home runs, .308 batting average, .545 slugging average), and Sammy Sosa (2408 hits, eighth in lifetime home runs with 609, the only man in history with three seasons of 60 or more home runs, 1667 runs batted in). In addition, Fred McGriff, Dale Murphy, and Bernie Williams have all generated cases for the Hall. Even David Wells, with his 239 wins tied for 57th all-time with Hall of Famer Mordecai Brown, sported a .604 winning percentage despite a 4.13 ERA. Finally, relief pitchers Lee Smith, Roberto Hernandez, and Jose Mesa fall off the list because their bWAR values are low; however, such a specialized role will yield a lower value than that of an everyday position player or a starting pitcher, indicating that evaluating a specialized role such as a relief pitcher cannot be definitively determined by using WAR.

Ah, but you have undoubtedly noticed the 800-pound gorilla in the room: performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Four of the top ten players listed in the table above, and seven of the top fourteen, have been associated with PEDs including one, Jeff Bagwell, simply rumored to have been a PEDs user with not even circumstantial evidence to substantiate the claim. (Another player, Larry Walker, seems to be getting penalized because his home park was on steroids: Walker posted literally stratospheric numbers at pre-humidor Coors Field in Denver.)

In addition to being overstuffed with qualified candidates, the 2013 ballot is also a referendum on the Steroids Era, to which we now turn.

Embarrassment of Conduct: Performance-enhancing Drugs

With respect to performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), or steroids, the 2013 ballot is a watershed ballot that will force the Hall, through the stance of the voters of the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA), to codify its de facto policy concerning PEDs. How Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens fare for their first time on the ballot will in essence establish the referendum on PEDs because on career numbers alone, divorced from how those numbers were derived, each has one of the strongest cases for Hall of Fame inclusion in the history of the sport.

Bonds of course is the lifetime leader in home runs (762) in addition to being the dominant hitter in the big leagues for much of his career; he is also the lifetime leader in bases on balls (2558) and far and away the lifetime leader in intentional bases on balls—more than twice as many (688) as runner-up Hank Aaron (293)—a sure sign of respect for his hitting prowess. Similarly, Clemens was arguably the dominant pitcher of his time, compiling 354 wins (ninth all-time) and 4672 strikeouts (third all-time) over his career.

Certainly, two PEDs-tainted players, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, have been on the ballot previously, and their fates have already suggested the stance of the voters toward steroids. McGwire is tenth in lifetime home runs, with 583, in a range that includes Frank Robinson (586), Harmon Killebrew (573), and Reggie Jackson (563), all Hall of Famers—but McGwire reached that plateau in much fewer at-bats. In fact, McGwire is the career leader in fewest at-bats per home run, 10.61, ahead of Babe Ruth (11.76) and Bonds (12.92).

Palmeiro's is an even more auspicious case: He is one of only four men to have compiled more than 3000 hits (3020) and 500 home runs (569) in his career. The other three to do that—Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Eddie Murray—were all elected to the Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility. In 2011, Palmeiro's first year on the ballot, he received just 11.0 percent of the vote, with a very slight uptick to 12.6 percent the following year. The voters' intent seemed very clear: Association with PEDs is the kiss of death for Hall of Fame chances. (Palmeiro, you will recall, angrily denied using PEDs before a Congressional committee in 2005—only to fail a drug test less than five months later.)


MVP and Cy Young: The BBWAA Has Already Spoken

But here is why the vote for first-time candidates Bonds and Clemens will force the issue once and for all despite Palmeiro's case: The BBWAA has already expressed its opinions on Bonds and Clemens previously—and in both cases, they were overwhelmingly positive.

You see, Bonds has been voted his league's Most Valuable Player (MVP) a record-setting seven times. Clemens has been voted his league's Cy Young Award winner a record-setting seven times; Clemens was also voted MVP in his Cy Young year of 1986, an unusual honor for a pitcher. Both the MVP and Cy Young Award are decided by voters from the BBWAA—the same body that votes on Hall of Fame candidacy. Clemens won the Cy Young in 2001 and in 2004, while Bonds was voted MVP four consecutive times from 2001 to 2004, right in the teeth of the so-called Steroids Era.

How can the same body, the BBWAA, that blessed Bonds and Clemens for their seasonal accomplishments—particularly Bonds, bestowed with MVP awards as the PEDs controversy heated to a boil—now deny the two the sum total of those seasonal accomplishments, their place in the Hall of Fame?

This is a collective charge, not an individual one; I do not know if any of the BBWAA voters who voted for any of Bonds's MVPs and Clemens's Cy Youngs are also voters for this year's Hall of Fame ballot. But as a collective body the BBWAA is responsible for the seasonal awards and for the lifetime legacy of Hall of Fame enshrinement, and it will be conspicuous—indeed glaring—for the collective writers to now deny Bonds and Clemens entrance to Cooperstown after having showered them with unprecedented numbers of MVP and Cy Young awards. This was not a factor with either Palmeiro or McGwire. Palmeiro's best MVP finish was fifth, in 1999. McGwire's best MVP showing was as a distant runner-up to Sammy Sosa in 1998, when both broke Roger Maris's single-season home run record. Sosa's own case also comes under scrutiny this year.

The PEDs Problem: The Nutshell

The use of PEDs in baseball has produced a moral dudgeon unrivaled in the sport since eight players from the Chicago White Sox were caught colluding with gamblers to lose the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. It has also produced a witch-hunt hysteria unrivaled since the anti-Communist fervor of both Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s.

Those objecting to the use of PEDs in baseball claim that the very foundations of the sport have been shaken by those "cheaters" who have engineered an unfair advantage by artificially enhancing their physical capabilities through consumption of anabolic steroids or human growth hormones (HGH). This was the position taken by the committee chaired by former Senator George Mitchell (Dem.-Maine) that investigated PEDs usage in baseball; its 2007 report to Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig stressed the illegality of using PEDs while asserting that their use "poses a serious threat to the integrity of the game" and "raises questions about the validity of baseball records" (both quotes from the Mitchell Report). Mitchell's investigation faulted all of Major League Baseball for its failure to act, including the Major League Baseball Players' Association (MBLPA), the players' union, which proved quite reluctant to cooperate with Mitchell's investigation and had opposed any kind of drug program, including mandatory testing, until 2002.

Since 1971, any prescription drug without a valid prescription had been prohibited by MLB, and steroids were expressly stated as part of this policy by 1991, but it wasn't until 2002 that this prohibition was added to the collective bargaining agreement, which then included provisions for mandatory random testing. However, players soon switched to HGH as that was undetectable by the then-current tests. But just to illustrate the haphazard nature of testing and legality, Mark McGwire was spotted in 1998 with an open container of androstenedione, a precursor to anabolic steroids, in his locker, although "andro" was not yet on the list of banned substances at that time, even though other sports bodies including the National Football League (NFL), the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had banned it.

By 2005 the PEDs issue was blown across the headlines when Jose Canseco published his tell-all memoir Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big (Regan Books), which solidified all previous comment and speculation about PEDs usage in baseball while naming all kinds of names. Canseco's book spurred a Congressional investigation and Mitchell's investigation, and from then on PEDs have cast a pall over baseball. Drug testing has become more stringent, with penalties becoming more severe—a third violation results in a lifetime ban from baseball—and an entire decade of baseball, from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, is now considered tainted because of the players—what is the number? 30 percent? 50 percent? everyone?—suspected of, or admitting to, using PEDs.

But what are the real, actual consequences of PEDs on baseball? Using PEDs will make you a stronger player, but they will not make you a better player in terms of skill. Yes, the most obvious effects are on hitting a ball farther, with the direct result being an increase in home runs, and throwing a ball faster. The dramatic growth in home run production during this time is the crown jewel in the case against PEDs. But it is interesting that the proportion of hitters using PEDs and pitchers using PEDs is roughly equal, which of course prompts the question: At what point does PEDs usage become a zero-sum game? The pitcher who served up home run number 755 to Barry Bonds, which tied him with Hank Aaron for the lifetime record, was Clay Hensley, who had been suspended for ten games in the minor leagues in 2005 for testing positive for banned substances; Bonds of course was by then a poster boy for PEDs. Leaving aside the gross disparities in skill—how many pitchers could be a match for Bonds? maybe only Clemens?—were they not evenly matched? And largely ignored has been the increase in both aggregate strikeout rates and strikeout totals since the mid-1990s.

But home runs are sexy (and as Kevin Costner's Crash Davis put it in Bull Durham, strikeouts are fascist), so it is to the long ball that we turn now.


"Chicks Dig the Long Ball"

Home runs are the most salient aspect of the Steroids Era, and it is true that beginning in 1996 baseball saw a dramatic increase in home runs going back to at least 1980.

Work stoppages in 1981, 1994, and 1995 affected seasonal totals as none of those years had full seasons of play. The 1994 players' strike took effect in August and forced the cancellation of the postseason—the first time since 1904 that there had not been a World Series since its inception in 1903, and the reason in 1904 was that the National League's (NL) then-New York Giants owner John T. Brush and manager John McGraw refused to play the then-Boston Americans (later the Red Sox) from the upstart American League (AL), which had come into being in 1901.

The strike was resolved in 1995, with play resuming in mid-April, and all teams played a 144-game schedule (instead of the usual 162 games) that year. However, fan disgust toward this interruption, at the time the most disruptive in professional team sports, was both palpable and lasting. MLB's popularity plummeted for the next two seasons—with the corresponding decline in revenue, a significant factor as these work stoppages are popularly regarded as "millionaires [players] fighting with billionaires [owners]."

Then came the 1998 season, and four players—Ken Griffey, Jr., Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Greg Vaughn—had all hit at least 30 home runs by the midseason All-Star break, and excitement soared as history appeared to be in the making: at least one hitter had a realistic chance of breaking Roger Maris's 37-year-old record of 61 home runs in a season, itself breaking the mark of 60 home runs set by Babe Ruth in 1927. Although Vaughn (50 homers total in 1998) and Griffey, Jr., (56 homers) fell short, both McGwire and Sosa swapped long balls into September. McGwire passed Maris on September 8—by contrast, Maris passed Ruth on the last day of the 1961 season and engendered controversy as Maris played in a 162-game season while Ruth had played in a 154-game season in 1927—and by the end of the 1998 season both McGwire and Sosa had shattered Maris's mark; McGwire finished with 70 homers while Sosa had 66. (Sosa had passed Maris's mark on September 13.)

The 1998 home-run chase has been widely cited as the event that "saved baseball" in the wake of the 1994 strike-shortened season as it seemed that even non-baseball fans were caught up in the excitement and anticipation. MLB began a series of television promotions built on the catch-phrase that "chicks dig the long ball"—and, indeed, home run production had soared to historic proportions.

The following table lists home run production across both major leagues from 1980 to 2012. It is listed by tiers starting with the total number of players who hit at least 20 home runs in a given season, then moving to that number who hit at least 30 or more, and so on.

MLB Home Runs by Tier, 1980 – 2012

Year

20 or More

30 or More

40 or More

50 or More

60 or More

1980

34

9

3

0

0

a1981

10

1

 

0

0

1982

51

16

0

0

0

1983

41

12

1

0

0

1984

44

9

0

0

0

1985

59

13

1

0

0

1986

62

13

1

0

0

1987

82

28

4

0

0

1988

45

5

1

0

0

1989

38

10

1

0

0

1990

45

12

3

1

0

1991

49

12

3

0

0

1992

40

10

3

0

0

1993

64

22

5

0

0

b1994

31

9

1

0

0

c1995

59

21

4

1

0

1996

82

43

16

2

0

1997

81

31

11

1

0

1998

84

33

13

0

2

1999

106

44

13

0

2

2000

97

46

16

1

0

2001

89

40

12

2

2

2002

79

28

8

2

0

2003

81

29

10

0

0

2004

93

36

9

0

0

2005

77

27

9

1

0

2006

91

33

11

2

0

2007

84

26

5

2

0

2008

90

25

2

0

0

2009

85

30

5

0

0

2010

75

18

2

1

0

2011

67

24

2

0

0

2012

79

27

6

0

0

 

a: Work stoppage halts season for two months; teams averaged about 107 games played altogether.

b: Work stoppage ends season; teams averaged about 113 games played altogether.

c: Work stoppage resolved; all teams played 144 games.

The numbers indicate a clear upward trend in home runs hit at each tier since 1996. Beginning in 1996, the number of hitters with 20 or more home runs in a season, across both leagues, has been around 84 per season, with a slight downward trend since 2010. The number of hitters with 30 or more since 1996 has averaged 31, with a similar slight downward trend since 2010.

The number of players hitting 40 or more in a season is even more dramatic, hitting double digits in all but three seasons between 1996 and 2006. The rarefied air of 50 or more home runs in a season is equally eye-catching. In 1991, Cecil Fielder hit 51 home runs, the first time since George Foster hit 52 in 1977 that any player in either league had reached the 50-homer mark.

But beginning in 1995, a 144-game season, Albert Belle slugged 50 homers (while also knocking 52 doubles—becoming the first player to hit at least 50 in each category in the same season). And from 1996 to 2010, 14 players hit at least 50 long flies, with six of those hitting 60 or more: Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire (twice), and Sammy Sosa (thrice)—and all three are the faces of PEDs in baseball. Prior to 1998, the year of the home-run chase that "saved baseball," only Babe Ruth and Roger Maris had ever hit 60 or more home runs in a season.

By contrast, between 1980 and 1995, the 20-or-more tier has averaged 47 hitters per year, and the 30-or-more tier has averaged 12 hitters per year—keeping in mind that this period had three seasons that did not play a full complement of games. That has especial intrigue in the strike-shortened 1994 season, when Matt Williams had hit 43 home runs in 112 games and Ken Griffey, Jr., had hit 40 in 111 games before play stopped, and we will never know if either or both were truly "on a pace" to equal or top Maris's record. Furthermore, MLB experienced expansion twice starting in 1993: That year saw the NL add the Colorado Rockies and the Florida (now Miami) Marlins, while 1998 ushered in another NL team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the AL added the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (now simply the Rays). In addition to adding to the number of potential home-run hitters, expansion typically results in a dilution of overall talent, meaning that pitching is not as strong, with the corresponding increased opportunities for hitters.

But the biggest factor in the spike in home runs, both in the total number of players hitting them and in the number of home runs hit per season by any single player, is of course steroids, at least according to the conventional wisdom. Was every player with an auspicious home run total, in a single season or for his career, really a suspicious player on the juice?


Guilty Until Proven Innocent? . . .

In 1996, at the start of the inflated home run period, center fielder Brady Anderson of the Baltimore Orioles hit 50 home runs in his age-32 season. Anderson had never hit more than 21 home runs previously (in 1992), and his highest subsequent total was 24 in 1999. In 2001, the same year in which Barry Bonds set the single-season home run mark with 73, left fielder Luis Gonzalez of the Arizona Diamondbacks notched 57 homers. Like Anderson, Gonzalez doubled his single-season output in 2001; in a ten-year stretch from 1996 to 2005, in his ages 28-to-37 seasons, "Gonzo" averaged 26 homers a year, hitting no more than 31 long balls in 2000; removing those outlier 57 homers in 2001, his nine-year average is 22 homers.

The 2001 season also saw a pair of middle infielders post career-high single-season marks. Seattle Mariners' second baseman Bret Boone hit 37 home runs in his age-32 season after never notching more than 24 previously (in 1998); Boone hit 35 homers in 2003, and had four other seasons in which he had collected at least 20 homers. Coincidentally, San Francisco Giants' shortstop Rich Aurilia also slammed 37 round-trippers in 2001, at age 29, nearly twice as many as he'd hit at any time in his career.

The 2001 season was a curious one, and we will examine it shortly, but the outlier experiences of the four players above, particularly the three with career totals in 2001, the apex (or nadir, depending on your outlook) of the steroids period, has been almost automatically attributed to the use of PEDs. Granted, Boone was named specifically in Canseco's book Juiced although he has (almost as automatically) denied the charge, and Gonzalez went as far as holding a press conference to deny allegations of PED usage.

In the wake of 104 names listed in the Mitchell Report that include Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Stanton, and Rondell White—all on the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot—and the results of a 2003 drug test, whose existence was stated in a 2009 news report and whose number included Sammy Sosa, another 2013 ballot choice, and Alex Rodriguez, who admitted to using PEDs from 2001 to 2003, the assumption is that a player whose performance, particularly his home-run production, seems abnormal must have been using PEDs—they are guilty until proven innocent. (Certainly that is the stance of websites that have high search-optimization rates such as the Bleacher Report and the Good Men Project, which seems to have a larger, sanctimonious agenda that strikes me as being a little creepy, but that is another story.)

That assumption seems to have borne out as true based on one of the earliest player admissions.

. . . Or Is It Proven? The Curious Case of Ken Caminiti

To tell from the experience of Ken Caminiti, there is no denying that PED usage has some kind of an impact on performance. In 1996, the San Diego Padres' third baseman became the NL MVP in his age-33 year with an outstanding offensive campaign that included career highs in batting average (.326), home runs (40), and runs batted in (130). Caminiti subsequently admitted that he had begun taking PEDs that season and continued to do so up to his 2001 retirement. (He then died prematurely of a drug overdose at age 41 in 2004.)

For the seven years between 1989 and 1995, when he became a full-time player through his ages 26 through 32 seasons—commonly regarded as a player's prime—Caminiti posted a .269/.335/.410 slash line and averaged 29 doubles, 14 home runs, 67 runs scored, and 73 runs batted in while generating a 107 OPS+ (a little better than league-average) and 16.6 WAR of his career 30.9 WAR. For the seven-year stretch from 1996, when he began using PEDs, through his final season in 2001, his ages 33 through 38 seasons, Caminiti posted a .282/.377/.522 slash line and averaged 22 doubles, 23 home runs, 68 runs scored, and 74 runs batted in while generating a 135 OPS+ and 15.4 WAR of his total 30.9 WAR. (Caminiti's first two seasons, in 1987 and 1988, produced a minus 1.1 WAR, if you are wondering how 16.6 and 15.4 seem to add to 30.9.)

Can a player get better even as he moves through his decline years of the mid- to late-thirties? Can "improved conditioning, nutrition, and training techniques" really be that effective? Or are those code words for performance-enhancing drugs?

Caminiti joins the procession of players, either through implication or admission, connected with steroids, including the biggest names of the last two decades: Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Sosa, Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Jason Giambi, Juan Gonzalez, Kevin Brown, Eric Gagne, and a host of others including Mike Piazza, who has admitted to using "andro" (androstenedione) early in his career, a time when it was not yet illegal, and Jeff Bagwell, who is merely guilty by appearance. The verdict for alleged or admitted steroid users has indeed been guilty: Bagwell, McGwire, and Palmeiro, each with solid Hall of Fame cases, have struggled to earn votes while Brown and Gonzalez fell off the ballot sooner than expected. With Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa on the ballot for the first time this year, it will be an explicit instead of a de facto referendum as all three, divorced from PEDs, would be considered first-ballot Hall of Famers as we near the announcements of the 2013 vote.

However, outliers do occur. Hall of Fame third baseman Wade Boggs was a doubles machine but was never considered to be a home run threat (although ironically his 3000th hit was a home run; only Derek Jeter has ever repeated that feat for his 3000th hit). Yet in 1987 Boggs slugged 24 home runs, three times his usual seasonal number until 1994, when he approached double digits in homers (11) for only the second time in his career. Recall from the table above that 1987 was an outlier year from the period 1980 to 1995, with Boggs now among that tier of 82 hitters with 20 or more home runs in 1987.

Another Hall of Famer, right fielder Tony Gwynn, was similarly not considered to be a home run threat, having reached double digits in homers once—14 in 1986—prior to 1994, when he hit 12 round-trippers. Yet late in his career, in his age-37 to age-39 seasons, Gwynn posted double-digit home run totals in all three years including a career high of 17 in 1997, one shy of that career high in 1998—although he did it in 131 fewer at-bats—and 10 home runs in 411 at-bats in 1999.

This late-career power surge coincided with the heart of the Steroids Era—moreover, admitted steroids user Ken Caminiti, who began using PEDs in 1996, was Gwynn's San Diego Padres teammate from 1995 to 1998. Gwynn's career defies the conventional wisdom of the straight-line decline of a baseball player's skills as he moves through his thirties: Gwynn won four consecutive NL batting titles from 1994 to 1997 (flirting with .400 during the strike-shortened 1994 season when he finished with a .394 average in 110 games), when he was in his age-34 to age-37 seasons. In fact, for the last six years of his career as a full-time player, from ages 34 to 39, Gwynn posted a .358/.402/.504 slash line (his career slugging average was only .459) with 174 hits, 34 doubles, 11 home runs, 75 runs scored and 76 runs batted in. These are not the statistics of a player in decline, particularly one who was nagged by a heel injury during the 1996 season that required surgery prior to his age-37 season. Furthermore, as any change in a player's appearance in the Steroids Era is regarded with suspicion, Gwynn's appearance did change as he went from a lithe young ballplayer to a portly veteran hitter dubbed "The Round Mound of Batting Crowns."

This is hardly to suggest that Tony Gwynn used PEDs at any time during his justifiably Hall of Fame career. Yet his late-career excellence, including an admittedly modest power surge, is an aberration compared to the average player's experience—and any anomalous event during the Steroids Era, such as Brady Anderson's 50-homer season, has been automatically regarded with suspicion.

Every individual event must be evaluated on its own circumstances, yes, which means that blanket condemnation also cannot be employed. For example, even if several hitters who post high home run totals are materially or circumstantially linked to PEDs, any hitter regarded as clean who posts a similar high total disproves the contention that all players were juicing and thus not all the numbers are tainted—moreover, it suggests that there might be other causal factors for the power surge during the Steroids Era. Such a situation revealed itself in 2001.


2001: A Sports Oddity—or a "Black Swan Event"?

With apologies to Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick, although 2001 saw a slight dip in overall home runs from the previous two seasons, it was the year in which Barry Bonds established the current single-season home run total with 73, and this is one of the prime pieces of evidence as to how PEDs have "raise[d] questions about the validity of baseball records," as stated in the Mitchell Report.

In fact, of the 89 players who hit at least 20 home runs in 2001, 16 of them, 12 from the NL and 4 from the AL, established career highs in home runs that season while four, two from each league, tied their career high. Several players who did not establish a career high but hit a lot of home runs in 2001 have been associated with PEDs including Sammy Sosa (64), Alex Rodriguez (52), Rafael Palmeiro (47), Troy Glaus (41), and Manny Ramirez (41).

The following table lists the 20 players with at least 20 home runs in 2001 who set or tied their career high in home runs in that season along with their next-highest single-season total and the year(s) in which that occurred.

Players with at Least 20 HR in 2001

Player

Age

2001 HR

Next-highest

Year

Bonds, Barry

36

73

49

2000

Gonzalez, Luis

33

57

31

2000

Green, Shawn

28

49

42

1999, 2002

Helton, Todd

27

49

42

2000

Palmeiro, Rafael

36

47

47

1999

Sexson, Richie

26

45

45

2003

Nevin, Phil

30

41

31

2000

Aurilia, Rich

29

37

23

2006

Boone, Bret

32

37

35

2003

Cruz, Jose

27

34

31

2000

Sanders, Reggie

33

33

31

2003

Abreu, Bobby

27

31

30

2004

Sweeney, Mike

27

29

29

2000

Koskie, Corey

28

26

25

2004

Hernandez, Jose

31

25

24

2002

Jordan, Brian

34

25

25

1998

Lo Duca, Paul

29

25

13

2004

Stevens, Lee

33

25

24

1999

Trammell, Bubba

29

25

17

2002

Daubach, Brian

29

22

21

1999, 2000

 

Of the players with 34 or fewer home runs, only Paul Lo Duca, then with the Los Angeles Dodgers, showed a significant increase in home runs from his next-highest total. Lo Duca is one of the players cited by the Mitchell Report as having an association with PEDs. Otherwise, these players exceeding or tying their single-season highs did not have a significant increase.

It is when examining the players with more than 34 home runs that the anomalies arise—and with them questions about who did or did not use PEDs. As noted previously, Bonds, Palmeiro, and Bret Boone have been heavily implicated with steroids. The Padres' Phil Nevin, who took over third base from Ken Caminiti, also had the PEDs suspicion applied to him for his 41 round-trippers although no evidence has emerged.

The Colorado Rockies' first baseman Todd Helton's career-high and next career-high have to be evaluated against his home park, Coors Field, which didn't begin using a humidifier to neutralize the altitude effects on baseballs until 2002, leading to an inflation of home runs. In 2000, Helton hit nearly twice as many homers in Coors Field, 27, as he did on the road, although in 2001 the five more homers he hit were all on the road, giving him a more balanced home-road split of 27 at Coors and 22 on the road.

The most dramatic increase, both in magnitude and in total number, is the Arizona Diamondbacks' left fielder Luis Gonzalez, whose 57 home runs nearly doubles his second-best seasonal total, 31, set the previous season. Gonzalez's effort coincided with the start of Arizona's Bank One Ballpark (now Chase Field) being considered to be a hitter-friendly park, although 31 of Gonzalez's homers were hit on the road. The next most dramatic increase was San Francisco Giants' shortstop Rich Aurilia's 37 homers, besting his previous mark of 22 homers in 1999.

Los Angeles Dodgers' right fielder Shawn Green also set a personal best in 2001 with 49 home runs; hitting in pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium, Green, not surprisingly, hit 30 of those 49 round-trippers on the road. But Green had hit 42 home runs in 1999 as a Blue Jay batting in Toronto's fairly hitter-neutral SkyDome (now the Rogers Centre), and repeated that total while playing in more pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium in 2002, hitting only 18 of those 42 homers in L.A. Between 1998 and 2002, his age-25 through age-29 seasons, Green had a five-year peak in which he averaged 38 homers, 333 total bases, 21 stolen bases, a .545 slugging percentage, a 137 OPS+, and a 5.2 bWAR—that is all-star quality—per season. For eight years from 1998 to 2005, his age-25 through age-32 seasons, Green was a respectable power hitter, posting a .284/.363/.516 slash line with seasonal averages of 37 doubles, 33 home runs, 312 total bases, 104 runs scored, 101 runs batted in, 16 stolen bases, a 128 OPS+, and a 3.8 bWAR. His numbers during this period might have been higher had left-shoulder tendonitis not hampered him in 2003, limiting him to 19 homers although he hit a career-high 49 doubles.

By 2006, his age-33 year, Green's effectiveness had dropped off, and he retired following the 2007 season. Green's career was a solid one that exhibited the expected arc: a few seasons of maturation before he hit his stride, producing at an all-star peak from 1998 to 2002 before experiencing a steadily-increasing decline—in other words, the kind of career one expects of a player not suspected of using PEDs.

Yet Green's career-high 49 home runs in 2001 attracted suspicion and allegations of juicing, mixed as they were among the career highs and near-career highs of players suspected of using PEDs, including some who subsequently acquired more positive evidence. But 2001 was an unusually good year for home runs; Jim Thome crushed 49 round-trippers, topped only by the 52 he hit the following season, and Thome has been consistently regarded as one of the "clean" players of Steroids Era. (Although appreciation of Thome's march to 600 career home runs was strangely muted, as I noted in August 2011.) And if Luis Gonzalez and Rich Aurilia, along with Phil Nevin and Richie Sexson, join Green and Thome as clean players who hit an unusually high number of home runs in 2001, then we just might have a black swan event on our hands.

The theory of black swan events refers to this idea: If conventional wisdom holds that all swans are white but then a black swan appears, two possibilities are that a) the black swan is not a swan or b) the black swan is a swan, and conventional wisdom must be revised in light of this new evidence. In baseball terms, the "all swans are white" conventional wisdom (and you could put the term conventional wisdom in quotes) is that a player who hit an unusually high number of home runs during the Steroids Era must have been using performance-enhancing drugs. But if a player during this era hits an unusually high number of home runs and did not use PEDs, then the "all swans are white"—in other words, all players hitting unusually high numbers of home runs were using PEDs—argument is suspect. And if in a single season such as 2001, in which a high number of players hits unusually high numbers of home runs, a single one of those players proves to be free of PEDs—in other words, is a "black swan"—then there must be other factors to account for why that player hit such an unusually high number of home runs in the company of those "white swans." And if multiple players—more than one "black swan"—prove to be PED-free, then the reason for those unusually high numbers of home runs cannot be PEDs exclusively.

Ah, but proof just might prove to be elusive. Further research is needed, but even that won't satisfy the doubters, and certainly further research cannot arrive in time for the 2013 vote. Many of the players on the 2013 ballot, from first-time eligibles to those already on previous ballots, have been painted by the PEDs brush and labeled "cheaters" whose accomplishments are tainted and in turn those accomplishments cheapen the integrity of the game and its hallowed records.

But has baseball ever been truly clean?

"Cheaters" and the Myth of the Pristine Past

Those who condemn players as "cheaters" who used performance-enhancing drugs have a strong point: The status of those substances prior to 2002 might have been murky—at least the enforcement of and penalties for those substances was—and unlike some of the situations and circumstances described below, electing to use PEDs is a personal decision that puts players who choose not to juice at a disadvantage. Furthermore, unlike using amphetamines, "greenies," which have a transitory effect—the drug wears off after a few hours—using PEDs creates lasting changes to the body.

But those who condemn players of the Steroids Era for sullying the integrity of baseball and tainting its hallowed records do not seem to know, or have forgotten, the inherently skewed history of baseball from its very inception.

A Checkered History

The 19th-century version of major-league baseball was a rough-and-tumble game with changing rules and shady characters both on and off the diamond—no sooner had the National League been formed in 1876 than a gambling scandal rocked the League. The Dead-ball Era of the early 20th century was marked—literally—with repeated attempts during each game to mark, scuff, alter, discolor, and degrade the ball—which was the same ball used for as long as humanly possible, hence the ultimately deadening effect on the ball's elasticity—in the effort to make it as hard as possible to see for hitting and catching. Only when a player, Ray Chapman, was killed by a pitched ball in 1920 were the efforts to use clean balls fully realized, resulting in the Live-ball Era that remains today.

But even then 17 pitchers who had been known spitball pitchers, applying a foreign substance to the ball, were grandfathered for the rest of their careers, meaning that they could continue to throw the spitball even though the pitch itself had been made illegal by 1920. (Chapman had been killed by a spitball thrown by Carl Mays.) Among the grandfathered pitchers who eventually entered the Hall of Fame were Stan Coveleski, Red Faber, and Burliegh Grimes. Another Hall of Fame pitcher, Ed Walsh, is credited with having popularized the spitter, but he had retired following the 1917 season.

Later Hall of Fame pitchers Whitey Ford and especially Gaylord Perry were regularly accused of doctoring the baseball when they pitched. Perry, whose autobiography was titled Me and the Spitter, was suspended for 10 games in 1982 for doctoring the ball; long-time manager Gene Mauch once quipped that Perry "should be in the Hall of Fame with a tube of K-Y Jelly attached to his plaque."

Although the 1919 "Black Sox" scandal led to the lifetime banning from baseball of players who knowingly gambled on the outcomes of games, subsequently affecting the Hall of Fame chances of Joe Jackson, one of the "Black Sox," and, much later, Pete Rose, Hall of Fame superstars Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker had been accused of gambling during their playing days; moreover, both players were regarded to be racists. Cobb famously assaulted a fan in 1912 who had aimed a racial slur at him and was suspended for his actions—and in the first players' strike in baseball history, his teammates refused to play until he was reinstated; this was no small feat because Cobb, an intense competitor and all-around bastard, was disliked even by his own teammates. Speaker allegedly belonged to the Ku Klux Klan, and even as recently as 2008 former players' union executive director Marvin Miller opined that Speaker should be banned from the Hall for this association. (After his retirement, Speaker was instrumental in grooming Larry Doby, the first African-American player in the American League, to play center field for the Cleveland Indians.)

And speaking of race, all records set prior to 1947, when Jackie Robinson became the first African-American player in Major League Baseball in the 20th century, should be suspect because players prior to that were playing against deliberately and institutionally diluted competition. Only white players were allowed to compete in the major leagues. White players who barnstormed against Negro League players in the 1920s and 1930s, including Hall of Famers Babe Ruth and Dizzy Dean, publicly proclaimed the excellence of the Negro League players they competed against. These African-American players could have been major leaguers, with the corresponding effect on competition that entails. As comedian Chris Rock observed, Babe Ruth hit 714 "affirmative-action home runs." How would Ruth have fared against the likes of Ray Brown, Andy Cooper, Martin Dihigo, Jose Mendez, or Satchel Paige, all Negro League pitchers later inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame?


From "Pick-Me-Ups" to PEDs

Even after integration, during the so-called "Golden Era" of baseball in the 1950s and 1960s that saw Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Bob Gibson playing on equal terms with Al Kaline, Mickey Mantle, and Sandy Koufax, allegations of rampant "greenie" use—the widespread use of amphetamines by big-league ballplayers—began to surface starting with former major-league pitcher Jim Bouton's groundbreaking 1969 exposé Ball Four (World). Perhaps because the effects of amphetamine are transitory its usage is distinguished from that of PEDs such as anabolic steroids and human growth hormones; as recently as 2011, renowned broadcaster Bob Costas, critical of the Steroid Era, on MLB TV differentiated the usage of amphetamines by stating that players used them only as a "pick-me-up" after a redeye flight or double header. But isn't a "greenie" still a drug used to enhance performance? Does it matter that its effects are transitory and not more lasting?

And we haven't yet mentioned that there are already suspected steroids users in the Hall of Fame.

Jim "Pud" Galvin—the "Pud" was short for "Pudding," which was what Galvin's pitching reputedly turned hitters into—won 365 games in the last quarter of the 19th century, for which Galvin was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1965 by the Veterans' Committee. Galvin is also the first player widely known for using performance-enhancing drugs: He openly used a concoction known as "Brown-Séquard elixir," which contained monkey testosterone.

Babe Ruth's famous 1925 "bellyache heard 'round the world" might have been caused by the Bambino's attempt to inject himself with an extract from sheep's testicles. It was widely reported at the time that Ruth had overindulged on hot dogs and soda pop, although Ruth was also famously fond of stronger libation—which was illegal.

During Barry Bonds's grim pursuit of Hank Aaron's career home run record, detractors decrying Bonds's PEDs usage held up signs that stated that "Hank Aaron did it with class" (although we do not know whether he might have also done it with amphetamines). Boo-birds also held up signs that stated that "Babe Ruth did it with hot dogs and beer." Even ESPN Baseball color commentator (and Hall of Famer) Joe Morgan had the presence of mind to note that for much of the time in which Ruth was "doing it," beer—alcohol—was an expressly illegal substance. In fact, from 1920 to 1933 alcohol was Constitutionally prohibited in the United States because of passage of the Eighteenth Amendment. Never mind that this Amendment and its ramifications was monumentally short-sighted and destructive, forcing the manufacture, distribution, and sale of alcohol into the hands of organized crime (mirroring the effects of the disastrous four-decade-old "War on Drugs" currently, but that is another story), and it remains the only Constitutional Amendment to be repealed, by the Twenty-first Amendment. In Ruth's day it was literally the law of the land, and Ruth broke it repeatedly and gleefully.

And speaking of alcohol, another famed hard-drinking Yankee, Mickey Mantle, might not have had to worry about its legality by the time he was playing baseball (as first detailed by Bouton's Ball Four), but he too might have also been a user of performance-enhancing drugs. As he and teammate Roger Maris were chasing Ruth's single-season home run record in 1961, Mantle developed an abscess on his hip allegedly caused by a botched injection of a chemical cocktail that included steroids and amphetamines. Mantle faded in the chase (he finished with 54 homers), enabling Maris to beat the Babe's record.

And although pitcher Tom House is not a Hall of Fame player, he has been candid about the use of steroids in the 1970s, admitting that he himself used them along with many other pitchers, although he claims that their use did not help his velocity and caused him more physical problems than benefits. (House was the pitcher in the Atlanta Braves' bullpen who caught Aaron's then-record-breaking 715th home run in 1974.)

Home-Field Advantages: Park Effects

We should also mention the very real consequences of "park effects," or the impact of a player's home ballpark on his performance. Historically, ballparks have had custom dimensions that can affect how well or how poorly a player performs in his home park: A "hitter-friendly" park will benefit batters and penalize pitchers, and vice versa. It is a phenomenon that has been long understood but one that has not always factored into overall evaluations.

Philadelphia Phillies' outfielder Chuck Klein, eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame, terrorized pitchers during the late 1920s and early 1930s in his home park the Baker Bowl, a notoriously hitter-friendly park; when he was traded to the Chicago Cubs in 1934, Klein's gaudy numbers dropped and never returned even after he himself was returned to the Phillies, and the Baker Bowl, not long after the start of the 1936 season. Klein won the hitting Triple Crown in 1933 with a .368 batting average, 28 home runs, and 120 runs batted in. In the Baker Bowl, Klein hit .467 with 20 homers and 81 RBI; on the road, he hit .280 with 8 homers and 39 RBI. Today, we would liken that to the "Coors Effect" that seems to be dogging Larry Walker's Hall chances.

Baseball lore has long maintained that had Ted Williams, a famous left-handed pull-hitter—he was one of the first batters to have a defensive shift employed regularly against him—played his home games in New York's Yankee Stadium with its celebrated "short porch" in right field instead of Boston's Fenway Park with its longer distance to the right field wall (albeit shortened with the addition of the bullpen before the wall when Williams had joined the Red Sox), he would have hit 600 or more home runs, instead of his 521 career homers, despite losing five prime years to military service. Similarly, had Joe DiMaggio been in Boston and peppering the left-field "Green Monster," his career totals might have been different. Leaving aside talent dispersion and allegations of early steroids use, would Babe Ruth had hit 60 home runs in a season, or 714 in his career, without that "short porch" in Yankee Stadium—nicknamed "the House That Ruth Built"—for a significant stretch of his career?

With all these factors now on the table, let's just try to put this all into perspective using one example of the "sanctity" of baseball records.

The Myth of the Pristine Past

In 1927, Babe Ruth sets the single-season record for home runs by clouting 60 of them. This is during a time of talent dispersion, when only white men were allowed to play major-league baseball, and only seven years after baseball decreed that a clean, unmarked baseball should always be in play—the birth of the Live-ball Era—after decades in which players did everything they could to deform and deface the ball to make it harder to hit and harder to catch. Ruth himself might have tried to gain an edge by using performance-enhancing substances such as an extract from sheep's testicles, and he certainly used alcohol, which had been made illegal by an Amendment to the Constitution of the United States seven years previously. We could cite the "short porch" of Yankee Stadium as well even though Ruth hit 28 of his homers at home, in 73 games and 253 at-bats, and 32 on the road, in 78 games and 287 at-bats.

Although both Jimmie Foxx, hitting 58 home runs in 1932, and Hank Greenberg, hitting 58 home runs in 1938, both came close to Ruth's record, it wasn't until 1961 that Ruth's record faced another credible threat.

That threat was from two Yankees, outfielders Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, playing in an expansion year: The AL grew by two teams, with the old Washington Senators franchise moving to Minnesota to become the Twins while a new Washington Senators franchise debuted (it would soon relocate to the Dallas area to become the Texas Rangers), and the Los Angeles Angels also debuted. In addition to the dilution of talent as players were required to fill two new rosters, the schedule also expanded to 162 games from the previous 154 games. Add to this an environment in which "greenies"—amphetamines—appear to be widely used, and the allegations that Mantle might have been juicing.

Maris eventually broke Ruth's record, and although then-Commissioner Ford Frick decreed that Maris's record was for a 162-game schedule and Ruth's record was for a 154-game schedule, there was never any official qualification for Maris's record. Never mind that Maris actually had just seven more plate appearances than did Ruth, and never mind that Maris was playing in the integrated era while Ruth was playing in the segregated era. (Although Maris famously hit the record-breaking 61st home run in Yankee Stadium, on the last day of the season, Maris's home-road splits were a wash: He hit 30 homers at Yankee Stadium in 79 games and 280 at-bats, and 31 homers on the road in 82 games and 310 at-bats.) Nevertheless, Maris's challenge was considered to be challenge to the "validity" of an established record.

Then comes 1998, and Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa—a Dominican indicating the widespread presence and influence of Latin players barely hinted at during Maris's time and non-existent during Ruth's—help to "save baseball" with their pursuit of Maris's record. Both play in an era of talent compression, when the aggregate skill level is higher than it had ever been before not just through the widest talent pool baseball has ever known but through training, conditioning, nutrition, education, and scouting leagues above Maris's era, let alone Ruth's. McGwire and Sosa also face a pitching philosophy unheard-of in Maris's day, let alone Ruth's, as a parade of fresh-armed relievers stand ready to replace a starting pitcher who has far less chance of completing a game than did his counterparts in decades past. And we haven't even touched on the overpowering financial pressures of fighting to keep a lucrative job as a major-league baseball player, let alone living up to contractual expectations.

In order to gain an edge on the competition, McGwire and Sosa both use substances that while technically illegal are not yet being tested for. It is cheating, yes, but it is part of a tradition that is as old as baseball itself. Moreover, they are playing in an era of baseball unimaginable to players in bygone eras, whether it is playing against players with a different skin color or the fact that players no longer have to work an off-season job to support themselves and their families, which was a widespread reality in Major League Baseball until the 1970s.

The Mitchell Report worried about the "validity of baseball records," but no record at any time was ever created in a pristine environment. The game is always changing, perhaps subtly, perhaps drastically, but to condemn the current PEDs transgressions as "a serious threat to the integrity of the game" is to ignore the game's relative integrity—or lack thereof—at any time during its existence. Sixty home runs in 1927 is relative to the conditions of the game in 1927 and means something different in 1961 and again in 1998. What unites them all is that they are part of a continuum of baseball that, to be optimistic, improves as it matures, albeit in fits and starts, false or otherwise.

But at any time, the best you can do is to evaluate the baseball you have, not the baseball you wish you had. The Steroids Era is a part of baseball history as much as segregation was, and as much as amphetamines usage was. We can argue about institutional factors and personal choices, but it will not change the records of players past and presently on the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot.

End the Witch-hunt

In 1692, an epidemic of mass hysteria in Colonial Massachusetts resulted in the Salem Witch Trials, at which a number of persons were accused of witchcraft. More than 300 years ago, belief in the supernatural was a much more immediate and palpable phenomenon than it is today, and although no evidence of supernatural events emerged, twenty persons were executed for witchcraft. (Despite the popular perception that witches were "burned at the stake," in Salem nineteen victims were hanged and one was crushed to death by stones heaped upon his chest.)

Even in more enlightened times, that witch-hunt mentality has taken hold again in the United States. As anti-Communism became a growing obsession in the 1950s, the federal government investigated allegations of Communist subversion and infiltration, uncovering some Communists but tarring many more non-Communists, or even non-fellow travelers, with the brush of Communism, often through allegation, innuendo, and guilt by association. The most famous example of this are the investigations by Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy, who accused the State Department and the military of harboring Communists until his credibility was shattered by his ultimately baseless yet damaging accusations.

However, more pervasive and more disruptive were the investigations by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which compelled many persons from various walks of life to testify before the Committee regarding accusations of Communism either personally or through association. The industry most affected by HUAC's investigations was the movie industry as many performers, writers, producers, composers, and others in the industry were "blacklisted," or tacitly excluded from working consideration, regardless of whether they had any Communist connections. Reputations and even lives were destroyed as a "moral panic" developed into a witch-hunt hysteria. (Other recent witch-hunt examples in American history include the spate of "Satanic activity" in preschools in the 1980s.)

With respect to performance-enhancing drugs, Major League Baseball has been in a witch-hunt for a decade. The sport is in a "moral panic," desperate to purge itself of acts and individuals that it believes have sullied the reputation of the sport. In one sense, this is a good approach because it has forced a more comprehensive regimen for testing of PEDs as well as, by 2005, clearly defined penalties for failing a drug test that include a permanent ban from baseball for a third failed test. But in the years leading up to 2005, there was not such a policy, with enough individual and institutional blame to go around. However, the witch-hunt mentality is trying to retroactively apply sanctions when none had existed, or were not properly enforced, previously.

Gambling had existed in baseball before the 1919 World Series scandal, but it took that event to codify the rules regarding gambling in baseball, with consequences for all subsequent offenders, to which Pete Rose can attest. As we have seen, cheating in its various forms, including taking substances to enhance performance, has a long tradition in baseball. To carry the witch-hunt mentality for cheating to its logical (if still irrational) extreme, baseball must begin to purge itself of all cheaters currently enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Instead, it is time to end the witch hunt. Every one of the 37 players on the 2013 ballot is eligible for Hall of Fame induction. Next comes the task of determining which ones are most qualified, to which we turn in Part 2.

On October 4, 2012, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced the 15 nominees for the Class of 2013 prior to sending a ballot to more than 600 industry members. Boy, I wish I were one of those getting a ballot—and I bet you do too!

Actually, for the first time, fans can vote online through December 5 on a special parallel ballot (available at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and elsewhere), with the top five vote-getters being counted alongside the industry ballot. The Hall of Fame will announce the inductees some time in December.

But under the pretext of getting one of the official ballots, I have "done my homework" below preparatory to casting my votes yea or nay for each of the nominees. If you haven't heard, the 15 nominees for induction in 2013 are the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Chic, Deep Purple, Heart, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Albert King, Kraftwerk, the Marvelettes, the Meters, Randy Newman, N.W.A., Procol Harum, Public Enemy, Rush, and Donna Summer.

I have outlined each nominee below in three areas: The nominee's background, whether I think the Hall of Fame voters will vote for the nominee's inclusion—keeping in mind that trying to anticipate the Hall's collective vote is a glorious crapshoot—and whether I personally would vote for the nominee were I a voting member of the Hall.

As I have done in my series of audits of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I used the Defining Factors from that audit series to evaluate the 2013 nominees. These Defining Factors are outlined below:

  • Innovation. The artist has invented or refined one or more aspects of the music.
  • Influence. The artist has made a demonstrable impact on the music of either contemporaries or succeeding artists.
  • Popularity. The artist has achieved an appreciable measure of commercial or critical success.
  • Crossover appeal. The artist is recognized and appreciated outside the artist's primary arena.
  • Legacy. The artist's accomplishments have lasting impact and appeal.

What about you? Who are your picks for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year?

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band

Background: This home-grown outfit was among the first to explore American blues-rock but found itself overshadowed by the spate of British acts that leapt to prominence in the mid-1960s from the Rolling Stones on down. The irony is that the Paul Butterfield Blues Band learned at the feet of the Chicago masters and at times even featured members of Howlin' Wolf's bands. Led by singer and harmonica player Paul Butterfield, who picked up his instrumental cues from Little Walter, and highlighted by guitarists Mike Bloomfield—arguably the greatest white blues guitarist you've never heard of—and Elvin Bishop, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band released a debut album in 1965 that was a high-energy, if overly literal, distillation of Chicago blues—from "Born in Chicago" to "Mellow down Easy" to "Look over Yonder's Wall"—that spotlighted both Butterfield's and Bloomfield's impressive chops.

The next album, 1966's East-West, was even better as the band blended jazz and even East Indian influences into its blues-rock core, the former with a cover of Nat Adderley's "Work Song" and the latter with the lengthy title instrumental: "East-West" was a revolutionary track that stood at the forefront of the extended instrumental workouts soon to be found in psychedelia and in the next wave of blues-rock jamming—the seeds of the Allman Brothers' guitar interplay, for instance, can be found here in Bishop's and Bloomfield's fretwork. When Bloomfield departed, Butterfield regrouped with a horn-based approach (1967's The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw) that anticipated the big-group jazz-R&B sound soon to be associated with Blood, Sweat and Tears and the Chicago Transit Authority as well as with Bloomfield's own short-lived Electric Flag. However, Butterfield's curse was being able to forecast trends but being unable to capitalize on them, either through inadequate songcraft or modest arrangements that, barring exceptions such as "East-West," didn't fully explore the implications he had uncovered.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? No. The Hall has done a lot of backfilling of artists from the 1960s, from Southern soul to folk-rock to psychedelic-rock to straight pop, and although blues-rock is a vital tributary into 1970s hard rock and heavy metal, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band is much better known to aficionados than to casual fans. The band's inability to establish a commercial presence hurts their claim to be innovators—the British blues-rockers of the mid-1960s are better-known to general audiences.

Would I vote for the artist? No. Although it might be unfair that the British blues-rockers nabbed the spotlight from Butterfield and his band, it is not unjustified—they used the form as a springboard to more substantial developments. Butterfield did anticipate a number of musical trends but he couldn't translate them into commercial success or significant influence.

Chic

Background: Blending rock and R&B influences into its bouncy disco strategy, Chic offered a grittier, funkier take on dance music, and in the process provided inspiration for hip-hop and rock artists—the hit "Good Times," and particularly Bernard Edwards's rubbery bass line, provided the bedrock for, among others, the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" and for Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust." Edwards also provided another signature low-register classic for the risqué smash "Le Freak" as he and guitarist Nile Rodgers, both veteran session men, crafted the earthy foundation of Edwards's thick bottom and Rodgers's chicken-scratch guitar—funk elements dating back to James Brown's JBs—that supported the washes of strings and the airy voices of the female singers whose words carried an undertone of social unease even as the overt message was to "Dance Dance Dance," another key hit for the collective.

Chic offered a durable approach for disco, but the genre was getting buffeted by the 1980s, and the band had often been unfairly cast as relics of that period, exemplified by the seeming vacuity of tracks such as "I Want Your Love" and "Everybody Dance." Yet Chic developed a hybrid sound that proved accessible not only to dance styles—Chic's contemporary Sister Sledge bore a literal relationship to Chic's sound—but also to urban, hip-hop, and rock styles, while the rich yet lean production work of Edwards and Rodgers, the hallmark of Chic's success, quickly became in-demand, thus perpetuating Chic's influence. As any number of the anonymous disco bands from that period fade into nostalgia, the impact and influence of Chic becomes more salient.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? No. Not this year, even though the band has been nominated six times previously dating back to 2003. With Donna Summer also on the ballot and having died this year, voters will choose her over Chic. Disco still carries a stigma for rock and roll diehards, and two disco artists elected in the same year is an unlikely scenario.

Would I vote for the artist? Yes. Chic transcends its primary genre, disco, while influencing various styles. Its impact on hip-hop pioneers Grandmaster Flash and the Sugarhill Gang alone is an indication of Chic's impact on the development of music of the Rock Era.

Deep Purple

Background: Formed in England around the same time as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, Deep Purple began with an eclecticism that seemed like a kid in a candy store, covering Neil Diamond ("Kentucky Woman") and essaying progressive-rock touches that highlighted the counterpoint between guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and keyboardist John Lord (the instrumental "Hard Road (Wring That Neck)") while, pretentiously, aiming even higher—Lord composed a Concerto for Group and Orchestra that was not exactly a classical gas. But when singer Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover signed aboard, Purple narrowed its concentration to hard rock and released a trio of early-1970s albums that exemplified the band's robust early metal. In Rock ("Speed King," "Child in Time") and Fireball ("Strange Kind of Woman," the title song) honed an approach that culminated with Machine Head, an essential hard-rock album that featured "Highway Star," "Never Before," the molten-metal "Space Truckin'," and the deathless anthem "Smoke in the Water." The terrific concert album Made in Japan managed to improve upon the studio versions; for instance, the extended version of "Space Truckin'," far from being indulgent showboating, still maintains an impressive cinematic air.

However, the glory period was short-lived, as Purple couldn't maintain the inspiration. Who Do We Think We Are? contained "Woman from Tokyo" and maybe one or two other memorable tracks ("Rat Bat Blue"), and then Gillan quit. His replacement David Coverdale (later of Whitesnake) gamely filled in for a few of albums before Blackmore departed; the live Made in Europe, featuring Blackmore and Coverdale, acutely demonstrated how the band did degenerate into onstage showboating. By the mid-1970s Deep Purple was done although the "Mark II" configuration, with Blackmore, Gillan, and Glover, did reform a decade later, to fans' delight but little else. At various times, high-powered American guitarists Tommy Bolin, Steve Morse, and Joe Satriani have stepped in (Satriani did not appear on any official recordings), lending the band a certain amount of cachet while suggesting Purple's stature, but except for Machine Head and Made in Japan, Deep Purple never delivered on the promise it suggested with demonstrable consistency, and it is hard not to see Purple as much more than a period relic.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? No. Hall voters have been picky in their endorsements of hard-rock acts, and Deep Purple does not rise to the level of genre- or period-defining as have Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, Metallica, or Guns 'N Roses. Although Purple is better technically than AC/DC, which Hall voters did elect, Purple never entertained the sustained levels of popularity that AC/DC has.

Would I vote for the artist? No. Deep Purple lacks sufficient quantities of the Defining Factors I have used to evaluate previously-elected artists to be worthy of the Hall itself. I say this as someone who as a teenage Deep Purple fanatic snapped up every Purple album he could—even the compilations that featured songs I already had. Listening to those albums later, though, I realized that the average Deep Purple album (excluding best-of packages) hit on all cylinders at best three or four times. That does not count Machine Head or Made in Japan, but two outstanding albums are not enough on which to hang a Hall of Fame legacy.

Heart

Background: Beginning in the Pacific Northwest in the mid-1970s, Heart actually enjoyed two careers, first as a hard-rock band through the early 1980s, then as a big-ballad act from the mid-1980s through the rest of the decade. The band's most distinctive feature is its being fronted by a pair of sisters, singer Ann Wilson and guitarist Nancy Wilson, which is innovation enough for the 1970s, a period in which hard rock was overwhelmingly male-dominated and a female presence was a novelty. But the Wilsons were hardly tokens—not only were they fully integrated musically with the rest of the band, they were the driving creative forces. However, Heart's folk-metal approach found the band tagged as "Jethro Zeppelin," with "Dreamboat Annie" and "Silver Wheels" taking the acoustic approach and "Crazy on You," "Barracuda," and the supple, muscular "Magic Man" turning up the volume. In truth, Heart did have a hard time transcending its derivations—the band's live version of Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" is a too-faithful reproduction, while "Dream of the Archer" borrows conspicuously from Zep's "The Battle of Evermore." Nevertheless, rockers such as "Even It Up," "Kick It Out," and the droll "Bebe le Strange" had no problem mixing it up with other classic-rock staples.

But when '70s hard rock swooned by the 1980s, Heart discovered the power ballad, and helped by Ann's strong voice, it unleashed a string of hits starting with "What About Love" and moving through "These Dreams," "Alone," and a number of others, while songs like "Who Will You Run To" aimed for arena-rock grandeur. The band's polished production was similarly a departure from its previous lean attack. By the 1990s, women in rock were much more prevalent although the pioneering efforts of the Wilson sisters seemed to have been overlooked. Whether this is because commercial hard rock of the 1970s became the object of such derision by the next waves (at least initially—Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan made no secret of his love for Foghat), or because Heart was right in the middle of the hard-rock pack with little to distinguish it apart from having been fronted by two women, is prime fodder for a barroom debate.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? No. In recent years, Hall voters have been fairly diligent about recognizing the distaff influence on the Rock Era, for good (Brenda Lee, Patti Smith) and not-so-good (Darlene Love, Laura Nyro), but I don't think they will bite this time, and not just because of a hard-rock bias. If riot grrrls, to choose only one group of post-punk female musicians, had named the Wilson sisters as influences instead of Patti Smith, Heart would be in, but musically Heart was just not that innovative or influential.

Would I vote for the artist? No. Ann and Nancy Wilson might have been the first women to front a commercially successful hard-rock band, but although the Jethro Zeppelin characterization might sting, it is nevertheless appropriate—Heart never rose above the sum of its influences. If this were an all-male band under discussion, there wouldn't be a discussion; Foreigner, which went from pop-rock to power ballad, has a somewhat similar path as Heart, and not many beyond Foreigner's fan base are clamoring for its induction. Sometimes being first is not enough.

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

Background: Singer and guitarist Joan Jett might have had a lurid start as a member of the punk-bait Runaways, but once she went solo in the late 1970s, she quickly established herself as a genuine hard-rocker informed by punk chops and attitude. The title song to Jet's debut Bad Reputation announced her defiant presence with a brash bash, as did the hit title-track declaration to her follow-up album, I Love Rock 'n' Roll, with the Blackhearts now fully in tow. That album featured another hit, an intriguing cover of "Crimson and Clover"—intriguing because Jett couldn't change the gender of the song's subject without changing the lyrics—but that also underscored the defining characteristic of Jett's career: She has been primarily a juke box, churning out a host of cover versions (including an entire album of them titled The Hit List) that showcases her taste and knowledge—with some, such as her take on Lesley Gore's pre-feminist anthem "You Don't Own Me," being downright inspired—but not necessarily her artistic ability.

Granted, Jett has recorded a number of her own compositions, and some of them have gained success, such as "I Hate Myself for Loving You" (albeit written with song doctor Desmond Child), although many of her own songs seem to scream "issues": "Let Me Go," "Don't Abuse Me," "Love Is Pain," "Victim of Circumstances," "You're Too Possessive," "Fake Friends," and "This Means War" among them. The psychological interpretations are best left to her therapist, and Jett is hardly alone in airing her grievances in song, but apart from "Let Me Go" and a couple of others, they don't make for memorable rock songs, certainly compared to the verve she brings to her renditions of "I Love Rock 'n' Roll," "Do You Wanna Touch Me," "You Don't Own Me," and "Everyday People." As an inspiration to riot grrrls and other female rockers, Jett comes on like Chrissie Hynde's kid sister, and that sums up Jett's problem: She has never stepped out from the shadows of others to establish herself as an artist in her own right.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? Yes. This is the female rocker Hall voters are looking for in Heart—brash and post-punk but with a firm attachment to the classic-rock legacy through all those cover versions. Not that the voting won't be close, but compared to some of the nominees the Hall has elected, Joan Jett is not the worst.

Would I vote for the artist? No. Joan Jett doesn't rise to the level of a Hall of Famer in terms of Defining Factors. Her musical approach is derivative and hardly innovative, and it doesn't carry much insight or lasting appeal. As a hard rocker, she is generally enjoyable but ultimately non-essential.

Albert King

Background: He shares a surname with two other blueswailing, guitar-slinging (and unrelated) Kings already in the Hall of Fame, and although Albert was actually two years older than B.B., he didn't earn significant success until the Rock Era, as had the decade-younger Freddie. Indeed, with his signature Gibson Flying V guitar, left-handed playing, and flashy style, Albert King seemed more in sync with rock and soul than with blues. On his keynote Stax album Born under a Bad Sign he was backed by Booker T. and the MGs, and three standout songs soon gained currency among rock players: "Born under a Bad Sign" spawned versions by several artists from Cream to, er, Homer Simpson; Eric Clapton covered "Crosscut Saw"; and "The Hunter" became incorporated into Led Zeppelin's "How Many More Times."

But despite the flash and acclaim from the rock crowd, King seldom rose above the sum of influences, which ranged from Lonnie Johnson to T-Bone Walker to B.B. King; after hearing B.B.'s "Three O'Clock Blues," Albert King Nelson dropped the "Nelson" from his name and went with "Albert King" as his stage name. King's blues-playing could be fiery ("Killing Floor," "Why You So Mean to Me?") if derivative, but when he ventured into rock and pop, such as on a string of albums for the Tomato label (Albert, Truckload of Lovin'), King seemed out to sea, awash in the ornate arrangements—unlike B.B. King, who brought his stylistic flourishes firmly within the framework of the blues. Albert King might have been a favorite of rock players from Mick Taylor to Stevie Ray Vaughan to Joe Walsh, but like them, King was a high-powered guitar-slinger looking for something to say.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? Yes—but he will go into the Hall as an "Early Influence," as did Freddie King in 2012. This is because Albert King is a "blues" player, albeit one with more cachet with rock audiences than blues audiences. This is also a haphazard decision because Freddie King, like Albert, had his success during the Rock Era, as did previous inductee Buddy Guy, who, like B.B. King, was inducted as a standard performer (and B.B.'s earliest recordings, which gave him his initial fame, predate the Rock Era).

Would I vote for the artist? No. Either as a standard performer or as an Early Influence, Albert King was a flashy but derivative player, and as much as a respected critic such as David McGee might hype King's abilities, I do not think they rise to the level of a Hall of Famer.

Kraftwerk

Background: Given that Germany, until the late 1960s, had no rock tradition but did have a technocratic one dating back much earlier than that, it is no surprise that it should spawn an initial wave of "krautrock" that emphasized electronic, synthesized sounds from bands such as Faust, Kraftwerk, and Tangerine Dream. (Can, also of that generation, pursued similar technological sounds only using more organic instrumentation.) With a penchant for simplicity and hypnotic repetition, along with occasional deadpan humor, Kraftwerk was the most accessible of the lot. That accessibility in turn translated to influence.

The lengthy title tracks to the 1970s albums Autobahn and Trans-Europe Express evoked impressions of a long car trip and railroad trip, respectively, while exemplifying the monotonous yet lulling rhythm of both modes of transportation, enlivened occasionally by a passing distraction; in that respect, Kraftwerk manifested into rock the influences of fellow German electronic pioneer Karlheinz Stockhausen as well as American composer Steve Reich. Kraftwerk also flashed a droll sense of humor ("Showroom Dummies," "The Model"), all the more salient for coming from "humorless German engineers" forecasting the age of robots and computers ("The Man-Machine," "Computer World"). Kraftwerk's minimalist approach got old fairly quickly—by the early 1980s the band was repeating itself to no benefit—but by offering a stark, shiny, hypnotic sound from the future, it provided a tangible influence on avant-garde, hip-hop, and New Wave while laying the foundation for electronica.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? Yes. Hall voters seem to be coming to terms with modern rock and pop styles, and part of that acceptance is acknowledging the influences on those styles. Voters will also be defusing criticism that they are biased toward American and British artists by making Kraftwerk the first German artist elected to the Hall.

Would I vote for the artist? Yes. Albeit it is a reluctant yes, as I do not think that Kraftwerk's body of work beyond Autobahn and Trans-Europe Express is remarkable. However, much like Black Sabbath, Kraftwerk exerted an influence that transcended its own artistic limitations. It is that influence and legacy, though, that pushes these "transistorized pranksters" (to borrow David Fricke's expression) into the Hall.

The Marvelettes

Background: One of Motown's earliest hit-makers, notching their only Number One single "Please Mr. Postman" in 1961, the Marvelettes were also one of the most anonymous of the Motown ensembles. That relative facelessness resulted in the group being overlooked as the label's solo artists and high-profile members of other groups became known quantities, but although the Marvelettes delivered Motown's first Number One hit ("Please Mr. Postman"), they were soon eclipsed by these more talented artists.

The girl-group did reach the Top Forty through 1968 as "Playboy," "Beechwood 4-5789," "The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game," "My Baby Must Be a Magician," and especially the winsome "Don't Mess with Bill" all made at least Number 20 on Billboard's Hot 100 pop singles chart. But the Marvelettes never abandoned the ultimately limiting format of the anonymous girl-group ensemble—Wanda Rogers eventually emerged as the group's singing personality, although she paled in comparison to Diana Ross and even Martha Reeves—and despite Smokey Robinson's guidance (he provided them with "Don't Mess with Bill," sung by Rogers), Motown relegated the Marvelettes to background status, and after "My Baby Must Be a Magician," they did begin to fade like the smoke from a conjuring trick.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? No. Hall voters have been overly zealous in backfilling earlier artists, particularly from the 1960s, but Motown, justly so, is well-represented in the Hall of Fame, and the Marvelettes do not rise to the level of their more illustrious label mates.

Would I vote for the artist? No. The Marvelettes provided a handful of engaging hits throughout the 1960s, and although they were able to adapt to a number of production styles, they lack strong Defining Factors to qualify them for the Hall.

The Meters

Background: Think of them as Cajun cousins of Booker T. and the MGs: The Meters concocted a bare-bones bayou blend of funk and R&B that served both as the backing for artists from Dr. John to Labelle and, like the MGs, as announcements for their own artistry; the Meters scored instrumental hits with "Cissy Strut" and "Sophisticated Cissy." Keyboardist Art Neville and guitarist Leo Nocentelli spearheaded the Meters' sound, anchored by the loose-limbed rhythm section of bassist George Porter, Jr., and drummer Zig Modeliste (Art's brother Cyril later joined as percussionist); together, they crafted compact instrumental exercises such as "Look-Ka Py Py," "Pungee," and "Live Wire," which bore a strong MGs influence.

From their New Orleans beginnings in the late 1960s, the Meters continued to cut records through the mid-1970s. They added vocal numbers to their repertoire, including "Cabbage Alley," "Hey Pocky A-Way," the percolating "Fire on the Bayou," and "Jungle Man," which suggested where Little Feat got its laid-back groove and attitude from. In fact, listening to the Meters is almost like playing Name That Tune, or at least Name That Artist, because the accents and arrangements are so familiar from the various acts the band has backed. It's no surprise that the Meters have been an influence on 1970s funk and on 1980s hip-hop, although the band struggled to break through commercially during its initial stretch, leading to shameless 1970s pandering such as "Disco Is the Thing Today."

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? No. At least voters won't elect the Meters as performers, although the Hall might consider them to be prime candidates for the Award for Musical Excellence (formerly the Sidemen category). A couple of modest instrumental hits and a strong professional reputation won't be enough to convince voters.

Would I vote for the artist? No. The Meters certainly pioneered a blend of funk that proved to be influential—the problem is that no one outside of industry professionals and knowledgeable fans knew about it. Maybe Booker T. and the MGs had better press, but at least they got recognized while the Meters never supplied that one moment of genuine glory.

Randy Newman

Background: With a career going on a half-century long, singer-songwriter Randy Newman is a musical institution. By the mid-1960s, he was already penning hits for artists such as Jerry Butler, the Fleetwoods, and Gene Pitney before he released his debut album in 1968. That early reputation as a writer pegged Newman as a singer-songwriter, one like Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, and Joni Mitchell, whose compositions proved to be as successful for other artists as for themselves. In truth, Newman was poles apart from that openly confessional style. Hunched behind his piano instead of a guitar, Newman did not sing about himself, at least not directly, nor did he spill a lot of words. His terse, understated, but finely-drawn observations, overwhelmingly in the third person, concealed his droll irony until after the final note evaporated, leaving the listener to turn around to gape at the sly songster already halfway out the door.

Beginning with his 1968 debut, Newman released a series of albums through the early 1980s before concentrating on film scores; he came by that work honestly, as he comes from a family of cinematic composers, arrangers, and conductors (check Turner Classic Movies sometime to see how often a Newman crops up in the film credits). Both 12 Songs ("Suzanne," "Lucinda," "Mama Told Me Not to Come") and Sail Away (the title song, "You Can Leave Your Hat On," "Political Science") are essential rock albums, and many of the rest from this period are not too far behind although his biggest hits are the seemingly-trite "Short People" and "I Love L.A." Even in appearance Newman looks to be the antithesis of the rock musician—he looks more like the label executive—but his songs have been covered by acts from Three Dog Night to Joe Cocker to Linda Ronstadt to Bonnie Raitt to Harry Nilsson (who recorded an entire album of Newman's songs), with Newman himself providing the wryest commentary on the Rock Era than anyone else.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? Yes. This is the year for Randy Newman. The Hall loves singer-songwriters, and all the significant ones from the classic-rock period—even Leonard Cohen, Laura Nyro, and Tom Waits—have been inducted already, so now it is Randy Newman's turn. And it is about damn time.

Would I vote for the artist? Yes. In a heartbeat, for reasons I have already detailed at great length in a previous column.

N.W.A.

Background: Sometimes the history of the Rock Era is punctuated by artists whose moment was brief but enduring, altering the course of the music irrevocably even though the artist's presence was fleeting. Bill Haley, the Sex Pistols, and Grandmaster Flash were such artists, and so was the hip-hop group N.W.A. Short for Niggaz wit Attitudes, N.W.A. wasn't the first gangsta-rap act—Schoolly D delivered the first truly graphic street-level vignettes (such as "PSK—What Does It Mean?), although Hall of Fame recognition for him is non-existent; first is not always lasting—but N.W.A. did deliver the definitive tract for the genre, Straight Outta Compton, N.W.A.'s second album which has influenced countless acts while spawning the solo careers of Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, and Ice Cube. "Straight Outta Compton" is a gripping statement of purpose while "Gangsta Gangsta" details inner-city life in ambiguous terms and the notorious "Fuck tha Police" is a landmark challenge to authority that eerily presaged the 1991 Rodney King beating in Los Angeles and the subsequent rioting following the acquittal of the four L.A. police officers charged with the beating.

And that was it for N.W.A. Its first album was a tepid exercise that could hardly predict the impact Compton would have, and its releases subsequent to that quickly became uninspired and parodic. Furthermore, internal disputes ensured that N.W.A. would not last long, with Dre and Ice Cube embarking on substantial careers while Eazy-E, who also went solo, died in 1995. By that time, gangsta rap had become the dominant hip-hop genre while exerting a fascination throughout contemporary music and pop culture in general. N.W.A. had ratcheted up the stark storytelling of Grandmaster Flash and Run-D.M.C. while echoing the bluntness of rock's hardcore underground, and pushed the Rock Era into a graphic, profane existence. Like it or lump it, you cannot ignore it.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? No. Not this year. With Public Enemy making its debut on the ballot this year, I think voters are going to opt for the less controversial hip-hop act and give N.W.A. a pass this time. Hip-hop is still a contentious form for the "Rock and Roll" Hall of Fame, and I don't see voters extending such a wide embrace just yet.

Would I vote for the artist? Yes. Although N.W.A.'s legacy amounts to only one album, its impact is what matters, and the band redirected the course of hip-hop, with a corresponding ripple effect on other musical and cultural forms, as a result of it. N.W.A. is the hip-hop equivalent of the Sex Pistols, and it will be interesting to see, if it is elected, if the group regards its election as a "piss stain" as well.

Procol Harum

Background: The Beatles might have popularized classical flourishes in mainstream rock, but it took Procol Harum to realize the first genuine blending of rock and classical forms, and in the process it pioneered symphonic rock. Not content with merely underpinning a rock song with strings ("Eleanor Rigby"), which R&B and soul acts had been doing since the 1950s anyway, Procol Harum went for baroque on its smash 1967 single "A Whiter Shade of Pale," combining the Bach-inspired arrangements of pianist Gary Brooker and organist Matthew Fisher, the Southern soul pleading of singer Brooker—one of the most underrated singers in classic rock—and the psychedelic-Chaucer lyrics of Keith Reid, whose literary erudition only occasionally lapsed into pretense. Buttressing the band's cathedral-like sound were the supple time signatures of drummer B.J. Wilson and the bluesy but tasteful wailing of guitarist Robin Trower.

Arguably, the band showed its playing cards too soon because it never had a hit as big as "Whiter Shade" although it released a clutch of excellent albums through the early 1970s that culminated with A Salty Dog and its raft of standout tracks, including the title song, "Wreck of the Hesperus," "The Milk of Human Kindness," and "Boredom." Then Fisher left and Procol began to rock out more often (Reid collaborating both on Brooker's "Simple Sister" and Trower's "Whiskey Train," easily on par with any British blues-rock, and presaging his solo career), although a live album with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra proved to be the band's highest-charting U.S. album, spawning a hit single with a reworked "Conquistador," originally from the debut. Soon Trower was gone, and Procol staggered on to the late 1970s, but it left behind a progressive-rock legacy that demonstrated how the grandeur and complexity of classical forms could be incorporated into a rock base without pomposity or excess.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? No. "A Whiter Shade of Pale" is a landmark single, and Hall voters have elected artists whose mark on the popular consciousness was similarly as fleeting. However, Hall voters still seem to be enamored of the Noble Savage theory of rock, and bands that pushed beyond three-chord rock but couldn't sell it sufficiently, as is the case with Procol Harum, have gotten passed over on a regular basis.

Would I vote for the artist? Yes. Progressive rock could be awe-inspiring in its pretentiousness and overkill (Yes; Emerson, Lake, and Palmer), but Procol Harum at its best could fashion intricate arrangements with varied textures without swamping the listener in virtuosity, although it never abandoned its rock and soul underpinning. A key progressive-rock icon.

Public Enemy

Background: It is hard to overstate the importance of Public Enemy, not just as one of the greatest hip-hop bands but as one of the great bands of the Rock Era. Hip-hop had discovered its social and political consciousness by the time Public Enemy arrived on the scene in the late 1980s, but PE combined a social and sonic message that exploded from the speakers and refused to take no for an answer. Chuck D was one of the most commanding MCs to rock the mike, with Flavor Flav a canny comic foil, while DJ Terminator X supplied imaginative cuts and scratches in a rich, resonant production atmosphere generated by Hank Shocklee's peerless Bomb Squad.

Granted, PE's debut Yo! Bum Rush the Show, despite Vernon Reid's blistering guitar licks, seldom strayed from standard rap poses ("Sophisticated Bitch," "Miuzi Weighs a Ton") although "Rightstarter (Message to a Black Man)" and "Timebomb" pointed the way to It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. An essential album not just of hip-hop but of the post-punk era, Nation of Millions bristles with brilliant manifestoes from "Don't Believe the Hype," "Bring the Noise," and "Prophets of Rage" to the tremendous "Rebel without a Pause" and "Party for Your Right to Fight." Fear of a Black Planet was even better, with even more intricate production and the white-hot tracks "Burn Hollywood Burn," "Who Stole the Soul," and "Welcome to the Terrordome," culminating with "Fight the Power," incisive commentaries all. The follow-up Apocalypse 91 . . . the Enemy Strikes Black kept the streak alive, particularly on "How to Kill a Radio Consultant"—continuing the media critique from Black Planet—and the pounding "By the Time I Get to Arizona," which poked sly fun at Isaac Hayes while lambasting then-Arizona Governor Evan Mecham's refusal to acknowledge the new Martin Luther King, Jr., national holiday. Subsequent albums found PE preaching to the converted, although the group kept its intelligence and integrity intact. By then, Public Enemy had already established itself as one of the premier social commentators of the Rock Era.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? Yes. Public Enemy is the strongest nominee on the 2013 ballot. Voters would have to nurse a strong animus toward the group not to vote for it.

Would I vote for the artist? Yes. Public Enemy is an essential component of the Rock Era, the hip-hop equivalent of the Clash. Bring the noise.

Rush

Background: This Canadian power trio began as meat-and-potatoes sluggers, literally pounding home its blue-collar identity with "Working Man," but when Neal Peart replaced John Rutsey as drummer following the debut album, Rush not only enhanced its instrumental expertise, it began to put on its thinking cap. Peart soon showed an affinity for the philosophical and social ideas of Ayn Rand (currently the darling of the American political right), and indeed Rush began to evince a libertarian air, albeit one tinged initially with science-fiction concepts. The eponymous half of Rush's 2112 album focused on a future society in which music was banned and transgressors punished (beating Frank Zappa to the punch by a few years), signaling the band's growing lyrical and instrumental chops as guitarist Alex Lifeson and singer-bassist Geddy Lee also blossomed as players, although Lee's banshee vocals remain a Rush trademark, for better or for worse.

2112 opened the door for a string of albums that defined Rush's heyday from the late 1970s through the mid-1980s, each containing mounting evidence that the band was becoming more comfortable with its smug elitism and social engineering: "Closer to the Heart" (from A Farewell to Kings), "The Trees" (Hemispheres), "Freewill" (Permanent Waves), "Tom Sawyer" (Moving Pictures), "New World Man" and "Subdivisions" (both from Signals) all stipulated a social order that positioned the band on top while whining about it in the rock stars' plaint "Limelight." Listeners didn't seem to mind, perhaps because Rush's pounding dynamics wedded to its cool technical expertise became a progressive-metal touchstone, and because songs like the thoughtful "Red Barchetta," the compelling "Distant Early Warning," and the whirling "The Spirit of Radio," one of rock's great radio songs, exemplified both the band's brains and brawn. All of them garnered Rush a devoted fan base, and the band has continued to play to that base, updating its sound while maintaining its core approach, ever since.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? Yes. Throughout its voting existence, the Hall has shown significant antipathy toward progressive rock unless the prog-rocker has proved to be a major commercial success (for example, Pink Floyd and Genesis). Not only has Rush been an album-oriented-rock staple for three decades, it is also considered to be as much a hard-rock/heavy metal band as a progressive one, and although the Hall's voting record for hard rock and metal is only marginally better, the factors seem to favor Rush this time out.

Would I vote for the artist? Yes. Rush for me is truly "on the bubble" as a Hall of Fame-worthy act: Its accomplishments are ultimately middlebrow but they are not insignificant, and with its long track record of consistent professionalism and popularity, Rush is better qualified than a number of acts already enshrined in the Hall.

Donna Summer

Background: Never a gifted singer, Donna Summer was nevertheless an effective one, and in her primary genre, disco, which thrived on faceless anonymity, Summer was a conspicuous—and pleasing—face to the music. Beginning as the singer for German producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, Summer nearly pigeonholed herself as a racy novelty with 1975's lengthy "Love to Love You Baby" that featured Summer's steamy moans and groans. Although a shortened version became a huge single, it took Summer a couple more years before she had a hit that big again, but when she did strike gold with the ahead-of-its-time "I Feel Love," the floodgates opened: The singles "Last Dance," "MacArthur Park," and "Heaven Knows" all made at least the Billboard Top Five, and Summer's 1979 album Bad Girls yielded a pair of outstanding chart-toppers, the sultry "Hot Stuff" and the bittersweet title track, along with the Number Two "Dim All the Lights." Summer's hot streak continued when her duet with Barbra Streisand, "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)," also went to Number One, and she closed out the decade with another hit, the touching paean to the airwaves "On the Radio."

Although disco had cooled as the 1980s began, Summer proved to be adaptable. Indeed, Bad Girls had already incorporated strong rock and R&B elements into its disco core, and her 1980 album The Wanderer, another Moroder-Bellotte production, also saw her blend styles into a forward-looking sound, as the title song and "Cold Love" demonstrated. Summer subsequently scored another big hit with 1983's "She Works Hard for the Money," a gender and class anthem conspicuous for appearing—and becoming a hit—during the Reagan years, although her career cooled from that point on. But Summer had been a reliable workhorse for a decade, becoming the de facto "Queen of Disco" in the 1970s before delving into 1980s synth-pop, which her earlier collaborations with Moroder and Bellotte, notably "I Feel Love," had anticipated anyway, paving the way for electronica and subsequent dance-oriented styles. Summer rightly takes her place as one of the pop divas of the Rock Era.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? Yes. It is unfortunate to say it, but Donna Summer's death this year might be the impetus to spur voters to elect her to the Hall of Fame. She has been on the ballot for four of the last five years, and the voters will have to settle for a posthumous election this year.

Would I vote for the artist? Yes. Donna Summer has been on my short list of legitimately, and unfairly, overlooked Hall of Fame artists for some time. Disco is an indelible period in the Rock Era, and not only did Summer epitomize that period, she forged a career after its heyday. Her contributions are worthy of the Hall of Fame.

Voting Summary

The table below summarizes the 15 nominees for 2013 by how I think the Hall voters will vote and by how I would vote were I eligible to do so.
 

2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominees

Nominee

Hall Vote

My Vote

Yes

No

Yes

No

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band

 

X

 

X

Chic

 

X

X

 

Deep Purple

 

X

 

X

Heart

 

X

 

X

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

X

 

 

X

Albert King

X

 

 

X

Kraftwerk

X

 

X

 

The Marvelettes

 

X

 

X

The Meters

 

X

 

X

Randy Newman

X

 

X

 

N.W.A.

 

X

X

 

Procol Harum

 

X

X

 

Public Enemy

X

 

X

 

Rush

X

 

X

 

Donna Summer

X

 

X

 

Totals

7

8

8

7

 

As of this writing, third baseman Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers is one home run shy of leading (or being tied for the lead in) the American League in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in (RBI). Historically, these three categories have constituted the batting Triple Crown, and it is a mark of this rarity that only 14 hitters in baseball history, 11 of those during the modern era begun in 1901, and only 9 of those during the live-ball era begun in 1920, have ever accomplished this feat, which signifies the ability to hit for average, hit for power, and produce runs. In the current sabermetrics era, both batting average and RBI are considered to be overvalued as measurements of ability and effectiveness, yet of the 14 men who have accomplished this, 12 are in the Hall of Fame. Coincidence? Let's see.

Pitching also has its Triple Crown, for (starting) pitchers who lead their league in wins, earned run average (ERA), and strikeouts, and although wins have also been discounted by sabermetricians as a measure of a pitcher's effectiveness—a "win" is composed of many factors contributed by the team—both ERA and strikeouts are still very much indicators of a pitcher's effectiveness. Last year both the Los Angeles Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw, for the National League (NL), and the Tigers' Justin Verlander, for the American League (AL), were Triple Crown winners, the first time since 1924 that each league had a pitching Triple Crown winner in the same year; not surprisingly, both Kershaw and Verlander won their league's respective Cy Young Awards, with Verlander also winning the AL Most Valuable Player Award—quite an unusual honor for a pitcher. (For the record, in 1924 the Washington Senators' Walter Johnson was the AL pitching Triple Crown winner, while the Brooklyn Dodgers' Dazzy Vance was Johnson's NL counterpart.)

There is also a high concentration of Hall of Famers among pitching Triple Crown winners, a situation that deserves examination but in a subsequent article, not this one. There is a slim chance that either the Tampa Bay Rays' David Price or the Washington Nationals' Gio Gonzalez could win their league's pitching Triple Crown, but it is not as likely as Miguel Cabrera's winning the batting Triple Crown. So, with Cabrera close to a batting Triple Crown with less than two weeks remaining in this season, it is worth examining the players and the circumstances surrounding this rare and highly coveted honor.

Hitting Dominance: The Batting Triple Crown

As of September 21, 2012, Miguel Cabrera is leading the AL with a .333 batting average and 130 RBI while trailing the Texas Rangers' Josh Hamilton's 42 home runs by one. Certainly a lot can happen in the remaining few games: Cabrera's closest competitors in batting average are Los Angeles Angels' rookie phenom Mike Trout, at .327, and the New York Yankees' Derek Jeter, at .322, and barring a significant swoon by Cabrera as both Trout and Jeter catch fire, Cabrera has some breathing room. Home runs are another matter: Cabrera is only one behind Hamilton, but the Toronto Blue Jays' Edwin Encarnation is only one behind Cabrera, with both the Chicago White Sox's Adam Dunn (seemingly a lock for comeback player of the year following his disastrous 2011 campaign) and the New York Yankees' Curtis Granderson both at 39 homers. In RBI, Hamilton trails Cabrera's 130 by seven, but the Rangers' explosive offense, capped by Hamilton's own explosiveness, could close that gap in a hurry. Otherwise, the Minnesota Twins' Josh Willingham is next in line with 110 RBI.

The last time anyone was as close as Cabrera to the Triple Crown was Albert Pujols, then with the St. Louis Cardinals, in 2010. Pujols led the NL in home runs (42) and RBI (118) although the Colorado Rockies' Carlos Gonzalez was just one RBI behind Pujols while leading the league in batting average with .336, 24 points higher than Pujols, who trailed four other hitters in batting average. Pujols has been a threat to win a Triple Crown throughout his career, coming close in 2003 when he led the NL in batting average (.359) while finishing fourth in both home runs and RBI, and again in 2009 when he led the NL in home runs while finishing third in both batting average and RBI, although his 2011 season is seen as the beginning of the currently 32-year-old's decline phase, suggested somewhat by the lowest numbers of his career while in the first year of his blockbuster 10-year contract with the Angels; barring a blistering finish, Pujols will end the season with a sub-.900 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) for the first time in his career.

All of which makes Cabrera's run for the Triple Crown that much more urgent. Cabrera is 29, at his peak but not far from his decline phase, if Pujols's experience is any indication. Last year Cabrera led the AL in batting average (.344) but finished tenth in home runs and sixth in RBI. In 2010, Cabrera's .328 batting average was second in the AL but still 31 points behind batting champion Hamilton, and although Cabrera edged out the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez for the RBI title by one (126, to Rodriguez's 125), and his 38 home runs might have been good for third place, one behind the White Sox's Paul Konerko, both trailed considerably the 54 round-trippers the Toronto Blue Jays' Jose Bautista slugged. In 2008, Cabrera led the AL in home runs with 37, beating the White Sox's Carlos Quentin by one, and while his 127 RBI was third, just behind the Twins' Justin Morneau's 129 and Hamilton's 130, Cabrera's .292 batting average was well below the league-leading .328 batted by the Twins' Joe Mauer. Throughout his career, Cabrera has nailed one of the three components of the Triple Crown but hasn't been close with the other two. Until this year. And while it is impossible to state that he will or won't be able to perform at a Triple Crown level in subsequent seasons, in this era of increasingly high talent compression that makes players "age" earlier than in previous eras, Cabrera's time might be running out.

But should Cabrera, or Pujols, win a Triple Crown, would that make them Hall of Famers?

A Hall of Fame Season: Batting Triple Crown Winners in History

Since 1901, the birth of modern baseball, only 11 hitters have ever won a Triple Crown, and all of them are in the Hall of Fame. Since the advent of integrated baseball in 1947, only four hitters have won the Triple Crown, and one of those winners was in 1947, when there was only one African-American player in baseball, Jackie Robinson, and he played in the other league from the Triple Crown winner, the Boston Red Sox's Ted Williams.

This is significant because aggregate talent has been improving as baseball matures, and ending segregation in 1947 was one way to increase the pool of talent. As overall talent grows stronger, not only does it mean that hitters face better pitchers and fielders more often, but that there are more hitters that are better; in other words, it is harder for any single batter to dominate as a for-average hitter, a power hitter, and a run-producer. The last hitter to win a Triple Crown was Carl Yastrzemski of the American League Red Sox in 1967, 45 years ago; the last hitter in the National League was Joe Medwick, who did the trick for the Cardinals in 1937—three-quarters of a century ago.

The table below lists all the hitting Triple Crown winners since 1901.

Year

Player

League

Ave.

HR

RBI

OPS+1

WAR2

1901

Nap Lajoie

AL

.426

14

125

198

8.2

1909

Ty Cobb

AL

.377

9

107

193

9.5

1922

Rogers Hornsby

NL

.401

42

152

207

10.0

1925

Rogers Hornsby

NL

.403

39

143

210

10.1

1933

Jimmie Foxx

AL

.356

48

163

201

9.0

1933

Chuck Klein

NL

.368

28

120

176

7.3

1934

Lou Gehrig

AL

.363

49

165

206

10.1

1937

Joe Medwick

NL

.374

31

154

182

8.1

1942

Ted Williams

AL

.356

36

137

216

10.2

1947

Ted Williams

AL

.343

32

114

205

9.6

1956

Mickey Mantle

AL

.353

52

130

210

11.0

1966

Frank Robinson

AL

.316

49

122

198

7.3

1967

Carl Yastrzemski

AL

.326

44

121

193

12.0


1 OPS+: On-base percentage plus slugging percentage, league- and park-adjusted, for that season. An OPS+ of 100 indicates a league-average player. Not a statistic during the players' career but included here as a retrospective qualitative analysis. (From baseball-reference.com.)

2 WAR: Wins Above Replacement-level player. An aggregate calculation of a player's contribution to his team's wins, for that season. Not a statistic during the players' career but included here as a retrospective qualitative analysis. (From baseball-reference.com.)

Some notes on the Triple Crown winners: Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams are the only two hitters in baseball history to win two Triple Crowns. Not surprisingly, both are considered to be among the greatest hitters of all time. Hornsby's 1922 Triple Crown year is particularly remarkable because he became the only man in history ever to combine a .400 batting average with 40 or more home runs in the same season. And 1933 marked the only time that both leagues had a Triple Crown winner in the same season. Chuck Klein's 28 home runs are the lowest home run total for a Triple Crown winner in the live-ball era.

Of the 11 Triple Crown winners of the modern era, 9 are considered to be among the greatest hitters of all time. Ty Cobb and Nap Lajoie are superstars of the dead-ball era, with Lajoie ranking as one of the greatest all-around middle infielders of any era. Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, and Hornsby are three of the biggest names of the first decade or so of the live-ball era, while Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson, Williams, and Yastrzemski are the marquee names of the "Golden Era" of the 1950s and 1960s. Only Klein and Medwick seem out of place among these elite players; we will examine both shortly.

The table below lists the career OPS+ and WAR of the Triple Crown winners, listed by overall ranking in each category.

Player

OPS+

Rank

Player

WAR

Rank

Ted Williams

190

2

Ty Cobb

144.9

4

Lou Gehrig

179

4

Rogers Hornsby

124.6

8

Rogers Hornsby

175

5

Ted Williams

119.8

10

Mickey Mantle

172

6

Lou Gehrig

108.5

13

Ty Cobb

168

9

Mickey Mantle

105.5

15

Jimmie Foxx

163

11

Nap Lajoie

102.2

18

Frank Robinson

154

26

Frank Robinson

100.9

19

Nap Lajoie

150

34

Jimmie Foxx

92.5

21

Chuck Klein

137

92

Carl Yastrzemski

90.1

25

Joe Medwick

134

121

Joe Medwick

52.4

138

Carl Yastrzemski

130

163

Chuck Klein

41.5

242

 

Listed in this manner, Cobb, Gehrig, Hornsby, Mantle, and Williams emerge as clearly elite hitters—among the top ten lifetime in OPS+ and among the top fifteen lifetime in WAR. All but Klein and Medwick are among the top twenty-five in lifetime WAR. Yastrzemski's last-place (in this sample) ranking in OPS+ is due to compiling 13,992 plate appearances in his 3308 games, generating a .285/.379/.462 slash line and a .841 OPS. But Yaz also amassed 3419 hits, 646 doubles, 452 home runs, 1845 bases on balls, 1816 runs, and 1844 RBI, ranking no lower than 35th all-time in any of those categories, and ranking within the top ten lifetime in hits, doubles, and bases on balls. And Yaz was elected in his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility, as was Cobb (actually among the inaugural class of the Hall of Fame in 1936), Mantle, Robinson, and Williams. (Gehrig was a special vote by acclamation in 1939 owing to his tragic circumstances.) Lajoie was elected in 1937, one year after Cobb, and Foxx and Hornsby had to spend their time on a few ballots before getting elected; in Hornsby's case, he was among the most disliked players of all time (as was Cobb, although that wasn't a factor in his election to the Hall), which must account for Hornsby's languishing before getting the nod—Hornsby's lifetime batting average is second only to Cobb's.

As for Klein and Medwick, Klein was a Veterans' Committee candidate while Medwick was elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) in his final year of eligibility. Chuck Klein was a slugging star outfielder for the Philadelphia Phillies in the late 1920s and early 1930s who in his first six seasons (1928 to 1933) led the NL in home runs and total bases four times each, slugging percentage and runs scored three times each, and hits, doubles, and RBI twice each. He had at least 200 hits in five of the six years while hitting at least 40 doubles four times and at least 50 doubles twice. Klein was the NL Most Valuable Player in 1932 when he led the league in both home runs (38) and stolen bases (20), the last man in Major League history to do both in the same season. Klein finished with a .320/.379/.543 slash line that included 2076 hits, 398 doubles, and 300 home runs while scoring 1168 runs and driving in 1201. But during this time, Klein played his home games in Philadelphia's notoriously hitter-friendly Baker Bowl; for example, more than two-thirds of his home runs hit during this period were hit at home. When Klein was traded to the Chicago Cubs in 1934, his numbers cooled, and although he was returned to the Phillies near the start of the 1936 season, he never regained that high-flying offensive prowess of his early seasons, although in 1946 he did become the first man in the 20th century to hit four home runs in one game. Klein's induction by the Veterans' Committee in 1980 smacks of favoritism, as he got all of three votes (2.5 percent) on his only appearance on a BBWAA ballot in 1948.

Joe Medwick did manage to get voted in by the writers in his last year of eligibility; like Klein, Medwick also started with a bang and ended with a whimper, although after nearly being killed by a beanball in 1940 he was never the same player as he had been in his first eight seasons. In those first eight seasons, from 1932 to 1939, he sported a .338/.374/.552 slash line while leading the NL in doubles, total bases, and RBI three times each, and hits twice. In his Triple Crown year of 1937, which saw him win the NL MVP, Medwick not only led the league in batting average (.374), home runs (31), and RBI (154), he also led the league in hits (237), doubles (56), and slugging percentage (.641). In seven straight seasons, Medwick hit at least 40 doubles and hit 64 in 1936, tied for most-ever by a right-handed batter and only three fewer than Earl Webb's single-season record. He finished his career with a .324/.362/.505 slash line, 2471 hits, 540 doubles, and 205 home runs—his 31 homers in 1937 was a career high, and he reached at least 20 in a season only two other times—while scoring 1198 runs and driving in 1383. Like Klein, Medwick played in a hitter-friendly park, Sportsman's Park, although it wasn't as pronounced as Philadelphia's Baker Bowl, and Medwick had fairly even home-road splits. Medwick is a bubble candidate for the Hall, but the writers have elected worse.

Is Miguel Cabrera a Potential Hall of Famer?

So, if Miguel Cabrera manages to win the AL Triple Crown in 2012, is this an indicator that he could be looking at an induction into Cooperstown once his career is over? As Yogi Berra would put it, Cabrera's career ain't over until it's over, but based on what he has accomplished so far, he is a possibility.

The 2003 season was nearly half over when Cabrera came up to the (then-) Florida Marlins as a left fielder and third baseman. He posted a respectable if unspectacular rookie year, with a .268/.325/.468 slash line with 21 doubles and 12 home runs in 346 plate appearances, scoring 39 while driving in 62 as he became the Marlins' cleanup hitter. Cabrera drew more notice during the postseason, particularly during the seven-game National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs (the infamous "Bartman" series) as he got 10 hits in 30 at-bats including 3 home runs, scored 9 runs, and drove in 6. Although he got only 4 hits in 24 at-bats in the six-game World Series against the Yankees, one of those hits was a two-run homer off Roger Clemens in Game Four; the Marlins went on to defeat the Yankees in six games.

In his first full season in 2004, Cabrera posted a .294/.366/.512 slash line while hitting 33 home runs and driving in 112 runs. For the next three seasons, Cabrera would drive in at least 100 runs while hitting at least 30 home runs two more times, no small feat in spacious Dolphins Stadium. In his four full seasons with the Marlins, Cabrera generated a .318/.396/.551 slash line while averaging 190 hits, 40 doubles, and 32 home runs, and averaging 102 runs scored and 115 runs batted in with an OPS+ of 147. Cabrera was still young and learning—he was in his fifth big-league season at age 24.

Then in late 2007 Cabrera was traded to the Tigers, where he switched to first base. Entering his prime years, Cabrera did not disappoint his team or their fans. In his first four years with the Tigers, from 2008 to 2011, Cabrera boasted a .322/.403/.571 slash line, averaging 189 hits, 41 doubles, and 35 home runs, and averaging 101 runs scored and 115 runs driven in while posting an OPS+ of 157. He has come within five hits of 200 four times already, and with 190 hits as of September 21, 2012, with 13 games left to play, he could reach 200. He is also two doubles shy of 40, which he has reached four times previously. He led the AL in home runs with 37 in 2008, in RBI with 126 in 2010, and in batting average with .344 in 2011, with a very good chance to lead all three categories in 2012. Cabrera's 2012 performance is informed by his move, after four seasons, back to third base to make room for Prince Fielder at first.

At age 29, Cabrera is a career .318/.395/.562 hitter with 1787 hits, 384 doubles, and 318 home runs, with 953 runs and 1114 RBI while posting a 151 OPS+ and generating a 44.0 WAR. Cabrera's counting numbers are fast approaching Chuck Klein's for Klein's entire career while Cabrera's qualitative measures, from slash line to OPS+ to WAR, match or surpass Klein's and Medwick's, keeping in mind that Cabrera is playing in an era of talent compression that both Klein and Medwick did not have to face.

Albert Pujols flirted with the Triple Crown on at least three occasions earlier in his career, and while it is not impossible for him to have another stellar year while with the Angels, it is not likely as he will be in his age-33 year in 2013, piling up more counting stats as he enters the twilight of his Hall of Fame career. His career .325/.415/.609 slash line will fall to some degree but he will add to his 2230 hits, 498 doubles, 475 home runs, 1371 runs scored, and 1425 RBI, and although his 168 OPS+ will likely fall, he will boost his 88.4 WAR—already 27th among position players all-time, 40th among all players all-time—before calling it quits.

If Pujols's career is any model for Cabrera, he has two more seasons before age begins to take its toll. Like Pujols, Cabrera can still be a contributor in his twilight seasons—but unlike Pujols currently, Cabrera can still enjoy his prime, at least for a couple more seasons. However, Cabrera seems to be closer to the Triple Crown this season than Pujols had been in previous seasons. The last few games of the 2012 season are going to be exciting to watch as Cabrera and Josh Hamilton, with Edwin Encarnation, Adam Dunn, and Curtis Granderson hot on their heels, swing for the fences to determine who will lead the American League in home runs—and if it is Miguel Cabrera, it will in all likelihood make him the first batting Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967, long before Cabrera, Pujols, Hamilton, and the rest were even a twinkle in their fathers' eyes.

Winning the batting Triple Crown is not a guarantee that a hitter will get into the Hall of Fame. But each of the 11 hitters in the modern era who has accomplished the feat has gone into the Hall. The qualifications of Chuck Klein and Joe Medwick can be disputed, but the other nine are hard to discount. (For the record, the three who won Triple Crowns in the pre-modern era are Paul Hines, who hit .358 with 4 home runs and 50 RBI in 62 games for the National League Providence Grays in 1878; Tip O'Neill, who hit .435 with 14 homers and 123 RBI in 124 games for the St. Louis Browns, then in the American Association League and thus not part of the existing two-league system, in 1887; and Hugh Duffy, who hit .440 with 18 home runs and 145 RBI in 125 games for the NL Boston Beaneaters in 1894—Duffy was inducted into the Hall by the Old Timers' Committee in 1945.)

Only the rest of Miguel Cabrera's career will tell us if he is going to be a Hall of Famer. But his winning the first batting Triple Crown in 45 years would put him in with some prestigious company indeed.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had been inducting artists for twenty years by 2006, the first year examined in the five-year period under review here. For each of these five years, the Hall inducted five artists for a total of twenty-five, the fewest number for any five-year period to date. Yet of those twenty-five artists, only nine are clearly Hall of Fame-quality while nine clearly are not, with the remaining seven Hall of Fame-worthy acts although cases should be made for each. Once again, we see the Hall of Fame making inductions with a lack of discernment.

In Part 1 of this series, I evaluate the first five years' worth of inductees, which include the founding artists at the beginning of the Rock Era (circa 1955 to the present) while outlining the baselines for the audit process including the Defining Factors—innovation, influence, popularity, crossover appeal, and legacy—used to evaluate each artist. Part 2 examines the next five years' worth of artists, including some of the biggest acts of the 1960s and 1970s, while exploring the "legacy" Defining Factor in greater detail. More artists from the 1960s and 1970s are examined in Part 3, which also examines the continuing "backfilling" by the Hall of earlier artists along with a fuller discussion of my "small Hall" preference. The most recent audit in Part 4 finds the Hall inducting artists from the late-1970s—the birth of modern rock—while examining the role of "talent" in the overall assessment of the artists. One artist examined in Part 4, Percy Sledge, is clearly a marginal talent whose induction had engendered skepticism in even the most casual of music fans. Unfortunately, that lack of sound judgment by the Hall continues in this period.

Praising and Burying the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Over the course of these audits, it has been easy to take shots at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for its selections. However, this criticism must acknowledge that the Hall set out for itself a monumental task, one that hasn't been helped by its vague, expansive, and sometimes non-existent parameters and statement of purpose. Not to mention suffering the slings and arrows of countless music fans sneering at the Hall's "elitist" selections while bemoaning the Hall's "incompetence" in not selecting their favorites. Nevertheless, this task, to evaluate and memorialize the artists who have made the greatest, most lasting contributions to the music of the Rock Era, is a laudatory and—dare we say?—necessary one to our understanding of our cultural history, which in turn ultimately feeds into the much grander tapestry of civilization and humanity.

And if that sounds overblown or grandiose, consider this: As of this writing, the Wikipedia entry for Christina Aguilera cites about 75 more references than does the Wikipedia entry for Noam Chomsky, and if you instantly recognize Aguilera's name but draw a blank on Chomsky's, then that suggests the pervasiveness of pop culture over more serious concerns.

I'll be honest: When I first learned that there was a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it had already been in existence for several years—and, quite frankly, my first impression was, "That sounds a bit cheesy." I was well-aware of the sports Halls of Fame, but there seemed to be a significant difference here.

Sports have had, historically, a more visible role in societies, a role that is often a representation, whether of the potential of human ability, or of the society—think of the Olympics and of how bands of athletes reflect each country—or, in an abstract manner, of warfare between societies as teams become surrogates for armies (think of George Carlin's famous depiction of football). For example, the teams of the four major professional team sports of the United States and Canada—baseball, basketball, (American) football, and hockey—represent municipal or regional pride with which the residents can identify, although the fan base for each team is certainly not limited to local support. Think of the outpouring of celebration that arose when the Boston Red Sox broke the "Curse of the Bambino" and won its first World Series in 86 years in 2004—or of the blight of rioting that erupted in normally placid Vancouver when the Canucks lost in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.

Athletes have long been regarded as "role models"—although the pure and idealistic image of athletics had lost its luster decades ago—and the admiration and idolization of athletes and athletics begins early and persists through schooling and into adulthood. It's not surprising, then, that a "Hall of Fame" for a given sport should arise to memorialize the athletes of that sport for their talents, accomplishments, and legacy. Generals and admirals get tanks and aircraft carriers named for them; baseball and basketball and football and hockey players get named to their respective Halls of Fame.

By contrast, rock and roll arose in rebellion to traditional societal attitudes, values, mores, and activities, or at least as a challenge to them, and at the very least as an alternative to the prevailing norms. Certainly mainstream society's initial reaction was one of fear and loathing, a reaction that has been repeated periodically since the beginning of the Rock Era as the music and its accompanying culture have evolved or re-invented themselves. Even in the 1980s a band such as Huey Lewis and the News could be derided as being "jock-rock" because its clean-cut, mainstream image—with "jock," slang for an athlete, indicating that it was a mainstream identification—conflicted with the dirty, rebellious image of rock and roll. (And the band's riposte? It's "Hip to Be Square"!)

So for rock and roll to then open a Hall of Fame to itself seemed to be a concession, if not an actual capitulation, to mainstream society. I don't want to sound naïve or idealistic (unrealistic?) here, because rock and roll might have maintained a rebel-outsider image but it was recognized as a lucrative entity early on, and its incorporation into society as the symbiotic "black sheep" similarly occurred early on—after all, how can you have anyone working for society (Huey Lewis and the News) if you don't have anyone working against it (the Rolling Stones)? Thus, the creation of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame seemed inevitable, yet another commodification of the music.

This is not to say that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame cannot be a worthwhile venture. As a museum, the Hall serves a necessary function: to memorialize the music and present it to the public in a structured, understandable manner. Rock and roll has been a cultural watershed since its creation in the 1950s, and its evolution, impact, and history is a legitimate subject for study and promotion. An obvious component of that is the acknowledgement of the artists that had the greatest impact on the music, which is what brought the actual induction of artists into the Hall of Fame into being.

However, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame must show greater clarity in what it considers to be the criteria that identify an artist as a Hall of Fame talent. Currently, it uses the term "musical excellence" as its benchmark—but what does "musical excellence" mean? Anything you want it to because that vague phrase can have a broad interpretation. Correspondingly, the Hall should show greater discrimination regarding which artists are inducted into the Hall. As we have seen throughout these audits—and this current audit is no exception—several artists currently inducted are at best marginal talents and some are clearly substandard. (I say "should show" and not "must show" because I am a "small Hall" proponent who believes that the bar for inclusion should be high, although this is not a unanimous position—but even a "big Hall" proponent would object to some of the artists included already.) Finally, the Hall must define what it considers to be "rock and roll." This has proved to be a catchall term during the Rock Era, and with country, reggae, and, as we will see in this audit, even jazz artists inducted as "rock" performers, the term has no specific meaning.

These precepts have informed my previous audits and that has continued to be the case with this current audit, as it will be for the final audit, Part 6, that will bring us up to last year's inductions. As with the previous audits, the conclusions I've drawn are ultimately subjective although I continue to make my best explanations for why I believe an artist should be in or out of the Hall.

2006: Likely and Unlikely Choices

5 Inductees: Black Sabbath, Blondie, Miles Davis, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Sex Pistols

Yes: Black Sabbath, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Sex Pistols

Borderline Yes: Miles Davis

No: Blondie

Of the five inductees in 2006, two can be said to be seminal artists: Black Sabbath was not only a formative influence on heavy metal but also on post-punk and hardcore acts, while the Sex Pistols, although a short-lived punk band, made history by forcing the transition from classic rock to modern rock. It wasn't the first Southern rock band, but Lynyrd Skynyrd came to exemplify the genre while taking its place as one of the top American rock bands of the 1970s. Those three acts are no-doubt Hall of Fame inductees, but the remaining two invite comment. Miles Davis remains one of the greatest jazz artists ever—but what is he doing in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? His invention of fusion owed its development to rock and soul, and his induction is sly—albeit controversial—acknowledgement of this fact. Meanwhile, Blondie became the most pop-oriented of the CBGB acts of the mid-1970s, but the band could never transcend its influences and is too derivative for inclusion in the Hall.

Heavy Credibility: Black Sabbath, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Sex Pistols

Hard-charging 1970s guitars identify the three sure-fire inductees for 2006 although Black Sabbath, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the Sex Pistols are from three different sectors of the rock and roll map. Yet each also had to overcome a certain degree of prejudice. With its crude, primitive proto-heavy metal, Black Sabbath was ridiculed during its early career even as it provided the seedbed for countless post-punk hardcore and metal acts. Sometimes dismissed as exemplars of Southern chauvinism, Lynyrd Skynyrd not only had solid musical credentials but, more importantly, a smart lyrical outlook that belied regional typecasting and enabled Skynyrd to become one of the best American rock bands of any genre. As for the Sex Pistols, their id-driven rebellion harkened all the way back to the advent of rock and roll, changing its course in the process. The Hall would be sorely lacking without any of them.

Black Sabbath: Who could have foreseen that Black Sabbath would become such a huge influence? Emerging from England around the same time as Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, this proto-metal quartet lacked the vision of the former and even the technical ability of the latter, inviting critical derision from the start. Yet lurking in the recesses of Sabbath's first two albums were the building blocks for a broad swath of post-punk hardcore and heavy metal from Black Flag to Faith No More to Metallica. "Black Sabbath" and "N.I.B.," from the eponymous debut, displayed demonic flirtations picked up by the likes of Danzig and Slayer, while Slayer accelerated Sabbath's sludgehammer riffs to create speed-metal. The follow-up Paranoid was even more influential with the compelling title track, early Sabbath's most accessible song, the fearsome "War Pigs," the deathless "Iron Man," and the incomparable (incomprehensible?) "Fairies Wear Boots." Black Sabbath's rudimentary talent fueled the abrasive minimalism that erupted by the late 1970s, although by then singer Ozzy Osbourne had been fired. As the 1980s began, Sabbath mutated into Rainbow thanks to replacement singer Ronnie James Dio, not to mention Martin Birch's homogenized production ("Sounds like Rainbow!" "Wait, it's Deep Purple!" "No, it's Whitesnake!"), although that pop sheen did get Sabbath noticed again (Heaven and Hell). No matter, because "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath," "Children of the Grave" (check out that drum clatter!), and even the primitive ballad "Changes" were already spawning countless downtuned hardcore and metal acts. What can you say? Those are Hall of Fame credentials.

Lynyrd Skynyrd: With three guitars wailing songs about whiskey and women—not to mention its signature song "Sweet Home Alabama"—against the backdrop of the Confederate flag, Lynyrd Skynyrd seemed to conform to any number of Southern stereotypes. But you don't have to dig too far below the surface to see that, as the band might put it, "there are things goin' on that you don't know." Formed in the wake of the Allman Brothers Band, Skynyrd eventually came to epitomize Dixie rock—and, again, that is not a slight—with robust riffs and taut rhythms and its share of down-home poses ("You Got That Right," "Don't Ask Me No Questions") and shaggy-dog tales (the hilarious "Gimme Three Steps" and the equally wry "What's Your Name?") that echoed country influences along with the occasional big ballad ("Tuesday's Gone"). But there were indeed things going on with singer and songwriter Ronnie Van Zant and the band: "The Ballad of Curtis Lowe" was simply compelling storytelling, as was "Was I Right or Wrong?," while the evocative drug tale "The Needle and the Spoon" bristled with lightning licks and leads. Meanwhile, the pistol-cracking "Saturday Night Special" is the hippest gun-control song you're likely to hear—and how's that for defying stereotype? Then there's the transcendence of "Free Bird" and its miles of guitars—it might be overexposed but it still packs a wallop. And when quicksilver guitarist Steve Gaines joined the band, he whipped Skynyrd into an even leaner machine; 1977's Street Survivors fairly shook with gems like "I Know a Little," "I Never Dreamed," and especially the propulsive "That Smell," and Skynyrd truly became a top-flight American rock band, transcending genre. Then the band's tour plane crashed—because it ran out of gas—and Lynyrd Skynyrd was never the same. But what it accomplished in the 1970s is worthy of the Hall.

The Sex Pistols: It is entirely appropriate (and predictable) that the Sex Pistols should have refused their induction into the Hall of Fame—the very concept behind the Hall is what spurred the band into existence in the first place. The delightful paradox is that its defiance and truculence is an aspect of Rock Era history that must be memorialized. The Sex Pistols of course spearheaded the punk rebellion that marked a schism in rock music matched previously only by Elvis Presley and the Beatles. They weren't the first, or even the best, but they were the most sensational, spitting in the face of the music and the society that spawned it and them. Their debut single, the epochal "Anarchy in the U.K.," was banned from British radio, prompted their record label, EMI, to dump them (in turn prompting the band to record the blistering "EMI"), and still became a hit. Their next single, "God Save the Queen," raised the stakes even higher while declaring the state of post-imperial Britain—a "fascist regime"—in unequivocal terms: "No future for you" sneered singer Johnny Rotten while bassist Sid Vicious postured and guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook—the musical half of the band—pounded out a barbed, raucous din that also included "Pretty Vacant," the amazing "Holidays in the Sun," in which Rotten peers over the Berlin Wall only to see the inhabitants on the other side staring back at him, and "Bodies," whose anti-abortion stance is unexpected and surprising. And that's it—the band soon self-destructed. Despite a string of posthumous releases, the Pistols produced only one official album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols, and even that had filler. But it was enough of a "piss stain" to alter the course of the Rock Era and warrant the Sex Pistols' induction—even if they could care less.

Influence in the Other Direction: Miles Davis

Although snippets of jazz flavored rock and soul during its early development, jazz did not have the widespread impact and influence as did blues, country, and rhythm and blues. However, rock and soul did have an influence on jazz, and this is why I think that Miles Davis, arguably the most controversial inductee into the Hall of Fame, was inducted—and deserves to be inducted: Parsing the Hall's own statement that it recognizes " the contributions of those who have had a significant impact on the evolution, development and perpetuation of rock and roll," Davis was the first jazz musician to openly acknowledge rock, incorporate it into a jazz setting, and thus perpetuate its influence—indeed, its dominance in the market—in another form. Rather than jazz being an influence into rock and soul, it was the influence from rock and soul into jazz that is significant in Davis's induction.

Trumpeter, composer, and bandleader Miles Davis is not only one of the most important figures in jazz history, he is a leading figure in 20th century music. Davis began in bebop in the late 1940s before becoming a seminal proponent of post-bop, cool jazz, and modal jazz throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Then, in 1969, Davis released a pair of albums, In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, on which he used rock rhythms in a jazz setting. Beat and rhythm are the engines of both jazz and rock, and listeners can immediately feel the difference between the "side to side" swing of jazz from the "up and down" thrust of rock. For Davis to essentially replace the traditional jazz engine with rock's was a radical, and controversial, move, one that caused an uproar among jazz traditionalists.

However, it was an innovative move that had a profound influence on the musicians with whom he made those two albums. Just about every one of them formed a fusion band after working with Davis: Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul formed Weather Report; Chick Corea and Lenny White formed Return to Forever; John McLaughlin, Tony Williams, and Larry Young formed Lifetime before McLaughlin then left to form the Mahavishnu Orchestra; and Herbie Hancock and Bennie Maupin formed Hancock's Headhunters. Although Weather Report stayed closest to jazz, at least initially, the others were quick to embrace rock and funk as they upped the volume. And while fusion quickly turned bombastic, the initial wedding of power and virtuosity was exhilarating, and remains so for the best fusion. It also proved influential on subsequent rock performers from Jeff Beck to the Dixie Dregs and even Megadeth, while in recent years Corea and McLaughlin have formed the fusion supergroup Five Peace Band that included rock and jazz drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and featured Davis's "In a Silent Way/It's about That Time" in its repertoire.

Through Miles Davis, jazz in essence helped to perpetuate rock and roll by incorporating it into jazz's vocabulary to such an extent that it altered jazz's own development. A generation of jazz musicians became rockers of sorts, and the two forms, which had only been nodding acquaintances until Davis's fusion, became intertwined ever since. Miles Davis's induction is the Hall's canny way of citing the supremacy of rock by noting that even jazz had to bow to its prominence.

Style over Substance: Blondie

Given its overt pop sheen, you might forget that Blondie had its roots in New York's CBGB milieu that spawned the Ramones, Patti Smith, and Talking Heads. Early songs like the swaggering "Rip Her to Shreds" displayed a punk cattiness while the manic "Attack of the Giant Ants" sported a carefree wackiness the band would hardly approach again, although its invasion-from-space theme would re-emerge later in "Rapture." And although "X Offender" had a similarly offbeat tale, it and "In the Flesh" revealed Blondie's penchant for 1960s pop, particularly the girl groups, while "(I'm Always Touched by Your) Presence Dear" recalled the British Invasion. Already gathering steam in Europe, Blondie became international superstars with 1978's Parallel Lines, which yielded the disco-crossover hit "Heart of Glass" and the exuberant stalker anthem "One Way or Another" along with the mock-coquettish "Sunday Girl," which faintly recalled the Velvet Underground (or at least its original singer Nico).

At this point singer Deborah Harry couldn't help but emerge as the band's focal point: With her stunning looks, complete with platinum-blonde hair, and the casual disdain for conventional romance she tossed off in "Heart of Glass"—although she would sound sincere enough in later songs like the winsome "Dreaming" while sounding ardent enough in "Call Me," the propulsive hit from the film American Gigolo—it was hard to take seriously the advertising claim by the band's record label, Chrysalis, that "Blondie is a group!" Blondie might indeed have been a group, one driven by powerhouse drummer Clem Burke, but as the surf-tinged "Atomic" showed, it was a group that seemed unable to transcend its influences and produce more than just pop pastiche with New Wave attitude. Not that Blondie stopped plundering other sources: The grandiose "Europa" fumbled to express Americans' relationship to their cars in a manner suggesting Kraftwerk's "Autobahn" while "Rapture" and "The Tide Is High" gamely (lamely?) embraced rap and reggae, respectively.

Then guitarist Chris Stein became seriously ill, prompting wife Harry to care for him, and Blondie ceased operations for nearly two decades. (Stein eventually did recover from his rare autoimmune disease.) Had it continued to record in the 1980s, could Blondie truly have created a distinctive pop style that was more than just the sum of its influences? It's a rhetorical question, of course, and based on the existing record, Blondie might have been a commercially successful pop stylist at the birth of New Wave, but it is not a Hall of Fame-caliber act.

2007: No Misfires

5 Inductees: Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, R.E.M., the Ronettes, Patti Smith, Van Halen

Yes: Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, R.E.M.

Borderline Yes: The Ronettes, Patti Smith, Van Halen

No: None

The Hall of Fame looked solid in 2007—all five of its inductees are worthy ones. Two of those, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and R.E.M., are pioneers in their forms: hip-hop and alternative rock, respectively. Of the remaining three, Van Halen has the name recognition earned from its auspicious debut, although much of the band's output was middling material, forcing a long look before getting the nod. One of many girl groups, many of which had only fleeting moments of glory, the Ronettes distinguished themselves enough to merit induction, thanks in large measure to singer Ronnie Spector. As much a female pioneer as Brenda Lee and Janis Joplin, Patti Smith's reputation as the Godmother of Punk belies her marginal commercial status. It was a year of no misfires for the Hall.

Modern Rock and Hip-Hop Pioneers: Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, R.E.M.

Each in its own way, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and R.E.M. shaped the course of its respective musical form, the former giving social weight to burgeoning hip-hop while the latter created the template for alternative rock of the modern-rock era. Grandmaster Flash had a brief life span but its contributions were indeed seminal, influencing numerous subsequent acts. By contrast, R.E.M. endured for three decades, developing a more complex musical approach while retaining its mellifluous appeal, and becoming one of the landmark rock bands of the Rock Era. Both groups have easily earned their places in the Hall of Fame.

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five: If Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five had never done anything but release the epochal "The Message," they would be Hall of Famers. This landmark track, an evocative narrative of urban blight underpinned by gritted-teeth resolve, moved nascent hip-hop away from party and pussy records and toward social consciousness, imbuing hip-hop with a tribunicial function similar to folk music—plainspoken testaments of everyday struggles. Grandmaster Flash began with good-time records ("Freedom," "The Birthday Party") that featured the group's five MCs—Cowboy (Keith Wiggins), Kid Creole (Nathaniel Glover), Scorpio (Eddie Morris), Raheim (Guy Williams), and social commentator Melle Mel (Melvin Glover)—passing around the buoyant boasts and come-ons above the record-spinning and scratching of DJ Grandmaster Flash (Joseph Saddler), whose axe was his turntable and who is a pioneer of the form. "It's Nasty (Genius of Love)" upped the production level, as did the ambitious sampling of "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel," but "The Message" wedded its irresistible musical bed to a compelling rap by Melle Mel whose impact was felt from East (Run-D.M.C.) to West (Snoop Dogg) and all points in-between (Eminem). "New York New York" offered more inner-city observations with lesser returns, but the addictive "White Lines (Don't Don't Do It)" was an intriguingly equivocal discourse on cocaine and became as influential as "The Message." By this time the group was fragmenting internally, and Melle Mel became the dominant force trading on the original glory ("Message II (Survival)," "Beat Street"). However, like Bill Haley and the Sex Pistols, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five made an impact that was brief but monumental, altering pop music of the Rock Era irrevocably. That is a Hall of Fame-sized feat.

R.E.M.: Much like U2, R.E.M. developed a huge underground following that could not be contained, so it became one of the greatest mainstream bands of modern rock. And if R.E.M. didn't embrace the grand arena as did U2, it certainly proved it could deliver hit singles ("The One I Love," "Stand," "Losing My Religion") that largely retained the melodic inscrutability of its earlier alternative material. (It also delivered a couple of impressive U2 knock-offs in "Finest Worksong" and especially "Orange Crush.") Its early material, delivered with Peter Buck's chiming guitar and the rolling crest of the Mike Mills-Bill Berry rhythm section, spotlighted singer Michael Stipe's impressionistic rush of words, divorced of conventional meaning, that painted their own abstract music: "Carnival of Sorts," "Radio Free Europe," and "Talk about the Passion" were as evocative as they were obscurantist. Sharpening its musical and lyrical hooks, R.E.M. became a college-rock darling by the mid-1980s with the endearing "Pretty Persuasion" and "So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)," the engaging "Can't Get There from Here" and "Driver 8," and the enduring "The One I Love" and "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" (because "Subterranean Homesick Blues" deserves to be re-written now and then), while "(Don't Go Back to) Rockville" was simply a great modern country song, and the brawny "Finest Worksong" found the band venturing into social commentary, albeit in its allusive manner.

With Green and its hit single "Stand," R.E.M. could no longer be contained in the underground, which it wryly acknowledged with "Pop Song 89" although both the itchy "Orange Crush" and "World Leader Pretend" continued the band's broader concerns. Out of Time ("Losing My Religion," "Shiny Happy People") and especially Automatic for the People ("Everybody Hurts," "Man on the Moon") found R.E.M. with unabashed mainstream success in the early 1990s, sporting musical arrangements that were more complex than its early jangle-rock approach. The band returned to simpler, harder-rocking songs for Monster ("Crush with Eyeliner," the oddly inspired "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?"), keeping itself in the spotlight, but although R.E.M. got to work later in the 1990s with early inspiration Patti Smith ("E-Bow the Letter") while acknowledging another influence, Leonard Cohen ("Hope"), it was beginning to scramble for inspiration. More recent songs like "Living Well Is the Best Revenge" and "Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter" were quite straightforward, especially lyrically, and by 2011 R.E.M. had called it quits, with drummer Bill Berry having left back in 1997. But as one of the first bands—perhaps the band—to establish "alternative" rock as a viable, legitimate parallel to the mainstream, R.E.M. is a lock for the Hall of Fame.

Divergent Influences: The Ronettes, Patti Smith, Van Halen

Exerting influence from two ends of the late-1970s pop spectrum, Patti Smith and Van Halen are an unlikely pairing: Smith has been called the Godmother of Punk and she was certainly present at the birth of modern rock, when abrasive minimalism and a hard, frank lyrical attitude supplanted melodic richness and more optimistic lyrics, and helped to create a teeming alternative music movement. By contrast, although Van Halen stripped down hard rock and provided it with a new blueprint, it launched commercial hard rock and heavy metal of the 1980s. Meanwhile, in its continual mission of backfilling, the Hall chose the Ronettes, one of the most distinctive girl groups thanks largely to lead singer Ronnie Spector and their tutelage under producer Phil Spector, but one that exerted an influence on contemporaries and later acts alike.

The Ronettes: The girl-group phenomenon of the early 1960s was an ephemeral one yet it did exert an influence on the Rock Era; the hardest part of assessing the genre is determining which of the plethora of acts were long-lasting and influential enough to merit inclusion in the Hall of Fame. The Shirelles stood out from the pack sufficiently to be inducted in 1996; next in line are the Ronettes, and it is no coincidence that, like the Shirelles, the group derived its name from its lead singer, in this case from Ronnie Spector (née Veronica Bennett), one of the most distinctive voices of the era. (The Shirelles took their name from lead singer Shirley Owens.) Also giving the Ronettes an advantage over the competition was producer Phil Spector's vaunted Wall of Sound recording style, which gave Ronettes' keynotes "Baby, I Love You" and "Be My Baby" a deep, resonant, echoing quality that magnified the surface emotion of the song as well as the coquettish, sexy timbre of Ronnie Spector's voice. Ironically, Phil Spector's jealous hoarding of the group's material—the Ronettes had first recorded "Chapel of Love," which became the Dixie Cups' signature song—which stemmed largely from Phil's stormy relationship with Ronnie, probably kept the Ronettes from becoming even bigger than they had been. Nevertheless, the Ronettes' mid-1960s glory period made an impression on the Beach Boys, the Beatles, and even the Rolling Stones (Keith Richards became an early fan) with "Baby, I Love You," the Buddy Holly-flavored "(The Best Part of) Breakin' Up," the forward-looking production of "Born to Be Together," the surging "Walking in the Rain," and of course the irresistible pleading of the terrific "Be My Baby." As one of the very few girl groups to become both distinctive and enduring, the Ronettes belong in the Hall.

Patti Smith: Based on her commercial presence, which amounts to 1978's Top Twenty hit "Because the Night" (essentially a Bruce Springsteen cast-off) and 1988's earnest anthem "People Have the Power," singer Patti Smith appears to have at best a marginal Hall of Fame case. Moreover, as a poet and critic in addition to being a performer—her poetry readings, backed by guitarist Lenny Kaye, were her career entrée—Smith exhibited enough affectation to choke a show pony while personifying Peter Green's terse self-description from "Oh Well": can't sing, ain't pretty, and her legs are thin. Which naturally makes Smith one of the most polarizing figures of the Rock Era but one whose influence can be felt from Michael Stipe to the Smiths to Sonic Youth (as well as in her occasional contributions to Blue Oyster Cult's early-'70s work).

The keynote is "Rock 'n' Roll Nigger," in which Smith's sneering spoken verse merges into pounding rock capped by the refrain, "Outside of society/That's where I wanna be," an archetypal punk declaration. But appearing just before punk crested, 1975's Horses is Smith's greatest achievement, opening with a dramatic reworking of Them's "Gloria" and culminating with the gripping psychodrama of "Land," a twisted reimagining of Chris Kenner's "Land of a 1000 Dances" that spoke to misfits in countless high schools, with "Break It Up," "Free Money," and "Kimberly" pointing the way to modern rock. Then, after three miss-hit-miss albums, Smith effectively quit the music business to raise a family with former MC5 guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith, with only 1988's Dream of Life, featuring "People Have the Power" and the Stones-like swagger of "Up There down There," appearing during a long, fallow period. However, Fred Smith's 1994 death spurred Patti Smith back into music; she memorialized him with the mesmerizing, elegiac "Under the Southern Cross" while "1959" held similar reminiscence and "Glitter in Their Eyes," "Lo and Beholden," and especially the growling carnality of "Summer Cannibals" displayed Smith's lyrical and musical maturity. Patti Smith has always been a polarizing presence, but it would be a travesty were the Godmother of Punk not in the Hall.

Van Halen: With its 1978 self-titled debut, Van Halen wrote a brand-new chapter in hard rock. Guitarist Eddie Van Halen delivered innovative fretboard wizardry while singer David Lee Roth combined strutting rock frontman with schmoozing game-show host—he looked as if he was having a ball fronting a rock band, even if he couldn't sing for beans. Van Halen acknowledged its influences ("You Really Got Me," "Ice Cream Man") as it charted new territory ("Eruption," "Atomic Punk") and delivered anthems ("Ain't Talkin' 'bout Love," "Runnin' with the Devil") and even sensitivity ("Jamie's Cryin'"). (Not to mention the band's spawning the enduring Legend of the Brown M&M's.) Van Halen was in business. So what happened? It repeated it all ad nauseam, with a lazy reliance on covers to boot. Sure, the occasional gem emerged ("Unchained," "And the Cradle Will Rock"), but the band seemed like a one-trick pony until 1984. Just as Pete Townshend had done, Eddie discovered the synthesizer and used it to enhance Van Halen's approach, yielding the synth-driven hit "Jump" while still firing off scorching rockers like "Panama" and the John Lee Hooker/ZZ Top homage "Hot for Teacher." So then what happened? The band fired Roth and hired veteran hack Sammy Hagar, at which point the band's high school mentality truly became sophomoric (OU812, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge) as it became a corporation spitting out product. Van Halen could have been one of the great ones; as it stands now, it will have to settle for being one of the important ones, and that is enough to get them into the Hall. Which doesn't mean that this hard-rock act, like AC/DC, isn't badly in need of a decent greatest-hits package.

2008: Lady and the Tramps

5 Inductees: The Dave Clark Five, Leonard Cohen, Madonna, John Mellencamp, the Ventures

Yes: Madonna

Borderline Yes: Leonard Cohen

No: The Dave Clark Five, John Mellencamp, the Ventures

The one marquee name in the Class of 2008 was Madonna, one of the greatest names in modern pop in addition to being one of the greatest female performers of the Rock Era. Her induction is unsurprising, but the other four inductees deserve closer inspection. Leonard Cohen might at first seem to be a marginal performer, but his influence over the decades helps to push him across the line. The same cannot be said, however, for John Mellencamp and the Ventures—Mellencamp seems to have the artistic credentials, but a closer examination of those reveals a performer whose ambition exceeds his abilities, while the Ventures, who did pioneer an influential instrumental style, lacked the imagination to make that style a definitive one. The most egregious inductee this year—indeed, during this five-year period—is the Dave Clark Five, a marginal act whose popularity faded quickly and who remained all but forgotten until its induction, proving that Percy Sledge was hardly an aberration.

Lucky Star: Madonna

The most important female performer of the post-punk period, if not of the entire Rock Era, Madonna Louise Ciccione has been as polarizing a figure as Patti Smith although Madonna is Smith's very antithesis: From the very beginning, Madonna wanted to be a pop star, and she has succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. That Blond Ambition has earned her almost as many detractors as proponents, but she has been as canny as David Bowie in both sensing trends and adapting her strengths, such as a talent for songcraft that includes almost unerring taste in collaborators as well as mastery of the video message, to those trends. Peppering her compulsive pop approach has been her near-agent provocateur attitude toward sex, shocking the burghers on a periodic basis even as enough of her hits follow the standard script for romantic yearning ("Crazy for You," "Like a Prayer").

Beginning as a dance-floor diva in the early 1980s ("Everybody," "Burning Up"), Madonna channeled those energetic grooves into hits with broader appeal ("Holiday," the engaging "Lucky Star," and the melodramatic "Borderline") before releasing a trio of blockbuster singles that defined her early career: "Like a Virgin" flashed a tongue-in-cheek giddiness at new love, while "Material Girl" offered a similarly ambiguous wink at ambition, and "Crazy for You" was her first shot at a romantic ballad, with her voice, never a superior instrument, losing much of its earlier Betty Boop quality. Even better than those gems were "Papa Don't Preach," which sparked controversy with its teen-pregnancy and abortion themes, and the brilliant "Live to Tell," which packed singer-songwriter complexity into its reflection of personal resolve. Unfortunately, Madonna returned to fluffier concerns ("La Isla Bonita," "Who's That Girl") before she came roaring back with the driving funk of the empowerment anthem "Express Yourself" to close the decade.

At the same time, Madonna was pursuing an uneven film career with equal zeal, which included singles ("This Used to Be My Playground," "Beautiful Stranger," "Die Another Day") featured in high-profile films, while maintaining her standalone musical career throughout the 1990s and into the 21st century. She kept current with the house-influenced "Vogue," also a nod to gay subculture, while the steamy pair of "Justify My Love" and "Erotica" echoed trip-hop and New Jack Swing, and "Take a Bow" was simply gorgeous ballad-making. Madonna explored electronica at the end of the 1990s with the atmospheric, if slight, "Frozen" and the rave-inspired blast "Ray of Light," sustaining her club-dance reputation with the compulsive "Music" although "Don't Tell Me" found her mining Sheryl Crow territory; meanwhile, "Hung Up" harkened back to the disco days of ABBA, although "Celebration" suggested that Madonna had gone to the dance-floor well one too many times.

In the Rock Era, Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Elton John, Michael Jackson, and Madonna have been among the handful of pop artists to exert a dominant influence on their contemporaries while maintaining enormous commercial success. Thus, Madonna's induction into the Hall of Fame is hardly as polarizing as her attitude—which, if you think about it, is vintage rock and roll, anyway.

Unlikely but Undeniable Influence: Leonard Cohen

Is Leonard Cohen secretly the Godfather of Goth? Not that the singer, songwriter, poet, and novelist has a fixation on necrophilia or the undead, but his allusive, often evocative verse exudes an urbane dolefulness that, initially, must have appealed to unsmiling co-eds in flats and berets with well-thumbed copies of The Bell Jar on their nightstands. They certainly sound like the kind of women Cohen sings about in his early material from the 1960s and 1970s: the dreamy yearning of "Suzanne" describes one to a tee while "So Long, Marianne" and "Sisters of Mercy" exuded a timeless melancholy delivered in Cohen's earnest if limited singing style couched in folkish arrangements, although the opaque "Bird on a Wire" strained for poesy. Still, the frank expressions of lust and longing in "Chelsea Hotel No. 2," "Famous Blue Raincoat," and "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye" were miles away from pop's usual adolescent declarations, as was the fairly remarkable "Joan of Arc," a fascinating insight into the French martyr's final moments.

Like fellow singer-songwriters Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Jackson Browne, Cohen's songs were immediately influential, attracting cover versions by Joe Cocker, Judy Collins, James Taylor, and others, even as Cohen himself was enjoying only modest commercial success. By the 1980s, Cohen's voice, never a flexible instrument, was showing its age, but he tailored his songs to accommodate its limitations. Moreover, Cohen had grown as a songwriter—working with spare yet rich and distinctive arrangements, his lyrics were more literal and straightforward, yet pared to their essence they grew in strength. "Night Comes On" had a compelling world-weariness, as did the sly "Everybody Knows," with the punchy "First We Take Manhattan" juggling the personal and the political, while "Tower of Song" was a monument of inventive resilience and "I'm Your Man" was flat-out adult eroticism (think of its effective use in the risqué Maggie Gyllenhaal-James Spader vehicle Secretary).

In the 1990s, Cohen had developed a modern-rock sound as he continued to broach social comment ("Democracy," "Anthem") balanced by self-reflection ("In My Secret Life") while even flashing a wicked sense of humor (the hilarious yet pointed "Closing Time"). His contemporary sound was hardly desperation—remarkably, he exerted an appreciable influence on the post-punk generation. Folk-oriented musicians such as Suzanne Vega drew their inspiration from Cohen while Kurt Cobain namechecked him in the Nirvana song "Pennyroyal Tea." The best example of Cohen's influence is his 1984 song "Hallelujah," which has been covered by numerous artists including John Cale and especially Jeff Buckley, whose rendition remains the best-known. Right from the start, Leonard Cohen supplied a mature, erudite perspective—he was already thirty-three when his first album was released—in an overwhelmingly adolescent medium, a perspective that has had a lasting influence. That is the mark of a Hall of Fame talent.

Illusions of Greatness: The Dave Clark Five, John Mellencamp, the Ventures

On the surface, the efforts of British Invasion stars the Dave Clark Five, heartland rocker John Mellencamp, and instrumental rock pioneers the Ventures appear impressive: The Dave Clark Five were consistent hitmakers, Mellencamp recalls the ambition and earnestness of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, and the Ventures' guitar-driven instrumentals were highly influential. It is only when you examine the actual content of each act that their derivations and limitations become apparent. They give the illusion of being great artists, but their own unexceptional work—and in the case of the Dave Clark Five, its stunning lack of legacy—explains why none deserve to be Hall of Famers.

The Dave Clark Five: Since 1979, Rolling Stone has published four editions of its Record/Album Guide, and in none of those editions is there an entry for the Dave Clark Five. How essential can this nondescript British Invasion band be if it isn't even listed in an album guide? A historically significant band, even if its entire catalog is out of print, is listed if only as a token of recognition. The band's recordings are scarcely available now. This is a Hall of Fame-caliber act?

To be fair, the Dave Clark Five had its mid-1960s moment in the sun. In 1964, the Year of the Beatles, the quintet's "Glad All Over" dethroned the Fab Four's "I Want to Hold Your Hand" for the top of the U.K. pop charts, and the band enjoyed a string of hits in the U.S. beginning with "Glad All Over" and including "Bits and Pieces," "Because," "Catch Us If You Can" (also the title of the band's Beatles-inspired movie) and "Over and Over." The Five also became a fixture on The Ed Sullivan Show, appearing more times (18) than any other British Invasion act. A popular if barely influential act, the band petered out by the end of the decade, and to tell from the subsequent archival neglect, receded from memory like a quick fade-out. Until 2008.

These audits have concentrated solely on examination of the artistic record of each act available to the average listener. Falling outside the scope of these audits is any in-depth examination of how the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominates and selects candidates, including the full criteria for selection, who the committees and voters are, and the standards to which the Hall holds itself (beyond the broad, vague descriptions listed on its website). This examination seems overdue to determine just what kind of industry favoritism enabled the Dave Clark Five to be elected to the Hall of Fame. The selection of the Dave Clark Five seems to be as egregious as the selection of Percy Sledge in 2005—this band was not an innovator, did not produce anything beyond its bouncy if lightweight hits, and faded so quickly from memory that it hardly left a legacy. The induction of the Dave Clark Five offers yet further proof that the entire process of inducting artists into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is fundamentally flawed.

John Mellencamp: You have to give John Mellencamp this much: The singer-songwriter is nothing if not earnest. When he first began, he earnestly wanted to be a rock star. Under the name John (or Johnny) Cougar, he pursued the pop charts with a series of singles marked by aggressive appeal—"I Need a Lover" and the breakthrough hits "Hurts So Good" and "Jack and Diane." But when he decided that he wanted to be an artist, he reverted to his given surname, Mellencamp, and stalked off even more earnestly toward Bruce Springsteen's shadow. In his defense, Mellencamp's Middle America roots are genuine enough, as is his musical and lyrical ambition—"I Need a Lover" sported late-period Who dynamics while the slice-of-life pair "Jack and Diane" were memorably "suckin' on chili dogs outside the Tastee-Freez"—along with his blue-collar commitment and (faux?) heartland humility (his 1997 compilation album is titled The Best That I Could Do; aw shucks, John).

Where John Mellencamp falls is the inability of his reach to match his grasp. He struggles to convey insight into family farmers (the portentous "Rain on the Scarecrow"), the working poor (the faintly condescending "Pink Houses"), and the ubiquitous "Small Town," but his limited perspective seldom goes deeper than his song titles (the trite "Lonely Ol' Night" and the juvenile "Authority Song") while "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A." makes explicit his continuing debt to classic rock and soul. The rootsy, accordion-and-fiddle approach of 1987's The Lonesome Jubilee lent urgency and poignancy, respectively, to "Paper in Fire" and "Check It Out" while "Cherry Bomb" continued to plumb rural autobiography. The 1990s found Mellencamp waxing both gloomy (Human Wheels) and gleeful (Mr. Happy Go Lucky) as he garnered a hit duet with singer-bassist Me'Shell Ndegeocello on Van Morrison's "Wild Night," while he increased his political commitment ("To Washington") in the 2000s. (Along with Willie Nelson and Neil Young, Mellencamp is a co-founder of Farm Aid.) But as a Rock Era artist, John Mellencamp never transcended his musical pretenses and derivations, which keeps him out of the Hall.

The Ventures: In the interregnum between Elvis and the Beatles, rock and roll did not exist, at least according to the tale parents tell their children at bedtime. In fact, any number of rock (and soul) artists thrived in the early 1960s (Roy Orbison, Del Shannon, the girl groups, et al) including this instrumental quartet. Riding the wave of instrumental hits that began issuing almost from the beginning of the Rock Era, the Ventures developed an appealing formula: tight, melodic guitar figures, easy on the soloing, kicked along with a smoothly insistent rhythm. It proved to be influential on scores of rock musicians while, thanks to its loping, twanging timbre, helping to spawn surf music (from the unlikely surfing capital of Tacoma, Washington, no less). So why shouldn't the Ventures be in the Hall of Fame? Because their formula was an ultimately limited and repetitive one, and that lack of imagination keeps the Ventures from the "musical excellence" the Hall insists is its crucial criterion.

The Ventures' formula introduced its theme or mood, such as space ("Journey to the Stars," "Moon Child") or surf ("Diamond Head," "Spudnik (Surf Rider)"), before executing its simple variation on that theme. The most notable example is of course "Walk—Don't Run," a catchy rendition of jazz guitarist Johnny Smith's tune that Chet Atkins had covered prior to the Ventures, and which the Ventures subsequently updated ("Walk—Don't Run '64"). The quartet also delivered a hit cover of the "Hawaii Five-O" theme, which helped keep that initially-struggling television crime drama afloat, while "Dick Tracy" contains hints of punk riffing in years to come, and "Underground Fire" gamely essays psychedelic blues. But the excitement of the Ventures' one-idea exercises wears off quickly; musicians influenced by the sound, which itself bore the echo of Chuck Berry, used it as a springboard to more substantial explorations. Had the Ventures realized their ideas more fully, they would be Hall of Famers.

2009: No Middle Ground

5 Inductees: Jeff Beck, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Metallica, Run-D.M.C., Bobby Womack

Yes: Metallica, Run-D.M.C.

No: Jeff Beck, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Bobby Womack

The five choices for 2009 are literally black-and-white ones, although race is hardly a factor here. The two post-punk inductees, Metallica and Run-D.M.C., are pioneers of heavy metal and hip-hop, respectively, and their inclusion in the Hall of Fame is beyond dispute. The three acts that don't belong in the Hall, classic-rock guitar wizard Jeff Beck, doo-wop veterans Little Anthony and the Imperials, and classic-soul jack-of-all-trades Bobby Womack, all contributed key, even crucial pieces to the overall Rock Era puzzle, but, as with the No inductees of the previous year, a closer examination of their overall records finds them lacking the greatness of a Hall of Famer.

Modern-Day Titans: Metallica, Run-D.M.C.

Neither Metallica nor Run-D.M.C. were the first acts in their respective genres, post-punk heavy metal and hip-hop, respectively, but they both crystallized their respective genres and thus shaped their course for their contemporaries and all who followed them. Metallica not only codified thrash-metal but used it as a foundation for further development; in fact, Metallica kept growing to the point where it must be regarded as one of the great rock bands of any genre. Run-D.M.C. did not sustain a career long enough to do the same, but as the bellwether of a fledgling form, hip-hop, it established a formidable legacy all the same.

Metallica: Not merely the foremost heavy metal band of the post-punk period, Metallica is one of the top rock bands of that same period; moreover, it attained that status with little concession to prevailing trends (Load and ReLoad detractors notwithstanding). The band's early-1980s beginnings displayed standard thrash with some promise ("No Remorse," "The Four Horsemen"), which was quickly realized with 1984's fearsome Ride the Lightning and its standouts "For Whom the Bell Tolls," "Fade to Black," and "The Call of Ktulu," all, as The Trouser Press Record Guide described them accurately, "essential lessons in the science of the riff." The follow-up, Master of Puppets, polished its predecessor's ideas, but the 1986 tour-bus death of dynamic bassist Cliff Burton cast a pall on the band. It rebounded with the sprawling ambition of . . . And Justice for All ("Blackened," "Dyer's Eve"), which yielded the MTV (and Beavis and Butthead) favorite "One." That paved the path to a mainstream commercial breakthrough with Metallica, and with "Enter Sandman," "Sad but True," and "The Unforgiven" the pop world ignored Metallica only at its own peril.

Following an Odysseus-like world tour complete with a flood of live material, Metallica released Load ("Ain't My Bitch," "King Nothing"), which seemed to scale back the thunder in favor of sharper songcraft, dismaying long-time devotees. However, Metallica, as with R.E.M. and U2, evolved as it developed into a top-flight modern rock band, not simply a genre fixture. ReLoad seemed like more of the same largely because it comprised material developed around the time of Load, but it was nearly six years before the band released its next album—in the meantime, personal issues sidetracked the band. When Metallica returned with St. Anger, it seemed to be stripping its music to a raw, unfinished state that was only partially successful, although the subsequent Death Magnetic did return successfully to its thrash roots. By this time, though, Metallica had already remade heavy metal in its image more than once, influencing countless bands in the process, while forcing the mainstream to acknowledge the genre. Metallica's induction into the Hall of Fame is thus a foregone conclusion.

Run-D.M.C.: The Sugarhill Gang and, more substantially, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five might have been hip-hop pioneers, but the act that put rap on the map to stay was Run-D.M.C. The bellwether was "It's Like That"; although the title itself became a hackneyed catchphrase (overused by the band itself), the song remains a seminal street manifesto, unsentimental but witty and forceful, led by the double-barreled rapping of Joseph "Run" Simmons and Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels—the Sam and Dave of hip-hop—and underpinned by the turntable cutting and scratching of Jason "Jam Master Jay" Mizell along with the skeletal beats that stripped away the filigree and focused attention on the boasts, toasts, and roasts of the two M.C.'s, who tossed flows back and forth before diving in together. "Hard Times" and "Sucker M.C.'s" provided further social comment and dissing of competitors, respectively, while "Rock Box" provided another statement of purpose, this one with the wailing metal guitar of Eddie Martinez, an early wedding of rock and rap that proved to be equally influential.

In the mid-1980s, Run-D.M.C. not only defined a hip-hop sound but an attitude as well, even down to fashion ("My Adidas"), becoming the lightning rod for countless acts to follow. The band's influence can be felt directly in LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys (check out "It's Tricky" and "You Be Illin'," both inspirations for the Beasties), while its remake of "Walk This Way," another powerful fusion of rock and rap, cemented that crossover appeal as it revived the fortunes of the source band, Aerosmith, whose Steven Tyler and Joe Perry participated on the remake. Run-D.M.C. even found itself issuing a Christmas single ("Christmas in Hollis") while gamely attempting the gangsta rap ("The Ave."; D.M.C.'s packing a nine?) for which it laid the groundwork. But by then, the status of Run-D.M.C. as a foundational influence on modern hip-hop and rock was indisputable, making its induction into the Hall of Fame no hard times indeed.

Deceptively Talented: Jeff Beck, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Bobby Womack

All three cases of backfilling by the Hall, Jeff Beck, Little Anthony and the Imperials, and Bobby Womack can all seem like cases of overlooked talent finally getting their due. After all, Beck is one of the guitar gods of the Rock Era with a flashy, sometimes astonishing technique. Little Anthony and the Imperials enjoyed a lengthy career for a doo-wop outfit while providing a pair of pop evergreens. And versatile Bobby Womack appears at key moments during the Rock Era while forging his own career. But a closer examination of all three finds that the products of their talents do not measure up as those of Hall of Famers. They have deceived listeners into believing that they are more substantial than they truly are.

Jeff Beck: Undoubtedly one of the most dazzling guitarists of the Rock Era, Jeff Beck belongs in the Hall of Fame—as a sideman, because his lengthy record as a performer does not support it. With few exceptions, the slew of albums in the Beck catalog are little more than vehicles for his fretboard virtuosity—Beck as a composer, bandleader, and record-maker has never developed to the level of a Hall of Fame-caliber performer. After his galvanic stint in the Yardbirds, Beck hooked up with Rod Stewart and Ron Wood (as bassist) to help pioneer the sound of 1970s hard rock, but despite a strong debut album (Truth, with "Beck's Bolero," "I Ain't Superstitious," and "Morning Dew") they didn't last longer than the pallid follow-up. Beck slogged through the early 1970s supported by middling talent, producing little of lasting interest—unless you're nostalgic for Beck, Bogert, and Appice pounding out Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" (which Wonder had written for Beck) or crooning Curtis Mayfield's "I'm So Proud."

Then in 1975 Beck embarked on a lengthy excursion into instrumental rock; it's been referred to as jazz fusion, but Beck lacks the emotional commitment and even the improvisational flair to justify the jazz part. Beatles producer George Martin oversaw Blow by Blow, which is Beck's high-water mark ("Freeway Jam," "Scatterbrain," "She's a Woman") although the harder-edged Wired, with keyboardist Jan Hammer, has its moments ("Led Boots," "Blue Wind," "Sophie"). The mid-1980s found Beck reunited briefly with Stewart for a cover of Mayfield's "People Get Ready" and some contemporary flourishes on 1985's pop-conscious Flash (and a dizzying solo on "Ambitious") before ending the decade with the leaden instrumental throb of Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop. Beck's more recent stylistic forays have been hit-or-miss as he has now entered elder-statesman status. None of it adds up to an exceptional recording career; Beck really should have been inducted as a sideman, superseded in 2010 by the Award for Musical Excellence, because his output as a full-fledged performer is fundamentally lacking musical excellence.

Little Anthony and the Imperials: There are two strong reasons why doo-wop group Little Anthony and the Imperials deserves to be considered for the Hall of Fame. One is the pair of hits the group issued in the 1960s, "Goin' out of My Head" and "Hurt So Bad," that became pop standards covered by countless acts. The other is the fact that both of those songs exemplified the band's longevity, from 1950s street-corner singers helping to lead the transition to 1960s ensemble soul singing as had the Moonglows and several others. But being considered for the Hall is very different from being inducted into the Hall, and Little Anthony and the Imperials do not measure up as Hall-worthy candidates.

The Imperials were never more than a generic backing unit, but Anthony Gourdine's melodramatic falsetto etched the wails of adolescent heartbreak into the early tearjerkers "Tears on My Pillow," "Wishful Thinking," and "The Diary," although the group did lighten up a bit on "I'm Alright" and the delightful "Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop," which crossed "Louie Louie" with "Stranded in the Jungle" for its tropical flavor—and which underscores the problem with Little Anthony and the Imperials: Although they were able to sustain their career through the 1960s, it was through a reactive strategy of adapting to current trends rather than forging their own. Thus, the mid-1960s sides "I'm on the Outside Looking In," "Gonna Fix You Good (Every Time You're Bad)," and even the gorgeous "Goin' out of My Head"—a genuine pop classic—use Motown-inspired arrangements to couch the group's vocals in contemporary ambiance; by the end of the decade, they even began sounding like the Association on "I'm Hypnotized" and the thinly disguised hippie anthem "Yesterday Has Gone" even as they recycled the Moonglows' "Ten Commandments of Love," whose portentousness is ideal for Gourdine's emoting. Doo-wop might have been an overlooked genre, but despite some sterling moments, Little Anthony and the Imperials did not distinguish themselves sufficiently to merit inclusion into the Hall.

Bobby Womack: Critic Joe McEwen once likened Bobby Womack to baseball slugger Dick Allen, claiming that, like Allen, Womack's "statistics have never kept pace with his abilities." Womack has indeed delivered a number of clutch hits: His "It's All over Now" was an early Rolling Stones touchstone while George Benson parlayed Womack's instrumental "Breezin'" into a smooth-jazz hit, and Womack's own "Across 110th Street" is the third-best blaxploitation-film theme song after Isaac Hayes's "Theme from Shaft" and Curtis Mayfield's "Superfly." But Womack's actual track record suggests as much his baseball namesake Tony Womack's, a journeyman infielder who could be in the right place at the right time—namely, with the Arizona Diamondbacks for the 2001 World Series—as it does Allen's.

With the 1960s outfit the Valentinos, Womack wrote "It's All over Now" and "Lookin' for a Love" (covered, respectively, by the Rolling Stones and the J. Geils Band) before going into session work and a solo career in the early 1970s. Along with a flair for writing, Womack used his gravelly baritone voice and dexterous guitar playing to fine effect on the funk-rockers "Communication," "I Can Understand It," and the Wilson Pickett-like growler "I'm a Midnight Mover," while the ballads "That's the Way I Feel about You" and "Woman's Gotta Have It" let him flash his lover-man charm. So far, so good—Womack had several tools in his bag just as Allen wasn't a one-dimensional player (he could get on base, hit for average and power, and drive in runs). But just as Allen's weakness was defense, Womack essayed a series of well-intentioned but misguided covers, from "California Dreamin'" to "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" to "Fly Me to the Moon," that found him spreading his abilities too thinly, as did the flimsy social comment in "Harry Hippie," which still paled in comparison to Womack's jive spoken intros to songs such as "He'll Be There When the Sun Goes Down"—that's bush league stuff, like Tony Womack's abilities. Like Dick Allen, Bobby Womack is on the bubble for his Hall, but just as Allen didn't compile the big numbers to push him into Cooperstown, Womack, a jack-of-all-trades but a master of none, shouldn't have gone into Cleveland.

2010: International Overtures

5 Inductees: ABBA, Jimmy Cliff, Genesis, the Hollies, the Stooges

Yes: The Stooges

Borderline Yes: ABBA, Genesis

No: Jimmy Cliff, the Hollies

With very few exceptions, popular and influential artists of the Rock Era, particularly those recognized by the Hall of Fame, have been from English-speaking North America and the United Kingdom. However, the five inductees in 2010 featured Swedish pop phenomenon ABBA and Jamaican reggae pioneer Jimmy Cliff along with Americans the Stooges and Brits Genesis and the Hollies. Not that cultural diversity should be an automatic entrée into the Hall: As an exemplar of its era, ABBA has the credibility to belong but Cliff, despite his groundbreaking effort, ultimately doesn't have the credentials. And while the Stooges, as seminal punk godfathers, are long-overdue entrants, and the welcome to Genesis similarly recognizes often-ignored progressive rock, including the Hollies, a pleasant if lightweight 1960s pop act, is yet more indulgent backfilling.

Triumph of the ID: The Stooges

You can't blame Elektra for thinking it had another Doors (who also recorded for Elektra) on its hands, no doubt explaining the Doors-like cover photography on the Stooges' debut album. The lengthy Eastern drone of "We Will Fall" certainly had a Jim Morrison-esque flavor, while "Ann" exhibited the Lizard King's gently menacing poetic come-ons. And guitarist Ron Asheton's fuzz- and wah-wah pedals anchor The Stooges' sound in "1969," to borrow the title of the lead-off track. But that track's punchiness signals the band's reputation as punk godfathers, exemplars of rock's Noble Savage theory, with the outrageous on-stage shenanigans of lead singer Iggy Stooge (later Iggy Pop) personifying the genre's primal thrust. This was heady stuff for its time—too heady, as much of the rock audience wasn't quite ready for the pounding declarations of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" or "No Fun." Their follow-up, Fun House, was even better, the unrestrained snarl of the first half ("Down on the Street," "Loose," the inchoate paranoia of "TV Eye," and the strangled blues of "Dirt") giving way to the full-throated roar of the second half: the Chuck Berry-into-Them slam of "1970" and the frenetic avant-jazz, courtesy of saxophonist Steve Mackay, of "Fun House" and "L.A. Blues."

If their fellow Michiganders, the politically conscious MC5, were proto-punk's superego, then the Stooges were its pure id, hurtling toward hedonism with barely coherent lusts and desires. (To complete the Freudian analogy, I suppose that makes the New York Dolls the ego.) And as with the case of the MC5 (and of the Dolls), hardly anyone noticed the Stooges at the time. However, one who did notice was David Bowie, who oversaw the Stooges' third effort (for Columbia this time), 1973's Raw Power. With James Williamson now on guitar—Asheton moved to bass—and co-writing with Iggy, Raw Power brandished a metallic sheen and razor-blade lyrics that didn't let up from start ("Search and Destroy") to finish ("Death Trip"); even the album's two ballads, "Gimme Danger" and "I Need Somebody," were hardly respites from the fury epitomized by the scorching title song and "Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell," an archetypal punk sentiment. Again, though, pop audiences ignored the Stooges, and they soon folded. But enough young musicians did hear the Stooges, from the Sex Pistols to Guns 'N Roses to Nirvana, and the band became a seminal influence on punk and hardcore. That unmistakable stamp on modern rock makes the Stooges genuine Hall of Famers.

As Different as Chalk and Cheese? ABBA, Genesis

These two artists would seem to come from opposite ends of the 1970s musical spectrum: The Swedish group ABBA was a joyously pure pop phenomenon while the English group Genesis epitomized the intense ambition of progressive rock. And while each might be as different as chalk and cheese, both are worthy of the Hall. However, there is an amusing irony that links these two disparate artists: ABBA's carefree pop singles eventually went theatrical—they inspired the stage musical Mamma Mia!, which later became a film; meanwhile, early Genesis staged theatrical enactments of its material, with original singer Peter Gabriel portraying various roles, and when Gabriel left, Genesis stripped away the theatrics to become a power-pop act under singer Phil Collins.

ABBA: There is no denying that ABBA is a synthetic creation deliberately designed for world domination. Veterans of the notorious Eurovision Song Contest, this Swedish pop quartet consciously chose to sing in English specifically to appeal to American and British markets. And it succeeded as easily as melting marshmallows into your hot chocolate. For much of the 1970s, ABBA appeared like clockwork on the singles charts with its bouncy, polished arrangements, engineered by multi-instrumentalists Benny Anderssen and Björn Ulvaeus, and topped by the scrubbed, cheerful voices of Agnetha Fältskog (the blonde) and Anni-Frid Lyngstad (the redhead). ABBA's first worldwide hit, "Waterloo," might not have had much to do with Napoleon or the Duke of Wellington—although the wistful "Fernando" was indeed inspired by the Mexican revolution (take that, Al Stewart!)—but it was a driving pop pastiche, kicking off a string of exquisitely crafted singles, some, like "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do," recalling bygone pop styles with others, like "S.O.S.," mimicking operatic conventions. The ascendancy of disco also gave rise to arguably the quintessential ABBA track, "Dancing Queen," which topped charts around the world as it surged with adolescent hormones that encapsulated the Me Decade perfectly. "Knowing Me, Knowing You" and "The Name of the Game" aimed for more adult sentiments, although the inviting "Take a Chance on Me" tried to recapture earlier coquettish pleading as "Chiquitita" tried to recapture the Latin flavor of "Fernando." By the early 1980s New Wave had left ABBA's lavish productions by the wayside, although ABBA's songs inspired the late-1990s musical Mamma Mia!, the title taken from the band's 1975 hit, with a film adaptation following in 2008. (As ABBA drew to a close, Lyngstad, under her nickname Frida, released the fine pop-rock album Something Going On featuring the tasty hit "I Know There's Something Going On.") As one of the highlights of the international pop landscape in the 1970s, ABBA has earned its spot in the Hall of Fame.

Genesis: The obvious question that arises here is this: Which Genesis was actually inducted into the Hall—the ornate, intricate art-rockers under singer and drummer Peter Gabriel, or the spare, melodic pop-rockers under singer and drummer Phil Collins? The answer is of course both, but given the Hall's disinclination toward progressive rock, the band's latter-day commercial success must be seen as the Defining Factor that pushed Genesis past its contemporaries King Crimson and Yes, to pick only two examples. Not that the Collins-led Genesis is any less worthy than the Gabriel-led version because the pop songs had more appeal than did many of the grandiose earlier epics. Those epics, reflecting Gabriel's theatricality underpinned by the band's classically inspired arrangements, ranged from the martial melodrama "The Knife" to the mythological allegory "Supper's Ready" to the full-blown concept album The Lamb Lies down on Broadway, another allegory led by the surging title track, with the portentous science fiction of "Watcher of the Skies" and the class whimsy of "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)" falling in between them.

Then Gabriel left and Collins, brought in as drummer as Gabriel's on-stage acting role blossomed, became the voice of Genesis. "Squonk" might have displayed vestiges of the orchestral approach, but "Your Own Special Way" and especially "Follow You Follow Me" previewed the simpler melodies and emotions that emerged unapologetically on 1980's Duke ("Behind the Lines," "Misunderstanding") although the percolating "Turn It on Again" was part of a thematic song cycle. Throughout the 1980s Genesis used its prog-rock education to flavor its muscular modern pop ("Abacab," "No Reply at All," "That's All," "Land of Confusion") although the band's awkward attempt at social comment, "Illegal Alien," backfired while "Mama" contained puzzling Oedipal overtones. The Genesis odyssey mirrors that of Fleetwood Mac's: the original band is hardly recognizable to its later editions, yet a continuous thread—in this case, keyboardist Tony Banks and bassist-guitarist Mike Rutherford—connects them all. And like the Mac, all versions of Genesis are Hall of Famers.

Not Enough Substance: Jimmy Cliff, the Hollies

Because of his pioneering status, it is tempting to consider reggae singer Jimmy Cliff to be a Hall of Famer. After all, his star turn in the film The Harder They Come also featured prominently his songs on the soundtrack album, which was one of the first reggae albums to warrant international attention. Yet Cliff's career output rarely matched that effort, and although reggae (and ska) has informed key genres of rock and soul, its impact isn't broad enough to usher Cliff into the Hall on its coattails. The Hollies were a second-level British Invasion band that did manage to sustain their career through the mid-1970s—unlike, for example, the Dave Clark Five—but their material, the best of it admittedly well-crafted, is the filigree of its era, not the benchmark. Neither Cliff nor the Hollies have the substance for the Hall.

Jimmy Cliff: As the star of the 1972 Jamaican crime drama The Harder They Come, Jimmy Cliff portrayed a struggling reggae singer from the sticks who finds himself embroiled in the drug trade on his way to stardom. And although Cliff acquits himself fairly well in that enterprising if ultimately uneven film, it was the film's soundtrack that proved to be the revelation: The Harder They Come was the first reggae heard by many non-Antilles ears, and with Cliff featured prominently, he seemed set to be the real-life reggae star he had portrayed on camera (and, ironically, Cliff is a Muslim, not a Rastafarian). Certainly, Cliff's songs on the soundtrack—including the lively "You Can Get It If You Really Want," the yearning ballad "Many Rivers to Cross," and the brilliant summation "The Harder They Come"—belong rightly in the reggae canon. In fact, Cliff had been recording since the 1960s, and his 1969 album Jimmy Cliff was a commercial and critical success; it was re-titled Wonderful World, Beautiful People when the song of that name became a hit, as did the involving "Vietnam," which reinforced reggae's overt political thrust. But these are the highlights of Cliff's long career—he never matched this level of excellence again—and they are not substantial enough to merit inclusion in the Hall of Fame. What about the landmark The Harder They Come? Cliff's were not the only highlights; the soundtrack collects a number of seminal reggae classics including Desmond Dekker's "Shanty Town," the Melodians' beautiful "Rivers of Babylon," the Slickers' outlaw anthem "Johnny Too Bad," and a pair of gems, "Sweet and Dandy" and the urgent "Pressure Drop," from the criminally overlooked Toots and the Maytals, forcing Cliff to share his spotlight.

The Hollies: The sweet harmonies of Allan Clarke, Tony Hicks, and Graham Nash make any of this 1960s British Invasion band's hits "as pleasurable as an ice cream cone on a blistering day," as critic John Milward so vividly once put it. The problem is that even the cream of the Hollies' hits is about as substantial as ice cream and its empty calories—a moment in the ear, but not a lifetime or a career. The Hollies' early hits comprised covers ("Just One Look," "Searchin'") or songs tailor-made for the band by tunesmiths such as Graham Gouldman (the Beatles-esque "Look through Any Window," the winsome gem "Bus Stop"), all of which evinced the Hollies' considerable if lightweight appeal. Then Clarke, Hicks, and Nash began to write the band's songs, and their collective personality became stronger with the banjo-driven delight "Stop Stop Stop," "On a Carousel," the dark undertones of "Pay You Back with Interest," and the veiled bitterness of the otherwise-sprightly "Carrie Ann." The seeming complexity of the last two songs prompted the attempted artistry of "King Midas in Reverse," and its relative failure led to Nash's departure, while a post-Nash album of Bob Dylan songs proved conclusively that the Hollies were not the Byrds. The Hollies persevered to the end of the decade, though, with singles ("Dear Eloise," "Jennifer Eccles") that culminated with "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother," which neatly (if tritely) encapsulated the zeitgeist sentiment. Clarke assumed a frontman role as the Hollies entered the 1970s; the bluesy swagger of his 1972 smash hit "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress" revived their fortunes in the United States, leading to another huge hit in 1974, the often-covered soft-rocker "The Air That I Breathe." In that respect, the Hollies fared better than other second-tier British Invasion acts such as the Dave Clark Five, but the band's inclusion into the Hall of Fame is yet more unwarranted backfilling.

2006 – 2010: Coda

In its fifth five years of selecting inductees, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted 25 artists. The table below shows those 25 categorized as noted previously: Yes, Borderline Yes, and No.

Breakdown of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees, 2006 – 2010

Year

Yes

Borderline Yes

No

Total Inductees

2006

3

1

1

5

2007

2

3

0

5

2008

1

1

3

5

2009

2

0

3

5

2010

1

2

2

5

Totals

9

7

9

25

Pct. of Total

36.0%

28.0%

36.0%

100%

 

In the expansive scenario, that the Borderline Yeses are justified, the Hall falls just short of a passing grade of 65 percent (in the American school system): only 64 percent of its inductees are worthy of induction, with more than a third, or 9 of 25 total inductees, not worthy of the Hall. While 2007 was the strongest year—each of the five inductees are valid Hall of Famers—both 2008 and 2009 found the majority of inductees not worthy of the Hall.

In the exclusive scenario, that the Borderline Yeses are not justified, the Hall fails even more impressively because those Borderline Yeses, at 28 percent of the total, make the truly worthy inductees to be just over one-third of the total inductees.

This five-year period featured a number of strong candidates for the Hall, including Black Sabbath, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Metallica, R.E.M., Run-D.M.C., the Sex Pistols, and the Stooges, all of whom exerted an influence on the development of the music of the Rock Era. So did Madonna, who in terms of popularity eclipses them all although the prejudice still persists that purely "pop" artists do not belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which stems from the Hall's inability to define what exactly is meant by "rock and roll."

The borderline choices include the controversial Miles Davis, the jazz titan whose inclusion has generated considerable outcry; Leonard Cohen, considered to be a marginal choice despite an enduring influence; Patti Smith, another so-called marginal choice with a comparable influence as Cohen's; ABBA, which like Madonna is not considered to be "real" rock and roll although it was a fixture of its era; and a trio—Genesis, the Ronettes, and Van Halen—that exemplify their respective genres. The Borderline Yeses are always worthy of examination because there can be such contention over their inclusion.

However, the Nos run the gamut of acts that had substance and influence that ultimately miss being worthy of the Hall (Blondie and Bobby Womack) to acts that seemed to be substantial but fail to be convincing under scrutiny (Jeff Beck, Jimmy Cliff, John Mellecamp, and the Ventures) to unnecessary backfilling (the Hollies and Little Anthony and the Imperials) to an act that, as with Percy Sledge, epitomizes the essential weaknesses of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's entire nomination and voting processes: the Dave Clark Five.

There are just two years left to audit, 2011 and 2012, while, at the time of this part's publication, the Hall of Fame will shortly announce its nominees for 2013. Were there any artists from 2011 and 2012 who deserve to be in the Hall? And what does the future hold for the Hall, including its nominees for 2013? Tune in to the next installment to find out!
As the new millennium began, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame continued its inductions of artists from the Rock Era's past—and, unfortunately, it also continued its trend of inducting too many substandard acts that had begun in the last five-year period (detailed in Part 3 of this series). Of the 31 acts inducted during this period, only 12 are truly worthy of the Hall, and only 7 are on the borderline of qualification, leaving 12 unworthy inductees. The 31 inductees is the lowest total number of inductees of the four five-year periods—was the Hall running out of talent to induct?
After ten years of inducting musical artists, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had shown itself to have cast a broad net. In addition to inducting the expected founders and superstars from the Rock Era's first two decades, it also inducted a number of artists whose credentials were marginal. Unfortunately, that trend accelerated through this third five-year period, with only 10 of the 33 total inductees truly without question Hall of Fame acts. In this period from 1996 to 2000, that broad net scooped up many more acts that clearly justify a close audit of the Hall's inductions. How far off-base had the Hall of Fame become?
Continuing from Part 1 my folly to audit the selections made thus far by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this bite of the elephant covers the inductees from 1991 to 1995. With 37 inductees during this five-year period, as opposed to 43 during the previous five-year period, and the window of eligibility extending to acts that released their first recording through the 1960s, the Hall made some fairly sage inductions during this period.