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Originally published Tuesday, January 13, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Larry Stone

Another controversial Hall of Fame election

Bill James, the Sultan of Sabermetrics, once said famously of Rickey Henderson, "If you split him in two, you'd have two Hall of Famers...

Seattle Times baseball reporter

Bill James, the Sultan of Sabermetrics, once said famously of Rickey Henderson, "If you split him in two, you'd have two Hall of Famers."

James once said infamously of Jim Rice that he wasn't as good a player as the Yankees' far less celebrated Roy White — and laid out the statistical case to prove it.

Rickey and Rice are now eternal teammates in Cooperstown, elected to the Hall of Fame on Henderson's first appearance on the ballot and Rice's last.

Not surprisingly, there is controversy attached to each selection, and to the annual list of omissions in the voting announced Monday by the Baseball Writers' Association of America — my perpetually embattled brethren and sistren.

With Henderson, the prodigiously talented leadoff-man extraordinaire, the shock was not in his selection, a foregone conclusion since his five-year waiting period expired. Which, by the way, occurred completely against Henderson's will — he played independent league ball right up until last season, fully believing he was still major-league worthy into his late 40s. Even Monday, he refused to concede that he has officially retired.

"They said I had to be retired to go into the Hall," Henderson said, while expressing a desire to suit up again for his hometown Oakland A's. "I guess once I get inducted, they can give me a day or two to come back and it wouldn't mess up anything."

No, the shock was that 28 of the 539 BBWAA voters somehow managed to come up with justification for not voting for Henderson, who for 92 games in 2000 made the Mariners the seventh of nine teams for whom Rickey being Rickey was a glorious thing.

Apparently, being the all-time leader in stolen bases and runs, No. 2 in career walks, a member of the 3,000-hit club, a superb left fielder, slugger of 297 home runs, a pitcher-disrupter of epic proportions, and owner of two World Series championship rings wasn't quite enough for unanimity.

But, then again, nine morons didn't vote for Hank Aaron, 23 didn't vote for Willie Mays, and 11 didn't vote for Babe Ruth. Greg Maddux and his 355 wins won't be unanimous when he comes up for vote in five years, and neither will Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez or anyone else you care to mention. It's just a sad fact of the process.

And so is the inevitability that certain electees will be blasted for their unworthiness, with Rice having become the latest embodiment of BBWAA lame-brainedness by the SABR community.

As one who has opted for Rice in each of my 13 years as a Hall voter, I take the heat to heart. Trust me, each ballot is an excruciating exercise of researching and soul-searching. Guys like Rickey are easy (for those with a full set of brain cells, anyway); it's the far larger group of "tweeners" — the Alan Trammells, Dale Murphys and, yes, Jim Rices of the world — that cause sleepless nights.

I try to be as enlightened as I can; I stopped voting for Lee Smith largely because of Internet analysis that convinced me I had overvalued his candidacy. I am fully aware of the arguments against Rice — that he was one-dimensional, that his peak was too brief, that he was the beneficiary of a drastic home-field advantage, etc.

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I will not utter the phrase "most feared hitter of his generation," which has became, pro or con, the incendiary Rice catchphrase, uttered with respect or an incredulous sneer. But I still believe that for a 12-year stretch — long enough — he was a Hall of Fame player, and has the stats to prove it.

Though I instantly second-guessed my vote each year, and am not so dense I can't see (or respect) the other side of the argument, I'm still a Rice man, and still pleased that he got in.

In Rice's half-hour conference call Monday, I detected more than a hint of bitterness leaking out amid his efforts to be gracious. But then, just when he was about to spew, he seemed to catch himself and remember that this was supposed to be a day of triumph, not of grudge-settling.

"The bottom line is, it's over with today," Rice said.

Now it falls to the likes of Bert Blyleven, Andre Dawson and Tim Raines — all of whom received my support but fell short — to sweat it out in upcoming years, just like Rice did, and wonder when the BBWAA will come to its senses.

It's the never-ending cycle of Cooperstown.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com

2009 Hall of Fame voting
Player Votes Pct.
x-Rickey Henderson 511 94.8
xy-Jim Rice 412 76.4
Andre Dawson 361 67.0
Bert Blyleven 338 62.7
Lee Smith 240 44.5
Jack Morris 237 44.0
y-Tommy John 171 31.7
Tim Raines 122 22.6
Mark McGwire 118 21.9
Alan Trammell 94 17.4
Dave Parker 81 15.0
Don Mattingly 64 11.9
Dale Murphy 62 11.5
Harold Baines 32 5.9
Receiving fewer than 27 votes (less than 5 percent): Mark Grace, 22 (4.1), David Cone, 21 (3.9), Matt Williams, 7 (1.3), Mo Vaughn, 6 (1.1), Jay Bell, 2 (0.4), Jesse Orosco, 1 (0.2), Ron Gant, 0, Dan Plesac, 0, Greg Vaughn, 0, are no longer eligible for election by the BBWAA.

Note: 539 votes cast, 405 needed for election.

x-elected y-final year of eligibility for election by the BBWAA

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.
lstone@seattletimes.com

UPDATE - 10:00 PM
Larry Stone: Young pitcher Michael Pineda offers glimpse of exciting future for Mariners

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