The current debate that rages on about Curt Schilling's worthiness for the Hall of Fame is just the tip of the iceberg.
In both 2010 and 2011, Hall of Fame voters will face decisions regarding a bevy of players who boast credentials and/or reputations that make them borderline candidates, but who will nonetheless draw rabid support from hard-core fans.
Hall of Fame voters will get a break in 2012. It looks like a weak class with only Bernie Williams as a viable candidate.
The Class of 2013 shapes up as one of the most controversial. The list of eligible players includes Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, David Wells and Kenny Lofton.
For now, here's a list of the worthiest Hall of Fame candidates that loom over the immediate horizon.
Class of 2010
Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Robin Ventura, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Kevin Appier, Ellis Burks, Ray Lankford, Pat Hentgen, Todd Zeile, Eric Karros, Mark McLemore, Andres Galarraga, Fernando Vina, Mike Jackson, Shane Reynolds, Dave Burba, David Segui, and Andy Ashby.
A .300/.371/.443 lifetime hitter with 2,724 hits, Alomar was a 12-time All-Star second baseman who won 10 Gold Gloves and stole 474 bases. He amassed 210 home runs and 1,134 RBI, winning four Silver Slugger awards.
Why he'll make the Hall: Look at the numbers. They shout durability and versatility.
Why he won't make the Hall: Early in his career, nobody doubted he was building a Hall of Fame resume. An unfortunate spitting incident involving umpire John Hirschbeck and AIDS rumors will diminish his legacy in some voters' eyes.
Prediction: Alomar should be a lock for a spot in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Don't count on it, though. He'll make it on the second go around. Voters won't be able to turn a could shoulder toward him forever.
Larkin hit .295 for the Cincinnati Reds. He batted .353 in the Reds' four-game sweep of the Oakland A's. In 1995, he captured the National League MVP award.
Why he'll make the Hall: A flashy .975 fielding average and nine Silver Slugger awards, displaying ample evidence he was just as good with the bat as with the glove.
Why he won't make the Hall: He played in the shadow of Ozzie Smith, hence, he never received the credit he deserved. Hall voters were polled shortly after his retirement about his prospects. Most of them said he is borderline.
Prediction: Won't make it on the first ballot or the second. Eventually, he will have a plaque in Cooperstown.
The prototypical, well-rounded batsman, Martinez was a career .312/.418/.515 hitter over the course of his 18-year career with the Seattle Mariners.
According to the Web site abarim.com, Martinez is only one of six Major League hitters to have amassed a 300 batting average, an on-base percentage of .400, a slugging percentage of .500, 2,000 hits or more, 300 or more home runs, 300 or more doubles and at least 1,000 walks.
The others are Hall of Famers Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, Rogers Hornsby and Lou Gehrig.
Why he'll make the Hall: Martinez's offensive numbers put him in great company.
Why he won't make the Hall: Williams, Ruth, Musial, Hornsby and Gehrig, with varying degrees of success, also fielded a position. Martinez was a designated hitter for most of his career.
Prediction: Can a player be deemed immortal who was so one-dimensional during his career. Hall of Famers are prepared to ever make that leap of faith.
McGriff was a rock-steady performer, year in and year out. He was a .284/.377/.509 career hitter who belted 493 home runs and drove in 1,550 runs over an 18-year career with Toronto, San Diego, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Why he'll make the Hall:At first glance, McGriff is under the radar. He never put together a monster season, but he was consistently an All-Star and he was constantly accorded MVP consideration.
Another factor in his favor is that many of his peers, such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and McGwire's career statistics will be downgraded due to their alleged involvement with steroids. McGriff has never been suspected of foul play.
Why he won't make the Hall: Consistent, but never brilliant, McGriff's career suffers from a lack of a signature season.
Prediction: Like Dale Murphy and Andre Dawson, he will be stuck in baseball purgatory.
Gallaraga posted excellent numbers over the course of 19 seasons: .288 batting average; 2,333 hits; 399 home runs; and 1,425 RBI.
A consistent performer, Gallaraga hit 20 or more home runs in 10 different seasons and drove in 90 or more runs eight times.
Why he'll make the Hall: From 1995-'98, Gallaraga averaged 40 home runs and 129 RBI. There are several Hall of Famers who never achieved that level of production over the course of one season.
Why he won't make the Hall: Location, location, location. Gallaraga posted those lofty numbers at Coors Field.
Prediction: The sun will cool and the earth will die before he's voted in.
Class of 2011
Jeff Bagwell, Rafael Palmeiro, John Olerud, Kevin Brown, Larry Walker, Juan Gonzalez, Tino Martinez, B.J. Surhoff, Marquis Grissom, John Franco, Bret Boone, Al Leiter, Benito Santiago, Carlos Baerga, Raul Mondesi, Bobby Higginson, Wilson Alvarez, Rey Sanchez, Charles Johnson, Jose Offerman, Ugueth Urbina, Ismael Valdez, Dan Wilson, Paul Quantrill, Cal Eldred, Kirk Rueter, and Steve Reed
A career .297 hitter who belted 449 home runs and 1,558 RBI, Bagwell was selected unanimously as the 1991 National League MVP. In 400 plate appearances that year, he batted .369 with 39 home runs and 116 RBI.
Why he'll make the Hall: Among other things, a .408 career OBP; .540 slugging percentage; .993 fielding percentage; and 202 stolen bases.
Why he won't make the Hall: No World Series title and a lack of name recognition.
Prediction: A first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Brown, over the course of 19 years, was a workhorse, pitching 200 or more innings on nine different occasions. He finished his career with 211 victories and 144 losses.
Why he'll make the Hall: A tidy ERA of 3.25 and a stingy 1.222 WHIP in 3,256.3 innings.
Why he won't make the Hall: Never considered a dominant pitcher, as evidenced by the fact that he never won a Cy Young.
Prediction: Not unless the Hall lowers its standards.
Palmeiro batted .288 with 3,020 hits, 569 home runs and 1,353 RBI. Another consistent performer, Palmeiro belted 20 or more home runs 14 times and produced 10 100-RBI seasons.
Why he'll make the Hall: It's hard to argue against his candidacy, given his hit and home run totals.
Why he won't make the Hall: The taint of steroid usage.
Prediction: Until organized baseball gets a handle on the steroid debate, Palmeiro will be consigned to limbo.
Besides, do nearly 600 home runs and 3,000-odd hits mean what they used to?
The bottom line is that Palmeiro is no lock.
Walker was a lifetime .313/.400/.560 hitter. He posted his signature season in 1997 when he hit .366 with 49 home runs and 130 RBI en route to a National League MVP award.
Why he'll make the Hall: He hit over .300 eight times and he was considered an elite defensive player.
Why he won't make the Hall: Take Coors Field out of the equation and who's to say that he wasn't just a very nice, rock-solid ballplayer. His 383 home runs and 1,311 RBI are borderline Hall of Fame material.
Prediction: There are a lot of Larry Walkers in the history of baseball who will never make it into the Hall of Fame. He's iffy for enshrinement.
Gonzalez posted Ruthian numbers at times in his 17-year career for the Texas Rangers, the Kansas City Royals, the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians. He belted 40 or more homers five times and drove in 141 runs four times, including 157 en route to his second American League MVP award in 1998.
Why he'll make it: The two MVP awards are hard to shove aside coupled with the fact that he was arguably the most feared slugger of his time.
Why he won't make it: He, too, has been linked with steroids use. If he did use them, they weren't all that effective since he ended up with "only" 434 career home runs.
Prediction: He's not in the discussion and never will be.
John Franco was a consistent reliever for 23 seasons. He finished his career with 424 saves and an ERA of 2.89
Why he'll make it: His 424 saves is the fourth-best career total behind Trevor Hoffman, Mariano Rivera and Lee Smith, but he's the career leader among left-handers. He's liable to remain there for the foreseeable future unless Billy Wagner, the next closest lefty to Franco in career saves, recovers from Tommy John surgery.
Why he won't make it: Many observers believe Lee Smith is a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame and he yet hasn't been enshrined. Where does that leave Franco?
Prediction: Hall of Famer voters don't value enough the contributions of relief pitchers. Franco faces a rocky road.
Boone posted solid offensive numbers for a second baseman. During a 14-year career, he posted a .266/.325/.442 line with 252 HR and 1,021 RBI.
Why he'll make it: In three monster seasons with Seattle, Boone averaged 32 HR and 121 RBI.
Why he won't make it: Did he juice?
Prediction: No way.
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