I often wonder what it must be like to be a player waiting for induction in the Hall of Fame. There’s three kinds of players to be in this imaginary exercise. There’s the kind of player who knows they’re not getting elected, who are just hanging around for the fun of it, who are thrilled to simply be on the ballot. Then there’s the kind of player who knows they’re getting in, who is waiting on pins and needles for the call, who has probably been expecting the call for five years. What is it like to wait for a night that you know is coming soon?
And then there’s the borderline candidate, the player who had a fantastic career, who has writers stumping for them all year, who has detractors tearing their game apart on media platforms anywhere and everywhere. To honestly not know whether that call will come and your family and friends will burst into celebration…or whether the phone will linger on the table, silent, unanswered. Left alone for a year.
It’s something I think about.
Ten thoughts on the Hall of Fame Voting Results for 2016:
99.3%! That’s the highest voting percentage of all time! Out of 440 total tabulated votes (just under the predicted 450), only three writers did not vote for Ken Griffey Jr., who sails into the Hall of Fame. (I’m seriously hoping those three writers had good cause not to vote for Junior) He’s as deserving a candidate who ever existed.
I’m of the mindset that his percentage is as much a statement against the Steroid Era as anything. Many writers probably felt that Griffey was the paragon of virtue standing in opposition to the Bonds and Clemens of the world. He aged naturally. His body broke down, and he didn’t turn to steroids to prolong his career. It’s possible. But then again, it’s very hard to not come up with a vote for one of the best ballplayers of all time.
2. Light for the Piazza
After four years on the ballot, Mike Piazza has finally been elected. The greatest hitting catcher of all time has long been dogged by PED accusations (unproven), but now there’s nothing to be done. Piazza is going in after gaining 13.1% over his previous election, going in with 86% of the vote. Piazza is a no-brainer Hall of Fame player, and the fact that it’s taken him four years to go in is fairly absurd. But then, here we are.
There’s already talk that with Piazza in, some of the furor around the Steroid Era players will subside, allowing those on the margins of the discussion like Jeff Bagwell to sail in. I think that might be a well-founded discussion, though it will take a few years to really play out before that specific trend can be analyzed. There doesn’t seem to be much credence to it, though – each year’s voting class is different, after all, and next year brings a new crop of candidates as always.
3. Next Year’s Well in the Bag
There was talk throughout the year that there might be four candidates elected this year. At the end of the day, the other two candidates involved did not make it in. That being said, there is plenty of reason to have hope for the next year for the other guys. Jeff Bagwell fell 15 votes short of election, coming in with 71.6% of the vote. That’s a gain of 15.9%, which is tremendous. (More on the gains to follow) It’s a somewhat foregone conclusion that Bagwell makes it in next year. Given the light crop of candidates coming up next year, I don’t think that’s wrong at all.
4. When It Raines, It Pours
Tim Raines was looking to gain at minimum 10% of the vote. If he did that, he would jump from 55% to 65%, leaving him room to gain 10% next year in his final year on the ballot. Well, joining in the massive groundswell of percentages, the Rock gained 14.8%, jumping all the way up to 69.8%. That means, assuming that 440 writers vote next year, Tim Raines only needs Jonah Keri to convince 23 writers to vote for him next year and the 5th greatest left fielder, most efficient base-stealer of all time, and second greatest leadoff hitter of all time will be in the Hall of Fame.
To speak an honest truth, I’m even more hopeful for Raines now than I was for Bagwell. Raines getting in this year was always a longshot, but now the conversation changes from “Will he to get in” to “When he gets in”. There’s a tendency for a last-ballot push by writers in recent years (Jack Morris excepted), as shown by Alan Trammell this year with a 15.8% bump. Assuming this leap holds and Raines makes that gain next year, the Rock should gain election with a percentage around 80% next year.
5. Middle of the Pack
Boy, there were a lot of gains in the voting this year! The culling of the 100 or so retired/odd-ball writers from the voting body shifted a lot of percentages around, as the writers who vote are now much more informed by recent events. Consider the following three players:
- Curt Schilling gained 13.1%, leaping all the way up to 52.3%. That’s a fantastic sight, as few players have gained above 50% of the vote and not been elected.
- Mike Mussina jumped an absolutely astounding 18.4%, moving all the way up to 43.0%. That’s highly encouraging for a pitcher who was polling in the low 20’s in years past.
- Edgar Martinez gained votes like mad in the early going, and ended up with 43.4% of the vote. That’s an encouraging gain, though with only three ballots left, E-Mart has a long way to go. For his candidacy to catch fire, he needs to poll above 53% next year. Regardless, a gain of 16.4% is a great start.
With the logjam at the top cleared of players like Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza, there’s more votes to spread around. I’ll pitch my hypothetical ballot for 2017 at the end of the column.
6. There is No Joy in The Lower Ballot
Other players made some gains as well. Unfortunately, those other players are named Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who gained 7.5% and 7.8% respectively. That’s chump change compared to the three players listed above, who I feel will all eventually gain election. Someone on MLB Network theorized that with Piazza in, other writers might come around and vote for Bonds/Clemens next year. I’m not so sure about that.
It was nearly impossible to lose percentages this year – hell, Sammy Sosa gained on his percentage. However, none of the players in the PED camp made significant gains. Mark McGwire gained 8% in his final year on the ballot (See! See! Last year bump!), Sosa gained a marginal vote or two to jump to 7.0% (which I wish he hadn’t – I feel bad for him skating by every year with marginal percentages).
It’s even more important to consider that with the drop in voters, it was easier to gain percentages (see above, again), so the fact that none of these guys gained a great deal is a bigger sign of the reluctance by the writing body to vote for PED-users. It’s still the BBWAA, a collection of mostly traditional columnists and writers who have been drumming the anti-PED drum ever since Tom Verducci blew the cover off the joint. They didn’t turn into sabermetric-savvy bloggers overnight. <waves> They are what they are, and will vote the way they do to the end of time. Whether that’s good or bad…well, this is all a big, silly game anyway, isn’t it?
7. Sticking Around
It wasn’t all about the holdover candidates. Two players will stick around until next year. Billy Wagner scraped together enough to get 10.5% of the vote, and will probably linger along with Larry Walker and Jeff Kent in down ballot obscurity for several years. Trevor Hoffman, however, debuted with 67% of the vote, which bodes incredibly well for his election next year. He missed election this year by 34 votes, and with two players gone who would eat up votes next year, it’s highly probable that he gains election in 2017.
8. Happy Trails
And then, there’s the candidates who are gone after this year. Alan Trammell had that last ballot surge all the way to 40%, but it was all for not. Hopefully, we’ll have a very strong Veteran’s Committee Election of the Modern Era in a year or two, and he can gain entry alongside Jack Morris and maybe Lou Whitaker?
Meanwhile, Mark McGwire finally leaves the ballot. That’s probably for the best, as it just hurt to see him on the ballot year in and year out. Some Veteran’s Committee in the future will have its hands full with players like him, Palmeiro, Sosa, and (probably) Bonds and Clemens as they figure out what to do with the Steroid Era candidates. Nomar Garciaparra also fell off, although that was probably inevitable – with so many other candidates to vote for, it’s very difficult to vote for a marginal shortstop with an abbreviated career.
9. Stray Observations
- I initially made my prediction percentages on a lark, though I did try and use statistical analysis. I have to say, if we allow for a +/- of 5%, then I did pretty damn good. I came within 0.8% of predicting Junior’s total, missed Piazza by 5%, and NAILED Bagwell at 71%. I was also within 5% of: Schilling; Clemens; Bonds; Mussina; Trammell; Smith; McGriff; Kent; Walker; Wagner.
- I whiffed utterly on Hoffman (off by 12%), and undershot E-Mart by 8%. Otherwise, I’m feeling pretty good!
- Oh, and I forgot to predict totals for McGwire, Sheffield, and Sosa. Not that they were getting in, anyway.\
- Once upon a time, Lee Smith was building momentum for election. Now, he has just one year before falling off. When the guy who broke your all-time saves record gets 67% of the vote his first time around, that has to sting a little.
- Boy, it’s sure a good thing they grandfathered those 15-year candidates onto the ballot. Who knows what they would’ve done if Lee Smith, Don Mattingly, and Alan Trammell hadn’t had three more years to linger awkwardly at the bottom of the ballot?
- Speaking of lingering, Sammy Sosa and Gary Sheffield need to get off this ballot. It hurts seeing them year after year.
- Jim Edmonds not getting to stick around is going to be another sore spot. Between him, Kenny Lofton, and Bernie Williams, there’s a growing underrepresentation of great center fielders in the Hall of Fame. Somewhere along the line, the restrictions tightened on who gets in, and now some great candidates aren’t getting the consideration they deserve. In hindsight, I regret not voting for him. I must change how I vote next year…
- Three random people voted for Mike Mussina. That’s nice.
- Two people voted for Jason Kendall. That’s also nice.
- One person voted for Garrett Anderson. That’s…nice.
- HOLY SHIT, WHO ARE THE TWO SCHMUCKS WHO VOTED FOR DAVID ECKSTEIN? YOU ARE MY HEROES!
- That is, unless you didn’t vote for Junior…
10. Wait ‘Til Next Year…
Congrats to Griffey and Piazza, terrific choices. Next year: Raines/Vlad/Bagwell. Or else. https://t.co/2tiTRT2SBK
— Jonah Keri (@jonahkeri) January 6, 2016
Next year poses an interesting situation. Your first time candidates with the most clout are Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero, and Manny Ramirez. Of those three, Manny isn’t getting in – two positive steroid tests anytime after 2005 is inexcusable to many Hall of Fame voters. If I had to guess, he’ll show up with somewhere around 30% of the vote. Meanwhile, Pudge will also face some PED accusations thanks to Jose Canseco’s Mad House Accusations, in spite of his claim as one of the five best all-around catchers ever. That leaves Vlad Guerrero as your lone ‘first-ballot’ candidate, a distinction that I don’t think he will merit in enough folk’s eyes. (In mine, he’s absolutely a first ballot player, sort of a modern-day Jimmy Foxx minus the home runs.)
That leaves the floodgates open for voter sympathy to shift to Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Trevor Hoffman. It might well be a three person electoral group next year with no first ballot candidates, something that might well be unprecedented. I’d look it up, but I’m already at 2000 words, and I feel as though I’ve worn out my keyboard and this coffee shop’s patience, so I won’t go on.
Having said that, if I had my druthers, my ballot next year would look like this: Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Trevor Hoffman, Vladimir Guerrero, Ivan Rodriguez, Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, Edgar Martinez, Larry Walker, and Fred McGriff.
Wow, I had to force that ballot to only have ten people. Holy pants, next year is going to be a MAD house.
(Yes, I wouldn’t vote for Bonds or Clemens, but that’s because of this STOOPID TEN MAN RULE. IN THE IBWAA, NOT ONLY DO WE NOT BOTHER WITH SUCH THINGS, BUT WE’VE ALREADY ELECTED MOST OF THESE SCHMUCKS, SO SUCK ON THAT NERHDS.)
This concludes my look at the 2016 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot. Join me next year for what will surely promise to be an interesting voting experience. In the meantime, a heartfelt congratulations to Ken Griffey Jr. and to Mike Piazza for their election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Cooperstown awaits.