January 7, 2010
Prospectus Hit and Run
Hawk, Rock, and a Couple of Shocks
At the end of my final Hall of Fame ballot breakdown of the season, published mere hours before the voting results were announced, I noted that I wouldn't be at all surprised if the JAWS-approved slate of seven candidates-Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Mark McGwire, Tim Raines, and Alan Trammell-were shut out, while Andre Dawson gained election. Well, that's exactly what happened. Dawson had received more than 65 percent of the vote on each of the previous two ballots, and surged to the forefront with 77.9 percent of the vote, enough to gain admission.
Though Dawson falls fairly short on the JAWS scale, his election is not a travesty, or at least not a garment-rending travesty on the order of Jim Rice's election last year. He was far from a one-dimensional player in his prime, he piled up hardware and other honors, and despite his injuries, he played into his early forties. Still, his hackstastic ways-camouflaged a bit by a higher intentional walk total than I gave him credit for in my writeup-leave him with the lowest career OBP (.323) of any enshrined outfielder, 20 points lower than the previous low man, Lou Brock. He is not, as I incorrectly claimed on a pair of radio hits yesterday, the owner of the lowest OBP of any Hall of Famer:
Player OBP Bill Mazeroski .299 Joe Tinker .308 Luis Aparicio .311 Monte Ward .314 Rabbit Maranville .318 Brooks Robinson .322 Andre Dawson .323
On the other hand, Dawson now holds the distinction of owning the worst strikeout-to-unintentional-walk ratio of any Hall hitter:
Player PA OBP BB IBB K K/UBB Andre Dawson 10769 .323 589 143 1509 3.38 Willie Stargell 9026 .360 937 227 1936 2.73 Lou Brock 11235 .343 761 124 1730 2.72 Roberto Clemente 10212 .359 621 167 1230 2.71 Orlando Cepeda 8695 .350 588 154 1169 2.69 Kirby Puckett 7831 .360 450 85 965 2.64 Tony Perez 10861 .341 925 150 1867 2.41 Jim Rice 9058 .352 670 77 1423 2.40 Ernie Banks 10395 .330 763 198 1236 2.19 Reggie Jackson 11416 .356 1375 164 2597 2.14 Bill Mazeroski 8379 .299 447 110 706 2.09 Carlton Fisk 9853 .341 849 105 1386 1.86
So there's that. But my point really isn't to knock the Hawk, a player whose career I enjoyed to a great degree during its day ,and one whose candidacy wasn't surrounded by the type of intellectual dishonesty that poisoned the latter-day Rice debate. I'm sure the next time I visit Cooperstown, I'll stop and give his plaque a nod.
The announcement of Dawson's election was overshadowed in some circles by two near-misses that were shocking for entirely opposite reasons. Stathead pet candidate Blyleven, in his 13th year on the ballot, moved up from receiving just over 60 percent in the last two years to 74.2 percent, a mere five votes short of enshrinement. Alomar, in his first year on the ballot, received 73.7 percent, falling just eight votes shy of the magic number.
Whether the latter is due to the collective grudge still held by certain writers over the infamous 1996 incident in which Alomar spit in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck-an impulsive, unpremeditated act for which Hirschbeck has not only forgiven Alomar but gone on to befriend and defend him as the two have worked together to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote awareness of the genetic disorder which claimed the life of the ump's son-or due to the BBWAA's more generalized institutional politics, which create a hair-splitting artificial distinction between first-ballot Hall of Famers and the rest, is unclear. Likely the incident had direct bearing on some voters' willingness to invoke that first-ballot distinction.
In any event, it's highly likely that a year from now, Alomar will gain induction. He received the highest-ever vote percentage of any first-year player not elected; in fact, since the BBWAA switched back to an annual vote in 1966, no player has ever polled above 43 percent on his first ballot and not eventually won election from the BBWAA. Furthermore, no player has ever polled above 64 percent and not eventually gained induction by either the BBWAA or Veterans Committee routes, which means Blyleven is practically sitting in the catbird seat, too. The Hall of Fame might as well start casting both plaques now. Particularly since next year's class, which is headed by Jeff Bagwell, Rafael Palmeiro, John Olerud, Kevin Brown, and Larry Walker, isn't terribly strong, and the following year's class is as thin as prison gruel. As I joked in Wednesday's chat, there may not be five players worthy of more than a paragraph in my annual JAWS rundown, and Bernie Williams is easily the top candidate on the ballot, but far from a slam dunk.
In any event, it's the first time in Hall history that two players on the same ballot missed by fewer than 10 votes. Blyleven's five-vote shortfall was the fifth-smallest in history, and the sting of the near-miss was amplified by the news that the 539-vote tally included five blank ballots, cast either as a protest or as evidence of an ongoing mid-life crisis. Each of those five blank ballots thus required three votes in favor of a given candidate to offset. Had that ignominious quintet gotten lost on the way to the mailbox, Blyleven would have still fallen a stitch short with 74.9 percent of the vote; in this game they don't round up. In fact, he needed the support of all of them, at least one of whom publicly declared during his supermarket-aisle meltdown that he had voted for the pitcher last year.
In the annals of close-but-no-cigar, Nellie Fox (1985) and Pie Traynor (1947) hold the record by missing by two votes; Traynor was elected the following year, while Fox-or rather the family, friends and teammates who survived his 1975 passing-had to wait another 12 years to be voted in by the Veterans Committee, since his near-miss came in his 15th and final year of eligibility on the BBWAA ballot. Billy Williams (1986) and Jim Bunning (1988) each missed by four votes. Williams gained entry in rather routine fashion the following year.
Bunning's fate was much more roundabout. The former Tiger and future Senator had appeared on track for enshrinement with vote percentages of 65.6, 70.0, and 74.2 percent in his 10th, 11th, and 12th years of eligibility, but a funny thing happened on the way to Cooperstown. In 1989, his 13th year of eligibility, first-ballot no-brainers Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski became eligible and each received support of 94 percent or above. Also eligible for the first time on that ballot were 300-game-winner Gaylord Perry (68.0 percent) and Fergie Jenkins (52.3 percent). Further down on the ballot, garnering substantial support were future VC selections Orlando Cepeda (39.4 percent in his 10th year) and Bill Mazeroski (30 percent in his 12th year). Bunning's support that year fell back to 63.3 percent.
The following year, two more no-brainers reached the ballot in Jim Palmer and Joe Morgan, both of whom easily made the cut, while Perry (72.1 percent) and Jenkins (66.7 percent) edged closer. Bunning, in year 14 of his eligibility, fell back even further, to 57.9 percent. When Rod Carew gained entry on the first ballot in 1991, both Perry and Jenkins got over the hump as well, and first-timer Rollie Fingers polled a strong 65.7 percent. Bunning received just 63.7 percent and fell off the ballot due to the 15-year rule. He would have to wait another five years before the VC elected him.
The stacked ballots of his latter-day eligibility make it difficult to read Bunning's fate as a potential precursor to Blyleven's, given the relative weakness of the 2011 and 2012 ballots. There are no 300-win pitchers to overshadow him, and the only player with 3000 hits or 500 home runs (Rafael Palmeiro, who has both) has the cloud of documented steroid use hanging over his head. While Bagwell is a legitimate great, shoulder woes forced him to an early retirement, and before that he derived much of his value from his plate discipline, an area the voters have traditionally undervalued (see Raines, Bobby Grich, Ron Santo et al), so his first-ballot support likely won't overwhelm.
Aside from Bunning, the erosion of such a high vote percentage is unprecedented. The only other player to receive at least 65 percent and then lose more than five percent the following year is Phil Niekro, who got 65.7 percent in his 1993 debut and then was forced to wait while Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt took the spotlight in the next two years, with Niekro falling to 59.9 percent in 1994 and then rising only slightly, to 62.2 percent in 1995; he was elected two years later.
As for the rest of the results, Jack Morris (52.3 percent) and Barry Larkin (51.6 percent) were the only two other players to receive the support of more than half the electorate, a significant milestone. Present company excluded, the only player to receive at least 50 percent on the ballot and not gain election is Gil Hodges. Morris, in his 11th year of eligibility, received an 8.3 percent bump over last year's result, his largest single-year increase to date. It's relatively late in the game for him to cross that simple-majority rubicon; Enos Slaughter is the only other inductee to do so in his 11th year, and he only gained admission via the VC. Bob Lemon, whose candidacy predated the annual balloting, crossed the line on his ninth ballot, 10 years following his debut. Byleven, Bunning, and Sutter all reached 50 percent in their ninth year of eligibility. The monster 2013 ballot (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Craig Biggio, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa, and Mike Piazza) will almost certainly eclipse the chances of any borderline candidates for a couple of years, much as the strength of the Class of 1989 did for Bunning, leaving Morris more or less competing with Blyleven for attention on the next two ballots.
As for Larkin, there's nothing but sunshine given his strong debut. As noted in relation to Alomar, he's well above the first-ballot minimum which inevitably leads to election, having more than doubled the undeservedly lackluster showing of the statistically similar Trammell (22.4 percent). Trammell, for his part, gained five percent over last year and climbed past the 20 percent mark for the first time. Alas, nobody with a vote total that low, that late has ever been elected, which means you can bury his candidacy next to those of Don Mattingly (16.1 percent in his 10th year), Dave Parker (15.2 percent in his 14th year), Dale Murphy (11.7 percent in his 12th year) and Harold Baines (a stubborn 6.1 percent in his fourth year). See that their graves are kept clean.
Lee Smith (47.3 percent in his eighth year on the ballot) set a personal high-water mark, but the needle hasn't moved substantially since his initial 42.3 percent (the highest debut percentage of any non-elected player), and his fate is rather cloudy. Of the five players to receive between 40 and 74.9 percent of the vote in their eighth year on the ballot, only Dawson eventually gained the BBWAA stamp of approval, though Blyleven now appears set to in due time. Hodges (60.1 percent) was snubbed, while Cepeda (43.3 percent) and Johnny Mize (41.3 percent) needed the VC to gain entry.
Among the holdovers, Tim Raines (30.4 percent in his third year) received nearly an eight percent bump, a showing that's at least somewhat encouraging. Sutter (29.1 percent), Duke Snider (21.2 percent), and Luis Aparicio (12.0 percent) all received less during their third years of eligibility and still eventually got the call, with the latter representing the biggest comeback of any candidate to gain BBWAA entry. Mark McGwire (23.7 percent in his fourth year), rose nearly two percent from last year and set a personal best by 0.1 percent, but with more than three-quarters of the electorate giving him the cold shoulder over steroid allegations or simply his continued unwillingness to talk about the past, he's going nowhere.
Besides Larkin and Alomar, only two other first-year candidates received above five percent, the showing needed to remain on the ballot for another year. Edgar Martinez got 36.2 percent, and Fred McGriff received 21.5 percent. While those showings may disappoint their supporters, rallying from this point is hardly unprecedented. Consider the less-than-stellar debuts of these 11, all of whom eventually earned the requisite 75 percent:
Player % Gary Carter 42.3% Hoyt Wilhelm 41.7% Rich Gossage 33.3% Eddie Mathews 32.3% Jim Rice 29.8% Early Wynn 27.9% Luis Aparicio 27.8% Bruce Sutter 23.9% Billy Williams 23.4% Don Drysdale 21.0% Duke Snider 17.0%
It ain't over 'til it's over, as the wise man said. It's decidedly over for 11 other first-year candidates, however. Mike Jackson, Ray Lankford, Shane Reynolds, and Todd Zeile were all shut out. Kevin Appier, Pat Hentgen, and David Segui all received a token vote from some writer, perhaps as a favor for past considerations, or in Segui's case, candor on the sticky subject of steroids. Ellis Burks and Eric Karros received two votes; for the latter, that's two more than his career total of All-Star appearances. Robin Ventura got seven votes, while Andres Galarraga, who at 22 votes claimed 4.1 percent of the vote, nevertheless fell five votes shy of a return engagement. Without knowing who else the writers who doled out these tokens actually voted for, it's not clear whether those ballots fall into the protest category, containing implicit "No"s on the likes of Alomar and Blyleven.
In any event, this marks the first ballot since the Class of 2006 in which not a single JAWS-endorsed candidate gained election. While I'm disappointed at that distinction, I remain optimistic that the Class of 2011 will be something special. Wait 'til next year!