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In this, our 13th year, the STATLG-L Internet Hall of Fame balloting demonstrates anew the uncertainties involved in trying to decide whether Player X or Player Y has the credentials to merit your vote for induction into the Hall. There were a number of intriguing questions to be answered this time around, dealing with both first-year eligibles and holdovers from last year.

We recorded a total of 2363 ballots in this year’s edition of the STATLG-L IHOF, appreciably less than last year’s record total and even a bit lower than the number of ballots cast two years ago. I don’t think we can blame this drop on the absence of a Veterans Committee ballot this year, and I won’t speculate about other possible reasons for the decline. I must report, however, that I personally did less shilling for the event than I’ve done in previous seasons, so maybe some of the decrease can be laid at my own feet. The average number of names on a ballot was 5.83, very similar to last year’s 5.96 and well above the 5.18 names per ballot a year earlier. Given the total number of ballots recorded this time, the 75% threshold was set at 1773 votes while the 5% gateway for retention on the ballot (if we, rather than the BBWAA, made that decision) came to 119 votes.

The most important question, as always, was whether any of the first-time candidates could garner enough votes for induction. The answer to that is a resounding yes. Heartiest congratulations to both leading vote-getter Dennis Eckersley (1940 votes, 82.1%) and Paul Molitor (1888 votes, 79.9%), who easily topped the required vote total and demonstrated that at least one kind of relief pitcher and one designated hitter belong in the STATLG-L Hall of Fame. No other first-timer got anywhere close to the goal. In fact, the only other newbie who finished ahead of any of the holdover candidates was @#$% Joe Carter (sorry, the Phillies fan in me surfaced for just a moment), whose 118 votes rounded to 5% even though it’s actually a mere 4.994%.

I think the next most interesting question has to do with Ryne Sandberg. You’ll recall that before last year’s BBWAA vote many commentators wondered whether Ryno would garner enough votes for induction, or would fall just a bit short. The STATLG-L vote had the latter result, as Sandberg finished fourth in our balloting with almost 68%. But the writers surprised everyone (perhaps including themselves) by placing him way back in sixth place, with support from just under half of their voters. Well, the IHOF’s opinion of Ryno doesn’t seem to have changed at all in the interim. He’s up to a bit over 69% of the vote, but still in fourth place and a full 138 votes short of the magic 75% line.

Generally speaking, the rank-ordering of the holdover candidates is quite consistent with last year’s. Places three through six in the results–Bert Blyleven, Sandberg, Goose Gossage, and Alan Trammell–are precisely the same, with very similar voting percentages as well. Those players clearly constitute the first tier of STATLG-L/IHOF also-rans, as there’s a gap of over 10 percentage points between Trammell and the next finisher, Bruce Sutter.

The rest of the holdovers, from Sutter all the way down to Steve Garvey in 20th place (see table of results, below), may reassort themselves a bit from year to year, but don’t appear to be gaining any sort of traction in the voting. In fact, Jim Rice has lost a significant amount of the support he once had…he polled nearly 43% of the vote three years ago. Tommy John, Jack Morris, and Dale Murphy have also seen their voting percentages plummet in the same time interval.

The table of results displays the vote totals, percentages, and 2004 rank-order for all 32 of this year’s Hall of Fame candidates. In addition, I’ve included the players’ positions in the STATLG-L/IHOF voting for the previous four years. Those rankings are inclusive of all players in each year’s list; for example, Blyleven finished third a year ago behind recently-inducted HOFers Eddie Murray and Gary Carter, and no-longer-eligible Jim Kaat took the No. 9 slot last year.

                                             Rank by Year of Vote
Player Name           Votes    Pct   2004    2003    2002    2001    2000
Dennis Eckersley      1940   82.1%      1
Paul Molitor          1888   79.9%      2
Bert Blyleven         1717   72.7%      3       3       3       4       3
Ryne Sandberg         1635   69.2%      4       4
Rich Gossage          1236   52.3%      5       5       4       5       4
Alan Trammell         968    41.0%      6       6       5
Bruce Sutter          695    29.4%      7      10       6       8      10
Jim Rice              553    23.4%      8      11       7       6       6
Andre Dawson          510    21.6%      9       7       8
Lee Smith             423    17.9%     10       8
Tommy John            375    15.9%     11      12      12       9       9
Jack Morris           368    15.6%     12      13       9      11      11
Dale Murphy           293    12.4%     13      14      13      13      12
Don Mattingly         240    10.2%     14      16      15      15
Keith Hernandez       239    10.1%     15      15      14      16      13
Joe Carter            118     5.0%     16
Dave Parker           105     4.4%     17      17      17      18      16
Fernando Valenzuela   87      3.7%     18      19
Dave Concepcion       77      3.3%     19      20      20      20      14
Steve Garvey          68      2.9%     20      18      19      21      17
Dave Stieb            68      2.9%     21
Dennis Martinez       63      2.7%     22
Jimmy Key             26      1.1%     23
Cecil Fielder         21      0.9%     24
Jim Eisenreich        17      0.7%     25
Bob Tewksbury         10      0.4%     26
Kevin Mitchell        9       0.4%     27
Danny Darwin          7       0.3%     28t
Randy Myers           7       0.3%     28t
Terry Pendleton       7       0.3%     28t
Juan Samuel           7       0.3%     28t
Doug Drabek           5       0.2%     32

Total Ballots Cast    2363    
Total Votes           13782   
Votes Per Ballot      5.83    

Although we don’t yet know how this year’s BBWAA Hall of Fame vote will turn out, participants in the IHOF will probably continue to rate the candidates rather differently from the writers. Last year, the writers placed Blyleven all the way down in ninth place, just ahead of Garvey. The BBWAA voted Trammell way down in the 14th spot, with just 14% of the vote.

One of our competitors, the MLB website, has finally figured out that it would be appropriate to operate their vote as the real HOF does. Last year, for some unknown reason, they limited their voters to five votes per ballot. Unfortunately, they don’t offer a chance to see interim results (then again, neither do we), so I can’t draw any comparisons between their results and ours. I didn’t test to see whether they would permit a blank ballot.

Meanwhile, CNN/SI continues to run their Hall of Fame poll with the inane “Now/Later/Never” options, as well as allowing “Now” votes for more than 10 players and permitting repeat votes. As I write this on Sunday afternoon, incomplete results from the CNN-SI site show that Molitor and Eckersley exceed 75% in the “Now” category, with Sandberg, Andre Dawson, and Rice above 60% “Now.” I’m not surprised that Don Mattingly and Garvey achieve far higher “Now” percentages than their STATLG-L vote totals. If we were to somehow decide that the sum of CNN-SI’s “Now” and “Later” are equivalent to a vote in support of a player, the doors of Cooperstown might have to be thrown open to the likes of Sandberg, Dawson, Lee Smith, Rice, Gossage, Sutter, and Mattingly. I emphasize “might”, because it turns out that the number of votes garnered by the players in the CNN/SI poll varies widely–Eckersley drew almost twice as many votes as Randy Myers. If we take “blank ballots” into consideration (in other words, calculate the results giving all players the largest denominator, assigning the hypothetical extra votes to “Never”), Eck and Molly still make the grade “Now,” but only Sandberg and Dawson stay above the 75% “Now” + “Later” line.

Looking ahead to the 2005 Hall of Fame ballot, no players will leave the ballot due to expiration of eligibility; assuming that they draw 5% of the BBWAA vote, Garvey will be in his 13th year, Sutter and Davey Concepcion their 12th years, Rice and Tommy John their 11th, and Keith Hernandez (who avoided being dropped from the BBWAA ballot by just five votes last year) will hit the 10-year mark. Joining the holdovers will be players who retired from the game in 1999. Aside from Wade Boggs, no one else in the Class of ’99 has a snowball’s chance of enshrinement in Cooperstown. There are only two players who hit more than 166 homers (Chili Davis and Darryl Strawberry); only Boggs, Davis, Willie McGee, and Tony Phillips reached 2000 hits. Beyond those guys, the hitters include the likes of Otis Nixon, Terry Steinbach, Brian McRae, Jeff Blauser, and Jeff King. The pitchers are no more impressive. Mark Langston has the most wins, 179, and by far the most strikeouts; Tom Candiotti, Jack McDowell, and Mark Portugal also won over 100 games; Jeff Montgomery may be the most anonymous 300-save reliever in history. Add in hurlers like Jim Abbott, Steve Avery, and Paul Assenmacher, and this is clearly a singularly unimpressive group. Thankfully, we’ll also have another edition of the biennial Veterans Committee player balloting to consider next time around.

My appreciation once again for your participation in the STATLG-L Internet Hall of Fame voting. It’s always a lot of fun to put it together, and even more fun to see how we the people end up voting on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Neal Traven is the co-chair of the Statistical Analysis Committee of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).

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