The Goose is loose! The Hall of Fame voting results were announced on Tuesday afternoon, and as expected, Rich Gossage was the sole candidate to gain election, garnering 85.8 percent of the vote in his ninth year on the ballot. Jim Rice fell just 16 votes shy at 72.2 percent, followed by Andre Dawson (65.9 percent) and Bert Blyleven (61.9 percent).
Gossage was one of the candidates I touted in my recent JAWS series. It’s gratifying to see him gain entry, not only because I vividly remember the visceral excitement of watching him in his prime, but also, as I said in the aforementioned piece, because his rise to contention exactly parallel’s the appearance of my system here at BP–not to mention the doubling of the Hall’s class of relievers:
Year Votes Pct 2004 206 40.7% Dennis Eckersley elected 2005 285 55.2% 2006 336 64.6% Bruce Sutter elected 2007 388 71.2% 2008 466 85.8%
While Gossage’s election was good news, the rest of the JAWS-flavored ballot was a very mixed bag. The most positive development was Blyleven’s surge; after crossing the 50 percent rubicon two years ago (53.3 percent), he fell back to 47.7 percent last year in the face of two first-ballot automatics, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken. Lee Smith (43.3 percent) rose from last year’s total but still didn’t equal his 2006 high (45 percent). Alan Trammell rose, but from a dismal 13.6 percent to a still-piddling 18.2 percent, not very far above his 2006 showing of 17.7 percent. Mark McGwire rose a whopping 0.1 percent, to 23.6 percent; for all the talk about a one-year protest of his candidacy due to the allegations that he used steroids, both sides clearly stuck to their guns the second time out.
Meanwhile, all of this year’s ballot additions save for Tim Raines fell under the five percent needed to remain eligible for election. Second-year candidate Harold Baines hung on by the cuticle of his pinky finger; he shed one vote to fall from 5.3 percent to 5.2 percent. Additionally, Davey Concepcion’s 15-year tenure expired with a desultory 16.2 percent. But by far the most disheartening result of the vote was the mere 24.3 percent pulled in by Raines in his first year on the ballot. While few truly expected him to gain entry this year, his candidacy received a lot of high–profile advocacy from around the internet. The hope was that he could set himself up for future election with a strong initial showing. Still, the holdouts were baffling; Tracy Ringolsby, who saw the light on Blyleven last year, even wound up comparing Raines to Vince Freakin’ Coleman in the same space this year. That’s like publicly declaring your affinity for Spam when you’re offered filet mignon.
In anticipation of Raines not making it on his first try, I set about to find out what a strong first-year showing for an eventual enshrinee would look like. Using the Hall of Fame’s website, I culled the year-by-year voting results back to 1966, when the BBWAA resumed annual balloting after a decade of biennial votes, and built a spreadsheet that came in very handy during my chat following the voting announcement. The breakdown is very revealing.
Since 1966, the BBWAA has elected 65 players to the Hall of Fame, including Gossage but not including Roberto Clemente, who was elected via a special process in March 1973, less than three months after his death, and Red Ruffing, who was elected in a 1967 runoff which the rules provided for in the case of the writers didn’t grant any candidates 75 percent (only the winner of the runoff gained entry). Thirty-two of those 65 were members of one of the three milestone clubs: the 3,000 Hit Club, the 500 Home Run Club, and the 300 Win Club. Of those 32 “marked” players, only six didn’t get in on the first ballot: Harmon Killebrew, Eddie Mathews, Gaylord Perry, Phil Niekro, Don Sutton, and Early Wynn. They took an average of 4.33 ballots to gain enshrinement. Only two marked players have thus far failed to gain enshrinement, Pete Rose (who received 41 write-in votes in 1992) and McGwire–a rather incredible precedent.
Of the 33 “unmarked” electees in that span, 10 gained entry on the first ballot: Johnny Bench, Dennis Eckersley, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Joe Morgan, Jim Palmer, Kirby Puckett, Brooks Robinson, Ozzie Smith, and Willie Stargell. The remaining 23 candidates averaged 6.52 ballots; the distinction between ballots and years is necessary because five of these players, as well as the already-dismissed Ruffing, date back to the 1956-1966 biennial era.
Taking the 18 unmarked, non-first year, non-biennial candidates and the six marked, non-first year ones into consideration leaves us a pool of 24 enshrinees to study for clues as to what constitutes a good start to an eventual Hall of Fame election. It’s not a huge sample, but it will have to do:
Yr # El Wtd Med 1 24 0 47.5% 51.2% 2 24 4 55.3% 58.4% 3 20 5 57.1% 60.0% 4 15 3 59.0% 62.4% 5 12 3 61.2% 66.6% 6 9 3 61.5% 65.0% 7 6 0 57.4% 62.6% 8 6 1 62.2% 58.5% 9 5 2 69.9% 67.0% 10 3 1 66.9% 71.3% 11 2 1 71.2% 73.0% 12 1 0 66.7% 66.7% 13 1 1 76.9% 76.9%
The abbreviations: Yr is year on the ballot, # is the number of candidates in our subset who lasted that long, El is the number elected in that year, Wtd is the weighted percentage of votes received (based on the actual number of votes cast instead of the simple mean) and Med is the median percentage of votes received.
The data isn’t particularly promising as far as Raines goes; his 24.3 percent is about half of what a typical non-first ballot, eventual enshrinee has received over the last 43 years. Only four players from this era have started with a lower base and still gained election: Duke Snider (17.0 percent), Don Drysdale (21.0 percent), Billy Williams (23.4 percent), and Sutter (23.9 percent). Hearty rallies by Ralph Kiner (24.5 percent), Luis Aparicio (27.9 percent), Wynn (27.9), Mathews (32.3 percent), and Gossage (33.3 percent) offer a bit more hope, as does Bob Lemon (11.9 percent in 1964 and 7.0 percent in 1966, the last two biennial ballots).
If there’s a silver lining to be found here, it’s that any first-ballot hesitation on the part of voters will be gone in 2009, as will any threat of Raines beating Rickey Henderson to the Hall. The latter, who reaches next year’s ballot with 3,000 hits and the all-time category leads in runs and stolen bases, ought to be a high-90s lock. Perhaps the discussion and election of Henderson will do for Raines what Sutter and Eckersley did for Gossage. We can hope for that, and for the disappearance of the segment of the electorate who continues to mail back blank ballots as a protest for the influx of steroids into baseball; though they numbered only three this time around (down from 12 in 2006 but up from last year’s two), their indiscriminate open fire is harming candidates who, to the best of our knowledge, have nothing to do with that particular matter.
The data has some promising news for the three other candidates (Rice, Dawson and Blyleven) who finished above 50 percent: with the exception of Gil Hodges and that trio, every player who has reached that percentage has eventually been elected, either via the BBWAA balloting or the Veterans Committee. Twenty-four non-biennial candidates from among that group were elected by the writers (averaging 4.33 years for election), as were six biennial candidates, leaving four for election by the VC.
Interestingly, three of those latter four were the players who eclipsed Rice’s 72.2 percent: Nellie Fox (74.7 percent), Jim Bunning (74.2 percent) and Orlando Cepeda (73.5 percent). The fourth player to top Rice without being elected was Ruffing at 72.6 percent, but as noted before, he won a subsequent runoff, receiving 86.9 percent. Fox, Cepeda, and Ruffing received those totals in their 15th year on the ballot, while Bunning reached his high-water mark in his 12th year on the ballot before backsliding to 63.3, 57.9, and 63.7 percent over his final three years. As for the fourth candidate who fell to the VC after topping 50 percent but falling short of 75, anyone out there who can explain why Enos Slaughter received 68.8 percent in his 14th year (1979) but did not appear on a ballot in year 15, please enlighten me.
For all of the virtual coronations that Rice received on Tuesday, it’s worth noting from the above data that from this era, with the exception of the loopholed Ruffing only one has gained election beyond his 11th year on the ballot: Sutter, in his 13th. If the voters wish to afford Henderson his privacy on the dais as they did Gwynn and Ripken, Rice could be in for a rough jolt next year. That would be particularly fitting, since a JAWS comparison between the two brings to mind the assertion in The New Bill James Historical Abstract that if you split Rickey in two, you’d have two Hall of Fame ballplayers:
Car Peak JAWS Henderson 187.7 83.4 135.6 Rice 83.3 55.5 69.4
Incidentally, if you haven’t seen the ESPNews clips of Joe Sheehan and BP alum Keith Law tag-teaming ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian and Steve Phillips on the topics of Rice and performance-enhancing drugs, you should. Quoth Law on Rice: “If Jim Rice gets into the Hall of Fame, you might as well go to the front doors, take them off the hinges and just take them down entirely, because there are dozens of better players than Jim Rice who are not in the Hall of Fame, who don’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.” Amen.
The obstinate and occasionally belligerent innumeracy publicly displayed by many a voter over the past few weeks remains the most frustrating aspect of the annual election cycle. For every analyst at the margins who offers a rational, factually-supported argument about the merits of a particular player’s candidacy, there appear to be a dozen voters willing to fall back on the “I saw him play, you eggheads” argument accompanied by cherry-picked statistical measures and selectively applied standards. ‘Twas ever thus, and so long as the
Stonecutters, er, BBWAA keeps electing somebody so as to funnel a steady horde of tourists to Cooperstown every summer, the Hall of Fame has little incentive to get with the times by revamping its voting process. The best those of us who attempt to call attention to the “right” candidates can do is to persist with our educational efforts while hoping that younger, more open-minded writers gradually replace certain fossilized BBWAA members whose voting privileges apparently hinge on the unwillingness of that body to purge its rolls in accordance with its bylaws. Wait ’til next year, or the year after that, or the year after that…