The significance of the first-ballot Hall of Famer

The results were just announced a couple of days ago, and Andre Dawson was the only player chosen by the BBWAA to enter the Hall of Fame in 2010. It was Dawson’s ninth year on the ballot. Some are grousing about his lack of qualifications, while others are ecstatic that he is finally in. To me, Dawson is a Hall of Famer. He was one of the heroes of my childhood due to his exposure on WGN, and it’s hard to erase childhood memories even when statistics are hurled at you.

Another complaint I have seen on several blogs is the concept of “first ballot Hall of Famers.” The line of thought is, “How can someone be a Hall of Famer next year, but not this year? If you’re a Hall of Famer, you’re a Hall of Famer plain-and-simple!” While there is merit to this, I can understand the line of thinking of those who refuse to vote for certain players on their first ballot. The idea is that a first ballot induction is somewhat of a higher honor, and it is. Sure, there were oversights (Ryne Sandberg, Carlton Fisk), and there were some who got in on their first ballot that really didn’t deserve it (Paul Molitor? Seriously?), but in an imperfect system it’s a reasonable line of thought.

That’s why I don’t really have a problem with Alomar waiting a year, and Larkin a couple of years. I’m surprised that Alomar was not elected (especially after the Paul Molitor debacle), but not offended. He’ll get in next year, along with Blyleven, and while that may take a potential vote away from Larkin, I’m confident Barry will be inducted in 2012 or 2013.

Here are my predictions of Hall inductees for the next several years (* = first ballot, ** = final year of eligibility):

2011: Alomar, Blyleven

2012: Larkin

2013: Craig Biggio*, Jeff Bagwell, Edgar Martinez

2014: Greg Maddux*, Tom Glavine*, Frank Thomas*

2015: Randy Johnson*, Tim Raines

2016: Ken Griffey, Jr.* (assuming he retires after this season), Mike Mussina

2017: John Smoltz (assuming he retires after this season), Lee Smith**

Bagwell may squeeze through in 2012 on his first try, but to me he just doesn’t qualify as a first ballot Hall of Famer if you are going to limit it to the greatest of the great (Rickey Henderson, Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn). And I’m still not sold on Edgar, but I do believe he will pick up enough steam over the next few years.

2014 will be interesting – all three are more than deserving of first ballot status, but when is the last time three guys went in on their first try in the same year? It’s only happened once (excluding 1936, the first year of voting). You have to go back to 1999 – Nolan Ryan, George Brett, and Robin Yount – just barely. Ryan and Brett both received more than 98% of the vote; Yount got just 77.5%.

Thomas’ latter years may hurt him, but he should still go in on the first ballot with at least 80%. Glavine should also receive at least 80%, although if the writers look back at history and see that Warren Spahn only received 83.2%, a few might hold back their votes. Maddux, on the other hand, should receive 100%. He won’t, but he should. Any writer who fails to vote for Maddux should have his voting rights stripped, taken out into the street and be publicly flogged.

2015 is the year I have Raines finally getting in. The writers have to wake up eventually, right?

The Big Unit will cruise in, as will Junior (I’m assuming he retires after this season). The Moose will have to wait a couple years, and Lee Smith will get in during his final year of eligibility.

You might notice that I didn’t use any statistics in this post, other than the voting percentages that Hall of Famers received. I’m not anti-stat; I think stats are great. But I just get overwhelmed with all the new stuff that has picked up steam in this internet age. WHIP, WAR, Win Shares, OPS+…I don’t understand half of them. I’m more of a counting stat guy. And yeah, I know Molitor had 3k hits. But he still shouldn’t have been in on the first ballot.

About JT

Christian. Husband. Dad. 911 dispatcher. Baseball fan. Horror nut. Music nerd. Bookworm. Time Magazine's 2006 Person of the Year.

Posted on January 8, 2010, in baseball and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Nice story… Since you mentioned it more than once I wanted to point that Spahn DID get in on his first year of eligibilty, therefore making him a first ballot Hall of Famer and not someone who was overlooked. It was his second time being mentioned on a balllot, but that was because a writer voted for him after his fine season in 1957 while he was still active… If your predictions come true, I wouldn’t be too unhappy. I really see Tim Raines, Barry Larkin and Bert Blyleven as all being Hall of Famers…

  2. Thanks for pointing that out. I was going by the “YoB” column on bbref, but I see that now he was not on the ballot the previous year.

    Even though he got in his first year of eligibility, it’s still a shame he received only 83%. Spahn is one of, if not THE best left-hander of all-time.

  3. I see a conspicuous absence of Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire. Bonds I can understand. I suspect that very few will vote for him. But you think McGwire isn’t going to get? I might agree with you considering his vote level was pretty low this year and apparently has been about the same for the past 2-3 years.

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