Falling off the ballot
Later today, the Hall of Fame Class of 2014 will be announced. Most people will be interested to see who receives the 75% support to gain induction, but in this age of the internet the likely outcome has already been revealed: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas will fly in on the first ballot, with Maddux challenging Tom Seaver’s record of 98.6% support. Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza and Jack Morris are all in the gray area; I believe Biggio will likely get in this year. But I’m more interested in seeing who fails to receive 5% of the vote, thereby falling off the ballot for future consideration by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
This 5% rule has only been in effect since sometime in the 1980s; I have been unable to pinpoint the exact year it was introduced or enforced. Bobby Thomson was on the ballot for fourteen years (1966-1979) but never received even 5% of the vote in any single year; several other examples could be cited of players that hung around for a few ballots but only garnered a handful of votes.
The so-called “stacked ballot” this year puts several big names in danger of falling below 5%, such as steroid poster boys Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, and the very popular (but not popular enough for Hall of Fame voters) Don Mattingly. Sosa, if he were to fall below the 5% threshold, would make history as the biggest drop in support between his first and second years on the ballot. Only two two-timers have lost more than 5% support between their debut and sophomore year on the Hall of Fame ballot. In 2013, Bernie Williams fell from 9.6% to 3.3% (losing 36 votes); in 2007, Orel Hershiser went from 11.2% to 4.4% (losing 34 votes).
[Update: Mattingly, McGwire, and Sosa all exceeded the 5% threshold. The only holdover to fall below 5% was Rafael Palmeiro, who was in his fourth year.]
Mattingly is in his fourteenth year, while McGwire is being considered for the eighth time in 2014. Several other players throughout the history of the institution have fallen below the 5% for support after more than two years of consideration.
One of the greatest oversights of the BBWAA is Dwight Evans, who was on the ballot for a measly three years (1997-1999). His percentage went up his first two years from 5.9% to 10.4%, but was dealt a blow in 1999 with only 18 voters checking his name for 3.6%. To be fair to the writers, that was a tough year with a lot of big names, including inductees Nolan Ryan, George Brett, and Robin Yount, and eventual Hall of Famers Carlton Fisk, Tony Perez, Gary Carter, Jim Rice, Bruce Sutter, and Bert Blyleven.
Bobby Bonds, better known nowadays as Barry Bonds’ father, was considered by BBWAA writers eleven times, but never exceeded 10.6%. Rusty Staub hung around for seven years, but never topped 7.9%. The final stop for both Bonds and Staub, as well as multi-timers Fred Lynn and Graig Nettles, was 1997.
Keith Hernandez received enough support for nine tries on the BBWAA ballot, topping 10% of the vote twice, but finally falling below the 5% threshold in 2004. Ron Guidry also stuck around for nine ballots; his highest support was 8.8% in 2000 and he fell off in 2002.
Harold Baines hung on for five years, but his highest percentage was 6.1% in 2010 before falling to 4.8% in 2011. The six-time All-Star was somewhat of a trailblazer as a designated hitter, and collected 2866 hits in his 22-year career. Perhaps if the strikes of 1981 and 1994 never happened, he could have reached 3000. Never a dominant player, but very good at what he did.
A surprise to me was Bob Boone, who received more than 5% support from 1996-1999. In 2000, he finally dipped below the 5% line and was removed from consideration. Yet, Ted Simmons was dismissed after only appearance in 1994? For shame, writers. For shame.
One of the strangest situations is that of Jose Rijo, who appeared on the ballot twice, but failed to receive 5% either time. In 2001 he received 1 vote for 0.2%. In July 2001, he signed a contract with the Reds and pitched in 44 more games during the rest of that season and 2002. His name came back up for Cooperstown consideration in 2008, but he failed to garner a single vote.
I will be sad to see Mattingly fall off the ballot, whether it happens this year due to a lack of support or next year after his eligibility runs out. His baseball cards always had a spot in my “Future Hall of Famer” shoebox when I was a kid, along with other eighties giants like Alan Trammell and Dale Murphy still waiting for that phone call.