- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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It's difficult enough to get three people to agree on anything, let alone 573.
So the fact that the Baseball Writers’ Association of America managed to push Barry Larkin past the 75 percent threshold to elect him into the Hall of Fame is a minor miracle. After all, Larkin received just 62 percent of the vote last year and isn't the kind of slam-dunk candidate the writers usually agree on. There was a good chance the writers would pitch their first shutout since 1996. Still, his 24 percent leap in one year is astonishing and only serves to show the capriciousness of the entire process. Somehow, a full one-quarter of the voters suddenly changed their ballots from "no" to "yes" on Larkin.
Otherwise, there was nothing too surprising about the results. The baseball writers are stingier than the electorates in the other major sports. Although the BBWAA has now elected 16 players in the past 10 years (two more were elected via the Veterans Committee), the NFL has elected 51 players, the NHL 26 and the NBA (with far smaller rosters) 20. Larkin was only the holdover from last year within range of the three-quarters vote.
That doesn't mean, in my humble opinion, there weren't other qualified candidates. Jeff Bagwell was the best player on this year's ballot, a dominant all-around player and former MVP winner. On his first year on the ballot a year ago, he received just 42 percent of the vote, and it became clear that many voters refused to put his name on their ballots because of suspected performance-enhancing drug use, even though Bagwell has never been linked to any steroids usage, whether through the Mitchell report or a positive test late in his career. He did receive 56 percent of the vote this year, which is actually a very positive sign for his future induction.
For most Hall of Famers, it's a climb to get to 75 percent. You would need an advanced degree in psychology to understand exactly what happens in the voting process, but there is no doubt that some form of empathy develops once a player gets over 50 percent. At that point, election becomes a clear possibility, and the voting bloc usually transitions rapidly from "maybe" to "yes." In fact, in the past 25 years, the only players to reach 50 percent in the BBWAA vote and not get elected to the Hall are Jim Bunning, Orlando Cepeda and Jack Morris. The Veterans Committee eventually selected Bunning and Cepeda, and Morris is still on the ballot.
The problem with Morris is that it took him 11 years to get to 50 percent. The election of Bert Blyleven a year ago cleared the path for him as the best starting pitcher on the ballot, but climbing from 53.5 percent to 75 percent in one year was just too much, and he received 66.7 percent. With the ballot exploding with strong candidates in the next two years, it will be difficult for Morris to get over the hump. We saw this in 1999, when Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Yount were elected -- holdovers from the 1998 ballot saw their vote totals dip significantly while being compared to those three. For example, Tony Perez dropped from 68 percent to 61 percent; Gary Carter from 42 to 34 percent; Jim Rice from 43 to 29. A year later, Perez got 77 percent and was elected, Rice got 52 percent and Carter 50. Rice and Carter both eventually made it.
So although Morris is close, he'll start to face "competition" in 2013 from Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling, and in 2014 from Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina. Still, he's now so close, I think there's a good chance he'll get in over the next two years, especially with strong anti-PED ballots still running at a fever pitch. Morris may be seen as a "clean" candidate.
After six years on the ballot, Mark McGwire remained steady at 19.5 percent. Rafael Palmeiro, despite being one of just four players with at least 10 seasons of 35 home runs and 100 RBIs (Alex Rodriguez has 12, Babe Ruth 11, Palmeiro and Jimmie Foxx 10) again received even less support than McGwire, with just 12.6 percent of the vote.
Other than Larkin and Bagwell, the player who received the best news today is probably Tim Raines. He jumped from 38 percent to just shy of 49 percent. He's almost at that magical 50 percent make, and as with Blyleven, the statistical analysis that shows he's actually a strong Hall of Fame candidate rather than a marginal one is beginning to mount. It will take several years, but he appears to finally be gaining enough momentum.
Lee Smith did cross the 50 percent mark for the first time, so maybe his election is also inevitable. I'm not so sure that's the case; as a reliever, he's a bit of a unique case, and his vote total has actually remained fairly constant, as he debuted nine years ago at 42.3 percent. With the glut of starting pitching and position player candidates coming up in the next few years, the 10-man limit per ballot would seem to hurt Lee's chances. As for Bernie Williams, at least he stayed on the ballot.