Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Hall of Fame 2009 [Print without images]

Monday, January 12, 2009
Updated: January 13, 12:30 PM ET
Vote is in -- anybody understand it?

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

I keep looking at the numbers that just rolled in from Hall of Fame Election Central.

They can't be right.

Unless my calculator's busted, those numbers are telling me that 28 voters cast ballots that did not include the name of Rickey Henderson.

What the heck? Did I really just say 28?

Stupefying. Embarrassing. Inexcusable.

But at least it's great news for Corky Simpson, the retired writer from Tucson, Ariz., who has been getting hammered by much of North America for admitting in a column that he didn't vote for Henderson because he's "not a Rickey guy."

Corky, you're off the hook, pal. You've got lots of company. Too much company.

OK, so of the other 27 voters who couldn't find Rickey's box to check, two of those ballots were blank steroid protests. But that still leaves 25 voters with other agendas. And while I'm not normally in the business of lecturing people on how to vote, let me say this to those 25 voters:

You all need to think long and hard about why you're even participating in these elections. If you're not voting for Rickey Henderson, you've been watching the wrong sport.

Seriously, by what standard is this man NOT a Hall of Famer?

He scored more runs than any player in the history of baseball.
Rickey Henderson
Rickey Henderson scored more runs than any player in history. That alone should have been enough reason to vote him into the Hall of Fame.

Do we even need to list ANY other qualifications?

That answer is no. But let's list some anyway:

• He's the all-time leading base stealer in the history of the sport. And even if he'd never played a game after age 29, he'd still rank No. 5 -- ahead of Vince Coleman, Honus Wagner, Joe Morgan, Kenny Lofton and Maury Wills. Among a zillion others.

• Let's just say Carl Crawford and Jose Reyes are baseball's two most prominent active base stealers. They've combined to steal 592 bases in their careers, in a total of 13 seasons. That's not even as many as the 612 Rickey stole after turning 30 -- by HIMSELF.

• In Rickey Henderson, ladies and gentlemen, we're talking about a man who had more 20-homer seasons (four) than Matt Holliday, more 100-run seasons (13) than Manny Ramirez and Junior Griffey put together, and more 100-walk seasons (seven) than Chipper Jones, A-Rod, Manny Ramirez, Albert Pujols, Grady Sizemore and Johnny Damon combined.

• In fact, Henderson had more 100-walk seasons by himself than all 14 of the active leadoff men in our rank-the-leadoff-hitters poll have drawn in their careers COMBINED.

• Not to mention he led the major leagues in runs scored five different times. Only Babe Ruth (eight) and Mickey Mantle (six) ever did it more times than that.

But why am I even doing this? This case is closed. Or ought to be.

Rickey Henderson was the greatest leadoff man in history, the greatest run-scoring machine in history and the greatest base stealer in history.

So let me ask all those people who left this man off their ballot one more time: If you're not voting for a guy like that, why are you voting?

DISSECTING THE VOTE

• At least Henderson still will go down as the position player with the 10th-highest voting percentage (94.8) of all time. That means he got a higher percentage than Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio and Mantle, believe it or not. But remember, Hall of Fame voting 30 years ago was even more inexplicable than Rickey's upcoming induction speech will be.

• The nine position players who got a higher percentage: Cal Ripken Jr. (98.5), Ty Cobb (98.2), George Brett (98.2), Hank Aaron (97.8), Tony Gwynn (97.6), Mike Schmidt (96.5), Johnny Bench (96.4), Wagner (95.1) and Ruth (95.1).

En Español
Read Jayson Stark's piece on Rickey Henderson in Spanish on ESPNdeportes.com.
• Jim Rice got 20 more votes this year than he got last year, which put him over the election threshold by seven. It's one of the smallest jumps ever by a player who barely missed election one year and then made it the next. Goose Gossage leaped by 78 votes last year. Here are the previous five: Bruce Sutter, plus-56 in 2006; Ryne Sandberg, plus-84 in 2005; Gary Carter, plus-44 in 2003; Carlton Fisk, plus-67 in 2000; and Tony Perez, plus-83 in 2000. So obviously, there's usually a massive swell when voters finally decide, for whatever reason, that it's some longtime candidate's time. Not so much in the case of a man who confused and divided voters from Year 1 through Year 15. Rice's increase was the smallest by any electee since Lou Boudreau's 14-vote jump in 1970.

• But with four fewer voters casting ballots this year than last, Rice was still the only candidate to attract any significant increase in votes. The only other candidates who got more votes in this election than they attracted last year: final-time candidate Tommy John (plus-13), Lee Smith (plus-five), Harold Baines (plus-four), Jack Morris (plus-four), Andre Dawson (plus-three) and Bert Blyleven (plus-two).

Mark McGwire
Mark McGwire's vote total dropped this year. You could triple his percentage and he still wouldn't get into the Hall of Fame.
• None of those players built any meaningful momentum toward getting elected. But Dawson finally topped two-thirds of the vote (with 67.0 percent). And no player has ever gotten two-thirds of the vote in any BBWAA election without eventually winding up on a plaque.

• So who's in trouble, based on this year's results? Mark McGwire, above all. He got exactly 128 votes in each of his first two appearances on the ballot -- and dropped by 10 votes this year. That tied him with Tim Raines, inexplicably, for the third-largest plummet. The two drops that were bigger: Don Mattingly (minus-28) and (Dale Murphy minus-13).

• So how bleak are McGwire's chances looking? Put it this way: If he TRIPLED his vote total, he'd still miss election by 51 votes.

AND FINALLY …

Sorry. Can't help myself. I need to trot out one more Rickey Henderson stat for you.

What did this man do better than every other leadoff man of modern times -- outside of steal more bases and forget all the other guys' names?

Score runs, of course.

I already mentioned he scored more than any player who ever played. So maybe that sounds obvious. But in Rickey's case, the runs he scored didn't just add up because he played so long. They added up because he scored them at such an amazing clip.

Check out this list. It's a ranking, in runs scored per 100 games, of the greatest leadoff hitters of the past half-century (aka the Retrosheet era). The other names were proposed by Tom Tango, of hardballtimes.com, in a recent piece on Raines.

Every hitter in this group has gotten at least 2,100 plate appearances out of the leadoff hole, even though some (especially Derek Jeter) wouldn't be defined simply as "a leadoff man."

But Rickey outscores them all. Naturally.

Rickey Henderson 74.5

Derek Jeter 73.9

Ichiro Suzuki 69.1

Paul Molitor 66.4

Craig Biggio 64.7

Joe Morgan 62.3

Wade Boggs 62.0

Lou Brock 61.5

Pete Rose 60.8

You might be surprised to see Ichiro so high and Rose so low. I know I was.

Finally, I also took a look at a list of all the men in history who have scored at least 1,700 runs. Among players who played more than half their careers after World War II, just two scored runs at a higher rate than Rickey Henderson -- Ted Williams (78.4 per 100 games) and Barry Bonds (74.6). Whew.

OK, now anybody want to take a shot at guessing the guy with the highest rate since 1900? You've heard of him.

I wrote yesterday that the answer was George Herman "Bambino" Ruth. But thanks to the Elias Sports Bureau's Ken Hirdt for reminding me that Ruth actually didn't even rank No. 1 on his own team in that category. He was nipped by a guy named Lou Gehrig -- 87.2 runs per 100 games to Ruth's 86.9.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.