The Future Of HOF Voting

Following Tango again, there are two fascinating questions about this year’s absolutely stacked ballot.

1. Should a voter who believes there are more than 10 qualified Hall of Fame candidates on the list apply a certain roundabout strategy in order to get his or her vote to the players who it will help most?

2. How much (if at all) will the influx of great players hurt the players already on the ballot? I have a lot to say about Question 1 in an upcoming post ... let’s say I believe there are 16 candidates on the ballot who should Hall of Famers. Should I leave off an obvious one like Greg Maddux to make sure a less obvious one like Mike Mussina gets my vote and maybe doesn’t fall off the ballot? (Spoiler alert: No, I won’t do that, and I’ll explain why).

The second question: Will the addition of Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine, Mussina and even Jeff Kent to this year’s ballot take away some of the support that has slowly and painstakingly built up for guys like Jack Morris, Tim Raines, Lee Smith and Alan Trammell, not to mention the early promising support garnered by Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling and others.

Tango says: Yes. It will. Unmistakably. I think he’s probably right.

In 1981, there were five players -- Don Drysdale, Harmon Killebrew, Hoyt Wilhelm, Juan Marichal and Luis Aparicio -- who were not voted into the Hall of Fame but would eventually be voted in by the the BBWAA. All five received moderate to good support that year.

In 1982, there was a ridiculously great group of first timers, including Henry Aaron, Frank Robinson and Billy Williams.

So what happened to those five leftovers? Did any of them get elected? Answer: No. Marichal did make a leap forward -- perhaps because there was no great pitcher added to the ballot, or perhaps everyone was embarrassed they didn’t elect him the first time around -- but Drysdale, Killebrew and Wilhelm all lost a little support. They got it back the next year when Brooks Robinson was the only reasonably popular Hall of Fame candidate to join the ballot. And three of those five -- Drysdale, Aparicio and Killebrew -- made it the following year, when no viable Hall of Fame candidates came on the ballot (Wilbur Wood was probably the best play to join the ballot in 1984).

This is a historical trend. When the list of new candidates is light, you often find that older candidates get in. Think of a borderline Hall of Fame choice. Got one. Now look:

-- Tony Perez was elected in 2000. Goose Gossage and Jack Morris were the best first guys that year. -- Bruce Sutter was elected in 2006. Best first-timers on that ballot: Orel Hershiser and Will Clark. -- Jim Rice was elected in 2009. Only Rickey Henderson was the only viable Hall of Fame candidate. -- Andre Dawson was elected in 2010, when Robbie Alomar was a first ballot (and did not make it probably because of the spitting incident). Barry Larkin was also a first-timer on that ballot, but many didn’t see him as a first-ballot guy.

You know who the luckiest Hall of Famer is? Catfish Hunter. No doubt about it. He came on the ballot at precisely -- I mean PRECISELY -- the right time. He came on in 1985. The only other Hall of Fame caliber player to be on that first ballot with him was Lou Brock -- so Hunter got 53.7% of the vote. The next year, only Willie McCovey came on, so Hunter skyrocketed to 68%. The NEXT YEAR no Hall of Famer came on the ballot (Bobby Bonds or Sal Bando was the best player) and Hunter was voted in.

How lucky was that? Well, one year afterward Luis Tiant -- who was at least as good and perhaps a better pitcher than Hunter -- came on the ballot. The only other viable candidate to come on that year was Willie Stargell. Tiant got 30.9% of the vote. That’s promising. Only it wasn’t for him.

And then: The flood: In 1989, Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski were elected first ballot. Other first ballot entries included Gaylord Perry, Ferguson Jenkins and Jim Kaat. Poor Luis didn’t stand a chance. His vote percentage dropped all the way to 10.5%, and he never recovered, never again came close to that 31% of the first year.

In fact, you can see what the loaded 1989 ballot did to people’s chances.

Jim Bunning dropped from 74.2% in 1988 to 63.3% in 1989. Tony Oliva dropped from 47.3% in 30.2%. Orlando Cepeda dropped from 46.6% to 39.4% Harvey Kuenn dropped from 39.3% to 25.7%

They all dropped -- Maury Wills, Ron Santo, Mickey Lolich, Ken Boyer, everybody.

In 1990, Jim Palmer and Joe Morgan got on the ballot -- two, surefire Hall of Famers -- so there wasn’t room for anyone else. But in 1991, only Rod Carew was a sure thing (Rollie Fingers was just below sure thing) so that was the year leftovers Gaylord Perry and Fergie Jenkins went in. In 1991, only Tom Seaver was the only sure thing, so there was room for Rollie Fingers.

And so it it goes. In years where there are no slam dunk Hall of Famers on the first ballot -- like 1997 and 1998 (though Gary Carter should have been elected first ballot) -- guys like Don Sutton and Phil NIekro can get in. But in 1999, Nolan Ryan George Brett, Robin Young and Carlton Fisk ALL joined the ballot, leaving (as Tango points out) no votes for anyone else.

Tony Perez dropped from 67.9% in 1998 to 60.8% in 1999. Jim Rice dropped from 42.9% to 29.4%. Gary Carter dropped from 42.3% to 33.8%. Steve Garvey dropped from 41.2% to 30.2%. Bruce Sutter dropped from 31.1% to 24.3%.

Bill Deane has forecast that only Greg Maddux will make it on this year’s ballot, Glavine and Thomas falling a bit shot and dwindling support for Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and even Jack Morris on his last ballot. If you look at the history of the voting, yeah, he could be right. What a dreadful thing that would be if Frank Thomas and Tom Glavine don’t get elected, not to mention all the players already on the ballot like Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. But it sure looks like we could be heading that way.

And here’s the craziest part: Every ballot from now on will be overstuffed.

New players this year: Maddux, Thomas, Glavine, Mussina, Kent. New players in 2015: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Gary Sheffield. New players in 2016: Ken Griffey, Jim Edmonds. New players in 2017: Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Vlad Guerrero. New players in 2018: Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Johan Santana (?), Scott Rolen. New players in 2019: Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Andy Pettitte.

I really do believe that, at some point, the Hall of Fame will have to do something to break up the logjam. A rule change. A voting clarification. A more inclusive voting policy. Something. But I don’t think, at least right now, they feel the impulse to change things. They seem curiously paralyzed by the effects of expansion, PEDs, the growing numbers of BBWAA voters and the increasing awareness everybody has about everything.

So what I think might happen is that while some all-time great players stew on ballot for way too long (some won’t get elected at all), some not-so-greats will get elected by whatever the Veteran’s Committee happens to look like. The best thing Jack Morris can do is get off this crazy ballot and get into the Veteran’s Committee room.