The annual Hall of Fame induction ceremonies each July in Cooperstown have been robust affairs recently. In the past six years, 20 players have been elected by the BBWAA, and eight more have been inducted by various veterans committees.
It’s quite the event in the New York countryside, if you’ve never been.
Earlier this week, we talked about what this recent ballot-clearing should do for the candidacy of Larry Walker and other players with solid but not slam-dunk Hall resumes. Today, let’s look at one more group that could benefit from a much more uncluttered ballot: the potential one-and-dones.
For guys like Carlos Pena, Brian Roberts and Heath Bell, just making the Hall of Fame ballot is a nice reward for a solid big-league career. Those are three of the newcomers on the 2020 ballot, eligible for the first time, five years after their final big-league game. They might receive a stray vote or two, but they’re harboring no delusions of being elected, or even meeting the minimum 5 percent of the vote required to remain on the ballot.
And that’s OK.
The BBWAA voting history is littered with players who deserved much more than just one appearance on the ballot, but were squeezed off because of a crowded ballot and the arbitrary 10-vote-per-ballot maximum rule put in place by the Hall of Fame.
Look at Ted Simmons, the catcher who starred for the Cardinals and Brewers, primarily, in his 21-year-career. When he was first eligible, in 1994, he received just 17 votes, good for 3.7 percent of the vote. But when Simmons was on the Modern Baseball Era ballot in December 2017, he fell just one vote short of being elected. He needed 12 votes from the 16-person committee, and he received 11. One little vote kept Simmons from Cooperstown.
It’s not that Simmons did anything between 1994 and 2017 to help his case, of course. But sometimes there is a benefit to time — time to evaluate a player’s career and compare his resume to the resumes of similar players who have already been enshrined.
The same thing happened to Lou Whitaker in 2001, when he received 2.9 percent of the vote in a year when 16 players received at least 12.2 percent. Both Simmons and Whitaker are two of the 10 players on the Modern Baseball Era ballot, the results of which will be announced Dec. 8.
Look, there is value in staying on the BBWAA ballot for multiple years, even if induction by the BBWAA isn’t likely. And the ballot logjam has made it tough for players with those marginal — but worthy — Cooperstown resumes. These careers are worth more conversation.
In 2013, 17 players received at least 12.5 percent of the vote and Kenny Lofton — with his career 68.3 bWAR, .372 on-base percentage and 622 stolen bases — fell off, with just 3.2 percent of the vote. In 2016, another top outfielder dropped off way too early.
Jim Edmonds was an elite defensive center fielder, one of the best in MLB history. And he was no slouch at the plate, either, popping 393 home runs to go with a 132 OPS+ (Ken Griffey Jr.’s OPS+ was 136, for comparison’s sake). But his debut ballot included 18 other players who received at least 10 percent of the vote. Nine of those 18 have already been enshrined in Cooperstown and several others might get there one day.
So many players with Cooperstown-worthy careers, but only 10 votes per ballot. You can see how the problem arises.
Edmonds produced a career worthy of longer Hall of Fame consideration, but he dropped off the ballot in his first year of eligibility because he didn’t receive the minimum 5 percent of the vote. And, again, remember that voters were not asked whether they thought Edmonds was Cooperstown-worthy, comparing only his resumes against current Hall inductees, but they were tasked with choosing a maximum of 10 players.
When Edmonds — if I was a betting man, I’d put money on the center fielder winding up in Cooperstown one day, through a veterans-type committee — fell off the ballot in 2016, 18 players received at least 10 percent of the vote. Eighteen! Unless voters specifically chose to vote for players for the purpose of keeping Edmonds on the ballot, as he deserved, he was destined to drop off.
That’s what I did for Johan Santana in 2018, partially because of Edmonds, but also because of the others mentioned. Santana’s career was brilliant but cut short because of injuries, very similar to Dizzy Dean or Sandy Koufax. In a year when nine players received at least 50 percent, though, Santana fell off. My vote was one of 10 the lefty received, which is a damn shame for a guy with two Cy Young awards and three other top-five finishes.
But with a less-cluttered ballot, here’s hoping that more voters feel free to cast votes for guys like Simmons and Whitaker and Lofton and Edmonds and Santana. Let’s keep the conversation going for careers worth talking about.
Author: Ryan Fagan