TORONTO – To some degree, strategic or political voting has always been a part of the National Baseball Hall of Fame election process.
Nobody, for instance, has ever been elected unanimously.
Pause for a minute to absorb that – nobody.
Babe Ruth, baseball’s first true icon, received only 215 of a possible 226 votes in 1936 when the first ever balloting by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America was held. Hank Aaron, the man who broke Ruth’s career home run record, received 406 of 415 possible votes for 97.8 percent in 1982, while both Tom Seaver (425/430 in 1992) and Nolan Ryan (491/497 in 1999) couldn’t run the table and settled for the highest percentage of votes collected by any inductee at 98.8.
Seventy-five percent of the vote is needed for induction.
No sane argument exists for voting against any of the players above and countless others in the Hall of Fame, yet that’s what happened, for shizzle. Keep that in mind as the debate rages over the 10-player selection limit on the current ballot and its impact on the 2015 vote, in conjunction with the new 10-year maximum on how long players who reach the five percent threshold can stay on the ballot.
Whether it’s refusing to vote for an overwhelmingly deserving player simply so his election won’t be unanimous or because someone isn’t a “first ballot Hall of Famer,” whatever that means, or adjusting a ballot to try and ensure a player retains his eligibility, like Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press did this year, voters with differing intentions have long tried to manipulate the system.
That being said, completing a Hall ballot is becoming increasingly difficult with each passing year as wave after wave of strong new candidates are added to an already strong list.
To handle this dilemma I made a decision when I first became eligible to vote in 2013, knowing a logjam loomed in the years ahead. I decided that once a player was on my ballot, he would stay there until either he earned induction or his eligibility was exhausted. I understand why some voters who wanted to exceed the limit ended up ranking their top 10 and voted for them, and why others tried to manipulate the system for various ends, but I wouldn’t feel right taking my vote away from someone unless there’s a very compelling reason to do so (like new PED evidence, for example).
The truly deserving won’t be denied.
So, after much hand-wringing and some lengthy conversations with former players, my 2015 ballot looked like this: Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Jeff Kent, Tim Raines and Larry Walker, all incumbents from last year; debutants Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz; and Alan Trammell, whom I nearly included last year before opting for Jack Morris instead (Morris got 61.5 percent of the vote and came off the ballot as his eligibility ran out).
I’ve discussed my decisions on the incumbent six in previous columns, so I’ll start by explaining that Johnson, Martinez and Smoltz were no-doubters for me as three of the dominant pitchers from their era with the gaudy numbers to show that.
The final spot was the most difficult to select and I went with Trammell over Carlos Delgado and Gary Sheffield. I’m not certain I would have voted for them even with the expanded ballot of 12 the BBWAA is recommending the Hall of Fame adapt, but I plan to strongly reconsider them next year should they remain on the ballot.
Trammell is now in his 14th year of eligibility after garnering just 20.8 percent support last year, and the long-time Detroit Tigers shortstop has a compelling case.
His .767 OPS would be tied for 13th among Hall of Fame shortstops with George Davis while his 185 homers would rank fifth among enshrined shortstops, right behind Barry Larkin’s 198. He won four gold gloves, was regularly among the top 10 in defensive WAR per baseball-reference.com, and posted an above average score in the JAWS scoring system (a measure developed by Jay Jaffe that combines career and seven-year peak WAR totals for comparing Hall of Famers).
Every team dreams of that combination of offensive production and defensive prowess at shortstop and Trammell delivered it over 2,293 games for the Tigers.
Agree or not, at least it’s a baseball argument. Between dealing with candidates tainted by performance-enhancing drugs, the ongoing debate over the 10-player voting caps and the general Hall of Fame voting procedure, that isn’t the case as often as it should be.