Sports

The case against Ken Griffey Jr. (Or, there will never be a unanimous Hall of Famer, but that’s ok.)

After the Baseball Hall of Fame announced its 2015 class yesterday, some of the annual grousing about the results centered on winning vote totals. Arizona and Boston writers wondered why Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez were not unanimous selections. That echoes a 2013 Joe Posnanski article which claims at least 20 previous inductees should have been unanimous selections – the likes of Tom Seaver, Cal Ripken, and Willie Mays. Speculation about how close Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter will get is already underway.

Rivera and Jeter might get deservedly close, but neither will be unanimous. Neither will Ken Griffey Jr. when he reaches the ballot next year. The reason why is in the nature of the vote: Writers are asked to name up to ten former players who belong in the Hall of Fame. One player’s vote total versus another’s doesn’t matter – it’s not like only the top four vote-getters make the cut. Everyone named on 75% of the ballots gets in. Conceivably, there could be up to 12 or 13 inductees in any given year.

Look at the list of potential candidates next year. Griffey and Trevor Hoffman seems like slam dunks, and Mike Piazza looks likely. Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines have gotten a good amount of buzz this year and may creep closer. Then there’s the steroid caucus – Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and a handful of others – who will get significant votes but probably not make the cut because of admitted or suspected PED use. Just below them are a group of players who were good but not no-doubt Hall of Famers. Each Fred McGriff, Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, or Jim Edmonds will have their case made by writers who saw them play.

Let’s pretend we’re an elector. Our ballot has ten spots. We vote for Griffey, Hoffman, Piazza, Bagwell, and Raines. We think Bonds and Clemens would be in even without the steroid-fueled parts of their career, so we include them, along with Gary Sheffield and his 509 home runs. That’s eight spots taken, we have two more for McGriff, Schilling, Mussina. But wait! Billy Wagner’s 422 saves and Garrett Anderson’s 2,500 hits are still there, not to mention the old YouTube clips of Edmonds playing centerfield. (Seriously, compare this one to Matthew McConaughey’s grab in Angels in the Outfield. Sidebar: How loaded was the cast of Angles in the Outfield? You had Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Adrien Brody, and McConaughey in a movie where Danny Glover and Tony Danza get top billing. That’s pinch hitting Hemmerling for Mitchell.)

Assuming you believe strongly that at least 11 of the 14 players listed belong in the Hall of Fame, whom do you leave off? Remember the loaded ballot means any of those candidates could plummet below the 5% threshold and not get a second chance, so dropping the least worthy and waiting until next year may not be the best strategy.

The most rational candidate is Griffey. In future years, it would be Rivera, or Jeter.

Griffey will surely be named on almost every ballot, so one vote one way or the other wouldn’t make a difference in his election. But one vote could help some of those other, not-quite-sure-thing candidates stay on the ballot or build momentum for future years. If a writer seriously believes in ten candidates beyond the shoe-ins, he or she should absolutely vote this way.

In any election, blowouts reduce turnout. Knowing Griffey, Jeter, and Rivera will top 95% means writers holding the torch for lesser candidates have every reason to leave the no-brainers off their ballot.

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