No good reason for voters' capriciousness

Originally Published: January 9, 2007
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

Here's what we know, now that the results are in from one of the most fascinating Hall of Fame elections ever held:

• Mark McGwire is so far from Cooperstown, he could get there faster riding a pack mule than he could by having the baseball writers elect him. How miniscule was McGwire's vote total? He was more votes short of election (281) than a candidate as good as Bert Blyleven has ever gotten in an election.

• You might have heard some tales lately about how a few previous Hall of Famers have gotten elected eventually, even though there was a time they could count their votes on their fingers and toes. Well, that's not how it usually works.

McGwire got just 23.5 percent of the votes in this election. Don Mattingly started out at 28.2 percent. By this year, his sixth ride on this Ferris wheel, he'd actually dipped under 10 percent. So I'd bet right now that McGwire never gets elected, unless he does or says something to change this climate. And since the guy apparently got vacuumed into the Bermuda Triangle and disappeared after he left that Congressional hearing room, he's not exactly a prime candidate to launch an image-resurrection campaign.

• It sounds like a great thing to say that Cal Ripken attracted the third-highest vote percentage (98.53) of all time. But it's actually unfathomable -- and indefensible -- that it wasn't higher.

There were two blank ballots submitted in this election, as steroid protest votes. But what's the excuse of those other six voters -- none of whom had identified or explained themselves as of Tuesday afternoon?

As someone who has said it makes more sense to vote for no players of that generation than it does to pick and choose based on guesses and suspicions, I at least have an understanding of why a voter would turn in a blank ballot. But there is no other responsible reason -- none -- to withhold a vote for Ripken.

• And the same goes for Tony Gwynn, who should have been an easier choice than Ripken. Aside from the blank-ballot duo, 11 voters failed to vote for Gwynn -- owner of the second-highest career (.338) of any player whose career began in the last 75 years. (Only Ted Williams, at .344, is higher.) For even 11 writers not to have cast a vote for Gwynn is an embarrassment to the BBWAA.

• So what are the two biggest lessons we learned from this election? 1) That it's not just possible, but likely, that none of the great sluggers of the '90s will ever get elected to the Hall of Fame. And 2) nobody is ever going to be unanimous. If that many voters could find a reason not to vote for Gwynn and Ripken, what future candidate could inspire unanimity? A-Rod? Junior Griffey? Derek Jeter? Roger Clemens? Greg Maddux? I'd bet on none of the above.

• This election was also a tale of the two closers on the ballot -- Goose Gossage and Lee Smith. Five years ago, Smith actually got one more vote than Gossage did. Since then, neither has thrown one pitch. Yet Smith's vote total has shrunk, while the Goose's votes have more than doubled. So we know now that Gossage will get elected -- almost certainly next year. But the odds of Smith making it are looking slimmer than Kate Moss. He dipped under 40 percent this year.

Those voting trends tell us more than just which way the electability wind is blowing, however. For a long time, it was clear Hall of Fame voters didn't know what to make of closers. And obviously, some of them still don't -- or Gossage wouldn't be waiting for his ninth election to receive an honor that shouldn't have required two elections.

But at least voters are showing a willingness now to look past raw save numbers. Gossage once had a season (1975) in which he made 17 appearances of more than three innings. Smith once had a season (1994) in which he saved 33 games without even pitching 40 innings. Any voter willing to stuff save totals down the disposal easily can see which of these two closers was more dominating. And now they're finally doing that.

• Gossage was one of only two candidates in this election whose percentage of the vote went up this year. Bet you can't name the other one. No, not Jim Rice. No, not Andre Dawson. No, not Bert Blyleven.

It was Dave Concepcion, of all people. Concepcion jumped by just nine votes, and 1.1 percent. But how bizarre is that, for a guy who hasn't played a game in 19 years -- especially in an election in which 13 of the other 14 returning candidates all headed south?

Concepcion clearly benefited from a concerted e-mail campaign by a group calling itself Concepcionforcooperstown.org. But with no disrespect intended to Concepcion -- who was a very good player, but no all-time great -- he should not be attracting more votes than Alan Trammell, Dave Parker, Mattingly, Dale Murphy or even Albert Belle (who got bounced clear off the ballot). Those five were all better players than Concepcion.

• It's time for my annual rant on how illogical it is for players to zig-zag up and down in the voting every year. I always thought it was our job, as voters, just to ask ourselves, "Was this player a Hall of Famer, or not?" And if we decide he is, shouldn't we vote for him every year, unless something happens to change our perspective?

That sounds logical to me, but apparently, I'll never understand how this voting works. So here are the five players who lost the most votes since last year -- without playing a single game: Orel Hershiser minus-32 (and off the ballot after receiving less than five percent of the vote), Tommy John minus-29, Belle minus-21 (and off the ballot after receiving less than five percent of the vote), Steve Garvey (in his final year under the writers' vote) minus-20, and Trammell minus-19.

• As mentioned earlier, only Gossage (plus-52) and Concepcion (plus-9) went up in percentage. Rice had a slight dip in percentage, even though he did attract a few more votes than last year. If Rice gets voted in next year, in his 14th try, he'll be only the fifth player in history to make it in his 14th year or later. The others: Rabbit Maranville and Bill Terry (14th), Red Ruffing (15th) and Dazzy Vance (16th). What's the biggest difference between those four and Rice? None of the others got a whole lot of "SportsCenter" time, since none has played a game in the last 59 years.

• What were those six voters who voted for Jose Canseco thinking, anyway? Maybe they thought this was some kind of literary award.

• Finally, here are five players who now look as though they'll never get elected: Blyleven (back under 50 percent this year, after 10 elections), Smith (under 40 percent, after five tries), Jack Morris (also still under 40 percent, after eight elections), Trammell (at an all-time low, 13.4 percent, in his sixth year) and Murphy (who has dropped from 23 percent to 9.2 percent since 2000). Better luck with the Veterans Committee, men.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com