Initial reports from Cooperstown indicate that the Baseball Hall of Fame may match its biggest crop of inductees in its history this year.
The highest number of inductees in a given year occurred in the Hall’s first year, in 1936, when Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson were honored, but this year, if the first 130 ballots cast accurately reflect the entire voting, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza, will enter the Hall. Those 130 ballots represent 22.8% of the total vote.
After 1936, the BBWAA only voted in four players twice, in 1947 and 1955.
The Baseball Think Factory reports that Tom Seaver’s record 98.84% percentage of the vote, the highest the BBWAA has recorded, may be endangered; the early ballots show Johnson polling at 99.2% and Martinez polling 97.7%. Smoltz follows with 89.2%; Biggio, 84.2%, and Piazza, 78.9%. A player needs 75% for induction.
Biggio barely missed last year, when he snared 74.8% of votes. Although Piazza’s chances look good, the early ballots include 22 ballots from New York and four from Los Angeles, areas where he played, so the ensuing ballots may not be as supportive.
Other contenders knock at the door. Jeff Bagwell polled 70% of the sample votes and Tim Raines accumulated 66.2%.
The flip side of the ballot, those who don’t receive 5% of the vote and are permanently excluded from consideration, includes luminaries such as Mark McGwire, 6.9%, and Sammy Sosa, 5.4%, both of whom damaged their chances with exposed PED use.
Two writers, Buster Olney of ESPN and Lynn Henning of the Detroit News, have refused to vote this year, protesting the rules for voting. Olney has said that the repudiation of players using PEDs is unfair and that players should be judged by the era in which they play. “The idea of retroactive morality is ridiculous,” he contends. Olney has also charged that the 10-player limit for the writers damages legitimate candidates, arguing that Mike Mussina belongs in the Hall of Fame, but there are 10 other players who also deserve the honor. He wrote that his abstention would improve Mussina’s chances because the 10-player limit forced Olney to leave Mussina off of his ballot.
Other criticisms leveled at the voting process mark the lifetime voting privileges given to writers who may have left baseball reporting for other pastures, and the reduction of the time players are eligible for induction, which eliminates worthy players because of the backlog of candidates.