(The following is being syndicated from The Captain’s Blog).
Barry Larkin was the only player elected to the Hall of Fame, having being named on 86.4% of all ballots cast. Despite being overlooked over the past two elections, Larkin’s enshrinement was all but ensured heading into the vote. However, there were some interesting, and in some cases surprising, developments further down the ballot.
If there was any suspense on this ballot it was whether Jack Morris would finally clear the hurdle. Although Morris once again fell short, he has reached a threshold that augurs well for his final two seasons of eligibility. After stagnating around 50% for the last few years, Morris jumped up to 66.7%. Over the years, only five players who pulled in at least that many votes failed to make the Hall of Fame on the writers’ ballot, and all were eventually enshrined via the Veterans Committee.
Close but So Far, Players Who Just Missed Election by the BBWAA
At the other end of the spectrum, Bernie Williams had a disappointing debut, garnering just under 10% of the electorate. Although several future elite Hall of Famers received less than 10% of the vote in their first year of eligibility, they appeared on the ballot during an era in which either active players were considered or there was a glut of candidates. Since 1960, Ralph Kiner is the only Hall of Famer who received an initial vote total lower than Bernie’s (he received only 1.1%), while more recently, the worst start from the gate by a future honoree belongs to Bert Blyleven, who was only named on 17.5% of ballots in 1998. If there is a consolation for Williams, he was the only first timer to remain eligible by surpassing the 5% level.
Along with Morris, several other players made encouraging leaps toward eventual enshrinement. The largest improvement belonged to Jeff Bagwell, who seems to be breaking free from the steroid-related ignorance that has dogged his candidacy. After debuting at 41.7%, Bagwell added almost 15 percentage points, bringing him well over 50% in just his second year of eligibility (for perspective, Larkin received 62% in his second year). If there’s one silver lining in the vigilante approach many writers have taken toward Bagwell, it’s the possibility that he and teammate Craig Biggio, who will join the ballot in 2013, could wind up being elected together.
Tim Raines also made significant strides toward Cooperstown by adding over 12 percentage points to reach 48.7% in his fifth year of eligibility. Raines has made consistent gains since debuting at an appallingly low 24%, so it stands to reason he will eventually take his rightful place among the greats of the game, especially as the electorate becomes more educated.
Perhaps buoyed by the coattails of fellow shortstop Larkin, Alan Trammell also enjoyed a sizeable boost, increasing his total from 24% to 37%. Unfortunately for Trammell, however, he has only three years of eligibility remaining, so it seems unlikely that he’ll be able to make up the distance.
One player that many people thought might receive a bump this year was Lee Smith. Despite the recent increasing appreciation for relievers, Smith remained mired around the 50% level, which doesn’t bode well for his candidacy going forward. Similarly, Mark McGwire has not budged from his low-20% totals, suggesting voters are not interested in taking a conciliatory stance toward players who have admitted to using steroids. Edgar Martinez’ vote total also remained relatively stagnant, but at 36.5% in only his third year, the great Mariners’ DH still has some room for future gains, especially if the voters warm up to the idea of electing a full-time designated hitter.
One final note from a Yankees’ perspective, Don Mattingly jumped up five percentage points to 17.8%, the third highest total during his 12 years on the ballot. Mattingly isn’t going to be enshrined by the BBWAA, but he could be the kind of player the Veteran’s Committee revisits down the road.