Cal Ripken, Jr. become the first
player ever elected unanimously to the Hall of Fame? Will Mark McGwire, who was a lock for 2007
election as recently as two years ago, receive as much as 25-percent support
from the voting baseball writers?
Those two questions dominate anticipation about the outcome of this
From this observer's perspective, the answers are "no" regarding Ripken, and "yes, but not much more" with respect to McGwire.
is clearly no doubt that Ripken will be elected, along with fellow first-time
eligible Tony Gwynn. Both men surpassed one of
Ripken has several other very impressive credentials, including two American League MVP awards (1983 and 1991, the first with a World Series winner, the second, perhaps dubious one with a sixth-place team that was 14 games below .500 and 24 games behind its division winner), 18 consecutive all-star game selections, 431 career home runs (including the most ever, 345, by a shortstop at the time Ripken retired), 1,695 runs batted in (the 20th-best career total, all-time), and 603 doubles (tied for 12th-best). Beyond that, and looming even larger, he also has that ironman record of 2,632 consecutive games played, 502 more than the 2,130 by Lou Gehrig that was long considered unsurpassable.
of that fuels legitimate speculation whether Ripken, who made no obvious enemies
in the game and was widely perceived as a quintessential role model for kids,
surpasses all of
It's difficult, probably specious, to argue against that premise. But few, if any, would assert that Ripken was baseball's greatest player ever, and none of the greats who came before him and might have a legitimate claim to that title -- neither Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Willie Mays nor Hank Aaron, who are paramount among several others -- was ever elected unanimously (they were chosen with 95.1, 93.4, 94.7 and 98.1-percent support, respectively). The closest anyone has come to unanimous election to date is the rounded 98.8-percent support given to pitchers Tom Seaver (425 of a possible 430 votes, or 98.84 percent, in 1992) and Nolan Ryan (491 of 497 possible, or 98.79 percent, in 1999).
Given that, it's virtually guaranteed that two, three or as many as a half-dozen among the BBWAA's 525-odd voters will find some justification to omit Ripken from their ballots -- be it perverse adherence to a seven-decade-old tradition, or a perhaps legitimate concern as to whether Ripken's fixation on the consecutive-games streak often placed himself above his team. But it does seem likely that Ripken has an excellent chance to surpass the high-percent record shared by Seaver and Ryan, and I look for him to become the first player ever to equal or exceed 99-percent support (for example, 520 out of 525 would be 99.05 percent).
As for Mark McGwire, it's both typical and predictable that the cloud which has hung over baseball since the steroids scandal broke and now dominates his once-certain prospects for Hall of Fame election has obscured more positive speculation about Ripken's chances for unanimous election. We all know the story. McGwire and Sammy Sosa both surpass Roger Maris' single-season home-run record in 1998, then repeat the feat in 1999, bringing fans back to ballparks in droves and twin-handedly erasing the final negative vestiges of the 1994 players' strike. But, late in 1998, McGwire admits to using androstenedione, at the time a legal dietary supplement. In 2001, Barry Bonds shatters Big Mac's "record for the ages," suddenly making homers by men older than 35 seem -- unnaturally, and contrary to all past history -- like child's play. By early 2004, and almost simultaneously, the BALCO scandal appears to taint Bonds, and Jose Canseco publishes his tell-all book, claiming he personally and repeatedly injected McGwire with steroids, beginning in the late 1980s. That same spring, MLB is called on the carpet by an angry U. S. Congress, where McGwire -- either from bad legal advice, sheer stupidity, or both -- evades answering questions about his past, sounding far more like some disingenuous Mafioso pleading the Fifth Amendment than a hero worthy of Cooperstown.
Since then, McGwire has been effectively convicted without trial. As a de facto qualifier, with 583 career home runs (seventh-best on the all-time list), under normal conditions Big Mac should -- like Ripken and Gwynn -- be a lock for first-year election in the 2007 voting. But one recent poll of approximately one-fourth of this year's HOF electors showed that only 25-percent or so intended to vote for him, and his first-year candidacy on this year's ballot is widely being perceived as a precedent-setting event to signal how baseball's scribes will deal with proven and/or suspected steroid or human growth hormone (HGH) users in the future.
Whether all of that is just is debatable. Beyond his admitted use of the now-banned andro (which Canseco speculates was an intentional decoy on McGwire's part), Big Mac has been convicted of nothing in any court beyond the one of public opinion. Of course, anyone who believes that the presumption of innocence is still alive in America in the (now) second decade after OJ's murder trial need only watch five minutes of commentary on Court TV to have their perceptions corrected.
fair or not, it's now a given that McGwire's real or suspected steroid use has
torpedoed his prospects for first-ballot election to
Gwynn, the third de facto newcomer to this year's ballot, is -- like
virtually assured of election.
Gwynn ended his career with a .338 batting average, the best among
players in his generation. If his
candidacy has a drawback, it's the fact that he rates among the wimpiest
"great-hitting" outfielders ever, power-wise. Gwynn accumulated 3,141 hits, 2,378 (or
75.7 percent) of which were singles.
Among outfielders whose careers began after 1900, there are only three in
But, neither Waner, Carey nor Brock led his league in hits on seven occasions, nor won eight batting titles. In that vein, the most similar player elected in recent years was third sacker Wade Boggs, with five batting championships and 74.9-percent singles (2,253 of 3,010), who cruised into Cooperstown with 91.9-percent support in 2005. As a result, it's fair to expect that Gwynn will earn a support percentage about equal to Boggs, perhaps a tad higher.
Without doubt, Ripken, Gwynn and McGwire are the best among a formidable crop of 17 newcomers on this year's ballot. The other first timers for 2007 include first baseman Wally Joyner, shortstop Tony Fernandez, third sackers Bobby Bonilla, Scott Brosius and Ken Caminiti, outfielders Dante Bichette, Jay Buhner, Jose Canseco, Eric Davis, Paul O'Neill and Devon White, designated hitter Harold Baines and starting pitchers Bret Saberhagen and Bobby Witt. Several of these men have one or two mildly impressive credentials: Caminiti and Canseco both have MVP trophies (the latter with 462 career homers); Saberhagen earned two Cy Young awards; Baines has 2,866 career hits, 384 homers and 1,628 RBI; Fernandez has 2,276 hits (a substantial amount for a middle infielder); O'Neill has a National League batting title, plus five World Series rings. But none of them has the kind of credentials that belong to a first-ballot Hall of Famer and, given recent voting trends, it's doubtful that most of them will earn the five-percent support required to remain on the BBWAA ballot for 2008. My own prediction is that, in addition to Ripken, Gwynn and McGwire, the only three who will earn above five-percent are Baines, O'Neill and Saberhagen, and the latter two just barely (so it could easily just be Baines). Absent the steroids scandal, Canseco is clearly someone who would merit much higher first-ballot support, and would likely remain on the ballot for most, if not all of the 15 possible elections. But I expect that his role in the recent debacle assures him a rapid ticket to Cooperstown Palookaville from the scribes.
There are 15 ballot holdovers from the 2006 voting, including -- in descending order of their 2006 voting performances -- Jim Rice (64.8-percent support last time), Goose Gossage (64.6), Andre Dawson (61.0), Bert Blyleven (53.3), Lee Smith (45.0), Jack Morris (41.2), Tommy John (29.6), Steve Garvey (26.0), Alan Trammell (17.7), Dave Parker (14.6), Dave Concepcion (12.5), Don Mattingly (12.3), Orel Hershiser (11.2), Dale Murphy (10.8) and Albert Belle (7.7). Hershiser and Belle were ballot first timers in 2006, but the other thirteen candidates all saw their support percentages rise last year over the 2005 voting, with the most impressive increases posted by Blyleven (a 12.4 percent jump from 40.9) and Gossage (up 9.4 percent from 55.2).
In that light, I look for Gossage -- whose relief-pitching credentials have gained added scrutiny and recognition following last year's election of Bruce Sutter -- to move ahead of Rice (whose recent support increases have been less impressive) into third-place among this year's final pecking order. In the only other change I anticipate, and a very minor one at that, I think Orel Hershiser will climb marginally, to a spot ahead of Don Mattingly (and perhaps Dave Concepcion), with the rest of the descending sequence remaining the same.
However, I do not expect Gossage to gain election this time, and look for the support percentages for him and most of this year's holdovers to be slightly lower than the ones they received in 2006. The reason for that is the 1999 election, which was the last ballot that included as many as three de facto candidates. That year, absent any steroid scandal, all three first-time de facto candidates were elected -- Nolan Ryan (324 career wins, 98.8 percent support), George Brett (3,154 hits, 98.2 percent) and Robin Yount (3,142 hits, 77.5 percent) -- and, at the same time, the support percentage for every holdover on that ballot declined from the previous year's voting. With three more de facto newcomers in 2007, their credentials will once again dominate the voters' attentions, making everyone else seem proportionately less-qualified as result. Beyond that, it seems a given that, if the voters cannot rationalize support for someone with McGwire's numbers, Rice, Dawson and the other non-pitchers on this year's ballot are likely to get relatively short shrift as well.
absent anyone being elected in this year's Veterans Committee voting, it's my
prediction that Ripken and Gwynn will be alone on the
table below gives my predictions for this year's
2007 BBWAA Voting Forecast
|Cal Ripken, Jr.||SS||1||--||--||--||none||99|