Baseball writing cowboy
Here is a quick list of the players who were closest to unanimous, not by percentage but by how many votes they missed:
2. Tom Seaver, 5 missed votes (425 of 430)
6. Hank Aaron, 9 missed votes (406 of 415)
8. Babe Ruth, 11 missed votes (215 of 226)
11. Mike Schmidt, 16 missed votes (444 of 460)
15. Willie Mays, 23 missed votes (409 of 432)
16. Stan Musial, 23 missed votes (317 of 340)
OK, so that takes us to Rickey Henderson. You already know that Henderson holds the major league record for most stolen bases with 1,406 -- and that record isn't getting broken for a long, long time. You know who is the active leader in stolen bases?
Rickey also is the all-time leader in runs scored. The idea of the game is to score runs. He's done it more than anyone in baseball history.
He won an MVP Award in 1990 (and certainly could have won it in '81 and '85). He won a Gold Glove in left field. He hit 28 homers in a season twice, he stole 100 bases or more three times, he scored 100 or more runs 13 times, and so on and so on and so on. He also was part of two world champions and hit .339 in the World Series if such things are important to voters.
Obviously, you don't need anything else. Rickey Henderson is utterly unique; if the Hall of Fame is supposed to represent the greatest players in baseball history, then there simply is not a plausible reason I can think of to NOT vote for Henderson. He's not the greatest left fielder in baseball history -- not with Williams and Bonds on the list -- but he IS the greatest leadoff hitter in baseball history, and if you were putting together an all-time team you should probably find a way to have Rickey Henderson at the top of the lineup. I would love to hear explanations from those who will not vote for Rickey; you know, something other than the "Well nobody has ever been voted in unanimously" tripe.
OK, so we don't need to add anything to the Rickey case -- but Tracy brings up a good point: Rickey Henderson is also the greatest walker in baseball history. Now, if you look at the list of all-time walks, it does not look that way.
So, Henderson is second on that list -- and by quite a lot to Bonds. But, here's another way to look at that list:
1. Rickey Henderson, 2,129 walks
You are, of course, way ahead of me on this: Those are the all-time leaders in UNINTENTIONAL walks. Ruth, Ott, Gehrig remain the same because unintentional walks were not registered during their time, though I think it's fair to suspect that Ruth got plenty of them. It seems pretty obvious that intentional walks and unintentional walks are two very different things -- different enough that, really, they should be different categories. The intentional walk gives you a great sense of how much respect everyone had for the player's hitting abilities (and also how little respect everyone has for the hitting abilities of pitchers). When you look at the top of the all-time intentional walk list, you see some of the most feared players in baseball history (or at least in the history since they started keeping tabs around 1954):
1. Barry Bonds, 688 intentional walks
The unintentional walk obviously is a different weapon; it is earning a base that the other team did not want to give up. It can frustrate pitchers, it can change the tone of a game, and nobody ever drew more unintentional walks than Rickey.
And think about this: Pitchers REALLY did not want to walk Rickey, for all the obvious reasons. I mean, Ted Williams, sure, walking him often made sense; I suspect that most pitchers did not kick themselves for walking Ted Williams. But Rickey -- he was probably going to steal second on you, maybe steal third. Even if he didn't steal, he was going to create all sorts of tension. Nobody WANTED to walk Rickey Henderson.
But they could not help it because Rickey would get in that crouch (
He walked more times just leading off an in inning than
I simply cannot imagine a baseball statistic more staggering.
Rickey doesn't need another reason for people to give him their Hall of Fame vote, but he should be recognized as the man who drew more unintentional walks than anyone else. And if that gets him an extra vote or two, one or two votes closer to unanimous, that's even better.