A voting body that generally can't agree on what day of the week it is, let alone how to handle the legacies of the best players in the history of baseball, has found agreement like never before. Ken Griffey Jr. was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame with a record-setting 99.3% of the vote, the results of which were announced on Wednesday evening. In Griffey's first year of eligibility, just three of the 440 members of the BBWAA who voted left him off their ballots.
He'll have company in the Cooperstown spotlight on July 24, as Mike Piazza was elected with 83.0% of the vote in his fourth year of eligibility. With that, the Class of 2016 includes a neat pair of bookends: the highest draft pick ever elected (Griffey was the No. 1 pick in 1987) and the lowest (Piazza was picked 1,390th, in the 62nd round, in '88).
Of the other 30 candidates on the ballot, Jeff Bagwell (71.6% in his sixth year of eligibility), Tim Raines (69.8% in his ninth year) and Trevor Hoffman (67.3% in his debut) fell just short but left themselves well-positioned for the future—a situation that's of particular urgency for Raines, who will be in his 10th and final year of eligibility on the writers' ballot. Meanwhile, Alan Trammell (40.9%) and Mark McGwire (12.3%) fell far short of election in their final years of eligibility, and second-year candidate Nomar Garciaparra and 12 first-year candidates, including Jim Edmonds, failed to receive the 5.0% minimum to maintain their eligibility.
I'll be back with a candidate-by-candidate breakdown of the results on Thursday and then an update of my annual five-year outlook on Friday, but for the moment, here are three quick thoughts on this year's election.
Junior sets a record
No candidate has ever been elected unanimously via the BBWAA ballot, not even Babe Ruth (95.1% in the inaugural election in 1936), Ty Cobb (98.2% in '36), Willie Mays (94.7% in '79) or Hank Aaron (97.8% in '82). That none of the early greats swept the field established an unwritten rule among the electorate that has held for more than three-quarters of a century; occasionally, a self-appointed guardian of the Cooperstown gate would declare that, as a rule, he does not vote for any first-time candidate. Even so, Griffey was included on all 213 ballots published prior to the announcement at Ryan Thibodaux's ballot tracker, keeping open the theoretical possibility that he could run the table but more likely positioning him to challenge the highest voting percentage of all time. On the strength of his 630 career home runs, 13 All-Star selections, 10 Gold Gloves and the widespread perception that he did not use performance-enhancing drugs at a time when so many of his fellow sluggers with stratospheric home run totals did, Griffey turned in the highest percentage in the institution's 80-year history:
Ken Griffey Jr.
Cal Ripken Jr.
As noted above, Griffey is also the first No. 1 pick in the 51-year history of the amateur draft to be elected to the Hall, a remarkable statistic in and of itself. Every other past No. 1 pick—the game's symbols of limitless potential, from Rick Monday (1965) to Harold Baines ('77) to Darryl Strawberry ('80) to lesser lights who never made the major leagues—found a detour on the way to Cooperstown. That Griffey did not, with the pressures of being both the son of a star major league player and the potential savior of a struggling expansion franchise that had never known success, is remarkable. Here's lookin' at you, Kid!
• GALLERY: Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. throughout the years
Smaller electorate yields many big gains, even on smaller ballots
Back in July, the Hall of Fame announced that it was revoking the voting privileges of BBWAA members who are more than 10 years removed from actively covering the game. Via BBWAAA Secretary/Treasurer Jack O'Connell, the number of voters purged was 90, roughly 14% of the 2015 voting pool (not everybody who receives a ballot votes—some out of protest, others because their affiliated organizations, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, prohibit it). The enfranchisement of writers who stopped covering baseball, whether to cover other sports or simply to retire, had annually drawn scrutiny and criticism, particularly from those who believe the process should be more transparent and the voters more accountable, with their ballot choices explained.
It's too early to draw final conclusions about the impact of this move, which will continue to cull inactive voters from the rolls unless they apply for reinstatement and demonstrate active status. As expected, though, the results appear to show both more sympathy toward candidates favored by advanced metrics (such as Bagwell, Raines, Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina) than past electorates, as well as a softening of the voters' collective stance with regards to candidates connected to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. The latter, however, may owe more to high-profile writers such as Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal and ESPN's Jerry Crasnick voting for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens for the first time in their four years of eligibility. Among the published ballots, Bonds gained 14 votes from returning voters who did not include him last year, not to mention five out of eight from first-time voters; he climbed 7.5 points to 44.3%. By comparison, Clemens picked up 12 votes from returning voters and five from new ones, climbing 7.7 points to 45.2%.
In all, the total of 440 ballots cast was a 20% reduction from last year's 549, which itself was the lowest total since 2010. It's too early to know how much higher the share of published ballots will be over last year's 60.3%, since many of those ballots weren't published until after the election results were announced, but via the BBWAA's website, both the number of names per ballot and the percentage of ballots using all 10 slots fell from the past two years. The average 2016 ballot included 7.95 names, down from 8.42 in '15 (the highest since the writers returned to annual voting in 1966) and 8.39 in in '14, but still far above '13 and '12 levels (6.6 and 5.1, respectively, the latter the lowest average since at least '66). This year, 41.6% of voters used all 10 slots, down from a modern record of 51% last year and 50% in 2014. Via O'Connell, it was 22% in 2013, and only one other time in his tenure as secretary/treasurer, which dates back to 1995, was it even above 20%.
Despite the shrinking electorate and the shrinking ballots, four holdovers gained at least 15 percentage points, matching the modern-era high set in 1974, when Phil Cavaretta, Ralph Kiner, Hal Newhouser and Johnny Sain all picked up at least 15 points. A fifth just missed by two-tenths of a point but was one of three other candidates to gain at least 10 points:
All seven of those players are ones I included in my virtual ballot, because via my Wins Above Replacement-based JAWS system, they are as good or better than the average Hall of Famer at their position. In other words, it's fair to say that these are the guys favored by advanced metrics, perhaps significantly moreso than they are by traditional metrics; there are no 300 game winners or 500 homer sluggers in the group above. Even so, the next player down the list is the more traditional stat-favored Fred McGriff (20.9%, a gain of eight points), whose calling card is his 493 homers.
Three on the cusp
Bagwell, Raines and Hoffman will be the top returning candidates on a 2017 ballot that introduces newcomers Vladimir Guerrero, Jorge Posada, Manny Ramirez and Ivan Rodriguez. None of those four are a slam dunk due to the shorter careers of the first two and the PED allegations—two suspensions in the case of the former, innuendo in the case of the latter—connected to the last two. That means it's possible that all three holdovers could be elected, which would be the third time in four years the writers have tabbed at least a trio.
Looking ahead for Hoffman: Of the eight candidates who received at least 65.0% of the vote in their debuts but fell short of 75.0%, five (Roberto Alomar, Yogi Berra, Rollie Fingers, Carlton Fisk and Whitey Ford) were elected the following year, two (Craig Biggio and Gaylord Perry) were elected in their third year of eligibility and one (Phil Niekro) in his fifth. The average wait of that group was an additional 1.75 years, which suggests that Hoffman will be enshrined before the best reliever in the game's history, Mariano Rivera, hits the ballot in 2019.
As for Bagwell and Raines: Since the reinstatement of annual balloting in 1966, 21 candidates (including Piazza) have received at least 69.0% of the vote but less than the necessary 75.0% needed for election. Sixteen of them were elected the next year, and a 17th—longtime Yankees ace Red Ruffing—was actually elected in the same year (1967) via a since-discontinued runoff procedure designed for when no candidate received enough votes. Of the remaining four, Orlando Cepeda and Nellie Fox were in their final year of BBWAA eligibility but were eventually elected by the Veterans Committee. Roy Campanella, who received 69.9% in 1967, needed two additional election cycles to surpass 75%, and Jim Bunning went from 70.0% in '87 to 74.2% in '88, then back to 63.3% in '89; he was eventually elected by the VC.
2016 votes (percent)
Years on ballot
Ken Griffey Jr.