Archive for January 4th, 2011

(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeU.)

The Hall of Fame voting results will be announced tomorrow and there is a growing consensus that Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven will be elected. Alomar’s selection seems mostly likely because his exclusion last year probably resulted from the misguided (and unfortunately persistent) sentiment that seeks to uphold the sanctity of a first ballot coronation (after all, if every voter held the same philosophy, extremely qualified candidates would drop off the ballot after failing to reach the minimum threshold of 5%). Blyleven’s potential induction, however, would be the culmination of a long campaign that has attracted many tireless advocates, particularly in what has become known as the sabremetric community. Long overlooked because of his less than stellar showing in more primitive measures of pitching ability, Blyleven’s candidacy has slowly gained traction as a wider acceptance and understanding of advanced statistical concepts have emerged.

Regardless of where you come down on the old school/new school statistical debate, Blyleven’s selection would be historic in terms of how long he had to wait to get elected. This year marks Blyleven’s 14th time on the ballot, so if he once again falls short, he’d only have one year left of consideration. However, if he does finally get the needed 75% of the total vote, he would become only the second player to be enshrined by the baseball writers after waiting at least 14 years. In 2009, Jim Rice finally crossed the finished line in his 15th and final year of eligibility. Before Rice’s election, Bruce Sutter joined Ralph Kiner as the “longest suffering” Hall of Famer when he was elected in 2006 on his 13th attempt.

Hall of Famers with Most Years on BBWAA Ballot

Player Year Elected Years on Ballot
Ralph Kiner 1975 13
Bob Lemon 1976 12
Duke Snider 1980 11
Don Drysdale 1984 10
Tony Perez 2000 9
Bruce Sutter 2006 13
Rich Gossage 2008 9
Jim Rice 2009 15
Andre Dawson 2010 9
Bert Blyleven ? 14
Jack Morris ? 12

Note: Only players elected since 1967, when BBWAA first adopted annual votes, are included.
Source: Baseball-reference.com and baseballhall.org/hall-famers

Of the 109 players elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA (104 in regular elections, three in runoffs and two in special elections), only nine have needed at least nine years (60% of the allowed tenure) on the ballot. However, four of those cases have come in the last five years (and, if Blyleven is elected, it would be five in the last six years). Is this a sign of Hall of Fame voters becoming more liberal? Perhaps it is the growing ranks of the BBWAA that has given long-time candidates a second life? Or, could it be something much more subtle like a backlash by older voters against the modern statistics espoused by younger counterparts? In the case of Rice, that seems like a plausible theory, but the steady progress of Blyleven puts that conspiracy to rest.

Interestingly, another four cases were also clustered in one 10-year period from 1975 to 1984. In that era, however, it seems as if the combination of a candidate backlog, adaptation to annual elections in 1967 and the recent retirements of several superstars conspired to prolong the candidacies of more than a few overqualified players. It’s shocking to see that Ralph Kiner and Duke Snider had to wait 13 and 11 years, respectively, for enshrinement, but it becomes a little more understandable when you look at preceding years’ results. In the case of Kiner, his election in 1975 was preceded by the selection of Mickey Mantle in 1974, Warren Spahn in 1973 and Sandy Koufax and Yogi Berra in 1972. Snider, meanwhile, had to wait through all of those elections as well as Willie Mays in 1979, Eddie Mathews in 1978 and Ernie Banks in 1977.

Looking at the recent group of long-time candidates, an opposite phenomenon might be true. Instead of having to wade through too many qualified options, it seems as if the voters may be too eager to find suitable candidates, either because of a lull in the process or the exclusion of those players suspected of using PEDs (e.g., Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Jeff Bagwell). That might help explain why players like Rice and Andre Dawson gradually enjoyed increased support. After all, Rice’s and Dawson’s candidacies occurred during the “steroid era”, so if you discount the numbers being produced during that time, the relative performance of players from the previous generation would appear more impressive. Also, in the cases of Sutter and Rich Gossage, the evolving role of the relief pitcher and increasing acceptance of its importance may have helped get each candidate over the hump.

Vote Progression of “Long-Term” Candidates

Note: Year refers to either the most recent recorded vote total or date of election.
Source: Sean Lahman database, Baseball-reference.com and baseballhall.org/hall

Unfortunately, at the same time that BBWAA seems poised to right a wrong by electing Bert Blyleven, they are also inching toward electing Jack Morris, who would rival Rice as one of the writers’ poorest choices. The interesting thing about Morris’ candidacy is it has lacked the one big bump that most long-term nominees experience. With the exception of Tony Perez, who debuted at a relatively high 50%, every Hall of Fame who spent at least nine years on the ballot enjoyed at least one year with a 10% spike in support. To date, Morris’ largest increase has been the 8.3% increase experienced last year. If Morris is to be elected, he will need to have his breakthrough soon because none of the other similar candidates have had a vote total as low as his in their 11th year of consideration.

Finally, looking at things from the flip side, if Blyleven fails to win election and drops off the writers’ ballot after 2012, he would hold the distinction of having the second highest vote total without being elected (74.2% in 2010) by the writers. In 1985, Nellie Fox dropped off the BBWAA’s ballot after receiving 74.7% in his final year of eligibility. Fox eventually was elected by the Veteran’s Committee in 1997, so even if Blyleven continues to get the snub from the writers, the doors of the Hall might still be opened to him some day.

Players with Highest Vote Total Not Elected by BBWAA

Player Highest Total Year Result
Nellie Fox 74.7% 1985 Elected by VC in 1997.
Bert Blyleven 74.2% 2010 Still eligible.
Jim Bunning 74.2% 1988 Elected by VC in 1996.
Orlando Cepeda 73.5% 1994 Elected by VC in 1999.
Frank Chance 72.5% 1945 Elected by OTC in 1946.

Note: Bunning’s highest total was recorded in 12th year of eligibility.
Source: Sean Lahman database, Baseball-reference.com and baseballhall.org/hall-famers

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