By: Chris Lynch
The Baseball Hall of Fame announced the class of 2016 on Wednesday. This summer, two of baseball’s best players will join the ranks of baseball’s most elite fraternity. Ken Griffey Jr. Was voted in on the first ballot. He was voted in with 99.3 percent of the ballot, the highest percentage in the history of the Hall of Fame. This was an open and shut case. The Hall of Fame got it entirely correct with this selection, except for the three people who did not vote for Griffey’s induction. He will likely go in wearing a Mariners hat.
Joining Jr. in the hall is the greatest offensive catcher in history. Mike Piazza was voted in with 83.0 percent of the vote. He was on the ballot for the fifth year and finally takes his rightful place in the Hall. He wasn’t voted in on the first ballot because there were allegations that he had taken steroids. While there was never any credible proof that he did, voters were hesitant to vote in someone who had those allegations hanging over his head. Piazza also was one of the strangest characters in baseball, and could rub journalists the wrong way, which hurt his case a little bit. He got voted in this year, and he will likely go in wearing a Mets hat, although a Dodger hat is a viable alternative.
A few players missed the cut barely. The closest non electee was Jeff Bagwell. He got 71.3 percent of the vote this year, and candidates need 75% for election. The Astro’s longtime slugger has been plagued by lingering rumors about steroids as well, which has hurt his case. It also didn’t help that he played his entire career in Houston, which isn’t a major baseball market. His .297 batting average, 449 homers, and MVP award suggest that he should be in the Hall. He will get voted in next year.
Tim Raines also missed barely, getting 69.8 percent of the vote. The Sabermetrics community loves Tim Raines, and for good reason. He is the second best lead off hitter after Rickey Henderson. 808 stolen bases, an OPS+ of 123 (which is excellent), a .294 batting average, and an exciting brand of baseball make many believe that Raines deserves election. He came close in his ninth year on the ballot, but missed. So what worked against Raines? He played his best years in Montreal for a team that doesn’t play there anymore. He also played in the same era as Ricky Henderson, which stole his thunder and limited how popular he was. The back half of his career also dragged on and saw him play for 6 different teams. He also was more known as a drug addict for some years than he was as a baseball player. All that aside, Raines’ vote percentage went up by 14%. He stands an excellent chance of induction next season.
The most surprising person to not be elected is Trevor Hoffman. In the predictions piece back in November, I predicted that Hoffman would be voted in on the first ballot. He was the first person to 600 saves, is among the greatest strikeout pitchers of all time, and was the definition of the closer role in the National League for his whole career.
So why did he miss?
He played in San Diego for most of his career, one of the smallest markets in the sport. His teams also were relatively unsuccessful. He only went to the playoffs 4 times with the Padres, and blew a save in the 2007 Playoff game to determine the Wild Card team to the Colorado Rockies. He didn’t have the same level of succession the playoffs as he did in the regular season. However, the two biggest hurdles for him are that he played at the same time as the best closer of all time, Mariano Rivera, and relief pitchers are not highly valued. Rivera’s excellent hurting Hoffman’s case is similar to Ricky Henderson incidentally hurting Tim Raines.
Hoffman and Raines are strong candidates but are hurt by another candidate’s in-arguable greatness. Also, only five relief pitchers have ever been voted in, none since Dennis Eckersley was elected in 2004. Hoffman got 67.3 percent of the vote, and stands an excellent chance of being voted in next season.
Other interesting names that fell short include Curt Schilling, who got 52.3%, Edgar Martinez at 43.4%, Mike Mussina at 43.0%, and Alan Trammal with 40.9% of the vote. Trammal was in his 15th and final year on the ballot, and now falls off. If he is ever. If considered for induction, it will be by the Veterans Committee.
The most complicated and controversial cases also drew many votes. Roger Clemens got 45.2% of the vote. Barry Bonds got 44.3%. Both went up from last year’s ballot, and have some of the gaudiest statistics in baseball history to their name. They also have reputations as steroid users and cheaters. Both would have been Hall of Famers without the steroids, but neither would have the stats they ended up with without the drugs. Neither stand a good chance of being inducted, and they will serve as log jams until their time on the ballot ends, further complicating matters for the voters.
In total, the voters got quite a bit right. They elected two deserving candidates and kept out known and strongly accused steroids users who cheated and dishonored baseball. However, they also did not induct at least two candidates who should have been voted into the Hall. Trevor Hoffman was snuffed and Jeff Bagwell should already be in the Hall of Fame. Those two will likely be inducted next year.
They also did not vote in two candidates who have strong cases. Raines has only one year left and will have to be voted in barely next year if he is to get in on the BBWAA ballot. Curt Schilling also missed induction. While he does have a weaker case than Raines, he does deserve induction. He will keep gaining support as time goes on in his eligibility.
Ultimately, a good day for baseball. Griffey and Piazza deserve it and the baseball world should be excited to hear them speak at their induction in Cooperstown this summer.