Right now, baseball writers – at least the chosen ones anointed by the Hall of Fame to do so – are studying this year’s ballot, deciding who is worthy for election and who is not.
There are two guarantees in this year’s election. Mariano Rivera, probably the greatest relief pitcher in baseball history, will be swept into Cooperstown. He will not, however, be a unanimous choice. That’s because no one ever is and credentials notwithstanding, no one ever will be.
There are voters out there with a twisted idea that no matter how good a player was, he should not be unanimous. So they refuse to vote for players who are no-brainers, players who have earned their way into Cooperstown with outstanding careers. There are other voters who believe being elected in the first year on the ballot is a special honor and will not vote for a candidate in his first time around. They are protecting the Hall of Fame. At least they think so.
The closest to unanimous was Ken Griffey, Jr. with 99.32 percent. Despite his impeccable credentials, three of the 440 voters found him unworthy of their support. Maybe those voters are the ones who are unworthy.
Hank Aaron and his 755 home runs was not unanimous. Neither was Willie Mays, probably the most complete star of his generation. Joe DiMaggio and his 56-game hitting streak wasn’t good enough. Neither was Ted Williams, baseball’s last .400 hitter. Some voters managed to find fault with two of the game’s greatest hitters.
This is baseball royalty we’re talking about and yet when their names came up for consideration, they could not convince every voter that they belonged in the Hall of Fame. DiMaggio even had to wait two years before being elected. This is because some of the chosen voters get carried away with protecting the shrine and choose to withhold the honor in a player’s first year of eligibility.
Other voters are rather cavalier about the ballot.
Some voters throw their ballots away. Some give their ballots to the pizza delivery guy or the butcher. Some send in blank ballots, throwing off the percentage. And yet, the keepers of the Hall of Fame flame keep sending ballots to these characters.
A few years ago, the Board of Directors at Cooperstown decided they did not like the way the vote was going. So they cleaned up the electorate, sweeping out 100 or so retired writers, the most experienced voters. It was an effort to make the voting community younger and perhaps a little more lenient when it came to considering steroid cheaters who were on the ballot.
It worked. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, both laboring under a cloud of PEDs suspicion, made progress toward the 75 percent approval required for election and you can expect the same thing to happen this time around.
You can also be sure that Mariano Rivera and his record 652 saves will not be a unanimous choice, though. Nobody ever is.