New inductees among most deserving
Near-unanimous support for Ripken, Gwynn from Hall voters
Election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame continues to be the toughest ticket in all of sports. The debates are almost invariably about who is left out, because very few are allowed in.
Enshrined on Tuesday, with the announcement of the results of the 2007 Hall of Fame voting, were two candidates of indisputable worth, Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn. Not only did Ripken and Gwynn become first-ballot Hall of Famers, they received overwhelming support from the voters.
Ripken, in fact, established a record for the percentage of votes cast for a position player by the eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Ripken was named on 537 of the 545 ballots cast, or 98.53 percent. Only Tom Seaver (98.83 percent in 1992) and Nolan Ryan (98.79 percent in 1999) have received a larger mandate from the scribes who constitute this electorate.
And Gwynn was not very far off that pace, receiving 532 votes, or 97.6 percent of the votes, the seventh-highest percentage in the history of the voting. Making this support even more impressive was the fact that both the total number of ballots cast and Ripken's total votes were records.
No one can reasonably dispute the value of either of these careers. Ripken set the baseball standard for durability and diligence with his consecutive-games-played streak. And, with a combination of run production and stellar defense, he helped to redefine what a shortstop could be.
Gwynn had a lifetime batting average of .338 and won the National League batting title eight times, tying the record of Honus Wagner. There have been few better at the immeasurably difficult act of consistently putting the bat on the ball. And he was a five-time Gold Glove Award winner.
Justice was clearly served with the nearly unanimous election of these two players. The disputes will, as usual, be on the other side of the question; the deserving players who did not receive the 75 percent of the votes necessary for induction.
Goose Gossage came the closest, being named on 71.2 percent of the vote. He was merely 21 votes short of election. It will be of little immediate consolation for Gossage fans, but the year-to-year trend of support for his candidacy indicates that next year should be his year for election. He received 64.6 percent of the votes last year.
As a dominant closer in his era and a pioneer in the closing role, he deserves induction. He had my vote, and he will continue to have it until he is elected.
Two other players -- Jim Rice and Andre Dawson -- continued to have majority support, but not enough support for election. Both declined slightly in the percentage of support this year -- Rice was fourth in this year's voting, but declined from 64.8 percent to 63.5 percent, and Dawson was fifth, but went from 61.0 percent to 56.7 percent.
This illustrates a phenomenon that occurs when more than one first-ballot candidate is elected. Some voters tend to strictly limit the number of candidates they vote for in a given year, and thus, when voting for the first-ballot Hall of Famers, omit some candidates they previously supported.
This approach again demonstrates how difficult it is to win this election, but it does not seem completely sensible to some of us. If a candidate was worth your Hall of Fame vote in 2006, then he should be worth your Hall of Fame vote in 2007, regardless of what other candidates appear on the ballot.
The sixth- and seventh-place finishers, Bert Blyleven and Lee Smith, also saw a drop in the percentage of their support.
On my ballot, seven players were named -- Ripken, Gwynn, Gossage, Rice, Dawson, Blyleven and Smith. I had never voted for this many candidates before. This might mean that my standards have irreversibly slipped in middle age, but I prefer to believe that each and every one of these seven players is completely deserving of a place in Cooperstown.
On the other side of the issue, the vast majority of voters turned their backs on the most discussed candidacy of this voting season, that of Mark McGwire. In his first appearance on the ballot, McGwire received only 23.5 percent of the votes.
This was no surprise, given the climate of concern regarding steroids use in baseball and given McGwire's performance before a 2005 Congressional committee investigating steroids abuse in baseball. His mind-numbing repetition of the phrase, "I'm not here to talk about the past" appeared to be the performance of a guilty man, and it was insulting to the intelligence of the American baseball public.
On McGwire's side of the argument, his statistics taken alone would obviously merit consideration for the Hall. He at least received enough votes to remain on the ballot, so the debate can continue.
The message in the McGwire voting reinforced the essential nature of this balloting. If the voters have any substantial doubt, in any area, the candidate doesn't get their support.
Overall, this rigorous approach once again meant disappointment for some richly deserving candidates. But it made the overwhelming support for Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn all the more impressive.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.