JAWS and the 2014 Hall of Fame ballot: Five things to know on Election Day
The following article is part of my ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2014 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to JAWS, please see here. For the breakdowns of each candidate and to read the previous articles in the series, see here.
At long last, the voting results for the 2014 BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot will be announced at 2 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday. Unlike last year, when the voters pitched a shutout for the first time since 1996, we should be in for a bumper crop of honorees to join Expansion Era selections Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre in Cooperstown come July 28.
What follows is a quick look at five things to watch for regarding the outcome of the voting. I’ll be back to break down the actual results here later on Wednesday afternoon.
1. The largest class elected since at least 1999
As of 7:00 a.m. ET on Wednesday morning, 194 publicly revealed ballots had been tallied by Baseball Think Factory, a number that accounts for 34.1 percent of the electorate based upon last year’s total of 569 votes. According to those ballots, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas are all virtually assured of gaining first-ballot entry. All three players have received at least 90 percent of the vote thus far, well above the 75 percent needed for election. That would make this the first time since 1999, when George Brett, Nolan Ryan and Robin Yount gained entry, that more than two players have been voted in by the writers, and it will rival not only that class but also the class of 1991 (Rod Carew, Fergie Jenkins and Gaylord Perry) among the best of all time. Meanwhile, Maddux and Glavine will be the first teammates elected in the same year since Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford in 1974.
But wait, there’s more! Second-year candidate Craig Biggio is polling at 78.4 percent among that segment of the voting pool; he was well above 80 percent until a flood of ballots was revealed on Monday and Tuesday, and it now appears as though he could be in for a close play at the plate. If he does gain entry, this will mark the first time since 1955 (Joe DiMaggio, Gabby Hartnett, Ted Lyons and Dazzy Vance) that the BBWAA has elected four players.
Things could really get crazy if both Biggio and fellow second-year candidate Mike Piazza make it; Piazza was up to 72 percent early Monday but has since slipped back to 68.6 percent, so he’s probably a longshot. If he somehow does get in, it will mark the first time since the inaugural class of 1936 that the writers have voted in five players.
2. No unanimity for Maddux
Cliff Corcoran covered this one already, noting that MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick revealed that he voted for just one player, Jack Morris. Gurnick rejected all other candidates no matter how qualified, explaining, “As for those who played during the period of PED use, I won’t vote for any of them.”
In doing so, Gurnick became the first voter — again, out of 194 thus far — to reveal that he had not tabbed Maddux, thus continuing a grand tradition of idiocy when it comes to the BBWAA voters. Nobody — not Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron or Cal Ripken — has ever gotten 100 percent of the vote. As NBC Sports’ Joe Posnanski wrote of this trend, “There are people — sort of like the Brotherhood that protects the Holy Grail in the Indiana Jones movie — who think it is their duty to make sure no one gets in unblemished.”
Gurnick depriving Maddux of unanimity is one thing, and in the end it may not matter much; recent history suggests we should expect at least a few blank ballots, which also count against each player’s percentage. What’s more distressing is whatever combination of naiveté and intellectual dishonesty Gurnick concocted to single out Morris (whose career ran from 1977-94) as somebody who didn’t play in the PED era and whose time was somehow more pure than that of the other 35 candidates on the ballot.
First, amphetamine use throughout the game was widespread from the 1960s until they were banned in 2006, and stars such as Mays, Aaron and Mantle are among those said to have used them. Amphetamines don’t add muscle, but they do allow players to weather the daily (and — ahem — nightly) grind of the long season, playing in more games than they otherwise might have and thus padding their season and career totals.
Furthermore, steroids had long since infiltrated the game by Morris’ time. Back in 2005, former Braves pitcher Tom House, who caught Aaron’s 715th home run in the Atlanta bullpen in 1974, estimated that even back in the ’70s, “six or seven pitchers on every staff were ‘fiddling’ with steroids or growth hormone.” House even admitted to using them himself. “I pretty much popped everything cold turkey… We were doing steroids they wouldn’t give to horses.”
As early as 1988, crowds were chanting “steroids, steroids” at Jose Canseco, whom Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell had recently singled out as a user. Doubtless there were more by the time Morris finished his career; none of which is to say that the pitcher himself used, but we know that many pitchers did, just as hitters did.
3. Close but no cigar for Morris
In his 15th and final go-round in front of the writers, it appears that Morris won’t get over the top; he’s gotten 61.3 percent of the vote thus far, and while he has tended to overperform by about six percent relative to his pre-election polling in years past, it doesn’t appear as though he’ll do much better than the 66.7 percent of the vote he received in 2012 or the 67.7 percent he received last year.
That will mark the end of one of the most polarizing candidacies in recent memory, one that can be viewed as part of the anti-sabermetric backlash in the wake of Bert Blyleven’s 2011 election on his 14th try. It won’t totally doom Morris’ chances to get into Cooperstown, though. History shows that just about any player reaching at least 50 percent of the vote will get in eventually; outside of the players currently on the ballot who have crossed that rubicon — Biggio, Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Lee Smith being the others — Gil Hodges remains the only one to not wind up enshrined eventually. Morris will be eligible for consideration on the 2017 Expansion Era ballot, assuming that process remains the same, and given the number of old-school thinkers who usually salt that committee, he may stand a better chance there than he did on this crowded ballot.
4. No clarity on PED-linked candidates
Despite overwhelming statistical credentials, neither Roger Clemens nor Barry Bonds will come close to being elected this year; the former is polling at 40.7 percent, the latter at 42.3 percent, for a gain of about five percent apiece. That’s still a whole lot better than Mark McGwire (10.8 percent), Sammy Sosa (7.7 percent) and Rafael Palmeiro (6.2 percent) are faring; any or all of those candidates could fall off the ballot if their final totals fall below 5.0 percent.
5. No one-and-done for Kent or Mussina
Contrary to former Hall of Fame researcher Bill Deane‘s mid-December forecast of single-digit percentages for Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina, both candidates appear as though they’ll retain eligibility with plenty of room to spare, thus avoiding the fate of Kenny Lofton last year, not to mention many fine ballplayers who merited a longer look but didn’t get one.
Mussina, whom my JAWS system identifies as the 28th best starting pitcher of all time, solidly above the Hall standard, is polling at 26.3 percent, roughly four times Deane’s estimate; he already has enough votes banked to ensure his return. Kent, who’s short on the JAWS front but stronger on the more traditional merits, is at 15.5 percent — 30 votes — which means he’s clinched a return as well.
Of the non-PED related candidates, the ones who may not be back for an encore are Don Mattingly (5.2 percent thus far) and Larry Walker (8.1 percent). The former is short on the JAWS front and has just one more year of eligibility anyway, so that would be no loss, but the latter clears the bar in rightfield yet has been supplanted by stronger candidates on ballots where space is at a premium.