December 7, 2019

Baseball Hall of Fame Voting Peculiarities of the Past

February 3, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

The 2019 Baseball Hall of Fame election results were recently announced, with Mariano RiveraMike Mussina and Edgar Martinez all receiving the requisite number of votes. In particular, Rivera gained national headlines by becoming the first person to be named on 100 percent of the ballots that were cast. While he was a wonderful pitcher and completely deserving of the honor it is intriguing to consider with so many baseball legends of the past who were previously inducted that this was the first unanimous choice (Ken Griffey Jr. held the previous record by being named on 99.3 percent- 437/440- of ballots in 2016).

Taking a look back at some of the upper echelon Hall of Famers reveals some interesting information on their paths to Cooperstown, and in some cases causing bewilderment when wondering how voters could have possibly seen them as anything other than an all-time great.

Willie Mays: With a .302 career batting average to go along with 660 home runs and legendary prowess in the field, the former outfielder is widely seen as a top-three player of all time. However, in 1979, when he was elected in his first year of eligibility, he was named on 94.7 percent of ballots (409 of 432). The fact that 23 voters could not see their way to check the box next to his name seems unbelievable. Not known for being particularly verbose with the press, the lack of votes may have been a rebuke to chide him for such perceived impertinence.

Joe DiMaggio: The Yankee Clipper is synonymous with excellence and is also regarded as an all-time great because of his .325 batting average and leadership position on nine World Series-winning squads with the New York Yankees among many other attributes. Unfortunately, this did not play out with Hall of Fame eligibility. He was actually not voted in until his fourth time on the ballot (1955), and even then, garnered “just” 88.8 percent of votes. He started off surprisingly tepid in his efforts for the Hall, as he got just 44.3 percent of votes in his first year of post-retirement eligibility in 1953. A primary cause for this may have been that his 13-year playing career was relatively short, although he sacrificed three full years due to military service.

Warren Spahn: Perhaps the most consistently best left-handed starting pitcher of all time, he won 363 games with a 3.09 ERA over 21 seasons. He won at least 20 games in a season a ridiculous 13 times, although that surprisingly resulted in just one Cy Young Award. He even missed three full seasons due to military service. He was voted into the Hall in his first season of eligibility, but received a shockingly low 83.2 percent of the vote, as 64 writers decided to leave him off their ballots. Interestingly, it wasn’t because it was an especially hard ballot, as he ended up being the only person selected that year. However, his lack of awards and post season success are possible contributors to such negligence.

Jackie Robinson: The pioneering Robinson, who officially integrated major league baseball had a breathtaking 10-year career. While his numbers (.311 with 137 home runs and 197 stolen bases) are modest for baseball bean counters, he is a no-brainer selection when taken into account with the challenges he faced and the standards he set. He was elected in his first year of eligibility (1962), but just slipped in with 77.5 percent of the vote, as 36 of the 160 voters did not believe he was worthy of the honor. Clearly, he had to contend with some of the same racism with the voting process that he encountered as a player.

Andrew Martin is the founder of “The Baseball Historian” blog where he posts his thoughts about baseball on a regular basis. You can also reach him on Twitter at @historianandrew or on Facebook.

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