Whew, the shutout was mercifully avoided.
There won’t be a cry that the Hall of Fame election is broken.
The disgust toward the Baseball Writers’ Association of America will be lessened.
Third baseman Scott Rolen became the newest Hall of Famer on Tuesday, squeaking past the 75% percentage by only five votes at 76.3%, completing the biggest climb in Hall of Fame history.
Rolen received 10% of the vote in his first year on the ballot and 17% his second year but had a dramatic turnaround the last four years, eclipsing Duke Snider’s record of reaching the Hall of Fame after just 17% his first season.
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Rolen becomes only the ninth third baseman to be elected into Cooperstown by the writers and just the second to debut in the past 40 years, joining Chipper Jones.
But still, this is the second consecutive year in which the BBWAA elected only one player, with slugger David Ortiz going into Cooperstown last summer. Rolen will join Fred McGriff on stage July 23, after McGriff was a unanimous vote by the 16-member Contemporary Era Committee in December.
Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton fell excruciatingly short by 11 votes (72.2%). Closer Billy Wagner (68.1) was the only other candidate who achieved at least 60%, with outfielders Andruw Jones (58.1) and Gary Sheffield (55) also eclipsing 50%.
So, are we being too tough? Maybe even unreasonable?
We were dangerously close to our second shutout in three years and the third time since 2013.
Pitching shutouts are a rare and wonderful accomplishment in today’s game, but it can be ugly for our Hall of Fame voting.
Really, when you look at this ballot, it’s filled with borderline candidates. There were no obvious omissions. There was no Ken Griffey Jr. No Derek Jeter. No Mariano Rivera.
The greatest player on the ballot who wasn’t suspended for steroid use – automatically eliminating Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez – may be Sheffield.
Among the most feared sluggers of his era with 509 homers and a batting title, Sheffield faces the same resistance as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens with their links to performance-enhancing drugs. Sheffield never tested positive but admitted to unknowingly using an illegal testosterone-based cream in 2002 during workouts with Bonds.
And there certainly are other flaws with everyone else on the ballot that held up their election.
Helton played his entire career in the launching pad of Coors Field, hitting just 369 home runs as a first baseman despite playing 17 years in the mile-high altitude, with just 142 homers on the road. In comparison, McGriff had 493 homers total and 252 on the road. Can you imagine how many homers McGriff would have hit playing at Coors Field?
Wagner had sensational strikeout numbers, but he never led the league in saves and produced a gruesome 10.03 ERA with just three career saves in the postseason.
Carlos Beltran is one of the best switch-hitters of all time, but he was on that 2017 Houston Astros team embroiled in the cheating scandal, so he was penalized too.
Jeff Kent, the greatest power-hitting second baseman in history with 377 home runs and a .509 slugging percentage, finished in the top 10 in homers just once.
Andruw Jones was a 10-time Gold Glove winner and five-time All-Star in his 11 years with Atlanta but had an alarming drop-off in the last five years of his career.
The way these players are trending in their vote total, everyone with the exception of Kent – whose 10-year window has closed – will be in the Hall of Fame, aside from Sheffield.
Just not in the summer of 2023.
It could be a rather crowded stage in 2024 with Helton and Wagner potentially joining newcomer Adrian Beltre.
Seattle Mariners great Ichiro Suzuki, who should be unanimous, along with pitcher CC Sabathia will be first-ballot Hall of Famers in 2025.
So, let’s stop the noise that the Hall of Fame voting system is broken or severely defective. The voting results of the past three years reveal just how high the writers’ standards are for Hall of Fame admittance.
The doors to the Baseball Hall of Fame are easily the most difficult to enter among the four major sports. It represents only the greatest of the great who have ever stepped onto the field in baseball history.
Should it turn into the Hall of the Very Good?
Are the BBWAA standards too high?
The average ballot this year contained 5.86 names, a drop-off from 7.11 a year ago. There were 13.9% of the voters who voted for the maximum 10 players, a dramatic decline from the 33.8% of a year ago.
This is a sacred place for baseball, but does it make sense to walk through the museum and not see the all-time home run king (Bonds), or one of the most dominant pitchers (Clemens) in history, baseball’s all-time hits king (Pete Rose), much less perennial All-Stars and Gold Glove winners?
The Baseball Hall of Fame would certainly love to see more inductees. The more Hall of Famers, the better for business. You don’t think the folks in Cooperstown are salivating over the 2025 class when Ichiro’s induction should bring in a record crowd, easily eclipsing 100,000 fans to the induction ceremony?
This doesn’t mean that every eligible baseball writer should start checking off the maximum 10 names, or that the voters who send in blank ballots should make sure they include at least one nominee. But perhaps we should recognize that not every third baseman has to have numbers like Mike Schmidt or George Brett, not every first baseman has to produce like Lou Gehrig, not every center fielder has to be Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle.
The Hall of Fame is an institution, and the induction ceremony is the most fabulous weekend – but the next time we vote, maybe we can overlook a few flaws.