The Baseball Bloggers Alliance recommended the induction of Jeff Bagwell and Barry Larkin to the Hall of Fame this week in one of four annual elections conducted by the BBA. Larkin received the highest percentage of votes, 84.25%, in the five-year history of the alliance’s balloting.
What strikes me about this election is how difficult the 75% standard is. Unlike the BBWAA, much of this electorate is comprised of SABR-minded bloggers, myself included, who have been programmed for years to worship Tim Raines’s on-base abilities, and who have access to enough information to see that Alan Trammell’s candidacy is just as strong as Larkin’s. Raines and Trammell finished fourth and fifth, respectively, behind Edgar Martinez, but barely garnered 100% of the vote combined. Mark McGwire received over 40% of the vote, which he’s never done on a BBWAA ballot, but Rafael Palmeiro got just 29%, less than Lee Smith, Jack Morris, and Don Mattingly.
I’ve shared my ballot in this space, but I haven’t discussed my expectations for the choices of the writers, whom I hold in significantly lower esteem than the mostly uncredentialed members of the BBA.
I see Larkin getting in, just barely achieving the necessary 75%, not only because he’s obviously qualified, but because the voters know there’s a logjam coming with many qualified-but-tainted candidates like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds due to hit the ballot in the coming years. I think voters with odd fetishes for making players sweat it out for a few years will see that clearing Larkin from the ballot will make their jobs easier in the near future.
With much of the world seeing past the illusion of Jack Morris’s win total, I think Bagwell is the only other candidate with a chance to be elected this year. Unfortunately, Bagwell is quickly becoming the most aggravating case in recent history. His Baseball Hall of Fame case is as clear as U2’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame case, but countless writers have decided that, because he hit balls a long way and did so in the late 1990s, he must have cheated. It offends me to even discuss the heinous nature of using such unfounded assumptions to keep a guy like Bagwell out of the Hall, so I’ll let The Common Man do it for me over at the BBA’s best blog, The Platoon Advantage. In short, TCM suggests that any writer who assumes that Bagwell is guilty of using banned substances based on no real evidence can be assumed to be guilty of plagiarism based on no real evidence.
Stunningly, Bagwell got just 41.7% of the vote last year, in his first year on the ballot. Of the 58.3% who chose not to vote for him, I think we can break them into four camps:
1) Those who refuse to vote for any player on the first ballot, or make a distinction between “first-ballot Hall of Famers” and other worthy players. While I do not condone either action, I feel confident that the majority of these voters voted for Bagwell this year, and as such I hope they comprise a majority of the 58.3%.
2) Those who didn’t think Bagwell’s numbers were Hallworthy. Believe it or not, I’ve heard this case. “As a first baseman in the steroid era, he needed 500 homers or 3,000 hits to get in”. While I fear that some voters might truly base their ballots on magic numbers like these, I have some confidence that these voters might look a little deeper this year, and even if they only see his 202 stolen bases and not his .408 OPS or his 79.9 WAR (per baseball-reference), realize that the only retired first basemen who were markedly better than Bagwell were Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx. If there’s such a thing as a “first-ballot Hall of Famer”, Bagwell is practically its definition.
3) The steroid idiots. My least favorite thing about the internet is how easy it is to abuse its anonymity by dismissing anyone who disagrees with ones own opinion as an idiot. I do my best to respect differing views and assume the best about people I’ve never met. That said, anyone who has withheld a vote from Jeff Bagwell because he was shaped like a steroid user or because he played with steroid users is, frankly, probably an idiot. And maybe a plagiarist. If this is 25% of the electorate, the Hall of Fame is doomed. I have some faith that it isn’t.
4) Those who just weren’t paying attention. Based on past election results, I believe that somewhere between two percent and five percent of Hall voters probably didn’t even bother to look at Bagwell’s numbers. They just thought back to the days when they cared about baseball, remembered liking Don Mattingly and Jack Morris, voted for those two guys, and went back about their daily lives, oblivious to the glorious privilege of having a Hall of Fame vote. Maybe one of these guys closed his eyes this year, pictured Bagwell’s menacing stance, and checked off the box next to his name before watering his Chia Pet and going to bed.
I see Bagwell getting 60 to 70 percent of the vote this year. Unfortunately, that may be as high as he gets for a while.