By Phil Jackman
Ah, baseball's Hall of Fame ballot is in. Raise the flag. After all these years, I know I should be more blasé about it, but, quite frankly, I can't think of many days that beat it -- Christmas, Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, St. Paddy's Day, the day Earl Weaver was tossed out of a game for the 81st time.
Tell you what's so good about it: knowing that each offseason, you gave it your best shot and, ultimately, you got around to casting a vote for a guy who made it into Cooperstown.
I have always voted for 10 players (the allowable limit), not necessarily thinking all of them would get the 75 percent needed to gain induction, but to keep them on the ballot for future consideration.
Take Harold Baines, for instance. The Eastern Shore native and former Oriole, who powdered away at a .289 clip with 384 home runs and 1,628 runs batted in during his 22-year career, got only 29 votes in 2007, one less the next year and barely made the 5 percent required to remain on the ballot. Subsequently, he fell off, a shame.
This time around, there are 13 newcomers and 14 holdovers on the ballot. The "rookies" are a pretty skimpy bunch, led by Bernie Williams, Tim Salmon, Ruben Sierra and Vinny Castilla. Also up for consideration are former Orioles catcher Javy Lopez and Milford Mill native Brian Jordan.
That is a far cry from 2007, when Cal Ripken Jr., and Tony Gwynn qualified by getting 98.5 and 97.6 percent of the votes, on their first go-around. Eight didn't vote for Ripken and 13 for Gwynn -- tough crowd.
When there isn't a strong list of newbies, holdovers that have spent years climbing up the list have been known to stage a breakthrough. Goose Gossage, Jim Rice, Andre Dawson and Bert Blyleven, getting anywhere between 61 and 85 percent of the votes in 2008, made it in during the next several elections.
Rice made it in on his 15th (and last) vote, while Blyleven made it in on his 14th (and next-to-last) vote by the baseball writers; otherwise, they may have ultimately moved on to the veterans committee. I always wanted to sneak into a geezers meeting, but was unsuccessful. One of the good old boys said the late, great Ted Williams used to shout everybody down until he got his way.
Getting back to the ritual of voting for 10 players, it can be a chore leaving some guys out. Tommy John, with his 288 wins, 162 complete games and 46 shutouts, was always on my ballot, but, in the end, never garnered more than 31.7 percent of the count. Good grief, what did he have to do, have an arm surgery named after him?
Some of the vote totals leave you scratching your head. A while back, Steve Garvey, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Dave Concepcion, Orel Hershiser, Don Mattingly, Dave Parker and Dale Murphy all got the call on less than a quarter of the ballots submitted. Bret Saberhagen got just seven votes out of 545 cast one year.
It was relatively easy submitting this year's ballot containing Jeff Bagwell, Barry Larkin (the guy with the best chance), Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Jack Morris, Raines, Lee Smith, Trammell and Larry Walker.
This may sound weak, but sooner or later, I'm going to vote for Rafael Palmeiro. Despite his finger-pointing before some congressional committee and later being set down for having stanozolol in his blood, the guy belongs. Same goes for Barry Bonds.
Some will say if a voter thinks a guy belongs in Cooperstown, he should vote for him immediately. But it's not that easy. It's sometimes a slow process and, whether you like it or not, it seems to have worked out quite well since the original five inductees went in way back when.
I voted for 10 that year, too.
Issue 168: December 2011