At this point, it might still happen.
As of 190 votes known publicly in the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s 2017 election for the Hall of Fame, Ryan Thibodaux had five players in the running in his vote tracker for the necessary 75 percent: Tim Raines with 91.6 percent of the vote; Jeff Bagwell with 91.1 percent; Ivan Rodriguez with 80.5 percent; Vladimir Guerrero with 74.2 percent; and Trevor Hoffman with 73.2 percent.
Voting closed Dec. 31, though some writers have been parsing their ballots out since then for column material or emailing them outright to Thibodaux, who has something of a cottage industry going for this. Full voting results will be announced Jan. 18 at 6 p.m. EST on MLB Network, with Thibodaux estimating that 435 BBWAA members will cast ballots.
Analysts like Nathaniel Rakich of Hardball Times have been predicting that Raines, Bagwell, Rodriguez, Guerrero and Hoffman will all get in. What will happen if Rakich and others are right?
The first thing to know is that it’s unlikely the BBWAA will vote five players in. It’s only happened once in baseball history, in the inaugural BBWAA vote in 1936 when the writers voted in Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson and Honus Wagner. Since then there have been four inductees just three times, with the BBWAA averaging 1.653 inductees per year through 72 elections in all.
More than this, Thibodaux’s tracker shows 15 returning candidates on the ballot. Eleven had fewer votes on private ballots than ones publicly released. A new rule next year will require all ballots to be released publicly, but it’s not in effect this year. In other words, the majority of candidates could — and more than likely will — lose ground between now and the results show on Jan. 18.
Raines and Bagwell look locked in for plaques, with Thibodaux noting they need just over 60 percent apiece support on remaining ballots to be voted in. As for Rodriguez, Guerrero and Hoffman, they could go either way. Hoffman rated nearly three percent better with private voters last year, so he could clear the 75 percent hurdle, closely. Rodriguez and Guerrero, meanwhile, are both first-time candidates, so it’s harder to say which way they’ll go.
The good news for Guerrero is he’s already exceeded expectations, as he should. On Nov. 29, I predicted Hall of Fame voting results, projecting Guerrero with just 24 percent of the vote. I should have taken a longer look at Guerrero’s numbers, such as his .318 lifetime batting average, 449 home runs, and 2,590 hits. According to the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool, just five players in baseball history top Guerrero in all three categories: Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Stan Musial and Lou Gehrig. It would have been grossly unjust for Guerrero to receive just 24 percent of the vote this year. Thankfully, other voters looked longer at his case than I did when I made my predictions.
As for Rodriguez, he could be bolstered by Mike Piazza’s induction last year. This has helped similar players before, from John Smoltz getting in a year after teammates Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux to Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage following Dennis Eckersley into Cooperstown. Still, there’s no hard and fast rule for this.
But what happens if they all do get in? Could it lead to a rule change? Maybe.
The Hall of Fame hasn’t seemed to mind terribly as nine players were voted in over the past three BBWAA elections, with Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson saying last year that the museum had two of its best years in 2014 and 2015. The Hall’s financial health correlates a lot with attendance for Induction Weekend in July, with the museum suffering a bleak year in 2013 when the writers voted no one in. So it seems unlikely that the Hall of Fame would want to upset good business.
But the Hall of Fame would also be in uncharted waters, going from an average of three BBWAA inductions per year to potentially five. Include recent selections by the Today’s Game Committee of Bud Selig and John Schuerholz, and fans would be in for one long induction ceremony next summer. More than this, it could be bad for the exclusivity of induction the Hall of Fame so closely guards that’s vital to its success.
Busy flurries of inductions in years past have spurred chills, primarily for the Veterans Committee which gained a reputation for acting recklessly in the 1970s. After the committee made one of its most infamous selections — High Pockets Kelly in 1973, who topped out at 1.9 percent of the vote with the BBWAA — the veterans for a time couldn’t enshrine any Major League Baseball player who’d drawn less than 100 votes from the BBWAA. For a couple years in the early 1990s, players who’d retired since 1946 had to have received at least 60 percent of the BBWAA’s vote to be eligible with the veterans.
So chills have mostly applied to the writers, though there’s arguably been one exception. From 1951 to 1956, the BBWAA inducted 15 players, as many as were inducted from 1937 through 1950. Confusion reigned in the Jan. 1956 election, with writers voting for a number of ineligible players. Thus, months later in Jul. 1956, the Hall of Fame instituted a series of rule changes, including that the writers would only vote every other year henceforth. The writers voted in just four players over the next decade before the BBWAA resumed voting annually.
It’s unlikely the Hall of Fame would want to revisit this era in Hall of Fame voting, where the Veterans Committee enshrined a number of 19th century greats but fans grumbled as more contemporary stars struggled to get in. But it doesn’t seem likely either the Hall of Fame will want the brisk pace of inductions to continue for too long.