January 23, 2019
By: Dan Fremuth
Babe Ruth. Nolan Ryan. Jackie Robinson. Ty Cobb. Ted Williams. Tom Seaver. Willie Mays. Ken Griffey, Jr.
That's just a sampling of iconic baseball names who are widely considered to be among the best to ever play the game. You'd be hard-pressed to eliminate any of them when carving your Mount Rushmore of the greatest ballplayers of all time. They've all rightfully been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York but oddly, and quite frankly embarrassingly, none of them were unanimous Hall of Fame selections.
Babe Ruth received 95.1% of the vote when he was elected in the inaugural Hall of Fame class in 1936 - being left off 11 ballots. Cobb received a slightly higher percentage that year (98.2%) but was still missing from four ballots. Tom Seaver failed to appear on five ballots in 1992 (98.8%) while Nolan Ryan (and his 5,714 strikeouts and 7 no-hitters) received 491 of 497 votes in 1999. Ken Griffey, Jr. (my favorite baseball player) had received the highest all-time percentage of 99.3% when he appeared on 437 of 440 ballots just three years ago but was still not a unanimous choice despite 630 career home runs, 10 Gold Glove Awards, an AL MVP and 13 times being named to the All-Star Team.
I say had received, because that all changed yesterday when Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer the game has ever seen, was inducted with 100% of the vote. That's right, Rivera and his 652 career saves, received 425 of 425 votes Tuesday and in so doing, broke a mind-blogging and disturbing trend of 72 straight years without a unanimous Hall of Fame selection.
We've heard stories of voters who, for reasons passing all understanding, don't think any player, no matter how great, should be elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. This makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. If you think a player is a Hall of Famer, what in the world happens in those 12 months when he's still not playing the game that makes you want to vote for him in year two but not year one? We've also heard stories of voters who can't vote in player X unanimously because previous greats weren't unanimous selections so it would somehow be a slight to them. This falls squarely in the two wrongs don't make a right category if you ask me. Just because some ego-maniacal sportswriter thought he was bigger than the game 70 years ago and didn't vote for Honus Wagner back in 1936 doesn't mean a modern voter should make the same mistake with Cal Ripken, Jr in 2007. And yet it did.
Thankfully, that narrative can now be put be bed. Congratulations to Mariano Rivera on receiving 100% of the vote and to Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez and Mike Mussina on their induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame as well. I realize that harping on the percentage of votes received seems a bit silly since they all end up in the same great hall anyway but it's nice to see us pass an antiquated hurdle. Rivera seemed the likely candidate to buck this trend as he's so overtly the best player ever at his position and while there are other closers in the Hall of Fame (Trevor Hoffman, Lee Smith) there was no established precedent for how to treat a player of his caliber at that position. Baseball doesn't always get things right but I applaud them for hitting this one on the barrel.
Hopefully this opens the door for future players to receive 100% of the vote. Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki and Mike Trout seem like realistic candidates.