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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

June 5, 2009 at 10:47 AM

Hall of Fame musings, and a mind-boggling Joe DiMaggio fact

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In the course of writing this column on Randy Johnson’s 300th victory, I found myself perusing the Hall of Fame website. I was looking to see if there were any grouping of inductees that would compare to a possible 2015 induction of former teammates Johnson and Ken Griffey Jr., (shown playing rock, paper, scissors in this 1998 Seattle Times photo by Alan Berner) if both should retire after this season.

I found two. Longtime Yankee pals Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford went in together in 1974 (I’d love to have gone to that after-party!), and Mickey Cochrane and Lefty Grove, who were battery-mates with the Philadelphia A’s from 1925-33, were inducted in tandem in 1947.

As an aside, alert reader Kelly Peterson points out that yet another ex-Mariner could possibly be on the ballot with Johnson and Griffey in December of 2014, when their five-year waiting period would end — Omar Vizquel, who at age 42 is winding down his career with the Texas Rangers. Vizquel was a Mariner teammate of Johnson and Griffey from 1989-93 before being traded to Cleveland for the immortal Felix Fermin and the legendary Reggie Jefferson. I won’t get into a debate — yet — about Vizquel’s Hall of Fame credentials, but be aware that his candidacy is a hot-button item among the sabermetric crowd. To summarize: Most don’t believe he’s a worthy Hall of Famer. Yet the growing sense I have is that members of the Baseball Writers Association of America have a different viewpoint. I think Vizquel has a decent chance of being a first-ballot selection.

And I’ll stretch it to envision a scenario in which Edgar Martinez, who is on the ballot for the first time after this season, slowly gains in the voting totals (unfortunately, Martinez is not likely to be a first-ballot choice), until he finally scrapes through with the necessary 75 percent on his fifth try.

That could put Johnson, Griffey, Martinez and Vizquel all going into the Hall of Fame together in July of 2015. Wow.

(A further aside: As Jim Caple of ESPN.com recently pointed out, has there ever been a better quartet of rookies on one team in baseball history than the 1989 Mariners had in Big Unit (acquired from Montreal in a May 25 trade), Junior, Edgar and Little 0? I can’t imagine who it would be).

Now let me get to what prompted this post in the first place. In looking at year-to-year vote totals — a nifty feature of the Hall of Fame website, I discovered that Joe DiMaggio — Joe DiMaggio! — needed three tries on the ballot before being voted in. I suppose I already knew this, but I had forgotten, and it just floored me.

In 1953, the first year he was on the ballot, DiMaggio received 117 of 264 votes — 44.3 percent. He finished behind Dizzy Dean and Al Simmons, who received the necessary 75 percent, as well as Bill Terry, Bill Dickey, Rabbit Maranville, Dazzy Vance and Ted Lyons,.

DiMaggio was on the ballot again in 1954, and again he failed to get 75 percent. This time, he moved up to 175 votes out of 252 — 69.4 percent. Maranville, Dickey and Terry all finished ahead of him and were elected with at least 75 percent.

Finally, in 1955, DiMaggio received 223 of 251 votes (88.8 percent) and became a Hall of Famer. But the fact that the great DiMaggio, an American icon as well as owner of one of the most prestigious records in sports — the 56-game hitting streak that Ichiro, at 27 games, is still not even halfway to matching — is astounding to me. His statistical credentials are impeccable, but as author Jimmy Breslin once said, “Baseball isn’t statistics.It’s Joe DiMaggio rounding second base.”

I did some digging, and found this 1999 article from the Worcester (Mass.) Telegram and Gazette, by Phil O’Neill, that does a good job explaining the situation (sorry, I can’t find a link; I just had to cut and paste):

When Joe DiMaggio was reported near death this winter, an

Associated Press story pointing out that Joe D wasn’t elected to the

Hall of Fame when he was first eligible shocked many baseball fans.

The typical reaction was disbelief. The story must be wrong. How

could one of the greatest players in the history of baseball not make

it on the first ballot? And if it were true, who were the jokers doing

the voting?

Well, it’s true all right. In fact, DiMaggio, who retired after the

1951 season, missed out two straight years before being elected in

1955. I’m not offering any excuses for the Baseball Writers’

Association of America, which makes the selections, but here’s how it

happened.

First of all, the selection process was still evolving when the

Yankee Clipper hung up his spikes. Remember this was almost half a

century ago and only 15 years removed from 1936, when the first class

of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson were voted into the new Hall. Their induction, in fact, was delayed until the Hall opened in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1939.

The present five-year wait for eligibility wasn’t in effect. There

was a one-year waiting period, meaning DiMaggio wasn’t eligible in

1952, when Harry Heilmann and Paul Waner went in.

DiMaggio became eligible in 1953, but actually finished eighth in

the balloting with 117 votes. Dizzy Dean (209) and Al Simmons (199) got in. Finishing ahead of DiMaggio were Bill Terry (191), Bill Dickey(179), Rabbit Maranville (164), Dazzy Vance (150) and Ted Lyons (139).

In 1954, Maranville (209), Dickey (202) and Terry (195) all won

election, while DiMaggio missed with 175 votes.

The five-year wait rule was instituted in 1955, meaning that Joe D

wouldn’t have been eligible until 1956, but candidates who had received

100 votes in previous elections were grandfathered.

And so, finally, in ’55, DiMaggio was elected with 223 votes,

leading three others – Lyons (217), Vance (205) and Gabby Hartnett

(195) – into Cooperstown.

Why didn’t Joe D make it on his first or second try?

Well for one thing, the times were a lot different. DiMaggio’s

divorce and headlines-grabbing romance and marriage to movie star

Marilyn Monroe probably cost him votes back in the ’50s.

First-ballot election wasn’t a big deal then. The Hall was still

fairly new and many of the older voting writers no doubt wanted to see

their contemporaries honored. They probably reasoned that DiMaggio had

plenty of time. In that respect, Dean’s playing career had ended in

1947, that of Dickey and Lyons in ’46, Simmons in ’44, Hartnett in ’41,

Terry in ’36, and Maranville and Vance in ’35, all years before

DiMaggio in ’51.

I don’t care what the reasons were. My BBWAA brethren blew it. Twice.

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