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

January 6, 2011 at 3:44 PM

A closer look at Hall of Fame voting trends

blylevenhall.jpg

(New Hall of Famers Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar at a press conference Thursday. Photo by Associated Press).

Many Mariners fans were dismayed by Edgar Martinez’s slight drop in his Hall of Fame votes, from 36.2 percent in his first year to 32.9 on Wednesday. I decided to delve deeply into the archives to see how voting trends have gone historically, and what it bodes for Martinez. (Warning: Long post ahead, with lots of numbers).

Using Baseball Reference.com, I went back 43 years, to 1968, when the voting rules became similar to the way they are today. Prior to that, the Baseball Writers Association of America voted only in even-numbered years, and there was a runoff if no one was elected on the first ballot. Starting in 1968, the voting became annual, and there are no longer runoff elections if no one reached the necessary 75 percent.

Since 1968, there have been 36 players who made the Hall of Fame on their first ballot. They are, in chronological order, Stan Musial (93.2 percent), Sandy Koufax (86.9), Warren Spahn (83.2), Mickey Mantle (88.2), Ernie Banks (83.8), Willie Mays (94.7), Al Kaline (88.3), Bob Gibson (84.0), Hank Aaron (97.8), Frank Robinson (89.2), Brooks Robinson (92.0), Lou Brock (79.7), Willie McCovey (81.4), Willie Stargell (82.4), Johnny Bench (96.4), Carl Yastrzemski (94.6), Jim Palmer (92.6), Joe Morgan (81.8), Rod Carew (90.5), Tom Seaver (98.8), Reggie Jackson (93.6), Steve Carlton (95.6), Mike Schmidt (96.5), Nolan Ryan (98.8), George Brett (98.2), Robin Yount (77.5), Dave Winfield (84.5), Kirby Puckett (82.1), Ozzie Smith (91.7), Eddie Murray (85.3), Paul Molitor (85.2), Dennis Eckersley (83.2), Wade Boggs (91.9), Cal Ripken Jr. (98.5), Tony Gwynn (97.6) and Rickey Henderson (94.8).

Now disregard those names. For this discussion, I’m not interested in them. What I’m focusing on is the progression of vote totals for those players who didn’t make the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

First, I looked at the 20 players since 1968 who received at least 40 percent of the vote their first time out (excluding Jeff Bagwell, who received 41.7 percent this year. We’ll have to wait to find out how Bagwell’s total evolves). Eighteen of those 20 eventually made the Hall of Fame, receiving the necessary 75 percent. Here is their vote progression:

Yogi Berra

1971: 67.2 percent

1972: 85.6

Whitey Ford

1973: 67.1 percent

1974: 77.8

Robin Roberts

1973: 56.1 percent

1974: 61.4

1975: 72.7

1976: 86.9

Hoyt Wilhelm

1978: 41.7 percent

1979: 38.9

1980: 54.3

1981: 59.4

1982: 56.9

1983: 65.0

1984: 72.0

1985: 83.8

Harmon Killebrew

1981: 59.6 percent

1982: 59.3

1983: 71.9

1984: 83.1

Juan Marichal

1981: 58.1 percent

1982: 73.5

1983: 83.7

Catfish Hunter

1985: 53.7 percent

1986: 68.0

1987: 76.3

Gaylord Perry

1989: 68.0 percent

1990: 72.1

1991: 77.2

Ferguson Jenkins

1989: 52.3 percent

1990: 66.7

1991: 75.4

Rollie Fingers

1991: 65.7 percent

1992: 81.2

Tony Perez

1992: 50 percent

1993: 55.1

1994: 57.7

1995: 56.3

1996: 65.7

1997: 66.0

1998: 67.9

1999: 60.8

2000: 77.2

Phil Niekro

1993: 65.7 percent

1994: 59.9

1995: 62.2

1996: 68.3

1997: 80.3

Don Sutton

1994: 56.8 percent

1995: 57.4

1996: 63.8

1997: 73.2

1998: 81.6

Gary Carter

1998: 42.3 percent

1999: 33.8

2000: 49.7

2001: 64.9

2002: 72.7

2003: 78.0

Carlton Fisk

1999: 66.4 percent

2000: 79.6

Andre Dawson

2002: 45.3 percent

2003: 50.0

2004: 50.0

2005: 52.3

2006: 61.0

2007: 56.7

2008: 65.9

2009: 67.0

2010: 77.9

Ryne Sandberg

2003: 49.2 percent

2004: 61.1

2005: 76.2

Roberto Alomar

2010: 73.7 percent

2011: 90.0

Four of those 18 had their total drop from Year One to Year Two. A couple of quick thoughts: One, it’s clear that when a player starts out this high, he’s home free once he gets into the 50-percent range. That bodes extremely well for Barry Larkin, who went from 51.6 percent in his first appearance last year, to 62.1 percent yesterday. I suspect Larkin will make it next year — when he very well could be the only player elected by the writers.

Two, Gary Carter’s path is particularly interesting. He dropped down to 33.8 percent his second year before shooting back up to 49.7 the next year. Three years later, he was in the Hall of Fame.

Three, the voters can be a tough crowd. They made three 300-game winners (Gaylord Perry, Phil Niekro and Don Sutton) wait, along with a 500-homer guy (Harmon Killebrew). And that was long before the steroids era.

Now let’s look at the two players who received at least 40 percent on their first ballot, but failed to make the Hall of Fame (one of the two, Lee Smith, is still on the ballot for six more years, while the other, Steve Garvey, went the maximum 15 years without attaining Cooperstown, and also fell short last month on the Veteran’s Committee ballot:

Steve Garvey

1993: 41.6 percent

1994: 36.4

1995: 42.6

1996: 37.2

1997: 35.3

1998: 41.2

1999: 30.2

2000: 32.1

2001: 34.2

2002: 28.4

2003: 27.8

2004: 24.3

2005: 20.5

2006: 26.0

2007: 21.1

Lee Smith

2003: 42.3 percent

2004: 36.6

2005: 38.8

2006: 45.0

2007: 39.8

2008: 43.3

2009: 44.5

2010: 47.3

2011: 45.3

It’s hard to say why Garvey’s support stagnated, but about six years in, voters had pretty clearly made a determination that they weren’t going to rally around Garvey as they did with others in his vote range. Smith’s failure to rise, I’m sure, has something to do with voters’ skepticism over the value of the save.

Now let’s get to the players who most closely mirror Martinez: Those who received in the 30 percentile their first time on the ballot. Believe it or not, there have been just six since 1968. Of the five besides Edgar, three made the Hall of Fame (one via the Veterans Committee). Here is their progression:

Eddie Mathews

1974: 32.3 percent

1975: 40.9

1976: 48.7

1977: 62.4

1978: 79.4

Jim Bunning

1977: 38.1 percent

1978: 47.8

1979: 34.0

1980: 46.0

1981: 40.9

1982: 33.3

1983: 36.9

1984: 49.9

1985: 54.2

1986: 65.6

1987: 70.0

1988: 74.2

1989: 63.3

1990: 57.9

1991: 67.7

(Elected by Veterans Committee, 1996)

Goose Gossage

2000: 33.3 percent

2001: 44.3

2002: 43.0

2003: 42.1

2004: 40.7

2005: 55.2

2006: 64.6

2007: 71.2

2008: 85.8

A couple of thoughts: One, Mathews is another member of the 500-homer club who didn’t get in on the first, or even second, third or fourth, ballot. Two, how would you like to have been Bunning, and get so agonizingly close in 1988 (74.2 percent, four votes shy), and then drop to 63.3 percent the next year and fail to make it through the BBWAA vote? Of course, there are some people who believe Bunning shouldn’t be there at all. He, Nellie Fox and Orlando Cepeda are the only players I’ve seen who failed to make the Hall via the BBWAA balloting when reaching at least 50 percent of the vote, let alone 60 or 70. Thirdly, Gossage’s progression shows that you just never know when a player is suddenly going to make the quantum leap that puts him on a definitive Cooperstown path. For him, it happend in 2005, a jump from 40.7 to 55.2.

Now, here are the two players who started in the 30s and never made it to the Hall of Fame threshhold:

Maury Wills

1978: 30.3 percent

1979: 38.4

1980: 37.9

1981: 40.6

1982: 21.9

1983: 20.6

1984: 25.8

1985: 23.5

1986: 29.2

1987: 27.4

1988: 29.7

1989: 21.3

1990: 21.4

1991: 13.8

1992: 25.6

Luis Tiant

1988: 30.9 percent

1989: 10.5

1990: 9.5

1991: 7.2

1992: 11.6

1993: 14.7

1994: 9.2

1995: 9.8

1996: 13.6

1997: 11.2

1998: 13.1

1999: 10.7

2000: 17.2

2001: 12.2

2002: 18.0

It’s worth noting that both players’ starting point — 30.3 and 30.9 — was significantly below Martinez’s 36.2. It’s also interesting that Wills’ big drop occurred in 1982 — right after his disastrous stint as Mariners’ manager. He also had drug issues come to light that probably hurt him greatly in the voting. As for Tiant, his instant crash is just plain weird.

There’s one more category of Hall of Famer to note: Those who started below the 30-percent mark and still managed to make it to Cooperstown. There are 12 in that category since 1968, including one of Wednesday’s honorees, Bert Blyleven. Five made it via the Veterans Committee after failing to be voted in by the BBWAA in 15 years on the ballot: Richie Ashburn , Nellie Fox, Red Schoendienst, Bill Mazeroski, and Orlando Cepeda.

–Ashburn had a mere 2.1 percent of the vote in 1968, his first appearance; peaked with 41.7 percent in 1978, and was voted in by the Veterans Committee in 1995.

–Schoendienst began with 19.1 percent in 1969, peaked with 42.6 percent in 1980, and was voted in by the Veterans Committee in 1989.

–Fox had 10.8 percent of the vote when he first appeared on the ballot in 1971, then worked all the way up to 74.7 percent in 1985, his last year of eligibility — two votes shy of election. The Veterans Committee voted Fox into the Hall in 1997.

–Mazeroski had 6.1 percent of the vote in his first year (1978), peaked at 42.3 percent his final year in 1992, and was voted in by the Veterans Committee in 2001.

–Cepeda started with a mere 12.5 percent in 1980 and advanced all the way to 73.5 percent in 1994, his 15th and final year on the ballot. The Veterans Committee voted him in in 1999.

Here are the vote progressions of the seven others who started under 30 percent and yet were voted in by the writers:

Duke Snider

1970: 17 percent

1971: 24.7

1972: 21.2

1973: 26.6

1974: 30.4

1975: 35.6

1976: 41.0

1977: 55.4

1978: 67.0

1979: 71.3

1980: 76.5

Don Drysdale

1975: 21.0 percent

1976: 29.4

1977: 51.4

1978: 57.8

1979: 53.9

1980: 61.8

1981: 60.6

1982: 56.1

1983: 64.7

1984: 78.4

Luis Aparicio

1979: 27.8 percent

1980: 32.2

1981: 12.0

1982: 41.9

1983: 67.4

1984: 84.6

Billy Williams

1982: 23.4 percent

1983: 40.9

1984: 50.1

1985: 63.8

1986: 74.1

1987: 85.7

Bruce Sutter

1994: 23.9 percent

1995: 29.8

1996: 29.1

1997: 27.5

1998: 31.1

1999: 24.3

2000: 38.5

2001: 47.6

2002: 50.4

2003: 53.6

2004: 59.5

2005: 66.7

2006: 76.9

Jim Rice

1995: 29.8 percent

1996: 35.3

1997: 37.6

1998: 42.9

1999: 29.4

2000: 51.5

2001: 57.9

2002: 55.1

2003: 52.2

2004: 54.5

2005: 59.5

2006: 64.8

2007: 63.5

2008: 72.2

2009: 76.4

Bert Blyleven

1998: 17.5

1999: 14.1

2000: 17.4

2001: 23.5

2002: 26.3

2003: 29.2

2004: 35.4

2005: 40.9

2006: 53.3

2007: 47.7

2008: 61.9

2009: 62.7

2010: 74.2

2011: 79.7

Six of the seven had increases in their second year (Blyleven being the exception), but many had to endure vote fluctuations along the way. Note that Blyleven didn’t surpass Martinez’s first-year total until his seventh year on his ballot, when he reached 40.9 percent. The next year, Blyeven made the magic jump to 53.3, and it was (more or less) downhill from there. For Rice, it was the sixth-year leap from 29.4 to 51.5 that did it. Some of the precipitous rises are just plain inexplicable, like Aparacio going from 12 percent to 41.9 percent in his fourth year.

That’s a lot of numbers to pore through, but I think the message is this: The trends show considerable long-range hope for Martinez, though no guarantees, as Steve Garvey would tell you. He just has to be patient, and hope for gradual growth in his voting totals over the next few years. History shows there’s a great chance voters will eventually have an aha! moment and move him above 50 percent. And that’s when good things start to happen.

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