2016 Hall of Fame class

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America announced the results from its balloting for the National Baseball Hall of Fame earlier today. Senior writers accounted for 440 ballots this year; players that appear on at least 75% (330) of ballots will be inducted in Cooperstown, NY this July.

This year, only Ken Griffey, Jr., in his first year of elgibility, and Mike Piazza, in his fourth, were fortunate to receive enough support. In fact, Junior set a record by appearing on 437 of the 440 ballots–99.3%! Tom Seaver held the previous record when he was inducted with 92.84% of the vote (425/430) in 1992. Piazza’s entry was clinched with 83% of the vote.

Also in their first year on the ballot, Trevor Hoffman received 67.3% of the vote; Billy Wagner, 10.5%; Jim Edmonds, 2.5%; and Mike Sweeney, David Eckstein, Jason Kendall, and Garret Anderson, each less than 1%. Clearly the two guys who voted for Eckstein automatically vote for World Series MVPs…

Jeff Bagwell (6th year on the ballot) and Tim Raines (9th) both fell fewer than 30 votes short of induction; Bagwell’s trend from the 2015 ballot (55.7% to 71.6% this year) indicate enough writers may finally be looking past a theoretical connection to performance-enhancing drugs. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, too, appear to be rebounding, if only slightly, from more substantial connections to PEDs. In their four years on the ballot (both were eligible beginning in 2013), Clemens has finished immediately ahead of Bonds. After hovering in the mid- to upper-30s the first three years (36.2, 34.7, 36.8 for Bonds; 37.6, 35.4, 37.5 for Clemens), both took a significant leap, with the former pitcher still finishing slightly ahead, appearing on 45.2% of ballots to Bonds’ 44.3%.

Mark McGwire, who has seen his percentage slip from nearly 24% over the past ten years, saw a slight uptick to 12.8%, but with the procedural change in 2014, McGwire will not appear on future ballots. Alan Trammell and Lee Smith were both grandfathered in under the old rule (15 years of eligibility instead of 10), but while the latter still has one last chance in 2017, the former, like McGwire, will be removed from the ballot beginning in 2017.

Piazza, however, was able to overcome any suspicion of PED use (he, after retiring, admitted to using androstenedione, which McGwire also used openly and MLB banned in 2004) to become the 16th catcher elected. Behind the plate, Piazza was fairly average; he outdistanced himself from his peers by establishing himself as one of the best-hitting catchers in Major League history. A twelve-time All-star and 1993 Rookie of the Year, he also garnered ten Silver Sluggers en route to a career .308 average with 427 HR and 1335 RBI.

Griffey, of course, blew those numbers out of the water: 630 HR (6th all-time) and 1836 RBI (15th) to go along with a .284 average over 22 seasons. The 1997 American League MVP is also well-remembered for the ten Gold Gloves he won in Seattle, the spectacular plays he made in center field throughout his career, and the most glorious upper-cut swing you’ve ever seen.

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For me, Griffey’s induction is bittersweet. He was my favorite player as a kid, such that I even owned a Seattle Mariners hat at one point. He hit more than 50 HR in a season twice (1997 & ’98), made it to 40 on five other occasions, and was never, as far as I can recall, marked by the taint of alleged PED use. But, in playing 22 seasons, it’s remarkable that he played in *only* 2671 games, or about 121 per season. Even if you throw out the strike-shortened 1994 (which derailed his chase of Roger Maris’ record 61 HR in a season) and ’95 seasons, he still only averaged about 125 games per season for the other twenty he played.

Had he played a full slate in each of his 22 seasons–unlikely for anyone, including Cal Ripken, Jr.–his career average of 38 HR per 162 games would have pushed him over 800 for his career. Past Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, and Barry Bonds, which would have been nice, because then we could avoid the argument about who the legitimate home run king is. Had he even played 140 of 162 games each year, the 38 he averaged per 162 still places him between Aaron and Ruth on the career leaderboard.

One of the more remarkable aspects hank-aaron-belts-no-715-39daf64985d8af3d
from Junior’s career that I recall is thinking he was washed up and close to retiring after suffering season-ending injuries in 2002, 2003, and 2004. Through 2001, at age 31, he had accrued 460 home runs, which was enough to keep him in the conversation for catching Hammerin’ Hank.

Unfortunately, those injuries left him just over 500 and in his mid-30s by the time the 2005 season began. Even though his injuries had reduced the quality of his play in the outfield–over half of his appearances as a designated hitter came in his final two seasons in Seattle, 2009 and ’10–and he never played more than 144 games a season after 2001, I like that he still came back every spring several years past when I would have completely understood if he’d chosen to retire.

One final connection to The Kid: Cardinals. Reds. Busch Stadium. Father’s Day 2004. Ken Griffey, Sr. in attendance. Sitting on 499 career home runs.

Congrats, again, to Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey, Jr. on becoming the newest inductees to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

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