No slam dunks for Hall next year
With no first-ballot definites, veterans could make big gains
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- It will be difficult to top all the hoopla that accompanied the induction of Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. into the National Baseball Hall of Fame over the weekend, and the 2008 election probably won't come near that.
Ripken and Gwynn, two of the game's outstanding players, were first-ballot Hall of Famers who received the highest vote totals in the history of Baseball Writers' Association balloting, dating to the first election of 1936. One aspect of Hall of Fame voting is that the ballot appears different every year, even though many candidates are repeaters.
Most of the attention of the 2007 election focused on Ripken and Gwynn, both members of the 3,000-Hit Club and possessors of spotless reputations and staggering accomplishments. Another element of the 2007 election was how Mark McGwire, slugger of 583 career home runs, would do amid an atmosphere fevered by speculation of players over the past decade using performance-enhancing substances.
McGwire received 128 votes of the record 545 ballots cast by BBWAA members with 10 or more consecutive years' service, but the 23.5-percent plurality was more than sufficient to keep him on the ballot. Candidates may remain on the ballot for up to 15 years provided they receive at least five percent of the vote. The only other player on the 2007 ballot for the first time to make the cut was Harold Baines, who just made it with 29 votes (5.3 percent).
McGwire and Baines will likely be part of one of the smallest ballots in Hall voting. None of the players eligible for the 2008 ballot for the first time owns the sort of credentials that made Ripken and Gwynn runaway choices this year. This is not to say players such as outfielders Tim Raines and David Justice, infielders Chuck Knoblauch and Travis Fryman and pitchers Chuck Finley and Robb Nen, among others, are not interesting candidates, but there is not a 3,000-hit, 400-homer or 250-victory man in the lot.
The 2008 ballot, which will be mailed to voters in December, offers the opportunity of candidates who have moved closer but still shy of the 75 percent required for election to make a significantly sizeable step up, perhaps enough to get through the gate here.
Someone like Rich "Goose" Gossage, a dominant closing relief pitcher in his era, will really stand out on the 2008 ballot. Gossage fell 21 votes shy of election this year, but at 71.2 percent he is right at the door and won't have to compete for votes with the likes of Ripken and/or Gwynn this time. Bruce Sutter's election in 2006 probably had a great deal to do with Gossage making a 52-vote jump in one year, a considerable leap.
Sutter had to wait until his 13th year on the ballot to gain election. This will be Gossage's ninth year on the ballot. Even more pressing is the case of former Boston Red Sox slugger Jim Rice, who will be on the ballot for the 14th time, along with pitcher Tommy John. Rice actually lost ground in 2007, receiving 63.5 percent support, down from 64.8 percent in 2006. John made an even deeper drop, from 29.6 percent in '06 to 22.9 percent in '07.
That's what can happen on a ballot that has such titanic choices as Ripken and Gwynn. They tend to draw votes away from the rest of the pack, which is why Gossage's gain bodes well for his chances to win election.
Other holdovers on the ballot will be pitchers Bert Blyleven, Jack Morris and Lee Smith; outfielders Andre Dawson, Dale Murphy and Dave Parker; shortstops Dave Concepcion and Alan Trammell and first baseman Don Mattingly. Concepcion will be on the ballot for the 15th time. He received 13 percent of the vote last year and has never done better than the 17 percent he got in 1998.
Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.