By Sterling Pingree
I never understood the logic behind the unwritten rule employed by the voters of the Baseball Hall of Fame that because Babe Ruth wasn’t a unanimous selection, then nobody can be. When the Hall of Fame welcomed in its first class in 1936, the Sultan of Swat was shockingly left off of at least one writer’s punch card and thus for the last 83-years, no player has every had a 100% approval rating in getting inducted into Cooperstown until Tuesday.
I always had a problem with this way of thinking because in any other walk of life, whether it be voting for induction or naming a baby, total consensus is a good thing. If you don’t, you wind up with a baby named Harold and a lot of resentment from your husband or wife.
The other flaw in this thinking is that the voters don’t actually believe in what they are voting for. Take Nolan Ryan for example: he pitched for 27 seasons, posted a 3.19 career ERA, threw 7 no-hitters and oh by the way struck out 5,714 batters which is almost 1,000 more than the second most in baseball history. 6 people didn’t vote for Nolan Ryan. Why on earth would 6 people not vote for Nolan Ryan? Because nobody was allowed to be unanimous, so that means 6 writers bit the bullet and sacrificed their vote to the gods (or the Babe) and left the Ryan Express off of their list. It wasn’t because they didn’t think he was worthy of induction, you’d have to be insane to think that Nolan Ryan wasn’t worthy of being a first ballot Hall of Famer, it was because the baseball writers like to remind us that these players are great, but they’re not perfect.
I always wondered, what would have happened if too many voters did this and someone like Ryan or Rickey Henderson didn’t get enough votes to be inducted on the first ballot? Would they demand a recount? Knowing the way these writers vote they probably would have doubled down and said that Rickey wasn’t a “first ballot hall of famer”? I smell collusion here, how else would these writers know that just a few of them weren’t going to vote for a particular player.
This all brings us to Mariano Rivera, who on Tuesday was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame with 100% of the vote. Don’t get me wrong, “Mo” is without question a first ballot hall of fame pitcher, but should he be the first unanimous choice? It wasn’t that long ago that writers didn’t even vote for closers. Lee Smith sat on the ballot for all 15 years of his eligibility without getting the requisite number of votes for induction and he retired as the all-time saves leader in major league history. It warrants noting that Smith will be inducted this year after being elected in last December by the “Today’s Game Era” committee. Whatever that is.
Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter, two of the first great closers sat on the ballot for YEARS before getting the call to the hall. Edgar Martinez was close to induction for years, but the knock against him was that he was just a designated hitter and thus didn’t warrant a place in Cooperstown. Harold Baines got voted in by the same committee as Lee Smith and some are calling him now the most marginal Hall of Famer in Cooperstown.
Rivera is widely admired and respected as the best to ever play his position and maybe that’s a sign that the times they are a changing. The ushering in of a new era in Hall of Fame voting where those casting ballots, as a means to not vote in alleged steroid users, are now okay with inducting closers and designated hitters if it means that they can keep the Ramirez’, Clemens, Bonds and McGwire’s out.
In the end, it was inevitable that someone would be the first and in a way I’m glad it happened this year. If it wasn’t, Derek Jeter would have been the first when he gets inducted in 2020.
Another save for Rivera.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree on Twitter) is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine. Follow us on Twitter @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.