Only once since the Baseball Writers’ Association of America first voted on candidates for election into the Hall of Fame have there been five players to receive the necessary 75% for enshrinement in the same voting cycle.
That came in the first year of the Hall’s existence in 1936, when a quintet of early 20th century legends of the game — Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson — formed the inaugural class.
(Even then, wins apparently weren’t deemed the ultimate barometer for pitching greatness, as Cy Young’s all-time record of 511 victories weren’t enough to get him the required electoral total until the following year).
Fast forward more than eight decades, and we finally might see another historically sized Cooperstown class in 2018, when voting results are revealed on Wednesday.
Clearly, many still will focus on those who do not get in again, such as Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. But five players – first-time shoo-ins Chipper Jones and Jim Thome, another who inexplicably didn’t make it last year (Vladimir Guerrero), as well as holdover specialists Edgar Martinez and Trevor Hoffman – presently are tracking at better than the 75% required for enshrinement among nearly 200 ballots already made public by eligible BBWAA members.
That is according to data compiled by Ryan Thibodaux, a 36-year-old Oakland-based baseball fan who has emerged as a viral — and vital — authority on the Cooperstown electorate over the past five years with his invaluable online BBHOF Tracker.
Will all five make it when Hall president Jeff Idelson makes the announcement on Wednesday?
Chipper, Thome and Guerrero – who fell just short at 72% as a first-time candidate last year — all are tracking at better than 90% and appear to be guaranteed induction.
Martinez currently was polling at 81% through Friday night, with Hoffman at 78, although Thibodaux believes the latter is the safer bet this year, based on the history of his tracker.
“I think it will probably be four (electees), and the fourth isn’t the one people seem to think is going to happen,” Thibodaux, who goes by the Twitter handle @NotMrTibbs, said in a telephone interview. “Trevor is in a much better spot right now. Closers, in general, really tend to do better with the older voters and the non-public ballots. Last year he actually jumped up a point from where he was on my tracker right at the time of the announcement to his final 74%.
“Most everyone else tends to drop, and usually significantly. I think Edgar would be fifth, but he has more of a chance than I thought he was going to this year. It’s going to be pretty close. If I had to guess one way or the other, it looks to me like he’ll come up a little short. But you never know. He’s definitely got a chance, too.”
Selfishly, it would be terrific if all five are enshrined, because it would further relieve some of the spillover glut still cluttering the ballot due to the steroids era.
It also would enable future votes for a few deserving players I omitted from this year’s ballot – such as first-time eligible defensive stalwarts Omar Vizquel, Andruw Jones and Scott Rolen.
The BBWAA has elected 12 new members in the past four voting cycles, after agreeing on just 10 over the previous eight years.
Next year, only Mariano Rivera is a sure thing – with the late Roy Halladay likely next in line – with Derek Jeter to follow in 2020.
As for the rest of the current ballot, Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling appear to be making strong gains this year to put them on track for possible eventual enshrinement, while Larry Walker also has received a sizable amount of new checkmarks (29 through Friday) from returning voters.
Additionally, newcomers Vizquel and Rolen already look safe for further consideration, although Andruw Jones (434 homers, 10 Gold Gloves) is in danger of not garnering the minimum 5% — one of a couple or outdated rules, along with the maximum of 10 selections per voter, that really need to be altered.
Johan Santana and Johnny Damon certainly seem headed to being dropped from the ballot after their first try, joining Jorge Posada, Jim Edmonds, Kenny Lofton and other notables from recent elections.
Interestingly, Bonds and Clemens don’t appear to be gaining much traction, either, after each of them saw a nearly 10% bump to a five-year high of 54% apiece one year ago.
Despite strong showings on the ballots of first-time voters this time around, their pre-election tracking has them hovering around 65%. That’s basically the same as their public totals ahead of last year’s announcement, before seeing a double-digit falloff in the final tabulations.
“They’re basically not moving at all in either direction,” Thibodaux said. “I think they’re probably going to end up dropping back into the mid-50s where they were last year. After last year it looked like maybe they were on a path to eventually getting in by the BBWAA. But it looks like they’re stalling out right now. I think all the minds that maybe were available to change already changed with Bud Selig getting in (last year).
“Their only hope now is the amount of turnover … It definitely has to be some older anti-PED voters getting knocked off the rolls and enough new voters come in to make up the difference. But I don’t think so far that even looks like it will be enough over the next four years (of eligibility). It’s going to be tough for them.“
My 10-deep ballot: Bonds, Clemens, Guerrero, Chipper, Jeff Kent, Edgar, Fred McGriff, Schilling, Thome and Walker.
While Hoffman didn’t make my final cut, he still might be part of what would be a record-tying, five-man class.
And who wouldn’t like to see some actual history at the Hall of Fame?