On Wednesday afternoon at 2 p.m. ET, the Hall of Fame voting results will be announced. It's possible that Jack Morris makes it in, and maybe Craig Biggio makes it in, and maybe nobody makes it in.
One guy who won't make it in is Jeff Bagwell, who received 42 and 56 percent of the votes his first two years on the ballot. There will be much consternation and many angry words written about his failure to get elected, but I'm here to tell all you Bagwell supporters: Relax. Your man is on an excellent Hall of Fame trajectory; he will get in soon enough.
Hey, I'm with you. I believe he had a Hall of Fame career; I wrote a post last year headlined "Denying Jeff Bagwell would be a travesty." OK, maybe that was a little strong, but sometimes we have to write headlines to stir things up and the good news is that Bagwell received a big bump in his vote percentage. Yes, there are some who refuse to vote for him because they suspect he used steroids and some who just don't believe he was a Hall of Famer (even though he's one of just 31 players with at least 1,500 RBIs and runs scored).
Anyway, here are the Hall of Famers elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America since 2000, the year on the ballot they first received at least 56 percent of the vote and the year they finally got elected:
Barry Larkin: Second year, elected in third
Roberto Alomar: First year, elected in second
Bert Blyleven: 11th year, elected in 14th
Andre Dawson: Fifth year, elected in ninth
Rickey Henderson: First year
Jim Rice: Seventh year, elected in 15th
Goose Gossage: Seventh year, elected in ninth
Cal Ripken: First year
Tony Gwynn: First year
Bruce Sutter: 11th year, elected in 13th
Wade Boggs: First year
Ryne Sandberg: Second year, elected in third
Paul Molitor: First year
Dennis Eckersley: First year
Eddie Murray: First year
Gary Carter: Fourth year, elected in sixth
Ozzie Smith: First year
Dave Winfield: First year
Kirby Puckett: First year
Carlton Fisk: First year, elected in second
Tony Perez: Third year, elected in ninth
As you can see, Bagwell is ahead of the "pace" of several of these guys, including Jim Rice, Andre Dawson, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter and Tony Perez, none of whom have the Hall of Fame credentials of Bagwell.
Also, once a player gets up to 56 percent, his eventual election is a near certainty. The only three players in the past 30 years to get to that percentage and not get elected are Orlando Cepeda (who got to 56 percent in his 13th year), Jim Bunning (who got there in his 10th year, got to 74.2 percent in his 12th year, but then dropped off) and Gil Hodges (got there in his fifth year but peaked at 63 percent in his final year). Cepeda and Bunning were eventually elected by the Veterans Committee, while Hodges remains the player (other than Jack Morris) with the highest vote percentage never to make the Hall of Fame.
Bagwell isn't the only player on this year's ballot on a possible Hall of Fame path.
Tim Raines received 48.7 percent of the vote in his fifth year on the ballot last year. Here are some Hall of Famers who received less than that percentage at one time yet still got elected by the BBWAA: Blyleven, Rice, Gossage, Sutter, Carter, Luis Aparacio, Hoyt Wilhelm, Eddie Mathews, Duke Snider, Hank Greenberg, Early Wynn, Lou Boudreau and -- get this -- Joe DiMaggio (although I believe there was some confusion at the time about his eligibility). And that doesn't include the numerous Hall of Famers elected by the various veterans committees, including many players who never sniffed election from the writers (Rick Ferrell never received 1 percent of the vote, for example).
Even Edgar Martinez, who received 36.5 percent of vote on his third year on the ballot, has started better than some Hall of Famers.
Look, I can't explain why this happens, why a player's vote total can increase dramatically in a few short years. Sure, the roll call of voters changes over time, but it changes very slowly, since once voters have reached their 10 years in the BBWAA they get to keep voting until they die, whether or not they still cover baseball or have watched a game in 20 years.
There is a psychological phenomenon known as groupthink that perhaps applies here. This occurs when a group of people seek harmony or conformity in their decision-making. In social psychology, this is applied in a negative manner. Irving Janis, who wrote "Victims of Groupthink" in 1972, suggested events like the failure to anticipate the attack on Pearl Harbor or the Bay of Pigs fiasco were results of groupthink, cases in which opposing views weren't considered.
Is that what happens here? Eventually, the Hall of Fame voters form a consensus opinion. Basically, the voters want to elect somebody to the Hall of Fame, so it's natural that a form of groupthink develops. That seems to be the case with Jack Morris. Here's a guy who was under 30 percent of the vote his first five years on the ballot. To use the Malcolm Gladwell terms from "The Tipping Point," there were then "connectors" and "salesmen" -- leaders of sorts within the BBWAA with a heavy influence -- who started voting for Morris, helping to increase his vote totals by influencing others that Morris' narrative trumps the 3.90 ERA that voters had soundly rejected as Hall of Fame material in his early years on the ballot. As the vote total slowly builds, others climb on board -- groupthink. Jim Rice got in because he had connectors and salesmen on his side; the comparable Dale Murphy never had the right guys leading his cause.
Anyway, this gets us back to Jeff Bagwell: He was at 56 percent last year and should climb over 60 percent this year, putting him even closer to the 75 percent threshold. His election by the BBWAA appears inevitable.