It could have been four new Hall of Famers, but the Baseball Writers' Association of America rarely fails to disappoint. Let's at least celebrate that two of the most iconic players of the 1990s are now headed to Cooperstown, New York. Here's a look at the winners and losers from Wednesday's Hall of Fame announcement:
Winner: Ken Griffey Jr. I don't think I can accurately describe what Griffey meant to the baseball fans of Seattle. When he reached the major leagues in 1989, still a teenager, he joined a franchise that had never had a winning season, had been devoid of star attractions and played its games in a dark, depressing concrete mausoleum. Junior turned Seattle into a baseball town.
He had that smile, the backward hat, the joy for the game. The electricity for every Griffey at-bat was unlike anything us Mariners fans had ever felt. I still vividly recall the first time I saw him play in person. My friend James and I drove home from college in Montana after our semester ended in May that rookie season. The way I remember it, we drove all night, stopped off at my parents' house to say hello (and maybe borrow a few dollars for tickets) and headed down to the Kingdome. I'd say we were running on fumes, but like Griffey we were 19 years old. We somehow ended up with seats a few rows behind the dugout.
But Griffey wasn't in the lineup. Talk about disappointment. Then in the bottom of the eighth inning, with the Seattle Mariners and Milwaukee Brewers tied 4-4, Griffey pinch hit for Mickey Brantley with a runner on base, facing a journeyman right-hander named Bill Wegman. The count was 1-0 when Griffey uncoiled -- as beautiful a swing as any in the game's history -- and launched the baseball over the right-field wall.
We fell in love.
Winner: History. Griffey was named on 437 of the 440 ballots cast. So it wasn't unanimous. But his percentage of 99.3 did break Tom Seaver's record of 98.8 percent. This could have been Randy Johnson or Greg Maddux or Cal Ripken or somebody else, but it's Griffey, and I think it speaks to how Griffey transcended the game in the 1990s.
Losers: The three voters who didn't vote for Griffey. Unless we find out these voters did so for strategic reasons -- knowing Griffey was going to get elected, they instead cast 10 votes for other players -- shame on them. Or maybe they were Reds beat writers who saw only the second half of Griffey's career.
Winner: Mike Piazza. The best-hitting catcher of all time with a record 396 home runs as a catcher and .308 career average, Piazza made it on his fourth year on the ballot. Of course, he would have been an easy first-ballot selection if not for the elephant in the room. But he has never been directly linked to steroids like Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens, and while some writers are still out there talking about Piazza's back hair and mood swings, 83 percent of the voters ignored or dismissed the PED allegations and voted for the 12-time All-Star.
Winners: Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines. Yes, they fell short of election -- Bagwell was 15 votes short and Raines 23 -- but they're now close enough that their selections next year appear inevitable. Bagwell climbed from 55.7 percent to 71.6; Raines from 55 percent to 69.8. The only hitch could be that Raines is down to his final year on the ballot and he's not quite the clear-cut Hall of Famer that Bagwell should be. Still, Raines is now so close and given the campaign that will lead up to the next voting cycle and the usual last-year-on-the-ballot increase, I think he slides just over the 75 percent barrier. I will point out, however, that Jack Morris failed to benefit from the final-year sympathy vote: After getting 67.7 percent in his 14th year on the ballot in 2013, he fell to 61.5 percent in 2014. But Morris doesn't have as strong a Hall of Fame case and was also hurt by the appearance of Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine on that year's ballot.
Winner: The Purge. There were 109 fewer voters this year after a Hall of Fame directive that changed the eligibility requirements, eliminating those writers who hadn't actively covered the game in the past 10 years or so. Those voters historically voted for fewer players on their ballots and didn't vote for the PED-era sluggers. The percentage increases that Piazza, Bagwell and Raines enjoyed were also seen by others. Mike Mussina had the largest increase, at 18 percent. This is all a good thing. As I've written, the 1980s and 1990s remain vastly underrepresented in Cooperstown compared to other eras. At least we now have nine new Hall of Famers elected the past three years, after just nine had been elected the previous seven years.
Losers: Bonds and Clemens. Alas, it wasn't enough to help these two, or Mark McGwire, who was in his final year on the ballot. Bonds' total went from 36 percent to just 44 percent and Clemens from 37 to 45. Both still have six years left on the ballot but The Purge was -- for now -- a one-time thing, so this would have been the year they needed to get a big increase. They didn't get it and it appears their likelihood of ever getting elected by the BBWAA is slim.
Winner: Trevor Hoffman. He polled at 67 percent on his first year on the ballot. Besides Bagwell and Raines, the only players to reach that percentage and not get elected by the BBWAA are Morris, Nellie Fox (74.7 percent his final year) and Jim Bunning (peaked at 74.2 percent). But Hoffman did it his first year. He gets in within two years.
Loser: Billy Wagner. Despite similar career value to Hoffman -- a better ERA and more strikeouts but fewer saves -- Wagner received just 10.5 percent of the vote. I get the difference in saves (601 to 422), but it doesn't really make sense that their vote totals were so disparate. If you like Hoffman, you should like Wagner as well.
Winner: Curt Schilling and Mussina. Schilling crossed over 50 percent in his fourth year while Mussina got up to 43 percent in his third year. They both have time left and with no strong Hall of Fame pitching candidates hitting the ballot until Mariano Rivera and Roy Halladay in 2019, I expect both to continue to see gradual increases. Both have strong cases and the new slimmed-down voting electorate is more sabermetrically friendly. I think both eventually get elected.
Loser: Jim Edmonds. He's a borderline candidate but he deserved to have his case discussed and debated. Instead, he received just 11 votes -- no doubt a victim of the 10-player maximum rule -- and is now booted off the ballot. The BBWAA has been cruel to center fielders in recent years: Bernie Williams, Kenny Lofton and now Edmonds.
I guess if you're not named Griffey, you don't have a chance.