Boggs enters in stunning election

We now know there were 42 voters out there who didn't think Wade Boggs was as surefire a Hall of Famer as those 3,010 hits made him look.

We now know there were 42 voters who thought he wasn't a complete player, wasn't a team player, wasn't even a dominant player.

Well, luckily for them, this is America. They have a right to their opinion. It just happens to be ridiculous. And the proof arrived Tuesday, when Boggs went roaring into Cooperstown on the first ballot, collecting all but 42 of the 516 ballots cast.

On the other hand, it took three trips to the ballot box before Ryne Sandberg finally got himself elected this year. Amazingly, Sandberg got 84 more votes this year than last, despite going hitless in between elections.

Over the last 14 years, only two players have jumped by more votes from one year to the next than Sandberg did. They were Jim Rice, who made an incredible 111-vote leap in 1999, and Gary Carter, whose total inflated by 86 votes five years ago.

But no player had ever been more than 70 votes away from election one year, then made it the next before Sandberg did it. Which might have made this the most stunning election since Truman beat Dewey.

This voter voted for both Boggs and Sandberg. But as usual, I also voted for a half-dozen other candidates who remain trapped in unelected limbo. Here's a look at the credentials of all of those guys, plus a glimpse at some other revealing election trends.

The Electees
Boggs (91.9 percent)

OK, so what are the reasons not to vote for this guy again? Those 42 conscientious Boggs objectors sure needed to work hard to find them.

How do you not vote for a man who hit .352 for a whole freaking decade in the 1980s -- the highest average by any hitter in any decade since the '20s?

How do you not vote for one of the four players in history to bat .300 in every one of his first 10 seasons? (The others: Ted Williams, Al Simmons, Paul Waner.)

How do you not vote for the only man since Wee Willie Keeler to rip off seven straight 200-hit seasons?

How do you not vote for a man who won five batting titles, made 12 straight All-Star teams, started six of those games in a row (more than any third baseman in history), batted .350 or better in four straight seasons, scored 100 runs in seven straight seasons and thumped 30 doubles in nine straight seasons?

We don't care how many hits he sprayed to the opposite field. Or how many doubles he clanked off the Green Monster. Or how many of those hits came in Fenway, period. Wade Boggs was one of the great hit machines of all time.

But that's not all. He was also one of the great on-base machines of all time.

Boggs had the same career on-base percentage (.415) as Stan Musial. He led his league in OBP five years in a row -- a streak topped only by Rogers Hornsby. He even led the AL in intentional walks six straight seasons -- which tells us all we need to know about how much teams enjoyed pitching to him.

But the feat that defined the precision of both Boggs' swing and his batting eye was this: He had four straight seasons with 200 hits and 100 walks (the longest streak in history). Which means he did that as many times in a row as all the other players in baseball have done it in the last half-century combined.

So some people may have other ideas. But Wade Boggs was such a slam-dunk candidate to this voter, it took about 1.8 seconds to decide to check his box.

Sandberg (76.2 percent)

A mere two years ago, Sandberg wasn't even collecting 50 percent of the vote. But for some reason, nearly 150 new voters have piled on board his bandwagon since then. So he's finally in. But boy, is it absurd that it took this long.

Until last September, when Jeff Kent passed him, Sandberg led all second basemen in history in home runs (277). He owns the highest fielding percentage (.989) of any second baseman since 1900. He's the only second baseman ever to start nine All-Star Games. And from 1982-92, he led all second basemen in average, homers, RBI, runs, extra-base hits, OPS, fielding percentage and 500-assist seasons. So about all he didn't do was bake the pizzas at Gino's.

By any measure, he was the dominant second baseman of his era -- in the batter's box and in the leathercraft division. And that's the veritable definition of a Hall of Famer. Isn't it?

On The Doorstep
Bruce Sutter (66.7 percent -- missed by 43 votes)

A dozen elections into his candidacy, it's been fascinating to watch Sutter pick up steam. Only six years ago, just 121 writers were voting for him. Since then, mysteriously, he has nearly tripled his vote total.

But for some of us longtime Sutter proponents, that's as heartwarming as it is bizarre -- because, while folks like Rob Neyer may not understand what all this Sutter hoopla is about, hundreds of voters are finally catching on.

This guy not only dominated his position. He changed his position.

We know our buddy Neyer doesn't agree. But it means something that Sutter revolutionized how closers were used.

He was never just a three-out Eckersley-esque closer. In fact, Sutter averaged 98 innings a year in relief for 10 seasons until his shoulder detonated on him. But, because he was the first closer ever to have his manager (Whitey Herzog) apply defined rules for how he'd be used (seven outs or fewer, generally when his team was tied or ahead), he did serve as a bridge to the "modern" closer.

And if, as Rob contends, Sutter didn't exactly pioneer the split-fingered pitch, he was the first guy we ever saw throw that 90-mph power splitter that about 1,000 pitchers use regularly today. He was so untouchable, he had power pitchers everywhere asking: "What the heck was that pitch -- and how do I throw it?" Which made him singlehandedly responsible for the popularity of that pitch in the last 20 years.

But above all, Sutter had a certain aura in his prime. That aura wasn't necessarily reflected in his save totals. But it was reflected in the fact that he is still the only relief pitcher who ever finished in the top 10 in MVP voting six times (in eight years).

Great hitters spoke about him with fear and reverence. He changed games, changed seasons, changed his sport. And that's something all voters should take into account when they consider whether to hand him those 43 more votes he'll need to add between now and 2008.

Our guess is, he'll make it. And he should.

The 50-Percenters
Jim Rice (59.5 percent -- missed by 80 votes)

Will Rice ever be elected? Uh, don't bet your tape of the Bucky Dent Game on it.

On one hand, as recently as 1999, he'd sunk all the way down to 146 votes -- and now he's up to 307. On the other hand, he's been stuck between 50 and 60 percent for six consecutive elections.

And while his 41-vote rise this year was the third-most of any candidate (behind Sandberg and Sutter), he only has four shots left and a whole lot of support to pick up.

But if it means anything to him, at least he picked up this vote -- for the first time in 11 elections.

For a voter to change his mind after 10 years makes no sense whatsoever, of course -- except for this:

Of all the candidates I've ever had to consider, none of them cost me more sleep, or caused me to ingest more Rolaids, than Rice. He's that hard a call.

There was no question he was the dominant offensive force in his league for a dozen seasons in the late 1970s and early '80s. Unfortunately, his career then tumbled over a cliff -- at age 34.

So he never reached 400 homers, or 1,500 RBI, or 2,500 hits. And for a man who had to be evaluated almost solely for his offense, those were career numbers that just didn't quite cut it -- not for this voter, anyway.

But I've always said I was an open-minded kind of guy. So last year, I invited you thoughtful folks in Reader Land to try to change my mind. More than a thousand e-mails later, I'm happy to announce you did. ... SO PLEASE STOP SENDING THEM.

I read hundreds of those e-mails. I talked to baseball people who saw Rice play, or played against him. I finally became convinced he wasn't as one-dimensional as I'd once thought. Which allowed me to give more weight to his incredible period of dominance.

From 1975 through 1985, Rice was No. 1 in his league in homers, RBI, runs scored, slugging and extra-base hits. And aside from homers, only the great George Brett was even close to him in any of those categories.

So you can call off the e-mail assault. It's amazing my inbox didn't explode.

Goose Gossage (55.2 percent -- missed by 102 votes)

Speaking of overlooked closers, how the heck can Gossage be sputtering along, still more than 100 votes away from a trip to Cooperstown? That's a bigger outrage than My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss.

Let's run through his glittering credentials again: Nine All-Star teams in 11 years. A 10-year blitz of microscopic ERAs and terrifying strikeout totals. More than 130 innings in relief three times. A span of nearly 20 years in which the average of right-handed hitters against him never cracked the Mendoza Line. And, like Sutter, an aura that came wafting out of his fu manchu every time he grabbed the ball -- an aura that announced: "Game over."

Hard as I campaign for Sutter, if I had to vote for just one reliever on the ballot, it would be the Goose. He was Mariano Rivera and Eric Gagne rolled into one. He did jump by 79 votes this year -- the most of any pitcher in the last 14 elections. But for this guy still to have never come within 100 votes of election is a crime.

Andre Dawson (52.3 percent -- missed by 117 votes)

He spent his best years in Montreal, where the AstroConcrete turned his knee cartilage into linguini and all videotapes of his greatness apparently were confiscated at the border by customs agents. So Dawson continues to be overlooked by half the voting populace. And that ain't right.

More ominously, unlike Sutter, Rice and Gossage, there has been very little uptick in Dawson's vote totals. Over the last three elections, he has attracted 50, 50 and 52 percent. Which means more than 200 voters still must think he was just playing exhibition games up there in Stade Olympique over his first 10 seasons.

Until his knees began to crumble, the Hawk was a singular combination of power, speed, defense, leadership and unparalleled respect among his peers. He won one MVP election and finished second in two others. He was a rookie of the year. He won eight Gold Gloves.

And despite all those ice packs he kept attaching to his knees, only two other players have ever matched his totals in hits (2,774), home runs (438) and stolen bases (314) -- Willie Mays and Barry Bonds.

If we spent most of the '80s debating whether Dawson was the best player in the National League, why are we still debating so hard whether he belongs in Cooperstown?

In Big Trouble
Jack Morris (33.3 percent -- missed by 215 votes)

Suppose we told you there was a pitcher on this ballot who won 36 more games than anyone else in the sport while he was in it? And suppose we told you this pitcher started three All-Star Games -- a feat surpassed, since the 1970s, by only Randy Johnson?

Then suppose we told you this guy pitched a no-hitter, was an Opening Day starter 14 times (more than any American Leaguer since Walter Johnson), averaged 14 complete games a season for eight years and made 515 consecutive starts without missing a turn (a record at the time)?

Finally, suppose we told you he was one of the most fabled postseason pitchers of his day, that he started Game 1 of the World Series for three different Series champs and that he pitched all 10 innings of possibly the greatest Game 7 shutout ever?

Would you say that guy was a Hall of Famer -- if you didn't know his name was Jack Morris? True, Morris' 3.90 ERA would be the highest of any pitcher in the Hall. But by nearly every other standard, he was the ultimate ace of his era. Which might explain his biggest vote jump ever (up 39 from last year).

Dale Murphy (10.5 percent -- missed by 333 votes)

Murphy's vote totals -- which have been carved in half since 2000 -- are starting to make Dennis Kucinich look like George W. Bush. So we know now he has no prayer of having his mug on a Hall of Fame plaque.

Still, we have no trouble justifying a vote for a man who was a back-to-back MVP, a five-time Gold Glove winner, a 30-30 guy, a leading vote-getter in the All-Star balloting and the answer to the trivia question: Who led the National League in runs, hits and RBI in the '80s?

Has there ever been a better player who could barely even attract 10 percent of the vote? With apologies to Keith Hernandez, we can't think of one.

Biggest Increases
Sandberg 84, Gossage 79, Sutter 43, Rice 41, Morris 39, Bert Blyleven 32.

Three Guys Who Lost Votes
Steve Garvey minus-17, Don Mattingly minus-6, Dave Concepcion minus-2.

Rest Of The First-Timers
Only Willie McGee will live to see another ballot. His 26 votes just kept him above the five-percent cutoff line.

Best of the rest: Jim Abbott 13 (2.5 percent), Darryl Strawberry 6 (1.2 percent), Jack McDowell 4 (0.8 percent).

Shut out: Mark Langston and Otis Nixon.

Final observation: True, Willie McGee was a fine player. But it sure would have seemed strange, somewhere around 1987, if someone had suggested that McGee would be a multi-ballot Hall of Fame candidate -- but Darryl Strawberry, Joe Carter, Frank Viola and Kirk Gibson wouldn't be.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.