Next year’s Hall of Fame disaster scenario: a party in Cooperstown with no guests of honor

Today, Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the former with near unanimity and the latter with a fair share of controversy.  With their election, along with the earlier selection of Joe Gordon by the Veterans Committee, there will now be 289 members of the Hall, 201 of whom were elected based on their playing careers.  The wait for Hall of Fame player #202 may be a while…

First of all, there won’t be any players elected next year by the Veterans Committee, because the committee won’t vote again on players eligible for selection by the VC until 2010 (and that’s just for post-World War II eligibles; the pre-World War II players won’t be up for consideration again until 2013).  That means that the only players who can be elected next year will be those on the BBWAA ballot.  The players on this year’s ballot who will return to the ballot next year (with this year’s voting percentage in parenthesis):

Andre Dawson (67.0%); Bert Blyleven (62.7%); Lee Smith (44.5%); Jack Morris (44.0%); Tim Raines (22.6%); Mark McGwire (21.9%); Alan Trammell (17.4%); Dave Parker (15.0%); Don Mattingly (11.9%); Dale Murphy (11.5%); Harold Baines (5.9%)

Now, here is a list of players who next year will be eligible for the BBWAA ballot for the first time and are likely to be on the list (courtesy of the Hall of Fame website):

Roberto Alomar, Kevin Appier, Andy Ashby, Ellis Burks, Dave Burba, Andres Galarraga, Pat Hentgen, Mike Jackson, Eric Karros, Ray Lankford, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mark McLemore, Shane Reynolds, David Segui, Robin Ventura, Fernando Vina, Todd Zeile

There are several serious candidates for the Hall on the list on newly-eligibles, most prominently Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, and Fred McGriff.  I could also see some support (greater than 5% of the vote, at least) for Andres Galarraga and Robin Ventura.  However, none of those players is a “lock”.  I think the best candidate of the group is probably Alomar, and I would expect him to get a lot of votes — but I would be surprised if he received more than, say, 60% in his debut on the ballot.

That means that if anyone is to be elected, it has to be someone from the “holdover” group, and I think the only one of those players with a shot is Dawson.  He’s going to get in eventually, but I’m not sure if his support will jump from 67% to 75%+ in one year, especially since he’s not that close to his final year of eligibility, as was the case with Rice this year (who managed a 4% increase in his vote total from last year to this year).  At 63% of the vote, and with his support essentially unchanged from last year, Blyleven’s chances of being elected next year are remote.

Compounding the chances for the holdovers and the newly-eligible players is that there is a surplus of serious-but-not-automatic candidates who will almost certainly split up the vote.  Over the last two elections, an average BBWAA ballot has listed 5.35 names (last year) and 5.38 names (this year), historically low vote totals.  I don’t see that changing much, and so the “competition” for votes (a ludicrous concept, but unfortunately applicable in this situation) will likely depress individual vote totals across the board.  I think the only player with a shot next year is Dawson (unless I am seriously underestimating Alomar’s chances), and I don’t know if Dawson can make that big a leap in the voting.  I tend to think he won’t.

The last time the BBWAA failed to elect anyone was 1996 (Phil Niekro came closest; he was elected the following year).  However, in 1996 the Veterans Committee elected Jim Bunning, along with Negro Leagues star Bill Foster.  Earl Weaver and Ned Hanlon were also elected that year (as managers), so the traditional ceremony at Cooperstown had two living honorees (Bunning and Weaver).  At least one player has been elected by either the writers or the VC every year since 1960.

The committee that selects Hall of Fame managers, umpires, and executives does vote next year.  I think there will be some pressure on that committee to select somebody (Whitey Herzog?  Doug Harvey?) because that’s probably the avenue most likely to produce an enshrinee in 2009.  It won’t result in a player being elected, but it would be better than nothing.  Induction weekend is a boon to the local economy.  No enshrinee = no boon.

Cooperstown has already lost the annual Hall of Fame Game, which has been discontinued.  It may be time for the folks at the Hall to think of another attraction for next year (an Old-Timer’s game?) in case  its showcase event has no one to showcase.

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