Gaming the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot could deny a unanimous selection — and that’s OK


As we sit and wait for anything meaningful to happen in free agency this offseason — and I’ll admit, I’m pretty worried it’s gonna take a long time for that to happen — the other thing we have going in the baseball world is the annual Hall of Fame debate. 

On that front, something that seems to be a topic of relevance this year is the candidacy of former Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. No, I don’t think anyone who matters believes he shouldn’t be a Hall of Famer, but there’s been discussion as to whether or not he’ll be a unanimous selection. My colleague Dayn Perry covered as much, arguing that he won’t be. I agree. I also don’t think it matters. 

For whatever reason, there’s great focus on these things. We just saw it from some of the New York media regarding Jacob deGrom winning the Cy Young with 29 of the 30 first-place votes, with one radio show deciding that the one voter who didn’t put deGrom first needed to be publicly shamed on the air. Personally, I thought deGrom should’ve won the award, but … wait. Stop! He won the award! There’s no extra-special attachment to the award for those who win it unanimously. The discussion about anything else here is window dressing. Watch this. 

Quick: Who was the last unanimous Cy Young winner? Be honest and don’t look it up. 

You have no idea, do you? Because it doesn’t ultimately matter. 

Moving back over to the Hall of Fame, there’s a portion of the baseball world obsessed with seeing a unanimous Hall of Fame inductee, though it’s really not relevant. Here are the top five voting percentages in history: 

  1. Ken Griffey Jr., 2016, 99.32%
  2. Tom Seaver, 1992, 98.84
  3. Nolan Ryan, 1999, 98.79
  4. Cal Ripken Jr., 2007, 98.53
  5. Ty Cobb, 1936, 98.23
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Obvious, inner-circle Hall of Famers? Sure, but that’s not a ranking of the five best players of all time. We don’t see Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Walter Johnson, Ted Williams or a host of other players who were very obviously better than, say, Ripken. I don’t think you could find a single person who knows a lick about baseball who would argue that Ripken is better than Mays, so why would we be caught up on any vote percentage above the 75 percent needed for induction? 

Now, I fully realize we’re in the era of ballot shaming on social media. If someone truly does believe Mariano Rivera shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame, by all means, shame away. That would be a laughable position to take and a person who has earned a Hall of Fame vote would deserve to be berated for genuinely believing Rivera’s resume isn’t Hall worthy. 

There is a different reason to not vote for Rivera, however: Gaming the ballot. 

The Baseball Hall of Fame has decided that BBWAA members are only allowed to vote for 10 players on their ballots. For voters who are “Big Hall” types who believe we shouldn’t be deciding on our own about who might have used PEDs, there are more than 10 qualified candidates on this ballot. We’ll be diving more into this in December and January, but there are probably around 15 candidates worthy of strong consideration from this point of view. I know, I know. Some think it’s getting “watered down,” but it’s actually not! Check out two HOF myths I covered last January

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Given the history of the Hall of Fame and the backlog of candidates who would actually bring up the average Hall of Famer, along with the 10-vote limit, a voter could withhold his or her vote for Rivera for the greater good. 

To be clear, I wouldn’t game the ballot. I think the design is for each voter to essentially rank his or her top 10 candidates and then decide if all 10 are worthy of a vote. If at least 75 percent of the voting body agrees on a player, we have a Hall of Famer. The beauty is in the simplicity. 

Others might disagree, though, and believe that a Scott Rolen, Larry Walker or Edgar Martinez needs a vote more than Rivera while still believing they all merit enshrinement. Let’s say a new-school type voter goes with a 10-man ballot of the following: 

Martinez, Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Curt Schilling, Walker, Rolen, Roy Halladay, Manny Ramirez and Andruw Jones

A quality case can be made for all 10 and Rivera still surely sails in on his first try. 

The downside is the remote — let’s be real, it’s a zero-percent chance — possibility that more than 25 percent of the electorate takes this route and Rivera doesn’t make it. Again, it won’t happen, but if it does, would we actually be worried that more than 95 percent of the electorate took this route and took Rivera off the ballot altogether before next round? C’mon. So our worst-case scenario here is Rivera has to wait one year for induction, though the realistic “worst-case” is Rivera still makes it but with a lower vote total than he deserved. He’s still a Hall of Famer, too. 

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The only real downside to this ballot-gaming is the social media shaming that would come with not voting for Rivera, meaning he wouldn’t be unanimous and some New York area radio shows hosts would be aggrieved. Oh, the horror!

As noted, I wouldn’t be a ballot gamer and when I do get a vote in five years, I won’t be one. I also don’t have a problem with it and if that’s the reason Rivera isn’t a unanimous inductee, we’ll all live. Consider this a preemptive “settle down” to those pining for a unanimous Hall of Famer. 





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