One of the most-asked questions during baseball Hall of Fame season is, “Who will be the first player unanimously elected to the Hall?”
Spoiler alert: the BBWAA has never unanimously elected a player!
Ken Griffey Jr. came the closest to unanimous election, when he garnered 437 of 440 votes in 2016. That, at 99.32 percent of the vote, stands as the record for highest percentage of the vote in Major League history. He topped Tom Seaver’s 1992 election of 98.84 percent of the vote.
But would it have mattered if Griffey had received just 330 of the 440 votes? No, it wouldn’t have, because Griffey would have received exactly 75 percent of the vote and ultimately would still have his plaque in the Hall as well as his statistical records. Absolutely nothing would be different.
Theoretically, Griffey was given 137 wasted votes.
Don’t get me wrong, though — it’s okay for Griffey to have been given a cushion. Obviously, he’s a deserving Hall of Famer, and he earned his place in history on the first ballot, but if just 11 voters decided to change their Griffey vote to a Jim Edmonds vote (who had a strong Hall of Fame case himself), Griffey would still waltz into the Hall of Fame and Edmonds would still be on the ballot for consideration.
With a 10-player limit (which is nothing short of bogus), I’m not bothered by strategic voting. On an unlimited, check “yes” or “no” ballot, there shouldn’t be one baseball voter to not vote for Ken Griffey Jr. But, when you’re limited by your number of choices, you sometimes are forced to make cuts.
Cut from the top, not from the bottom.
It’s even easier now to strategically vote. With Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame ballot tracker, we are able to check the standing of every player on the ballot. Chipper Jones, who currently trends at 98.8 percent of the public vote, will be elected. Vladimir Guerrero (93.9 percent) and Jim Thome (94.5 percent), with potentially Edgar Martinez (81.1 percent) and Trevor Hoffman (78.0 percent) being the likeliest joining them.
At this point in the running, if you’re a voter and in support of all five of those Hall of Fame cases, in theory you only need to vote for Martinez and Hoffman, who most desperately need your help for election. Jones, Guerrero and Thome will get in to the Hall with or without your ballot.
Now, there are three spots open for those 5-percenters, players in danger of falling off the ballot. Cast those votes for Johan Santana, Andruw Jones and Scott Rolen, and you’re actually doing them more of a favor than you would have ever done for Jones, Guerrero and Thome.
Don’t believe me? Just look at Duke Snider, who trended at just 17 percent of the vote in his first year on the BBWAA ballot but was ultimately voted in 10 years later in 1980 (hat tip to Thiboudaux for pointing that out). With each year that passes, we tend to see players’ cases become more urgent with the newer 10-year limit, as writers tend to prioritize their ballots by who is most likely to fall off the soonest. We can look at Edgar Martinez as a real-time example.
Or you can do what Sporting News’ Ryan Fagan did.
Fagan, rather than take Jones, Thome or Guerrero off his ballot, removed players that will surely cross the 5 percent line to stay on the ballot but won’t need his vote in order to actually get in. This led him to take Manny Ramirez and Curt Schilling off of his ballot, so he could put Scott Rolen and Johan Santana on it.
As he writes in his column:
I’m voting for the players I feel strongly deserve a spot in Cooperstown who actually have a chance to be inducted this year. I’m voting for the players who deserve to stick around on the ballot for at least one more season. I’m voting for those who need a boost to their candidacy. I’m not voting for the 10 players I feel have the best Hall of Fame resumes. I wish I could just vote for all the players I feel belong, but I can’t.
That means I’m not voting for a couple of players who have careers worthy of Cooperstown. I’m not voting for Manny Ramirez, even though I voted for him last year and will again in the future. I voted for Curt Schilling last year, and I will consider him again when he realistically can approach the 75 percent level necessary for induction. But neither player is getting there this year, and I need their spots on my 10-man ballot to make sure other players stick around.
To me, it’s more important for (spoiler alert!) Scott Rolen or Johan Santana to get from 4 percent to 5 percent — remember, players have to reach the 5-percent threshold to stay on the ballot each year — than it is for Schilling to get from 66 percent to 67 percent or for Manny to get from 29 percent to 30 percent.
Fagan didn’t cast his vote until the very end of the eligible voting period so that he could see, using Thiboudaux’s tracker, and determine who needed his votes more than others.
In short, it doesn’t matter if Derek Jeter, Roy Halladay, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera or any other future Hall of Famers receive 100 percent of the vote.
It does matter, though, if the little guy can get 5 percent of the vote, especially if that could get them in the Hall of Fame in future years.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.