Ken Griffey Jr. was more than just a Hall of Famer. He was a maker of magic.
The swing. The glove. The smile. As magical as any wave of David Copperfield's wand.
And Wednesday, 437 Hall of Fame voters had a message for Griffey and a message for all of us: Magic rocks. Magic works. And magic is what earns a man 99.3 percent of the vote, the highest percentage of any candidate who has ever reached this ballot (and should have earned 100 percent, of course).
That, obviously, was the most important thing we learned Wednesday evening, on a night when Griffey and Mike Piazza teamed up to turn this into the third consecutive Hall of Fame election to send multiple players to Cooperstown.
But that was far from all we took away from this historic night. So here come five things we learned from the 2016 Hall of Fame election:
1. New electorate, new life for Edgar, Moose & Schill
These were not your grandfather's Hall of Fame voters. Heck, they weren't even your big brother's Hall of Fame voters. Once the Hall had finished bouncing a large group of voters who hadn't covered baseball in at least a decade, here's what we were left with:
- An electorate in which 109 fewer writers cast a vote in this election than in 2015.
- An electorate that had a much different perspective on players who shined brightest under the light of new-age metrics.
- And an electorate that appeared significantly less judgmental of players shadowed by those pesky performance-enhancing drug clouds.
First takeaway: Seven different players jumped by double-digit percentage points: Piazza (up 13.1), Jeff Bagwell (15.9), Tim Raines (14.8), Curt Schilling (13.1), Edgar Martinez (16.4), Alan Trammell (15.8) and Mike Mussina (18.4). All seven are stars as big on the modern-metric field as they once were on the playing field.
That jump came too late to help Trammell, who finally topped 40 percent (at 40.9) for the first time, in his final year of a 15-year ballot run. But Bagwell and Raines might as well start working on their induction speeches now.
They missed election by 15 and 23 votes, respectively. And only one holdover candidate in history has ever gotten as high a percentage as Bagwell (71.6) or Raines (69.9) and failed to get elected by the writers. That was Jim Bunning, back in the late 1980s. But even he eventually made it to the podium, via the Veterans Committee. So for Bagwell and Raines, 2017 looks like their year.
But the three men whose candidacies now look most different than they did last election day are Schilling (52.3 percent), Martinez (43.4) and Mussina (43.0). And it's no longer out of the realm of possibility that all three could make it.
Two years ago, Schilling was polling at 29.2 percent. Now he's all the way up to 52.3. You know what that tells us? He's almost certainly getting elected some day. Of all the players in the modern voting era who topped 50 percent with eligibility remaining, just two -- Gil Hodges and Jack Morris -- fell short of election, either by the writers or the Veterans Committee.
For Martinez and Mussina, the odds aren't quite that good. But a year ago, they were at 27.0 and 24.6 percent, respectively. Now they're at 43.4 and 43.0. And they'll be delighted to hear that, over the past 40 years, the writers have elected 14 different players who once polled in the 40s or lower.
Mussina has seven years left on the ballot, so he's in excellent shape. But Martinez has just three. And finding another 140 votes or so, in that short a period, won't be easy.
On one hand, five players in those 40 elections have jumped from 40-something percent to election in three years or fewer (Ryne Sandberg, Gary Carter, Luis Aparicio, Eddie Mathews and Bob Lemon). On the other hand, you have to wonder how many of the 57 percent who still aren't voting for Martinez would never vote for a DH.
2. Bonds and Clemens gained very little traction
Speaking of guys attracting about 40 percent of the vote:
That's a threshold Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens had never crossed in three previous elections. But Bonds jumped from 36.8 to 44.3 percent. And Clemens, who has outpolled Bonds in all four elections, went from 37.5 to 45.2 percent. So don't banish them to Cooperstown oblivion yet, OK?
But is there another 30 percent, within this voting group, that's willing to vote for them? Wow. It would be easier to predict the winner of the 2068 Kentucky Derby than to make that prediction.
They each have six years left to find those votes. And as we just mentioned, many players before them have drummed up enough momentum to make that 30 percent leap. But none of those high-jumpers had the sort of baggage attached to them that these two guys have.
The results of this election told us that PED stains don't burrow as deeply with this group of voters as they did with the older, more hard-line group that came before it. We also read more columns and blogs than ever before by writers who switched their "no" votes to "yes" on Bonds and Clemens.
And who knows? Maybe the election of Piazza -- who overcame unproven PED suspicions from the same crowd -- will change the landscape on this issue. But if you asked me to bet today whether Bonds and Clemens will lift their plaques on the Cooperstown stage some day, I'd probably still say, "I don't see it."
3. Whatever happened to magic numbers?
Here's another takeaway on the "new" Hall of Fame electorate: It doesn't believe in magic numbers. Well, not the old, tried and true magic numbers of yesteryear, anyway.
Four members of the 500-homer club appeared on this ballot: Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Gary Sheffield. Bonds, we've covered. It's a miracle any of the other three even survived to appear on another ballot. They wound up with fewer votes combined (136) than Lee Smith got all by himself.
- McGwire, of course, didn't survive. It was his 10th and final year on the ballot. And for the 10th straight year, he was a nonfactor. He peaked at 23.7 percent in 2010. But if you added up all his votes from the past five elections, he still wouldn't have 70 percent, let alone enough votes for a victory speech. He and Rafael Palmeiro are now the only two 500-homer men in history to get lopped off the ballot. Quite a legacy.
- I thought this would be the year that McGwire's old partner in home-run glory, Sosa, would drop off the radar screen himself. Nope. He's still hanging in there, at 7.0 percent (up from 6.6 last year). But his 31 votes were the second fewest ever by a member of the 500-Homer Club. Only Palmeiro's 25, in 2014, "beat" him.
- Finally, of the 17 holdover candidates on this ballot, just two saw their percentages actually go down. One was Nomar Garciaparra, who plummeted right off the ballot. The other was Sheffield, who dropped from 11.7 to 11.6 percent in a year in which seven hitters around him jumped by at least 8 percent. And that's an ugly sign for Sheff. Did you know that only 10 other men with 500 homers and an OPS and batting average as high as Sheffield's (509/.907/.292), have ever made it onto a Hall of Fame ballot? Nine of them are in the Hall of Fame. The other: Bonds.
One last note on this topic: Next year will be Bonds' fifth appearance on the ballot. Only two members of the 500-Homer Club needed five ballots or more to get elected: Eddie Mathews (five) and Jimmie Foxx (seven). Not counting Palmeiro and McGwire, of course. So will Bonds wind up in the Mathews/Foxx wing of this trivia note or the Palmeiro/McGwire wing? Stay tuned.
4. The first time wasn't the charm for Wagner or Edmonds
Every time I write about the havoc that's being wreaked by the Rule of 10, people tell me I just want the world to feel sorry for me, or my standards are too low, or I have some sort of deep-seated fear of round numbers, or something. OK, great. Thanks for the input.
Unlike Edmonds, at least Wagner lives on to see a second ballot. But rationally, does it make any sense that, in the same election, two closers with credentials as similar as Wagner and Trevor Hoffman would rack up such insanely different vote totals? Hoffman collected 67.3 percent. He deserves it. Wagner, meanwhile, eked out a ridiculous 10.5 percent. Absurd. I've written twice now that it's hard to justify voting for one of those men but not the other. But hundreds of voters did.
Would that happen if they were allowed to just vote "yes" or "no" on every candidate -- as opposed to being told that if they vote for more than 10 names, the whole institution will collapse? I'm just going to take a wild guess that that answer is no.
And I'm going to take just as wild a guess that, if there were no Rule of 10 -- a rule which no doubt affected many of the 185 voters who used all 10 spots on their ballot -- Edmonds wouldn't be home today, wondering why he became one of the worst one-and-done victims of modern Hall of Fame times. As I wrote earlier this week, here's the complete list of outfielders in history with eight Gold Gloves and a .900 career OPS: Willie Mays, Bonds, Griffey and Edmonds. Only one of those men was one and done. What an embarrassment.
5. Ken Griffey, meet John Elway
Finally, the June baseball draft is now 51 years old. Who'd have thought it would take more than half a century before we finally elected a No. 1 pick in the whole darned country to the Hall of Fame?
But here's to Junior Griffey. He did what Darryl Strawberry, Shawon Dunston, Harold Baines and, yes, even Shawn Abner couldn't do. He took that ride from the top of the draft to Cooperstown. It's about time.
Some stuff you need to know on this front:
- Believe it or not, only one previous No. 1 overall pick even got enough votes to hang around on the ballot for more than one year. That was Baines, who survived to make it onto five years' worth of ballots (2007-11), peaking at 6.1 percent in Year 4, but then dropped below 5 percent in Year 5.
- A sampling of other No. 1 picks who at least got a vote or two: Strawberry, Dunston, Darin Erstad, B.J. Surhoff, Jeff Burroughs and Rick Monday. They were all one and done, though.
- I find this just as crazy: Only one player even picked No. 2 overall has ever made the Hall. That was Reginald Martinez Jackson, who went second back in 1966 -- to the late, great Kansas City A's.
- Baseball, not surprisingly, pales against the No. 1 picks in other sports. The Naismith Hall of Fame has 14 NBA No. 1 picks in it, including four esteemed 1980s picks in a row (James Worthy in 1982, Ralph Sampson in '83, Hakeem Olajuwon in '84 and Patrick Ewing in '85).
- The NFL has sent 12 No. 1 picks to Canton -- seven of them since the baseball draft came into existence (Troy Aikman, John Elway, Earl Campbell, Lee Roy Selmon, Terry Bradshaw, Ron Yary and some guy named O.J.). At this rate, baseball will catch up in the year 2366.
OK, here's one last fun, related topic you can kick around on your favorite bar stool: We know Chipper Jones will join Griffey in the No. 1 in the HOF Club in two years. But who will follow them as the next No. 1 overall pick to make the baseball Hall of Fame? I'll toss out one possible five-man ballot: David Price, Bryce Harper, Joe Mauer, Adrian Gonzalez and Carlos Correa. Good group! Hey, you were expecting maybe Bryan Bullington?