This Day in Baseball History: January 12th, 1988

I’m so scared.

In honor of Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice, the other players voted in to the Hall of Fame on January 12th were Brooks Robinson and Juan Marichal (’83), Willie Stargell (’88), and Steve Charlton (’94).

However, in 1988, there were some shenanigans. Nine Hall voters signed a blank ballot and sent them in. They didn’t vote for anyone. While Stargell got in, Jim Bunning was left out. Had those ballots not been sent in, Bunning could have been elected in 1988 (they don’t count if they’re not sent in).

Bill Madden of The New York Daily News stated:
To me, the Hall of Fame should be reserved for great players, not for very good or pretty good players. I didn’t consider my vote a vote against Stargell or Bunning as much as I considered it a statement of my Hall of Fame philosophy.

Vern Plagenhoef argued:
What steered me away from Bunning was that I’d never voted for him in the past. And his numbers really aren’t that much different from Mickey Lolich, whom I also seriously considered. With Stargell, the first-year thing had something to do with it. I couldn’t bring myself to vote for Stargell on the first ballot when players like Nellie Fox, Bill Mazeroski and Phil Rizzuto aren’t in the Hall of Fame even though they were more dimensional than Stargell.

As the author of the article reasons:
But those writers who didn’t vote for Aaron, Cobb and Ruth at least voted for somebody. In this year’s election, nine voters didn’t vote for anybody. Some didn’t believe that a valid Hall of Fame candidate, not even Stargell, existed on this year’s ballot. Others didn’t think that Stargell deserved to go into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. But to this voter, if a player belongs, he belongs as much in his first year as in any future year.

Another interesting quote:
“Do you think I’ll be a unanimous choice?” Rose once asked Jack Lang, the writers’ association secretary-treasurer who counts the ballots each year. ”Do you think I’ll be the first unanimous choice?”

Three years earlier, Pete Rose was banned from baseball. I imagine that if Rose were to be re-instated that he would be elected in on the first time, but I doubt he would be voted in unanimously considering the “moral” stand voters are taking on players who used PED’s. Would they vote for Rose and not the others? It’s a little like comparing apples and oranges, but could you say, “I voted for the guy completely banned from professional baseball, but I refuse to vote for the guy who was once suspended 25 games for using steroids”?

Back to the main point of the post, I don’t disagree with the people who refuse to vote for a first-timer. I get it. No one has been voted in unanimously (if you point out Gehrig, I’ll slap you with a cyber steak), and it would odd to say Henderson was the greatest player in history (which it would theoretically but not technically say about Henderson over a guy like Ruth who did not get in unanimously). However, Craig at Shysterball observes:

I guess my answer would be that 17 wrongs don’t make a right, but the fact remains that the sun will still rise tomorrow if Rickey Henderson is not a unanimous inductee.

Fair point. Just because some other player didn’t get in unanimously did not make it right. If a guy is Hall of Fame caliber and it’s undeniable, shouldn’t everyone vote for him unless they have a legitimate reason for saying he wasn’t Hall worthy. Then again, as Craig astutely notes, does it really matter? Still, no one on the 1988 ballot was Hall worthy?

Which brings me to my last question — how can you be persuaded that someone is Hall worthy? 35% thought Rice was Hall worthy in 1996, but now, 76.4% think he is. Even if the 1996 class was so great as to have 10 Hall-caliber players, then why wasn’t he elected in 1997? I doubt either had such great classes. How did he go from not Hall-worthy to Hall-worthy (rhetorical — don’t mention Boston media)? If he wasn’t Hall-worthy in 1996, he isn’t in 2009 (not that I’m judging that Rice is not Hall-worthy — I can’t judge that). How does tenure in Hall voting qualify a player to be enshrined?

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