Ken Griffey Jr. was a transcendent talent untainted by steroids accusations. It’s unlikely to happen, but the former Mariners center fielder deserves to do the impossible — sail into Cooperstown with 100 percent of the vote.
Nine voters, in their infinite wisdom, decided that Hank Aaron was not a Hall of Famer. But that’s nothing — Willie Mays didn’t pass the sniff test for 23 voters. Heck, even the legendary Babe Ruth, who had the most dominant career in baseball history, was left off 11 ballots.
I can’t even begin to fathom what possible deficiency could have prompted a voter to ponder the candidacy of Aaron, Mays or Ruth, and say, “Nope, not good enough. Gotta show me more.”
But it happened, just as it did for Ted Williams (left off 20 ballots), Stan Musial (23 omissions), and every other superstar in the history of the game.
The point is, unanimity simply doesn’t happen when members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) cast their annual Hall of Fame ballot, a process that is beginning anew with keen local interest.
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This is the year that Ken Griffey Jr., still the most sainted athlete in Seattle sports history despite a couple of messy departures, lands on the ballot for the first time.
I thus present a challenge to my fellow BBWAA voters, who will be getting their ballot in the mail any day now: Buck the trend. Make Griffey the first unanimous selection. Because there is no world — real or make-believe, inclusive or radically stringent — in which Griffey is not a Hall of Famer
This is a pipe dream, of course. It won’t happen, now or ever. Any bloc of 500 or so voters will have a few contrarians, stick-in-the-muds or downright imbeciles (though none of my acquaintances in the organization falls into the latter category, I swear).
There is simply no justification for omitting Griffey. For more than a decade, he was not just the most charismatic and popular player in baseball, but probably the most famous athlete in the country. For years, the debate raged about who was better, Griffey or Barry Bonds, until Griffey’s body began to betray him and Bonds miraculously (ahem) rose to unparalleled heights.
Griffey was a dazzling player in every respect, oozing both style and substance. Everyone who watched him in his prime knew in the deepest recesses of their soul they were watching a Hall of Famer. His candidacy is beautiful in that he should appeal in an equally compelling manner both to stat geeks and those who apply the eye test. Griffey had the sweetest left-handed swing of his generation, and was as graceful, daring and accomplished as any outfielder of his time.
Griffey also lit up the stat sheet, of course, most notably to the tune of 630 home runs, sixth-best all time. The only people ahead of him are either all-time luminaries (Aaron, Ruth, Mays) or steroids suspects (Bonds, Alex Rodriguez).
Which brings us to another selling point for a Griffey consensus. Hall of Fame voting over the last decade has become, in some ways, a murky and distasteful process, necessitating a complicated moral decision on the candidacy of those linked to performance-enhancing drugs.
Griffey is free and clear of such allegations. Nothing is certain, of course, but I’m convinced that he did indeed play clean, which removes yet another barrier for a protest non-vote. Even the strict moralists and steroids scolds who withhold their vote for Bonds, the best statistical player since Ruth (and better in some respects) can vote proudly for Griffey with a clear conscience.
One byproduct of playing unenhanced, increasingly burdened by the ravages of the pounding he took from 10 years on the unforgiving Kingdome turf, is that the second half of Griffey’s career doesn’t match the first. He was good, but not transcendent, in his Cincinnati years and second Seattle cameo, which may be a possible justification for some voters to leave off Griffey.
But that’s like saying Elvis doesn’t belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because he was a cheesy Vegas lounge act at the end. It completely misses the point.
Legend has it that some voters simply don’t believe in first-ballot recognition for any candidate, no matter how decorated, which is patently absurd. Griffey’s stats aren’t changing. If he’s a Hall of Famer next year (which he is), he’s a Hall of Famer now (ditto).
The only other possible reason I can think of not to vote for Griffey is as a strategic method to find room for candidates who otherwise would not fit on a ballot limited by rule to 10 names. Granted, there’s a backlog of worthy candidates — including Griffey’s longtime teammate, Edgar Martinez, who deserves to join Griffey in Cooperstown. But bypassing Griffey merely on the assumption he’s going to make it anyway is not the way to address this issue.
I’d love to see Griffey go in next July with Edgar — speaking of pipe dreams. But Martinez simply has too much ground to make up after polling just 27 percent (out of a necessary 75 percent for election) last year.
Griffey, on the other hand, is going to sail in on the first ballot. Tom Seaver has the record with 98.84 percent of the votes (425 of 430), followed closely by Nolan Ryan at 98.79 (491 of 497). Three others have been over 98 percent: Cal Ripken Jr., Ty Cobb and George Brett.
I can’t for the life of me think of any reason to have left any of those five off a ballot. Same goes for Griffey. In fact, I’d love to hear an explanation from those who will inevitably do so.