Greg Maddux And Hall Of Fame Unanimity

Greg Maddux pitching for the Cubs in the 1989 NLCS - Otto Gruele Jr./Getty Images

The Baseball Writers Association of America has a chance to change an historic wrong this year. Will they do it?

It's the consensus of most who follow such things, that Greg Maddux will be elected to baseball's Hall of Fame this January, for induction next July, on his first year on the ballot. There's no doubt that Maddux was one of the three best pitchers of his generation -- Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez the others -- and an argument can be made that Maddux was the best of his generation and one of the best of all time. During Maddux' seven-year peak (1992-98) he went 127-53 (.706) with a 2.15 ERA and 0.968 WHIP in 1,675⅓ innings.

It's hard enough to do that for one year, let alone seven. By comparison, Martinez's seven-year peak (1997-2003) had a better winning percentage (.766, 118-36) but a roughly comparable ERA (2.20) and WHIP (0.94), and his career, and Clemens', both had some down patches. Maddux spent 16 straight years with an ERA under 4, and won 15 or more games all 16 of those years, for whatever individual pitcher wins are worth. Martinez had too many injured years and Clemens had... other issues, which I think makes Maddux the best of his generation.

Those are just a few of Maddux' achievements compared to his contemporaries. I don't think I have to convince anyone here of Maddux' greatness; I suspect every single one of you would put Maddux on your Hall of Fame ballot, if you had one.

And that's the point here. Why won't every single Baseball Writers Association of America voter put Maddux' name on his or her ballot?

The reasoning appears to be: "Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner weren't unanimous selections, so no one should be."

Here are all the players who have received as high a percentage vote from the BBWAA as Ruth, Cobb and Wagner in the history of Hall voting, via Baseball Almanac:

Name Year Ballots Votes Percent
Tom Seaver 1992 430 425 98.84
Nolan Ryan 1999 497 491 98.79
Cal Ripken, Jr. 2007 545 537 98.53
Ty Cobb 1936 226 222 98.23
George Brett 1999 497 488 98.19
Hank Aaron 1982 415 406 97.83
Tony Gwynn 2007 545 532 97.61
Mike Schmidt 1995 460 444 96.52
Johnny Bench 1989 447 431 96.42
Steve Carlton 1994 455 436 95.82
Babe Ruth 1936 226 215 95.13
Honus Wagner 1936 226 215 95.13

And that doesn't include some jaw-dropping snubs like Ted Williams (not named on 20 ballots), Willie Mays (not named on 23), Stan Musial (also not named on 23) and Mickey Mantle (not named on 43).

In 1936, when the first votes were made, the BBWAA was really the only group of people in the baseball world who would have had the knowledge of enough players to make any sort of sensible vote. There was no television; radio was mostly local; fans in some cities got to see players from only one league. Obviously, that isn't the case now; beyond writers, there are dozens of baseball broadcasters who see every game in person, as well as informed fans who could make an intelligent Hall of Fame vote. There's a good case to be made to include these groups in Hall voting, in some way, in the future.

It appears to me that there must have been some writers who just didn't like Ruth or Cobb or Wagner; there was that sort of animosity in those days. Consider the failure of Ted Williams to win the American League MVP in 1941, 1942 and 1947; in all three years he finished second to a Yankee (twice to Joe DiMaggio, once to Joe Gordon). In all three years he was far and away the best player in the league by any measure you'd like to consider; it appears that Williams' irascible personality put him on the bad side of some writers, who left him off the ballot entirely. This Los Angeles Times article from 2010 blows up the myth that it was a Boston writer who left Williams off his ballot, but also makes the point that there were some very odd ballots turned in.

Which could have been the case for early Hall of Fame voting, too; either writers just didn't like the player, or didn't take enough care with their ballot to make sure they were voting for all the best-qualified players.

But as we moved into modern times, there's simply no reason for players like Mays, Musial, Mantle and Williams -- or, from the table above, Seaver, Ryan, Ripken, Brett and Gwynn -- to not have been named on every single ballot. What were these writers thinking? Was it really the "no one's been unanimous before, so I'm going to make sure no one ever is" idea?

If so, that ought to end. There are some players who transcend their generation, the greatest of the great, who every single voter ought to recognize. Greg Maddux is, I believe, the best possible candidate to break this silly notion which has gone on decades too long. Not only was his on-field performance better than any pitcher of his era; he's generally recognized as one of the greatest baseball minds of all time, and his career was completely without controversy of any kind.

Tom Seaver had that kind of career, too, and has the highest-ever percentage of votes, Even so, though, five voters didn't cast a vote for him.

This needs to stop, and Greg Maddux is the perfect candidate for the writers to make the first-ever unanimous Hall selection. Babe Ruth wasn't? So what, I say. That's a mistake made by BBWAA voters 77 years ago. It shouldn't be continued in perpetuity.

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