Since the Baseball Hall of Fame’s creation in 1936, no player was ever inducted unanimously.
Not Babe Ruth. Not Willie Mays. Not Hank Aaron. None of the best of the best received 100 percent of the vote. Closest was Ken Griffey Jr., who received 99.3 percent of the vote (437 of 440) three years ago.
There was talk that this was done deliberately by some voting members of the BBWAA, that the feeling was, “If no one’s been unanimous yet, no one should ever be,” a ridiculous hill to die on.
Mariano Rivera, who is the greatest relief pitcher in major-league history, is the one to break that barrier. He was elected unanimously to the Hall of Fame in voting revealed Tuesday afternoon. 425 ballots were cast and he was named on all of them. Famously, Bill Ballou, a writer for the Worcester Telegram who has a vote, wrote this column in December about how he doesn’t think relievers belong in the Hall, but then finished by saying:
I think I’m right about closers, but not so much that I would deny Rivera a chance to be the first unanimous Hall of Famer.
Thus, I’m not voting this year. A submitted blank ballot is “no” vote for every candidate, so I’m doing a Switzerland and not sending one at all.
Except Ballou later changed his mind and wound up sending in a ballot — and he voted for Rivera after all. Go figure.
Also elected Tuesday were the late Roy Halladay (85.4 percent), Mike Mussina (85.4 percent) and Edgar Martinez (76.7 percent), the latter in his final year on the BBWAA ballot.
Coming close to election were Larry Walker (54.6 percent), Barry Bonds (59.1 percent), Roger Clemens (59.5 percent) and Curt Schilling (60.9 percent). The latter three will enter the Hall with some controversy, if they someday manage to break the 75 percent barrier for election.
Former Cub star Sammy Sosa, in his seventh year on the ballot, received 8.5 percent of the vote, a small increase over his 2018 percentage of 7.8. You can find all the 2019 BBWAA voting here.
We have Ryan Thibodaux to thank for allowing all of us to keep track of the voting through his Hall of Fame Tracker spreadsheet, which he tallies as writers reveal their ballots publicly. Some other ballots might be made public now that the vote has been revealed, as writers are given that option via a checkbox on the low-tech paper ballot they return to the Hall.
I’ve gone on record before as saying that the BBWAA should not be the only people voting on Hall induction. When the Hall opened 82 years ago, sure, baseball writers were likely the most knowledgeable people about players, but that is no longer true. Broadcasters and internet writers, as well as many fans, could intelligently add to the discussion. The Hall doesn’t seem willing to do this, though.
The Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, of which I am a member, also conducted Hall voting this winter. My ballot included Rivera, Halladay, Sosa, Omar Vizquel, Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, Manny Ramirez and Billy Wagner. IBWAA members did not vote for Mussina or Martinez this year, as they had been elected by the IBWAA in previous years.
The induction ceremony in Cooperstown, New York, which will include former Cubs reliever Lee Smith, who was elected by the Veterans Committee last month along with former White Sox outfielder Harold Baines, will take place Sunday, July 21 and be televised live by MLB Network. More details here.
Lastly, I know some of you no longer care (if you ever did) about Hall of Fame voting or inductions. That’s a fair position to take, but remember that this institution is formally called the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum (emphasis added). The Hall of Fame is a small portion of the museum, which is a place where every baseball fan should go, despite the difficulty in getting there. I’ve been there three times, most recently in 2008, and hope to go someday. It’s a celebration of all that’s great about the game we all love.