We're less than a week away from knowing who's in the Hall of Fame's Class of 2017, and baseball fans tracking the early returns have had no shortage of storylines to discuss before the Hall's official announcement on Wednesday (6 p.m. ET live on MLB Network, and simulcast live on
We're less than a week away from knowing who's in the Hall of Fame's Class of 2017, and baseball fans tracking the early returns have had no shortage of storylines to discuss before the Hall's official announcement on Wednesday (6 p.m. ET live on MLB Network, and simulcast live on MLB.com beginning at 5 p.m.).
One of those storylines is the mounting head of steam behind Edgar Martinez and Mike Mussina, who are both hovering above 60 percent of BBWAA ballots that have been made public. When the 2014 election results were announced, Martinez -- who debuted at 36.2 percent in 2010 -- saw his percentage slip to 25.2. Mussina, in his first year on the ballot, debuted at just 20.3 percent.
If the early returns hold true, 2017 would mark a significant step forward for the two candidates -- even if they're not elected. Even better news for these two: A handful of Hall of Famers have already shown that these kinds of comebacks are possible.
To prove it, MLB.com has compiled a list of the top five ballot comebacks in the modern era of Hall of Fame voting, in order from most to least of the vote percentage they received in their first year on the BBWAA ballot. These players can be inspirations for today's Hall of Fame candidates, showing one can go from voting afterthought to baseball immortal before his ballot eligibility expires.
(Note: By "modern era," this list only considers players who debuted on the ballot after 1954, when the Hall of Fame imposed a five-year waiting period for candidates after they retired from baseball. We're also eliminating two players from that pool -- Lou Boudreau and Ralph Kiner -- who received a handful of write-in votes from the writers before their waiting period had expired.)
5. Bruce Sutter
Percentage received in ballot debut: 23.9 in 1994
Years on ballot before BBWAA election: 13
Sutter sat third on the all-time saves list with 300 when he retired in 1988. Still, the closer didn't even clear 30 percent until his fifth year on the ballot -- only to fall back to 24.3 percent the next year. When he was finally elected in 2006, Sutter's 13-year stay on the ballot was the longest by any BBWAA electee since Ralph Kiner (also elected in Year 13) in 1975.
4. Don Drysdale
Percentage received in ballot debut: 21.0 in 1975
Years on ballot before BBWAA election: 10
Drysdale certainly had the "fame" requirement locked down. He teamed up with Sandy Koufax on the Dodgers' World Series teams of the 1960s, won a Cy Young Award, set a new record for consecutive scoreless innings and became a national broadcaster soon after he stepped off the diamond. The imposing righty sat above 50 percent for seven straight years before he was finally elected in 1984.
3. Bert Blyleven
Percentage received in ballot debut: 17.5 in 1998
Years on ballot before BBWAA election: 14
Blyleven might have been the first Hall candidate who benefited from a groundswell of Internet support. The right-hander sat third on baseball's all-time strikeout list when he retired in 1992, but his 287 career wins -- 13 shy of the mythical 300 total -- helped keep him out of Cooperstown for more than a decade. Blyleven fell just five votes shy of election in 2010 before finally getting the call the next winter, his second-to-last year of eligibility.
<p. b="">2. Duke Snider</p.>
Percentage received in ballot debut: 17.0 in 1970
Years on ballot before BBWAA election: 11
It's strange now to think that Snider -- one of the famous trio of center fielders in 1950s New York baseball alongside Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays -- received only 51 votes to finish 20th on the ballot in 1970. Stranger still is the fact that Snider's longtime Dodgers teammate, Gil Hodges, finished third on that year's ballot with 48.3 percent, and yet has not been elected to the Hall to this day. Snider didn't clear 50 percent until 1977, then had to wait three more years for his election.
1. Bob Lemon
Percentage received in ballot debut: 11.9 in 1964
Years on ballot before BBWAA election: 12
Only 24 writers deemed Lemon as Hall of Fame-worthy when his name debuted on their ballot in 1964. Lemon was an unconventional candidate: He didn't become a full-time starting pitcher until his third Major League season (he began as a middling outfielder). After he did, however, he led the American League in complete games five times, innings pitched four times, wins three times, and strikeouts once.
Lemon's percentage actually dipped down to seven percent in his second year on the ballot, and he didn't gain the approval of even half the electorate until year No. 10. As tough as the climb has been for Martinez and Mussina, we might never see another comeback like Lemon's again in the modern era of Hall of Fame voting.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.