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Wait, what? 10 Hall of Famers not in on 1st ballot

@_dadler
January 22, 2020

Derek Jeter stormed into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Why wouldn't he? The Yankees' Captain is one of the most iconic players in recent baseball history. But not every MLB icon can lay claim to the title of first-ballot Hall of Famer. Since the advent

Derek Jeter stormed into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Why wouldn't he? The Yankees' Captain is one of the most iconic players in recent baseball history.

But not every MLB icon can lay claim to the title of first-ballot Hall of Famer. Since the advent of the Hall of Fame election process -- where a player needs to be named on 75 percent of ballots submitted by the Baseball Writers' Association of America -- a surprising number of all-time greats have needed multiple tries to gain entry to the Hall.

You'd think players of a certain status in the sport would sail into Cooperstown as soon as they're eligible. In reality, that's been far from the case.

2020 Hall of Fame election results

Here are 10 Hall of Famers you won't believe didn't make it in on the first ballot. They're listed in order of the year they were eventually elected.

Cy Young
2nd year on ballot (1937)

The inaugural BBWAA Hall of Fame election took place in 1936, and there was a laundry list of baseball legends who got votes. But only five got into the Hall that first go-round -- Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson. Looking back, it's hard to wrap your head around some of the players who were left waiting.

One of them was Cy Young! The guy who won 511 games, nearly 100 more wins than any other pitcher in Major League history. The guy for whom the award for best pitcher in each league would be named. That guy wasn't a Hall of Famer until the second year of voting ... and even then Young barely squeaked by with 76.1 percent of the vote.

Tristram Speaker
2nd year on ballot (1937)

Another player left out of the Hall in 1936? Tris Speaker ... who had 3,514 career hits, behind only Ty Cobb at the time and fifth-most in MLB history in 2020. Oh, Speaker is also the all-time MLB doubles leader, with 792. And he ranks sixth all-time with a .345 batting average.

None of that got Speaker into the Hall of Fame on his first try. He was named on 58.8 percent of ballots in 1936 before he got in with 82.1 percent in '37.

Rogers Hornsby
5th year on ballot (1942)

Hornsby dominated the first decade of the live-ball era like no one not named Babe Ruth. He was to the National League what Ruth was to the American League. Hornsby started the 1920s by leading the league in all three slash line categories -- batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage -- six years in a row. He hit .400 three times. He won two Triple Crowns. His career .358 batting average is the second-best all-time behind only Cobb.

So naturally, Hornsby cruised into the Hall of Fame in his ... fifth year on the ballot. OK, so it's not quite as bad as it sounds -- with funky eligibility rules at the time, Hornsby started getting votes while he was still playing. But even after his retirement, it still took him multiple tries to get elected, which he did with 78.1 percent of the vote in 1942.

Jimmie Foxx
7th year on ballot (1951)

Foxx is another legend of the game, and it somehow took him seven tries to get elected to the Hall of Fame (six, if you don't count the smattering of votes he received in 1936 when he was in the middle of his career).

The A's and Red Sox slugger hit 534 home runs. He was the first player to win three MVP Awards. And his 1.038 career OPS is fifth-best all-time and makes him one of just seven players with a lifetime mark over 1.000. But though Foxx played his last game in 1945, he didn't make it to the Hall until '51, with 79.2 percent of the vote.

Joe DiMaggio
4th year on ballot (1955)

Joltin' Joe is an icon. He won three MVP Awards, led the Yankees to nine World Series championships, and his 56-game hit streak might stand as the Major League record forever.

But in his first year of Hall of Fame voting after retirement, 1953 (he previously got one vote in '45 while he was serving in the military), DiMaggio was named on fewer than half the ballots. He didn't make it the next year either. He got there in 1955, joining the Hall of Fame with 88.8 percent of the vote.

Hank Greenberg
9th year on ballot (1956)

Like DiMaggio, Greenberg lost several seasons of his career to military service during World War II. But also like DiMaggio, his numbers on the field spoke for themselves. Greenberg won a pair of MVP Awards and World Series trophies with the Tigers, plus four home run crowns and RBI crowns, and his 1.017 OPS is sixth-best in history.

It took him nearly a decade to get into the Hall of Fame. Greenberg didn't even crack 50 percent for six years of voting after his retirement in 1947, until he finally was elected in '56 with 85 percent of the vote.

Yogi Berra
2nd year on ballot (1972)

One of the most beloved figures in baseball history, you'd think Yogi would be about as easy a Hall of Fame pick as they get. Not so. Even Berra had to wait until Year 2 on the ballot.

The catcher who won a record 10 World Series rings as a leader of a legendary Yankees dynasty, and who was a three-time MVP and 18-time All-Star, received only 67.2 percent of the vote in 1971, his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility. No player was elected that year. Berra then got 85.6 percent of the vote in '72 and was enshrined in Cooperstown.

Harmon Killebrew
4th year on ballot (1984)

Killebrew hit 573 career home runs, which was fifth-best all-time when he first appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1981. Joining the 500-home run club is a major milestone, and Killebrew was well beyond that mark. But the Twins' slugger fell short of the Hall of Fame not once, not twice, but three times before he was elected with 83.1 percent of the vote in 1984.

Roberto Alomar
2nd year on ballot (2011)

A lot of weird Hall of Fame results happened in the early years of the voting, but Alomar is a more recent example of a first-ballot snub. Alomar was the best second baseman of his generation and one of the best ever -- a career .300 hitter who collected 2,724 hits, 210 homers and 474 stolen bases, to go along with 10 Gold Gloves, four Silver Sluggers, 12 All-Star nods and two World Series titles.

His first year on the ballot in 2010, he missed election by less than 2 percent, getting 73.7 percent of the vote. His exclusion made headlines at the time, and Alomar himself said, "I was shocked. It was shocking. Everyone's saying, 'You should be in there and you're not there.'"

Craig Biggio
3rd year on ballot (2015)

The 3,000-hit mark is generally a surefire ticket to Cooperstown. That club has only 32 members, and it's a long list of Hall of Famers. Biggio joined them in 2015, but the longtime Astros second baseman had to wait two years before his induction, despite his 3,060 career hits.

Biggio was close from the start, but he fell just short twice in a row, drawing 68.2 percent of the vote in his first year of eligibility in 2013 and 74.8 percent in '14, missing election by two votes. He got there with 82.7 percent of the vote in year three.

Other first-ballot misses
Those 10 aren't the only surprising non-first-ballot Hall of Famers. Here are more notable players who needed multiple tries to make it to Cooperstown, with a key stat for each:

Nap Lajoie -- 2nd year (1937) -- 3,243 hits
Grover Alexander -- 3rd year (1938) -- 373 wins
Eddie Collins -- 4th year (1939) -- 3,315 hits
Lefty Grove -- 4th year (1947) -- 300 wins
Mel Ott -- 3rd year (1951) -- 511 home runs
Whitey Ford -- 2nd year (1974) -- 2.75 ERA
Eddie Mathews -- 5th year (1978) -- 512 home runs
Gaylord Perry -- 3rd year (1991) -- 3,534 strikeouts
Rollie Fingers -- 2nd year (1992) -- 341 saves
Carlton Fisk -- 2nd year (2000) -- 2,226 games caught
Mike Piazza -- 4th year (2016) -- 427 home runs
Vladimir Guerrero -- 2nd year (2018) -- 126 outfield assists
Trevor Hoffman -- 3rd year (2018) -- 601 saves

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.