Griffey looks spiffy; percentage junior to none?

Voters feel outfielder may surpass Seaver's record of 98.84 percent

January 5th, 2016

While Tim Raines, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell and a few others will wait with varying levels of uncertainty for their phones to ring today to find out if they have been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, one candidate will have no such anxiety.

For Ken Griffey Jr., it's not a matter of whether he'll be elected. It's if he will be elected by a unanimous vote.

The answer probably is no, for the simple reason that it has never happened before. For a very small minority of voters, that's reason enough for it to never happen in the future, either. Babe Ruth didn't get 100 percent of the votes. Nor did Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron or Tom Seaver, the record holder for the highest vote percentage with 98.84 percent.

If they couldn't get a unanimous vote, some would argue, no one should.

The results for this year's class will be announced live on MLB Network and on Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET, with coverage starting at 3 p.m.

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"The fact that not even Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb were unanimous established a precedent three-quarters of a century ago that has been kind of an unspoken rule, that no one's going to be unanimous," said Jay Jaffe, a baseball writer for Sports Illustrated who extensively covers the annual Hall of Fame balloting. "Somebody will take it upon themselves to be the voice of dissent in the name of some long-dead superstar."

Top 10 vote-getters by percentage

It's a pessimistic view, yes, but also, presumably, an accurate one. Most likely, there are a few voters who do not have Griffey on their ballots for the reasons Jaffe illustrated. But entering the final hours leading up to Wednesday's announcement, it should be noted that a lot of voters have made their ballots public, and Griffey's name has appeared on every one of them.

Thanks to Ryan Thibodaux -- presumably the only person in the free world tracking every public ballot, inputting the results into a vote tracker and displaying them in a handy Excel document for all the Twitterverse to enjoy -- we know that Griffey was 163-for-163 in public ballots, through Tuesday morning.

But that's only about 35 percent of the total number of votes that have been submitted. It's presumptuous, and, most likely, inaccurate, to assume the trend will continue. After all, each of the top vote-getters in history has his dissenters. Seaver was left off five ballots. Six didn't vote for Nolan Ryan (98.79 percent), and eight didn't vote for Cal Ripken Jr. (98.53 percent).

History isn't on Griffey's side, even if the majority of the voting body clearly doesn't subscribe to the theory that if Ruth couldn't do it, no one should.

"There's nothing ideological about greatness," said Jeff Passan, baseball columnist at Yahoo! Sports. "If you are strictly voting for accomplishments in the game, which is what you should do, Ken Griffey Jr. should absolutely be unanimous. There's no question how great he was compared to his peers, compared to those throughout history, compared to just about everyone."

The voting process, for some, is more complicated than that. The anti-unanimity sentiment is just one issue. An overcrowded ballot is another, as is the Hall's restriction to vote for only 10 players.

That prompts some voters to use a "strategic voting" method, where they leave the no-doubters off their ballots and instead use votes to ensure other deserving candidates get enough to stay eligible, or inch closer to an election in their final years of eligibility. (Candidates stay eligible for 10 years, so long as they maintain five percent of the vote.)

So, for example, why vote for Griffey, when he's going to get in with or without Voter X's ballot? Instead, why not vote for Alan Trammell? Or Raines?

FOX Sports baseball columnist Jon Paul Morosi used that rationale when he left Mike Piazza off his ballot, as explained in a column posted on Monday titled, "Mike Piazza didn't get my Hall of Fame vote, and here's why."

"The reason is mathematics," Morosi wrote. "The Hall imposes a 10-player limit on every BBWAA ballot. The 10 names I listed above are either more deserving than Piazza or closer to the end of their time under consideration by the writers."

Griffey is on Morosi's ballot. Whether any writers left Griffey off as a way of implementing strategic voting is unknown, but it takes only one person to use this method to ensure Griffey isn't a unanimous selection.

"As the ballot got more and more clogged, you saw writers explaining it that way, saying, 'Look, Randy Johnson is going to go in. He doesn't need this vote to boost him over the 75 percent,'" said St. Louis Post-Dispatch baseball writer Derrick Goold, the current president of the BBWAA. "'Better to give it to Fred McGriff, who's holding on and really needs every vote to move up.'"

"It's not something that I've done, but because of the limitations of 10 people on the ballot, I would understand why people would employ that strategy."

Passan sees things as a little more black and white. A player is either a Hall of Famer, or he isn't. If he is, you vote for him, the very first time he's eligible.

"To me, somebody who doesn't vote for Ken Griffey, or didn't vote for Nolan Ryan or Tom Seaver or Greg Maddux or any of the guys who should have gotten 100 percent but didn't, that to me is like trolling before there was such a thing as trolls," he said. "There is no good logical, rational reason to not vote for somebody who did what those guys did."

And yet, Griffey's fate will probably be in line with the other elite electees: almost a unanimous selection, but just a little short.

"I do think he has a very strong chance of breaking Seaver's record for percentage," Jaffe said. "I would bet on that, but I would bet against unanimity."