Slugger Jeff Bagwell, sparkplug Tim Raines and first-year candidate Pudge Rodriguez were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday, adding three players to what’s certain to be a busy induction weekend July 30.
Bagwell, the first baseman whose power and patience provided more than a decade of middle-of-the-lineup thunder for the Houston Astros, received 86.2 percent of the vote from the 442 in the Baseball Writers Association of America who cast ballots. Raines, a do-everything outfielder who joins an underrepresented group of leadoff hitters enshrined, earned 86.0 percent in his 10th and final year on the ballot. Rodriguez, the 14-time All-Star catcher, earned 76.0 percent in his first year.
The Hall narrowly missed matching its largest class ever. Second-year candidate Trevor Hoffman (74.0) percent and Vladimir Guerrero (71.7 percent) fell just short of the 75 percent threshold.
Two others in their first year on the ballot didn’t prove nearly as popular: Outfielder Manny Ramirez received just 24.0 percent of the vote, and catcher Jorge Posada no longer will be included on the ballot after receiving 3.8 percent, short of the 5 percent threshold to remain eligible.
Significant leaps were seen across the ballot. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, performance-enhancing drug pariahs whose candidacies at one point were declared near-dead, surged to 53.8 percent and 54.1 percent, respectively. Only three players have reached at least 50 percent of the writers’ vote and not ended up voted in by them: Gil Hodges, Jack Morris and Lee Smith, the closer whose standing faltered in recent years and finished his final time on the ballot this year with just 34.2 percent.
It wasn’t just Bonds and Clemens who took big jumps. In addition, designated hitter Edgar Martinez and starter Mike Mussina crossed the 50 percent threshold for the first time, while starter Curt Schilling, who lost dozens of votes in the wake of controversial comments both political and personal, finished with 45.0 percent.
This is the Hall’s fourth straight year with multiple inductees, and it has Mike Piazza to thank. The catcher’s induction last July convinced a significant number of writers holding out from voting in players linked – fairly or unfairly – to steroids that such a position no longer was tenable. That was only reinforced to many by a special committee selecting Bud Selig, the commissioner during the steroid era, for induction July 30. He’ll join Bagwell, Raines, Rodriguez and longtime executive John Schuerholz.
Bagwell, now 48, certainly benefitted from the open-mindedness of voters, many of whom conflated his massive torso with some illicit enhancement. His numbers surely weren’t the issue in the previous six years voters denied him. Over 15 seasons, Bagwell hit .297/.408/.540 with 449 home runs, 1,529 RBIs and more than 1,400 walks. He won the National League MVP during the 1994 strike season, when he put up an OPS over 1.200 and was thought to have a chance at breaking Roger Maris’ single-season home run record.
The 57-year-old Raines couldn’t have dreamt of this day when he turned in 24.3 percent his first year on the ballot. It dropped to 22.6 percent the next year before making the steady climb to well above and beyond 75 percent this season. Like his game, Raines’ candidacy wasn’t flashy. It was just excellent. Nearly 4,000 times on base. More than 800 stolen bases. Seven straight All-Star Games as one of the finest players in the 1980s. Nothing could break Rock: not a cocaine scandal in the mid-’80s, not a relative lack of power, nor a voting base that simply didn’t recognize his excellence.
While this year’s group didn’t match the inaugural 1936 class with five inductees from the writers, next year’s has a chance. In addition to Hoffman and Guerrero, third baseman Chipper Jones and first baseman Jim Thome – two candidates considered likely first-ballot entries – will be eligible. Seeing as Martinez jumped 15 percent over last year’s 43.4 percent, a leap past 75 percent isn’t out of the question.
The classes thin out substantially thereafter, with Mariano Rivera the only sure-thing candidate in 2019, Derek Jeter the only viable player period in 2020 and no Hall of Fame-caliber player in 2021. Those years will be wide open for Bonds and Clemens, Martinez and Mussina, maybe someone like Jeff Bagwell or Tim Raines, who waited, waited, waited and finally got the call they’d wanted for so long.