While Red Sox slugger Jim Rice will have to wait another year, Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn were elected to the Hall of Fame today, Ripken with record numbers, while as expected slugger Mark McGwire failed in his first attempt.
Rice’s percentage of the vote went down to 63.5 from 64.8 percent last season, while Goose Gossage finished 21 votes shy of election. McGwire, hurt by the voters’ suspicion he took steroids, garnered only 23.5 percent of the vote.
“I was keeping my fingers crossed for Jimmy,” said former Sox general manager Lou Gorman. “I sincerely believed that based on the incredible player he was, that he deserved to be inducted. I was hoping it would be this year, but I felt strongly that he would get in next season.”
According to the Hall of Fame press release, a record 545 ballots, including two blanks, were cast by BBWAA members with 10 or more consecutive years’ service, eclipsing by 25 the previous mark of 2006 when Bruce Sutter was elected. Players must be named on 75 percent of ballots submitted to gain election. This year, 409 votes were needed.
Ripken established a record by being named on 537 ballots, breaking the previous mark of 491 by Nolan Ryan in 1999. Ripken’s percentage of 98.53 percent is the third highest in the history of BBWAA balloting behind Tom Seaver (98.83 in 1992) and Ryan (98.79 in 1999). Gwynn’s percentage of 97.6 based on 532 votes ranks seventh all-time. Their election brings to 280 the number of elected members of the Hall. Of that total, 198 are former major leaguers, of which 105 have been through the BBWAA.
Ripken said he was both relieved and euphoric. If he had been picked by two of the eight voters who didn’t select him, he would have set the percentage record — but he didn’t mind.
“All I wanted to hear was, `You’re in,'” Ripken said during a conference call. “I really didn’t get caught up with wanting to be unanimous or wanting to be the most.”
Gwynn received the seventh-highest ever percentage, also trailing Ty Cobb, George Brett and Hank Aaron.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to know that people think that what you did was worthy,” Gwynn said. “For me, it’s kind of validation. The type of player that I was doesn’t get a whole lot of credit in today’s game.”
Of the 15 players other than Gwynn and Ripken on the ballot for the first time, only two received sufficient support to remain in consideration, first baseman Mark McGwire and outfielder-designated hitter Harold Baines. Players must be listed on five percent of the ballots (28 this year) to stay on the ballot for up to 15 years. McGwire had 128 votes (23.5 percent) and Baines 29 (5.3 percent).
Rice now has two years of eligibility remaining.
A few weeks back, Rice said of his possible induction, “I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t understand the voters sometimes. If you have the numbers to get in…if they compare to other people you’ve already put in…if the numbers are there, then why aren’t you in? Why is Bert Blyleven not in with all of those wins and all of those strikeouts? Why is Lee Smith not in…Goose Gossage? Doesn’t he have the numbers to get in? If the numbers are there then why not? Why are so many people excluded? I never understood it.”
Rice, who has definitely benefited from the scrutiny of the Steroids Era, has been outspoken on people who have used steroids or cheated not getting inducted.
“If you cheated, you shouldn’t be in. If you broke the rules, you shouldn’t be in. That’s why Pete Rose isn’t in. He gambled on baseball. McGwire, you know, he was always a power hitter, but if he took something he shouldn’t haven taken then he shouldn’t be in,” Rice said
Rice hit .298 with 382 career homers, 1,451 RBIs and an MVP in 16 seasons and compares favorably to former Sox teammate Tony Perez and former Sox DH Orlando Cepeda. Cepeda hit .297 with 378 homers and 1,365 RBIs in 17 years and won an MVP. Perez was .279 with 379 homers and 1,652 RBIs in 23 seasons and never won an MVP, but his Big Red Machine teams were dominant.
“If you look at the numbers, we’re close. But Tony played 23 years. Cepeda played longer than I did. I played 16. If I had played 23 years what would my numbers look like?,” Rice said.
Rice is the only player in history with 35 or more homers and 200 or more hits in three consecutive seasons. He’s one of 31 players with more than 350 homers and a .290-plus career batting average.
Voters once had a negative perception of Rice, who could be surly to the media, but that has faded in time. He is now perceived positively against a generation of steroid-tainted players.
Jose Canseco, on the ballot for the first time, received six votes, well below the 5 percent threshold needed to stay on future ballots. In his book two years ago, Canseco accused McGwire and others of using steroids. The book’s publication was quickly followed by a congressional hearing on steroids during which McGwire evaded questions, saying: “I’m not here to talk about the past.”
Harold Baines, who received 29 votes, reached the 5 percent threshold. Bret Saberhagen got seven votes in his first appearance on the ballot and Ken Caminiti, who admitted using steroids during his career and died in 2004, received two.
Ripken and Gwynn will be inducted into the Hall in Cooperstown, NY on July 29.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.