Unanimity is a rare thing. There is always that one person who believes the Earth is flat, who prefers “The Godfather Part III” to “The Godfather,” who supports Pee-wee Herman for president.
Or who thinks Mariano Rivera doesn’t belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
On Tuesday, the Hall will reveal its new class of inductees, and Rivera, the superstar New York Yankees reliever, is certain to be among them. But there is a lot of curiosity about whether he will become the first player elected unanimously by the baseball writers, achieving something other shoo-ins have not.
In 1992, Tom Seaver came five votes short. In 1979, 23 writers said no to Willie Mays. “It’s an embarrassment to our association,” Jack Lang, the writers’ secretary and ballot-counter, said at the time.
This contrarian vein goes way back. In the very first election, in 1936, Ty Cobb came up four votes short of unanimity. On the same ballot, Babe Ruth was 11 short. Yes, 11 writers did not vote for Babe Ruth for the Baseball Hall of Fame. It would be like passing on Luciano Pavarotti for the Opera Hall of Fame or on Thomas Edison for the Inventors Hall.
To be clear, it is only the writers’ branch that has kept the streak going. The Veterans Committee, a much smaller group consisting of former players, executives and members of the news media, has chosen players unanimously. And after Lou Gehrig’s death, the writers unanimously agreed to waive the waiting period and put him directly into the Hall of Fame, essentially by acclamation.
In recent years, unanimity has been getting closer. In 2016, Ken Griffey Jr. came the closest yet, getting 99.3 percent of the vote. Only three voters passed. Last year, Chipper Jones got 97 percent to lead the field.
Can Rivera do a little bit better? Ryan Thibodaux runs a website that keeps track of writers who publicly reveal their votes. (The Hall does not publish individual ballots.) As of Tuesday, 180 of the 400 or so voters had revealed their ballots, which were due Dec. 31. Of those, all had voted for Rivera.
Although no writer with a vote has said publicly that he or she will pass on Rivera, there are some detractors out there. Bill Ballou of The Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, Massachusetts, wrote that he believed Rivera was unworthy of the Hall because the closer’s role is not that important to a team.
“He was great in the ninth inning, agreed, but if he was that great, why not bring him in with the bases loaded and nobody out in the seventh or eighth?” Ballou wrote in a recent column. “Why not use him as a starter?” Plenty of Rivera’s backers have responded by noting that Ballou’s criticism may have more to do with Joe Torre’s strategic decisions as a manager than with Rivera’s talent as a pitcher.
In any event, Ballou does not want to be the voter remembered for denying Rivera a unanimous election; he said he had abstained from voting.
Over time, the absence of a unanimous inductee may have become self-perpetuating. Some voters who believe Rivera is well qualified for the Hall may be tempted to vote no because they do not want him to be the first unanimous entry after players like Ruth and Mays fell short.
It’s hard to compare this strange situation to balloting in football, basketball and other sports, because most Halls of Fame do not release voting totals, instead merely announcing each year’s inductees.
One sport recently had a unanimity breakthrough, when Stephen Curry was elected most valuable player of the 2015-16 NBA season by a count of 131-0. George Washington is the only president to win the Electoral College unanimously.
So can Rivera pull a Washington?
A record 652 saves, 13 All-Star selections and five World Series titles loom pretty large. But somewhere, someone may be lurking: a reliever hater, a Yankees hater, or a writer with a cockeyed sense of history or an ax to grind.
It takes only one.