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Unanimity Is The Wrong Benchmark For Hall-Of-Fame Angst

1:22 PM EST on January 24, 2024

Adrian Beltre jokes around during batting practice prior to the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at T-Mobile Park on Saturday, July 8, 2023 in Seattle, Washington.
Liv Lyons/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Adrian Beltre became the 20th player to enter the Baseball Hall of Fame with 95 percent of the votes cast by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America and All The Ships At Sea, and this was considered either not a surprise at all or a mild outrage that the percentage wasn't higher. Sixteen voters rejected the logic presented since the day Beltre retired that he had done everything required to get a plaque between Cool Papa Bell and Johnny Bench (at least it would be if the Hall of Fame did their plaques in alphabetical order, and if it did, Adrian Beltre would be in some very cool property indeed).

That it wasn't unanimous isn't considered all that much of an outrage, though, which reminds us that the new bar for induction is in seeking out the voters who didn't think a player was good enough. When the list of How Could You Not Vote For This Guy? is released, Beltre is hardly the most egregious example. Ninety-five-point-one percent is the exact share of the vote that Babe Ruth got 88 years earlier, and more than Willie Mays got 43 years after that. Thus our hypothesis of the day: The voters got this one pretty well right, and in the right proportion, more or less, kinda sorta. Which is all you have to do.

But that's because the way that some candidates are measured has changed from "Did you get 75 percent?" to "Why didn't you get 100?" We still maintain that the one voter who did not give Derek Jeter the vote he needed to be unanimous in 2020 is a hero, not because that voter was a nitwit (which in fairness is true) but because he or she resisted the temptation of publicity, which these days is the be-all and end-all of nearly anything, as Jason Kelce has most recently proved.

We bring this up not to exhume the past but to remind you that we'll all be on our high horses again next year when the matter of Ichiro Suzuki's candidacy begins. There is already the faint whispers of "Will he be unanimous?" coupled with, "Let's find out who didn't vote for him and kill him."

The BBWAA is typically judged more by the stubborn few who think nobody should get 100 percent (or in one case, out and out forget momentarily that a player exists), or when the flexible standard of character is imposed, than for the vast majority of voters who actually spend the requisite amount of time to form a defensible opinion. But nobody is here to feel sorry for baseball writers, let alone voters for the Hall of Fame. Let's all agree that they all suck when you don't get the result you want; why should a trivial election for the right to be honored with a bronze paperweight wedged between Pie Traynor and Dazzy Vance not reek of the same contrarian streaks that our regular politics do?

Anyway, Ichiro. By the reckonings of Baseball Reference, he clears almost all the bars to be an above average inductee in all categories, except if you list the 28 right fielders in the Hall, in which he ranks 17th. This is all gobbledygook-level arglebargle to obscure the fact that he has essentially cleared all the levels of the video game and that unless you are a confirmed day drinker with a bionic elbow and confuse Ichiro with Kurt, Mac, or Seiya Suzuki, he is an automatic checkmark come November when the new set of ballots go out.

And if you can find the wiggle room between "automatic" and "unanimous," then bless your charcoal heart.

See, the measure actually isn't 100 percent, but anywhere above 95 for a player of Suzuki's fame, resume, draw and social impact. If we use voter percentages as comparison scores, he isn't Ken Griffey (99.3 percent) or Cal Ripken (98.3) or Henry Aaron (97.8) or Tony Gwynn (97.6), and by logic he shouldn't draw close to even Mays (an absurd 99.7). Hell, on social impact alone he should be lucky to get to Jackie Robinson (77.5). But I think we all know better than that.

In other words, the vote percentage argument is kind of played out, and having everyone agree isn't really the goal of an election anyway. Ichiro will probably have 16 people who don't vote for him next winter for one cockamamie reason or another, and it won't matter. Besides, until Arnold Rothstein gets his due, the Hall was be incomplete and inconsistent anyway. It's already not an accurate account of the history of baseball, which in an ideal world it would be, so Ichiro's vote percentage will land safely in the mid- to high-90s, which might as well be unanimous. The idea that only five percent of any electorate is crackpots, loonies, and unserious dogbeds with feet is profoundly more generous than what we will see come November.

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