When pitching great Tom Seaver became eligible for the baseball Hall of Fame in 1992, five nincompoops, among an electorate of 430, didn’t vote for him.
A 12-time All Star, three-time Cy Young Award recipient and 311-game winner, Seaver also personified the intangible virtues — “integrity, sportsmanship and character” — Hall of Fame voters are asked to consider.
But five ballots were returned without a check marked in the box next to Seaver’s name, and it’s fair to wonder: What were they thinking?
Three were thinking they wanted to protest the Hall of Fame’s decision to make Pete Rose ineligible for enshrinement, so they returned blank ballots. Another voter, recuperating from open-heart surgery, wasn’t fit to fill out a ballot but did so anyway and inadvertently omitted Seaver. The fifth voter adhered to a stubborn insistence in shunning first-year candidates.
My point: It’s almost impossible for hundreds of people to achieve unanimous consensus. Tom Seaver’s Hall of Fame pitching credentials would seem to be as obvious as the fact Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in the summer of 1969. Good luck getting 430 of 430 Americans to agree on that.
Seaver, in any case, holds the record for highest percentage of votes accumulated by a Hall of Fame candidate — 98.84 percent. It’s a record Ken Griffey Jr. soon could break.
During the 1990s, when he entertained Mariners fans with a gossamer smooth swing and derring-do defense, Griffey was regarded as his league’s best all-around player — a label Barry Bonds happened to hold in the National League. At the turn of 21st century, careers seemingly mirroring each other took an opposite trajectory.
Bonds juiced up on performance-enhancing supplements and thrived to the point he grew into a baseball superhuman. Griffey, consistent with normal aging patterns, gradually regressed. He was too proud of what he would go on to accomplish — 13 All-Star Game appearances and election to baseball’s All-Century Team — to cheapen his self-made legacy with synthetics.
Griffey’s case for the Hall of Fame is worthy of a 100 percent mandate, but as there were five voters who failed to sign on for Seaver, it’s almost certain there will be one or two who’ll ignore Griffey.
As a longtime Hall of Fame voter who has been a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America for more than two decades, the possibility a colleague will determine Griffey unworthy of first-ballot election turns my stomach. Then again, 11 of 226 writers declined to vote for Babe Ruth in 1936, and 23 of 452 writers declined to vote for Willie Mays in 1979.
Jack O’Connell, secretary-treasurer of the BBWAA, summed up the quandary a few years ago.
“I don’t want to be blasphemous,” O’Connell told USA Today, “but if Jesus couldn’t be unanimous at the Last Supper, I don’t know who can be unanimous at anything.”
Whatever the vote count, Griffey’s induction looms as historic: He’ll be the first former No. 1-overall draft pick voted into the Hall.
Implausible though this sounds, since Major League Baseball introduced an amateur draft in 1965, no top selection has been enshrined.
During that same 40-year span, five former No. 1 overall draft picks have given acceptance speeches at the Pro Football Hall of Fame — Lee Roy Selman, Earl Campbell, John Elway and Troy Aikman — and it will be a surprise if five-time All-Pro offensive tackle Orlando Pace is denied membership in the Class of 2016.
Meanwhile, the nine former No. 1 overall picks in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame eventually will be joined by the likes of Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan and LeBron James.
Griffey won’t own his distinction for long. Recently retired Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones is a cinch to be admitted on the first ballot when he’s eligible in 2018.
Until then, Ken Griffey Jr. will stand alone as the first baseball player to parlay his No. 1-overall draft-pick potential into a Hall of Fame career. Information like that belongs on a bronze plaque, but space is tight, and the accomplishments are vast.