Ranking the Last 10 First-Ballot Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees

Doug MeadCorrespondent IJanuary 8, 2013

Ranking the Last 10 First-Ballot Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees

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    Twenty-four players are on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for the very first time, and the results of the election will be announced Wednesday, January 9. Traditionally, voters tend to be very stingy in allowing players access to the hallowed halls of Cooperstown the first time around.

    In fact, only 10 players thus far this century have been voted in on the first ballot.

    Here is a list of rankings for the last 10 first-ballot Baseball Hall of Fame inductees.

10. Paul Molitor

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    Over a spectacular 21-year career, Paul Molitor was a hitting machine. Hall of Fame voters agreed, selecting him to the Hall of Fame in 2004 with 85.2 percent of the votes.

    He collected 3,319 total hits, good for ninth all-time. However, it wasn't just the total number of hits that qualified Molitor for the Hall of Fame.

    His .306 lifetime average, 605 doubles (11th all-time) and seven All-Star selections also helped give Hall of Fame voters an easy task.

9. Dennis Eckersley

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    When Dennis Eckersley first started in the majors, he was a hard-throwing starting pitcher who referred to his fastball as "cheese." He was also blessed with a slider that completely froze opposing hitters.

    By the time Eckersley's career was over, he had become one of the most dominating closers in history.

    Eckersley is one of only two pitchers in baseball history to have a 20-win season and a 50-save season during his career.

    The other one—John Smoltz—will likely join Eckersley in the Hall of Fame someday.

    Eckersley was also voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility alongside Paul Molitor in 2004, collecting 83.2 percent of the votes.

8. Dave Winfield

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    After a 22-year career that produced 3,110 hits along with 465 home runs, Dave Winfield got the call to the Hall.

    Winfield garnered 84.5 percent of votes on his first try, earning induction in 2001.

    Winfield did much of his damage in the 1980s, earning 12 straight All-Star selections between 1977 and 1988.

    He was a gifted defensive right fielder as well, earning seven Gold Glove awards during his career.

    Winfield may have saved his best for last.

    In 1992, at the age of 40, Winfield was the primary designated hitter for the Toronto Blue Jays. He hit .290 with 26 HR and 108 RBI, helping the Blue Jays capture their first-ever World Series championship.

    Hall of Fame voters who might have been on the fence regarding his candidacy before that season likely made up their minds by the end of the year.

7. Kirby Puckett

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    At just 5'8" and 175 pounds as a rookie in 1984, about the last thing that Kirby Puckett resembled was a baseball player.

    In an article written back in 1992, Sports Illustrated writer Roy Blount Jr. called Puckett "a genie self-summoned from a half-pint jar."

    Puckett was the genie that sparked the Minnesota Twins for 12 seasons.

    Puckett was selected to 10 All-Star teams and won six Gold Glove awards in those 12 years. However, his career was cut short when he lost vision in his right eye.

    Puckett was the guiding force that led the Twins to World Series in 1987 and 1991. When his name appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in 2001, voters didn't make him wait. His 82.1 percent of the vote was enough to give him immortality.

6. Eddie Murray

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    When first baseman Eddie Murray first debuted with the Baltimore Orioles in 1977, he represented a new era of players in Baltimore.

    Legends like Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson and Boog Powell had either retired or moved on. Murray ushered in the new era in fine fashion, winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award.

    By the time Murray's career came to an end, he was one of only three players to have amassed at least 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, joining Hank Aaron and Willie Mays in very exclusive company. Rafael Palmeiro would become the fourth player to achieve the career feat in 2005.

    Murray first had his name on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2003, and he didn't need to wait long. Voters elected him on the first try with 85.3 percent of the vote.

5. Wade Boggs

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    When it came time for Hall of Fame voters to consider the name of Wade Boggs for the very first time in 2005, they wasted no time with their decision.

    Boggs earned 91.9 percent of the votes, easily earning induction on his first try.

    Boggs made an impression right from the start with the Boston Red Sox, hitting .349 in his rookie year.

    In fact, the Sox were so comfortable with Boggs that they traded incumbent third baseman Carney Lansford—who won the AL batting title the previous year—to the Oakland A's at the end of 1982.

    Boggs proceeded to win batting titles in five of the next six seasons, finishing his career with a .328 average and 3,010 total hits.

4. Ozzie Smith

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    If Ozzie Smith had been considered for Hall of Fame selection based solely on his offensive statistics, he would likely still be waiting.

    Defense made "The Wizard" an easy first-ballot inductee.

    No one handled the glove quite like Smith at shortstop. He won 13 consecutive Gold Glove awards between 1980 and 1992 and earned 15 All-Star selections during his illustrious career.

    Smith wasn't all glove—he captured the Silver Slugger Award in 1987 and the NLCS MVP Award in 1985. His walk-off home run in Game 5 of that NLCS is still regarded as one of the greatest clutch home runs in history.

    But it was his mastery with the glove that immortalized Smith.

3. Rickey Henderson

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    The last person to be elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 2009, Rickey Henderson was a game-changer.

    And he did it all with speed.

    Henderson's 1,406 total stolen bases is a record that could very well be untouchable. No one else has topped the 1,000-theft mark, and the closest active player is Juan Pierre with 591 stolen bases through 13 seasons.

    Henderson also holds the all-time record for most runs scored (2,295) and the most home runs to lead off a game (81).

    Henderson garnered 94.8 percent of votes in his first try—an obvious first-ballot choice.

2. Tony Gwynn

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    In 2007, two players appearing on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time were elected with two of the highest vote percentages in history.

    Tony Gwynn was one of those players.

    Noted New York Times sportswriter George Vecsey wrote this about Tony Gwynn and his body:

    From time to time during the season, there were strange rumors out of San Diego that a pudgy young man named Tony Gwynn could hit a little. The papers carried the batting statistics that showed Gwynn to be hitting up in Carew Country somewhere. But how do you know about rumors out of San Diego? After coming in out of the cold from the Yankees, Goose Gossage took one look at Gwynn's physique in spring training and said to himself, ''He doesn't look like an athlete.'' Then Gossage began noticing some of the things Tony Gwynn could do with that roly-poly frame.

    That roly-poly frame would go on to collect 3,141 total hits, a .338 lifetime batting average and eight National League batting titles.

    Gwynn was the last man to seriously challenge the magical .400 batting mark, hitting .394 in the strike-shortened 1994 season.

    He captured 97.6 percent of the vote in 2007 with 532 out of 545 possible votes.

1. Cal Ripken Jr.

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    The other man standing alongside Tony Gwynn at the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in 2007 was the man who played in 2,632 consecutive games—Cal Ripken Jr.

    Ripken may have single-handedly saved baseball in 1995.

    Noted baseball columnist Hal Bodley, who has covered the sport since 1958, wrote this about Ripken back in 2006:

    The game was flickering when the Baltimore Orioles shortstop broke Lou Gehrig's record of 2,130 consecutive games played.

    None of us at Camden Yards that night realized how important the new Ironman's feat would be. Fans were suffering from the hangover of the 1994-95 strike, many vowing never to take another sip of our national pastime, when 2,131 was unfurled on the warehouse wall beyond right field.

    And then Ripken made his historic lap around the field, and baseball's unexpected recovery was born. Ripken had done much more than break Gehrig's record. He became an instant role model for every working stiff in our land. He played in another 501 consecutive games before taking a breather on Sept. 20, 1998. He retired after the 2001 season.

    Along the way, Ripken won two American League MVP awards and earned 19 All-Star selections. His 3,184 hits rank 15th all-time, and his 603 total doubles are good for 13th on the all-time list.

    Ripken was selected with 98.5 percent, collecting 537 out of 545 possible votes.

    What the other eight voters were thinking will forever be debated.

     

    Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.