Will There Ever Be a Unanimous Baseball Hall of Fame Selection?

Jason Catania@@JayCat11MLB Lead WriterJanuary 8, 2014

AP Images

Greg Maddux just might be the evidence needed to prove that no Major League Baseball player will ever be inducted unanimously into the Hall of Fame.

The baseball-watching, -reading, -writing and -tweeting world more or less came to a stop Tuesday upon the news that Maddux—he of the 355 career wins and 3.16 career ERA, not to mention a record-tying four consecutive Cy Young Awards and an unprecedented 18 Gold Gloves—was left off a ballot.

That ballot, you've probably heard by now, belongs to Ken Gurnick, the Los Angeles Dodgers beat reporter for MLB.com, who voted for only one player: pitcher Jack Morris, who is on for the 15th and final time and has long been a divisive subject in this arena.

In a year where there are arguably a dozen deserving candidates to join Cooperstown, and potentially as many as 15, Gurnick used his ballot to make his opinion heard.

His statement? "As for those who played during the period of PED use," he wrote, "I won't vote for any of them."

Rather than get into all the reasons why that logic is flawed and unfair, the point here is to simply ask: Will a player ever get 100 percent of the Hall of Fame vote?

At the moment, this has become an appropriate question because, prior to the release of Gurnick's one-and-done selection of Morris, Maddux actually had been listed on every ballot that had been made public to that point, according to Baseball Think Factory, which has been tracking and tallying along the way.

The Projected 2014 Hall of Fame Class (via Baseball Think Factory)
Greg Maddux99.5%1
Tom Glavine96.2%1
Frank Thomas91.2%1
Craig Biggio78.6%2
* = 182 ballots tallied as of Jan. 7
Baseball Think Factory

It's also a relevant question with voting results being announced Wednesday, and because it bears reminding: Going all the way back to the first ever Hall of Fame class in 1936, 208 players have been inducted into Cooperstown, and over all those years and among all those players, none has made it in unanimously.

Oh, there have been plenty of close calls with all-timers like Nolan Ryan, Cal Ripken Jr., Ty Cobb and George Brett receiving more than 98 percent of votes. Heading into the 2014 results, though, the record for highest percentage remains with Tom Seaver, who garnered 98.84 percent in 1992.

Inducted in 1992, Tom Seaver holds the record for highest voting percentage at 98.8 percent.
Inducted in 1992, Tom Seaver holds the record for highest voting percentage at 98.8 percent.Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Long shot though it was, Maddux—a first-balloter by any measure—at least seemed to stand a chance of getting checked off on every ballot turned in. Alas, we now know that will not be the case. And so the wait for the first unanimous inductee continues.

It may sound pessimistic or downright silly, but it needs to be accepted at this point: No player will ever be named on 100 percent of Hall of Fame ballots. Aside from the historical factor so far, here are a few other reasons why.


Expanding Voter Base

Heading into Wednesday's final tally, the 10 years with the most ballots—all of which were more than 500 voters—have come since 2001.

Number of Hall of Fame Ballots Since 2000
Baseball Reference

Simple math: As the number of baseball writers who gain Hall of Fame voting rights increases, the more likely it becomes that just one of those 500-plus will not pick a particular player for any random reason, logical or not.


The First-Ballot Bias

Unfortunately, one of those non-logical reasons, of course, is that some voters continue to stand by the old-fashioned logic that no one should get in on the first ballot. 

Why this "tradition" of sorts is still carried out is not only a mystery, but also a clear indication that without fail in any given year, some writer somewhere will refuse to name some future Hall of Famer who gets in on his first attempt and otherwise could have been the first unanimous selection. 

That is, unless it's not just one writer, but a handful.


The PED Problem

Many writers refuse to acknowledge the Hall of Fame candidacy of players who have been linked—directly or indirectly—to performance-enhancing drugs, let alone those for whom steroids were merely a whisper of a hint of a rumor.

This is why, among others, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who endured court cases and investigations into their alleged doping, couldn't even crack the 40-percent plateau in their first go-round, never mind register the 75 percent needed for induction, despite being two of the best ever to play.

Because of Barry Bonds' trial about his PED use, one of baseball's all-time greats remains outside the Hall.
Because of Barry Bonds' trial about his PED use, one of baseball's all-time greats remains outside the Hall.David Paul Morris/Getty Images

Certainly, a voter can choose to cast aside any player against whom there is overwhelming or damning evidence, but the line doesn't stop there. That's why sluggers like Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza—two players who should have been first-timers—weren't in prior to this year's results, mainly because they "look" like they possibly might have been on the juice.

This PED cloud, folks, isn't going away any time soon, and it is the primary reason no player will be voted in unanimously, at least over the next, oh, dozen years or so.

But even once the steroid stink starts to subside, it's still a near-guarantee that no one will ever get into the Hall of Fame unanimously. History, as well as the often mercurial and illogical voting behavior of baseball writers, is the proof.

Greg Maddux is just the latest piece of evidence.


To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11


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