When we look at the Baseball Hall of Fame vote totals for past elections, there are certain choices the writers made that only puzzle us.
Sometimes the puzzle is how the voters failed to choose a particular player.
For example, in 1979, Willie Mays was up for election. He was chosen, but 23 voters decided that Mays was not worthy of their vote. I’ve heard many arguments for a small Hall of Fame, but how small would it be if Willie Mays could not get in?
Similarly, in 1969, Stan Musial was up for election. He was chosen, but of the 340 voters, 23 felt that Musial, with his .331 batting average, 475 home runs, and 3,630 hits, was not a proper choice.
On the other hand, there are times where a significant number of votes are cast for players who fit the Hall of Fame qualifications only by reputation and not by their actual career.
Don Larson, for example, drew an enormous number of votes. He managed to stay on the ballot for the full 15 years he was eligible, from 1974-88. Larson drew 53 votes in 1979, although his career record was 81-91. What were those 53 writers thinking? I don’t know, but it was not a one-time thing. There was a solid core of writers who kept voting for Larson, year after year.
Johnny Vander Meer was another one who kept getting support from writers, despite a career record of 119-121. He actually got more than 25 percent of the vote six times. He outdrew Bob Lemon for votes every year from 1964 through 1971, when Vander Meer finally left the ballot. Lemon had won 20 or more games on eight occasions, while Vander Meer had never topped 18.
This year’s results have similarly puzzling attributes. To chose one player in particular, let’s look at Don Mattingly.
Mattingly has as weak a case for the Hall of Fame as Vander Meer. In his 10th year on the ballot, Don Mattingly drew 87 votes.
In Keith Hernandez’s 10th year on the ballot…oh, he wasn’t on the ballot in his 10th year. He was dropped because of a lack of support from the voters. Yet, Hernandez was a better player than Mattingly in every possible way.
Mattingly won nine Gold Gloves, which is impressive. Hernandez won 11. Mattingly’s on base percentage was .358, while Hernandez’s was .384. Mattingly had an OPS+ of 127. Hernandez had an OPS+ of 128. And Hernandez did it over a longer career: Hernandez played 2,088 games, while Mattingly played only 1,785.
Hernandez and Mattingly each won one MVP award and one batting title. But while Hernandez was a key part of the 1982 and 1986 World Championship teams (St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets, respectively), and the 1988 division champions (Mets), Mattingly was never able to lead his team into a single postseason game until his final season, when the Yankees lost the ALDS to Seattle.
The thing is, though, Hernandez did not belong in the Hall of Fame, and Mattingly does not either.
The writers who keep casting votes for Mattingly remember the player he was during his brief prime—of four years. For the rest of his brief career, he was never near Hall of Fame caliber.
Still, 87 writers keep voting for a first baseman who was far inferior to Boog Powell—Powell had a 134 OPS+ over a career that was about 100 plate appearances longer than Mattingly—and Powell drew a grand total of five votes from Hall of Fame voters.