The National Baseball Hall of Fame is probably the dream of every kid who puts on a Little League uniform. To someday be standing in front of all the members who are still alive and in decent enough health to make the journey to Cooperstown is a lifelong dream.
Some players got in by the “skin of their teeth”, such as Jim Rice, who will actually be inducted in a ceremony in July. He received 76.4 percent of the votes in his 15th and final year of eligibility. A player must be named on 75 percent of the ballots in order to be inducted.
Some have made the grade on their first appearance on the ballot, some with very high percentages.
Some we look at retrospectively and wonder, what happened? How in the world can the Great “Rajah” Rogers Hornsby not be a first ballot man? I couldn’t tell you why, but I can tell you that he didn’t make it until his fourth ballot appearance.
In 1936, he garnered not quite half of the votes needed. In 1937, either Hornsby wasn’t on the ballot, or he just didn’t get any votes. In 1938, he was down to 17.8 percent, followed by 64.2 percent in 1939. In ’40 and ’41, there was no election. He was finally voted in 1942, with 78.1 percent of the votes.
It is also strange to note that if today’s rules applied in 1945, we wouldn’t have Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio in the Hall of Fame. He received only one vote, which represented only 0.4 percent of the ballots. Today, if a player receives less than 5 percent at any time during their 15 years of eligibility, they are discontinued from Hall of Fame voting.
DiMaggio finally got inducted in 1955 on his fourth ballot.
So, as you can see, it is no disgrace not to be voted into the HOF on your first year of eligibility. A player has 15 years of eligibility to be on the ballot. After 15 years, and not enough votes (such as Tommy John), the only way they can be inducted is through the Veteran’s Committee (such as Joe Gordon in this last class).
Therefore, the player with the highest percentage of votes in the history of the National Baseball Hall of Fame is: a tie between Nolan Ryan (1999) and Tom Seaver (1992), both receiving 98.8 percent.
I find it truly amazing and mind-blowing that nobody in the history of baseball, including Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig (who was voted in on his first ballot in 1936 with only 22.6 percent), Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, or anyone else, was elected unanimously.
Here is a table showing the results:
1. Nolan Ryan
2. Tom Seaver
3. Cal Ripken
4. George Brett
5. Ty Cobb
6. Hank Aaron
7. Tony Gwynn
8. Mike Schmidt
9. Johnny Bench
10. Steve Carlton