NEW YORK – Derek Jeter has had as close to perfect a career as a major leaguer can have. Still, five years from now, don’t expect the New York Yankees’ captain to be a unanimous selection to baseball’s Hall of Fame.
That’s not a knock. He’d be in pretty impressive company.
Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Cal Ripken Jr. all dominated the game, and all came up short. Tom Seaver, the top vote-getter by percentage, was left off five ballots.
If there’s anyone worthy of 100 percent approval from the voters in the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, Jeter could be it.
“He’s so revered,” Hall spokesman Brad Horn said. “He’s reached iconic status probably at a more national standard of any player of his lifetime.”
The 40-year-old shortstop’s model career for the major’s most storied franchise will come to an end Sunday after two decades, save a baseball miracle. With five World Series championships, sixth on the career hits list, 14 All-Star selections, he’s the face of baseball, idolized by a generation of young stars from Troy Tulowitzki to Yoenis Cespedes to Mike Trout. And he played through the Steroids Era without the slightest tarnish.
What then could possibly prevent No. 2 from receiving affirmation from all 500-plus voters on the class of 2020 ballot?
Plenty, it turns out.
Election to the Hall of Fame requires 75 percent of the vote from writers with 10 consecutive years in the BBWAA at any point, a rigorous standard that produced no player electees in 2013. Writers can vote for up to 10 players — there were 36 on the ballot this year with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas gaining entry.
Seaver received 98.84 percent of the vote in 1992. Ripken, credited with helping revive baseball after the 1994-95 strike by breaking the consecutive games record set by Lou Gehrig, failed to impress eight voters and was third by percentage at 98.53. Aaron? Nine people didn’t vote for the home run king, and he’s sixth on the list at 97.83.
“I do not consider a unanimous vote important for the simple reason that it is nearly impossible for between 500 and 600 people to agree completely on any one thing,” BBWAA secretary-treasurer Jack O’Connell said. “It is hard enough to get the 75 percent required for election.”
Election to the Hall is not based solely on statistics. Consideration of integrity, character and sportsmanship are integral.
That’s where it gets complicated.
Stars such as home run king Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire have fallen way short of the minimum because many writers refuse to vote for anyone who has admitted using performance-enhancing drugs or been accused. Two voters who revealed their secret ballots this year, Ken Gurnick and Larry Rocca, left Maddux off because the 355-game winner played during the Steroids Era, even though no one suggested he used PEDs.
Gurnick submitted just one name, Jack Morris, who fell short of the 75 percent threshold in his final year on the ballot. Others have returned blank ballots in protest of PED users.
Writers have left names off their ballot specifically because no one has been a unanimous selection.
Others have withheld votes from superstars in order to throw support to a candidate they may think needs more help. Some players were left off ballots because they had contentious relationships with members of the media. One gave his vote to Deadspin — he was banned from voting again.
“Voting for the Hall of Fame is a subjective exercise,” Horn said. “The Baseball Hall of Fame has entrusted the BBWAA since the very first election in ’36 to provide strong council, good judgment and make very representative selections of what the Hall of Fame stands.”
Ruth’s feats on the field and his shenanigans off it made him one of the most famous people in America. Yet, he was omitted from 11 ballots and got just 95.13 percent of the vote in 1936. Perhaps his carousing had an influence on the writers.
Jeter doesn’t have that problem, though, and that is in part what makes him the perfect candidate for perfection.