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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2016 — #6: Ken Griffey Jr. gets a record 99.3% of the Hall of Fame vote

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We’re a few short days away from 2017 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2016. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

One of the dumbest things about Hall of Fame voting is that no player — not a single one — has ever received 100% of the Hall of Fame vote. Not Willie Mays. Not Ted Williams. Not Tom Seaver. Not Hank Aaron. Each and every one of them had at least a few voters cast ballots without their names on it for whatever reason. High standards are one thing, but deciding that Willie Freakin’ Mays does not meet yours for induction is less a standard than it is a demented form of narcissism.

Not that it matters that much. Hall of Fame election is a pass/fail test, with the bogey set at 75%. We sometimes talk about there being “inner-circle” Hall of Famers, but if you’re in, you’re in and that’s all that really matters, even if we roll our eyes at the vote totals on occasion.

It’s still worth noting, however, that Ken Griffey Jr. came the closest to getting 100% of the vote when he was elected this past January. Griffey garnered 99.3% of the vote, which is now the all-time high, passing Tom Seaver’s previous record of 98.84. Willie Freakin’ Mays, by the way, is at number 16 on that list. Which is absolutely batty, but we’ll leave that go for another day.

It’s interesting, though, to see that it was Griffey who came the closest. And telling.

Griffey obviously deserved to be elected — he is an all-time great — but no one seriously argues that he was The Greatest. The first half of his career was amazing and his career totals were gaudy and impressive. But the second half of his career was less amazing, primarily due to injuries. While one of the best of his era, he was not quite on Hank Aaron’s level. Or Mays’. If we did consider the Hall of Fame to be a tier-based system, he’d probably make the first tier, but he’d be at the bottom of it, if that makes any sense. He’s hanging around with the Al Kalines and the George Bretts, not hobnobbing with the Babe Ruths and Honus Wagners, right?

So why did he almost reach 100%? Probably because of performance enhancing drug politics. As Barry Bonds and others saw their numbers go up during the Steroids Era, Griffey’s went down. This was primarily due to chronic injuries from which Griffey suffered, but many chose to read more into it. They chose to view it as conclusive evidence that Griffey, unlike his contemporaries, was not taking PEDs.

There was no way on earth to know if that was true, of course. Indeed, many of the same innuendo-based allegations of PED use — change in body composition, frequency of injuries, etc. — applied just a well to Griffey as they did anyone else. They were B.S. against everyone else too, mind you, but they could’ve applied just as erroneously to Griffey if someone had bothered to make the effort.

But they didn’t make the effort because the story — “Griffey is the Great Clean Hope!” — was too appealing. A great bulk of sports writing is about pushing narratives. Narratives are stories and stories require heroes, villains and, often, victims. Griffey was alternatively portrayed as hero and victim in the great PED saga. And then the vote happened last year, with BBWAA voters giving Griffey the happy ending they scripted for him so many years before.

Which is fine if it makes them feel better, I suppose. Griffey probably doesn’t care, either about the politics, the drama or, ultimately, his vote total. It’s like that old joke: what do you call a doctor who graduated last in his class? A doctor. Same goes for a Hall of Famer who gets 75.01% of the vote or 99.3%. If they’re in they’re in.

Griffey made it in with a bullet.

And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Tigers 13, Orioles 8: Leonys Martin hit a grand slam out of the leadoff spot and the two-slot hitter, Jeimer Candelario, drove in three via a two-run homer and an RBI single. They play for the Tigers, by the way. Figure a lot of you were not aware of that. Heck, outside of Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Nick Castellanos, figure most of us don’t know most of the guys on the Tigers anymore. You do know that Manny Machado plays for the Orioles. Know that he hit two homers in a losing cause. Know that, given how the Orioles are doing these days, he won’t be with the Orioles too much longer, I reckon.

Cubs 8, Cardinals 5: Chicago built an early 6-1 lead on a bunch of singles and sac flies and stuff and Jason Heyward capped the Cubs scoring with a two-run homer in the fifth. Jon Lester allowed only an unearned run over six. Every Cubs starter had at least one hit. Anthony Rizzo had three. Heyward, Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez had two a piece. After the game Joe Maddon said:

“This is so much fun to watch. Keep your launch angles, keep your exit velocities, give me a good at-bat. Seeing inside the ball, using the whole field. With that you’ll see better situational hitting, better batting average. That’s just good hitting.”

Without looking, I’m going to guess that the Cubs’ eight-run outburst was, at least in part, a function of good launch angles and exit velocities. Not that Maddon would be the first person to engage in the fallacy of assuming mutual exclusivity where it does not exist.

Astros 9, Mariners 2: Charlie Morton tossed seven shutout innings, dropping his ERA down to 0.72 in his three wins. He has also struck out 33 guys in 25 innings and has walked only six. At this rate he’s going to be in a three-way race with two of his teammates — Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander — for the Cy Young. Seattle dropped three of four in the series and, as a team, went 15-for-100 against Dallas KeuchelLance McCullers Jr., Cole and Morton.

Yankees 4, Blue Jays 3: Aaron Judge homered and, while the Jays threatened late when David Robertson couldn’t find the strike zone and loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth, but he got out of the jam with only one run scoring. Judge — who a lot of you wise acres thought would struggle this year now that everyone is ready for him — is hitting .339/.481/.629 and is on a 48-homer, 152-walk pace. So, yeah.

Phillies 7, Pirates 0: OK, I think Jake Arrieta has finally finished his late spring training. Here he tossed seven shutout innings, allowing only one hit and striking out ten. Rhys Hoskins homered, Odubel Herrera singled in runs in the second and the fifth, J.P. Crawford and Cesar Hernandez knocked in runs on singles as well. More importantly, look at the photo on the top of this post and acknowledge how spiffy Philly looked in these blues. Their only fault is that teams that do this should, like the White Sox the other day, wear the blues on the road as originally intended.

Braves 12, Mets 4: Matt Wisler was called up from Triple-A to make a spot start. Guessing he’s going to get a bit more than that after allowing only two hits in seven innings. Matt Harvey, meanwhile, allowed six runs in six innings and after the game Mickey Calloway would not commit to him making his next scheduled start. He’s just not the guy he used to be. Preston Tucker drove in five with a bases loaded double and a two-run double. Kurt Suzuki had three hits and drove in three runs, including a two-run homer. The Braves offense leads the NL in runs scored. We were all expecting that heading into the season, yes?

Brewers 12, Marlins 3: It was close until the sixth, when Milwaukee put up a seven-spot. Lorenzo Cain homered, doubled twice and scored four times and Ryan Braun hit a pinch-hit, three-run homer. Those three runs gave him 1,000 RBI on his career. Lewis Brinson — who came over to the Marlins from the Brewers in the offseason trade for Christian Yelich — hit his first two career homers.

Diamondbacks 3, Giants 1: Zack Greinke held the punchless Giants to one run over seven innings, with a Brandon Belt homer being his only blemish. The Snakes got homers from Ketel Marte and A.J. Pollock. The Giants have scored only 51 runs in 18 games. That’s the lowest run total in baseball, tied with the Royals, who have only played 16 games. It ain’t 2014 anymore, is it?

Red Sox 8, Angels 2: And the Red Sox never lost again. Homers from Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi. Eight runs on 14 hits against six pitchers. A fine outing from Eduardo Rodriguez. Seven wins in a row and, heck, even though it covers the whole season, 16 of 18 for Boston.