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.