Junior named on 99.3 percent of ballots, breaking Seaver's record in '92
By Barry M. Bloom
NEW YORK -- The Mariners made Ken Griffey Jr. the first overall pick in the 1987 Draft. The following year, the Dodgers selected Mike Piazza with the 1,390th pick, in the 62nd round.
From those vastly different starting points, the two have arrived at the same place: Cooperstown.
Griffey and Piazza were revealed as the National Baseball Hall of Fame's Class of 2016 during a live show on MLB Network and MLB.com on Wednesday. Griffey is the first No. 1 pick to make it, while Piazza is the lowest pick to do so. And while Griffey fell short of being the first player elected unanimously by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, he was named on 99.3 percent of ballots (437 of 440), breaking the record of 98.84 percent set by Tom Seaver in 1992. Piazza received 83 percent (365 of 440) in his fourth year on the ballot.
Though eyebrows were raised across social media regarding the trio of voters who didn't check the box next to Griffey's name, the kid they called Junior wasn't sweating the fact that three writers decided not to vote for him.
"I can't be upset at anybody," said Griffey, a four-time American League home run champion, the 1997 AL MVP Award winner and a 13-time All-Star, 10 of them in the AL. "It's certainly an honor to be elected. To have the highest percentage is a shock. I don't think about it that way. The big thing is to get into the Hall of Fame. As long as you get in, that's what it is. I was really surprised it was so high."
Top 10 vote-getters by percentage
Ken Griffey Jr.
Cal Ripken Jr.
Piazza finished at 83 percent, a big 14.1 percent uptick from 2015, when he missed by 28 votes. This was his fourth year on the ballot.
Griffey was a first-timer and became the seventh of the nine players elected by eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America in the past three years the first time they were on the ballot. The BBWAA has now elected 121 of the 217 players in the Hall. To be elected, a candidate, as always, needed 75 percent of the vote, this time 330 of the 440 ballots cast.
"Ken Griffey Jr.'s swing, smile and immense talent in all facets of the game made him one of the most popular and respected players of all-time, a stature clearly evident in the results released today," Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement about Griffey, the first center fielder to be voted in by the BBWAA since Kirby Puckett in 2001, breaking the longest drought at any spot on the field. "His election to Cooperstown surely marks a great occasion not only in the Pacific Northwest and his hometown of Cincinnati, but also for an entire generation of fans. Major League Baseball is proud to congratulate Ken and his family on this well-deserved honor."
In one of the closest overall elections in history, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines also earned huge gains from last year. Bagwell went from 55.7 percent to 71.6 percent, falling just 15 votes shy of the 330 required. Raines had 55 percent last year and leapt to 69.8 percent, 23 votes short.
Trevor Hoffman, like Griffey in his first year, had 67.3 percent, 34 votes short.
Judging Hall of Fame voting history, all three will ultimately be elected. The matter is certainly most pressing for Raines, who because of a recent eligibility rule change has only one year remaining on the BBWAA ballot. The good news for them is that every player who has received at least as high a percentage as Raines has eventually gotten into the Hall of Fame, via either the BBWAA or the Veterans Committee. And 16 of the 17 players who cleared 70 percent in one year -- while falling short -- got in the next year, assuming they had years of ballot eligibility remaining. Only Jim Bunning, who received 74.2 percent in 1988, didn't make it on his next try.
It should be noted that last year -- when Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez and Craig Biggio were inducted -- 549 ballots were cast. This year, under new rules adopted last summer by the Hall, 109 fewer ballots were cast, but as always, voters could list up to 10 candidates. Did it have a profound effect on the outcome?
These stats released by the Hall seem to suggest it did: The average ballot in the 2016 election contained 7.95 names, with 41.6 percent of the voters using all 10 slots.
There were other big beneficiaries of that largesse aside from Piazza, Bagwell and Raines. Mike Mussina received the biggest boost from last year, going from 24.6 percent to 43 percent. Curt Schilling jumped from 39.2 percent to 52.3 percent.
Even Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds gained some traction for the first time in their fourth years on the ballot. Clemens, winner of 354 games, went from 37.5 last year to 45.2 percent this year. Bonds, the all-time leader with 762 homers, earned a bump from 36.8 percent to 44.3 percent.
In other notables, Alan Trammell (40.9 percent and in his 15th year under the old rules) and Mark McGwire (12.3 percent and his 10th year under the new rules) are off the BBWAA ballot. According to a Hall of Fame official, they will be eligible for consideration by the Expansion Era Committee beginning in 2020.
Lee Smith (34.1 percent in his 14th year) has one year of eligibility remaining.
The returnees will all be up against it on the next ballot when Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, Ivan Rodriguez and Jorge Posada all become eligible for the first time in the Class of 2017.
Piazza, who starred for the Dodgers and Mets and finished his career in San Diego and Oakland and hit a record 397 of his 427 homers while playing behind the plate, said he has no qualms about being elected the fourth time he was on the ballot.
"You have to put that into some sort of historical perspective," Piazza said. "The fact is, Yogi Berra had like four ballots, Joe DiMaggio had three ballots, and so myself being a student of the history of the game and having respect for the process, it was nail-biting at times. But I've had a tremendous amount of support in my career from the writers and the fans. I don't want to say it was difficult, but it was certainly emotional from year-to-year. In the end, you just can't describe this honor."
Griffey is the son of Ken Griffey Sr., the outfielder who played for the Big Red Machine when Junior was just a tyke and later was on the field with him in Seattle at the end of his career in 1990-91. He also played with Edgar Martinez in Seattle, the former designated hitter and current Mariners hitting coach, who stayed static at 43 percent of the vote.
Senior said he couldn't be a prouder father. His son won 10 Gold Gloves in a row playing superlative center field for the Mariners from 1990-99, batted .284 with 1,836 RBIs and 1,662 runs scored to go along with those 630 homers, good for sixth all-time. But he was a better person, Griffey Sr. said.
"He never wavered from him being straightforward about stuff, making sure people knew him as a person," he said. "But the biggest thing, being a family man was so big to him, he never wavered from his kids at all. I'm just proud of him being my son."