Boston Red Sox slugger Jim Rice and 288-game winning pitcher Tommy John will each be on the 2009 ballot for the 15th time, the limit a player may remain in consideration provided he is named on at least five percent of the ballots cast annually by 10-year members of the BBWAA.
A 75-percent plurality is required for election, and Rice drew very near that lofty neighborhood in the most recent election. With 543 ballots submitted, 408 votes were necessary to gain election. Rice fell just 16 votes short at 392 for 72.2 percent, which bodes well for him in 2009. Gossage, for example, had 71.2 percent of the vote in the 2007 election and gained 14.4 percent this year to win election with 466 votes (85.8).
This was not Gossage's last year on the ballot, either, but his ninth. Players in the 15th year tend to get more votes than in previous elections because voters are aware it is his last time. That also bodes well for Rice. Dave Concepcion, the shortstop of Cincinnati's Big Red Machine clubs of the 1970s, was on the ballot for the last time this year and got 14 more votes than the previous ballot. Rice picked up 46 votes this year from last and still has another year left.
In John's case, he has much more ground to cover than Rice. John's total is still below 30 percent. He got 158 votes (29.1) this time. In recent years, the biggest jump a player made the year he was elected was 19 percent by Tony Perez in 2000.
Significant jumps were made this year also by Andre Dawson (49 votes) and Bert Blyleven (76) that pushed them over the 60-percent margin. The question now is, can they continue to gain ground?
Tim Raines was the only first-time player on the 2008 ballot who received the sufficient support of five percent to stay on the ballot for 2009. The other holdovers will be Harold Baines, Don Mattingly, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Lee Smith and Alan Trammell.
As for newcomers on the 2009 ballot, that is the call of the BBWAA's six-person screening committee that helps shape the ballot. The process begins in April when the committee is presented the list of players who fit the first criterion, that they played in at least 10 Major League seasons and have been retired for five years. Any player approved by two or more screening committee members is placed on the ballot.
By mid-July, the ballot is set, but it is not announced until late November while the Hall, with assistance from the Elias Sports Bureau of statisticians, put together biographical sketches of the candidates that accompany the ballot in the Hall of Fame packet to voters.
If he had not decided to keep playing in the Majors into his mid-40s, Rickey Henderson might be in the Hall of Fame already. However, if he does not stage yet another comeback, Henderson will be eligible for the ballot for the first time in 2009. The career leader in runs scored and stolen bases will be a strong contender to join 43 other Hall of Famers who were elected in their first year of eligibility.
Also likely to make their Hall of Fame ballot debuts in 2009 are pitchers David Cone and Jesse Orosco, first basemen Mo Vaughn and Mark Grace and third baseman Matt Williams.
Cone, the 1994 American League Cy Young Award winner, was 194-126 with a 3.46 ERA and 2,668 strikeouts and pitched on five World Series champions. Orosco, a four-decade reliever (1979-2003), appeared in more games (1,252) than any player in history.
Vaughn, the 1995 AL Most Valuable Player, was a .293 hitter with 328 home runs in a career shortened to 12 seasons due to leg injuries. Grace, a four-time Gold Glove winner, hit .303 over 17 seasons with 2,445 hits, of which 1,754 were the most of any player in the decade of the 1990s. Williams played on World Series teams for three organizations, combining power (378 home runs) and defense (four Gold Gloves).
Others with a shot at making the ballot include pitchers Steve Avery, Charles Nagy, Denny Neagle and Dan Plesac; infielders Jay Bell, Mike Bordick and Dean Palmer; and outfielders Ron Gant and Greg Vaughn.