With Rice's 15-year wait taken to the max and no surefire first-timers like Henderson in the hunt, two veterans of the Hall of Fame ballot will step under a brighter spotlight: outfielder Andre Dawson and pitcher Bert Blyleven.
Dawson will be on the ballot for the ninth time, and Blyleven is heading toward his 13th year of candidacy. They were the two top vote-getters in 2009 among those who didn't qualify by attaining 75 percent of the vote, so they have a good start on the 2010 ballot, presumably.
Dawson, the National League Rookie of the Year in 1977 and NL MVP in 1987 while playing for the last-place Cubs, crept nearer to the goal by appearing on 67 percent of the ballots (361 votes on 589 Baseball Writers Association of America ballots), up from 65.9 percent the year before. Blyleven, fifth on the all-time list with 3,702 strikeouts, was right behind him with 62.7 percent of the vote (338), up from 61.9 percent in 2008.
Others who had significant votes in 2009 included Lee Smith (44.5 percent), Jack Morris (44), Tim Raines (22.6) and Mark McGwire (21.9).
Eligible for the first time in 2010 will be: Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Robin Ventura, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Kevin Appier, Ellis Burks, Ray Lankford, Pat Hentgen, Todd Zeile, Eric Karros, Mark McLemore, Andres Galarraga, Fernando Vina, Mike Jackson, Shane Reynolds, Dave Burba, David Segui and Andy Ashby.
Among those first-timers, there are a few standouts. Alomar was considered the best second baseman of his era, a switch-hitter with speed and power who was an October fixture in the '90s. Larkin was the face of the Reds franchise for more than a decade, an MVP and a 12-time All-Star shortstop. Martinez became a Seattle icon as the first true career designated hitter and a run-producing machine. And McGriff was a remarkably consistent slugger who finished just seven homers shy of 500.
Other possibilities exist from the Veterans' Committee ballot, but no players. The Veterans elected Joe Gordon in 2009 from the ballot for players whose careers started prior to 1943, but players from that era won't have another election until the 2013 class. The post-1943 players, such as Ron Santo (60.9 percent last year) and Jim Kaat (59.4), will be considered again for 2011 but not next year.
However, there will be another round of Veterans Committee voting on managers, umpires, executives and pioneers, which is held every other year. That ballot in 2008 brought managers Dick Williams and Billy Southworth, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, and owners Walter O'Malley and Barney Dreyfuss into the fold. Umpire Doug Harvey and manager Whitey Herzog each received 68.8 percent of the vote on the managers/umpires ballot last time around, but no other candidates on the executives/pioneers ballot earned more than 50 percent of the votes.
Where does that leave 2010? A little bit up in the air, to be sure, with the focus figuring to fall on Dawson and Blyleven the next several months
If anything, Dawson might gain a boost from Rice finally making it over the wall and into the Hall. Dawson, who played for the Expos, Cubs and Marlins, hit more home runs than Rice, had more RBIs and runs scored, stole more bases, won as many MVP awards with one apiece and had a legendary arm, which Rice did not.
And Blyleven certainly has come a long way since his first year of eligibility, when he received just 17.5 percent of the vote in 1998, moving past 50 percent for the first time in 2006.