The Hall of Fame electorate continues to be a very tough crowd. Its restrictive approach beats mindlessly voting for anybody who ever put on a uniform, but there still should have been room for Roberto Alomar as a first-ballot inductee.
In the Hall of Fame voting by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America announced on Wednesday, Andre Dawson was the only candidate to receive the necessary 75 percent of the vote. Dawson is fully deserving of baseball's ultimate individual honor. Congratulations to him.
But this election will also be notable for the candidates who were very close but not quite there. Alomar had 73.7 percent of the votes. Bert Blyleven was even closer at 74.2 percent. Blyleven should have been in the Hall years ago, and Alomar should have been in immediately.
Alomar and Blyleven got my vote (as did Dawson and Lee Smith.) Alomar was simply the best player on the ballot. That's obviously a subjective judgment, but it's also a widely held view. He was an incomparable second baseman, a position that had historically been considered defense-first, and he was a considerable offensive presence, with speed and extra-base power. His 10 Gold Gloves and 12 straight All-Star Game selections indicate his dominance at his position.
Both Alomar and Blyleven can take heart from the history of the balloting: Anybody who gets as close to election as they did eventually gets elected. But that's not the issue directly in front of us.
Alomar's abilities and achievements say that he should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But he isn't. What kept him out, at least on the first try?
Perhaps it was the incident with umpire John Hirschbeck in 1996, in which the two exchanged insults. Hirschbeck's insult was verbal, but Alomar's took the form of precipitation, spitting on the umpire. That was bad. That was wrong. There can be no argument about this. But, there are people in the Hall of Fame who did so much worse. The name Ty Cobb comes immediately to mind.
Perhaps Alomar was punished by some voters for this offense. Perhaps the punishment carries only a one-year sentence. For the moment, Alomar will have to live with the designation of being the man who received the highest percentage of votes in his first year on the ballot without being elected. That's interesting, but it's nothing like actually getting to Cooperstown.
Blyleven is a man whose patience has been fully and repeatedly tested by this group of voters. This is his 13th season on the Hall of Fame ballot. His support has been climbing steadily to the point where it is now at the very brink of election. He needs only a handful more votes, but he needs that handful soon. He has only two more years on the writers ballot, and then he would go to consideration by the Veterans Committee, which tends to elect no one.
Blyleven should have been in long ago. He has truly impressive career numbers, including an ultimate measurement of effectiveness, being fifth all-time in strikeouts. He had one of the best curveballs in the history of the game. He won 287 games instead of 300, but he spent considerable time pitching for inadequate teams.
But at least Dawson finally will reach Cooperstown. The Hawk was a tremendous all-around player, with splendid defensive skills in the outfield (eight Gold Gloves), power and speed. The speed diminished as his knees got worse -- artificial surface, what a killer concept. But Dawson persevered, as a man with his character would.
Those against his selection argued that his on-base percentage was too low for a Hall of Famer. That was nice and arbitrary. The people who saw him play understood his greatness. After nine years on the Hall of Fame ballot, that was enough. The right thing was finally done.
This is Dawson's year to enter the Hall of Fame. Next year should be the year for Alomar and Blyleven. But the fact that Blyleven has had to wait this long and that Alomar could not become a first-ballot winner indicates once again how difficult it is to get elected in the first place.
If the BBWAA electorate is going to err, it should err on the side of exclusion, not inclusion. This is obviously frustrating for Hall of Fame candidates, as well as fans with favorite candidates. Every year there is considerable gnashing of teeth when the Hall election results are announced and worthy candidates are again denied entry. But that beats a parade of marginal talents marching into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.