The Baseball Writers’ Association of America will announce the results of its annual Hall of Fame vote today, and there’s a chance Ken Griffey Jr. could be the first unanimous selection for the writers ever. So far, with nearly half the ballots known publicly, Griffey has been named on every one.
Many people have speculated that Griffey will lose at least a few votes from wonkish writers who never vote for anyone first ballot, though he’s got a reasonable chance to break Tom Seaver’s record 98.83 percent from 1992. Personally, I still think Griffey has a shot to make it unanimously, though I’ll stop short of predicting it.
Thing is, the BBWAA has had a unanimous selection for more than 75 years. I don’t hear too many people talk about it publicly, but it’s happened.
After Lou Gehrig took ill and immediately retired in 1939, the BBWAA voted unanimously to suspend its usual process and present Gehrig as the sole Hall of Fame candidate that year without a vote. His induction was announced December 8, 1939, less than six months after Lou Gehrig Day at Yankee Stadium.
So technically, Gehrig never received 100 percent of the vote in a general election. He was on the ballot before 1939 and didn’t come anywhere close to the necessary 75 percent of the vote for induction from the writers. But post-illness, no writer dared oppose putting him in.
Interestingly, this sentiment hasn’t held since. Roberto Clemente got 92.7 percent of the vote– 393 yes, 29 no, and two abstentions– in a special Hall of Fame election held by the BBWAA in the early months of 1973 after his death on New Years Eve ’72. An AP story I came across this morning noted, “The negative votes largely were a protest against the system and not the man.”
The writers have only been less sentimental since, albeit with weaker candidates. Thurman Munson, Darryl Kile, and Rod Beck have all appeared on the ballot sooner than five years after retirement because of their deaths, and none have come anywhere close to making Cooperstown.