Can you imagine what the reaction would be if Tom Seaver is not elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility?
The results of this year's voting are to be announced Tuesday night. As unlikely as it seems, and as unfair as it would be to Seaver, there exists at least a remote possibility that the 311-game winner might not get the 75 percent of the vote necessary for induction at Cooperstown this summer.
It all depends on how some voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America decided to protest the exclusion of Pete Rose from this year's list of eligible candidates.
You might ask how Rose, who is on baseball's suspended list and, therefore, ineligible for Hall of Fame consideration, affects Seaver.
The answer is in the minds of the electorate. A segment of the voters, the size of which is significant but undetermined, was adamantly opposed to Rose's omission from the ballot.
How they chose to act on their feelings will determine the fate not only of Seaver but also of all the other leading Hall of Fame candidates. Votes had to be cast by Dec. 31, and results won't be known until the official tally is completed within the next 48 hours.
Although players not on the official ballot have never been eligible, one sentence in the election instructions -- "write-in votes will not count" -- has been interpreted as the "Rose Rule."
Some of the voting writers, all with at least 10 years' experience covering major-league baseball, wrote in Rose's name, anyhow, as their form of protest. Others signed and returned blank ballots.
The potentially explosive situation has created concern in Cooperstown. A small percentage of voters, for personal reasons, traditionally declines to vote for players eligible for the first time. What would the reaction be if a relatively small number of protesters (fewer than 75 of the 400-plus voters would probably suffice) blocked the election of all candidates? "I don't know," admitted Bill Guilfoile, vice president of the Hall of Fame.
One obstacle to this possibility was effectively removed. "Ballots that contain write-in votes will not be invalidated," said Jack Lang, executive secretary of the BBWAA, who records the official results. "The write-in vote will be disregarded, but the rest of the ballot will be official."
On the other hand, a blank, signed ballot, as has always been the case, is official -- which means three votes are necessary to offset each one registered. Those wishing to register the strongest possible protest over Rose's absence are the ones who authorized a blank ballot. Whether there were enough of them, however, to throw a clinker into the entire process remains to be seen.
"There were instances of both write-ins and blank ballots," said Lang, who traditionally waits until the last day to finish tallying the votes. "I think the overall effect will be minimal."
Had the decision been made to invalidate any ballots containing write-in votes, the Hall of Fame voting almost certainly would have again been subject to close scrutiny. The rules have been altered over the years without a foolproof system.
It would be a tragedy if Rose's predicament kept Seaver, a former teammate, out of the Hall of Fame even for one year. But, remote though it may be, the possibility does exist.
And there is an even stronger possibility that somebody else, possibly Orlando Cepeda, Rollie Fingers or Tony Perez (another first-year candidate and a former teammate) could be the victim of a Rose backlash.
One thing is certain -- the Hall of Fame is sweating this one out, hoping that a protest doesn't keep a worthy candidate from missing election by a couple of votes. If that happens, there will be a loud, and justifiable, outcry demanding yet another look at admission policies for the most exclusive of all sports fraternities.
Speaking of which: Getting the necessary 75 percent of the vote any given election during a 15-year period of eligibility should be tough enough requirements for entrance into the Hall of Fame.
As it is, a player must log at least 10 years in the big leagues and vTC survive a demanding screening committee just to get on the ballot. Then he must draw at least 5 percent of the vote in any election in order to stay eligible.
Five percent of the vote is not much, but occasionally a legitimate candidate falls through the cracks. That's what happened to Sparky Lyle, the best left-handed reliever in baseball history, last year.
It also could happen to ex-Baltimore Orioles second baseman Bobby Grich this year. This is not to suggest that Lyle and Grich were definite Hall of Fame-caliber players. It is to suggest their candidacy at least deserves to be given the test of time.