CHICAGO -- Pitcher Tom Seaver, who trod a golden path during a 20-year major-league career, was elected to the Hall of Fame last night with a heroic approval ratio of 98.8 percent.
It was the highest ever and probably would have been higher, 99.5 percent, if he had not lost three votes because of the Pete Rose protest.
Of the 36 candidates, relief pitcher Rollie Fingers was the only other player to win election. Fingers, who played on Oakland's three world championship teams in the 1970s and is the lifetime leader in saves (341), was named on 81.1 percent of the ballots. The requirement for election is 75 percent.
Seaver made pitching an art form. He won three National League Cy Young trophies and was the NL's Rookie of the Year with the New York Mets in 1967, when he had a 16-13 record. He finished with a career 2.86 earned run average, an NL record, and 61 shutouts.
"I've had many beautiful years in my career," he said.
Seaver said the game that provided him with his biggest thrill was his 300th victory, which came in 1985 in Yankee Stadium, when he was with the Chicago White Sox.
He pitched one no-hitter but said the game that he remembered more than the no-hitter was against the Cubs on July 9, 1969. This was Seaver's near-perfect game, which was broken up when Jimmy Qualls singled with one out in the ninth inning.
Rose's impact was minimal, though his ineligibility -- he was not on the ballot -- did deprive Seaver of near-unanimous approval. Because of his lifetime suspension, Rose was not listed but received 41 write-in votes. Three other voters submitted signed blank ballots; that they were signed made them official and detracted from Seaver's total.
Orlando Cepeda drew 57.2 percent of the vote, the only other candidate named on more than half the ballots.
It was the first year of eligibility for Seaver, a brilliant righthander who three times won the Cy Young Award and who finished with a 311-205 won-lost record. Seaver, who spent most of his career with the Mets but also pitched for the White Sox, Cincinnati and Boston, had been expected to win election easily.
The surprise was that his approval rating (he was named on 425 of 430 ballots) was the highest percentage since the Hall of Fame opened in 1936. The previous record was the .982 registered by Ty Cobb in the first year. Hank Aaron was second behind Cobb with .978; Babe Ruth drew 95.1, previously tied for fifth.
Bob Hertzel of the Pittsburgh Press, Bob Hunter (now a free-lance writer but who for many years traveled with the Los Angeles Dodgers) and Paul Hagen of the Philadelphia Daily News returned the blank ballots. Two writers, Deane McGowen and Bud Tucker, did not vote for Seaver.
"I just ordinarily don't vote for guys on the first year of eligibility," said McGowen, who retired from the New York Times 10 years ago. "I know Seaver's going to get in. And he deserves it."
"It certainly wasn't meant as a slam at Seaver or Tony Perez or anyone else," Hagen said. "And I'm not saying that Rose should be in it. I'm just saying I don't like the fact they took it away from the baseball writers."
"That was my way to emphasize that Rose should be in there,Hunter said. "Otherwise, I would have voted for Seaver."
Although Seaver's approval rating was the highest ever, he did not break the record for the most votes set by Johnny Bench, who was named on 431 of the the 447 ballots in 1987.
The voting is conducted by 10-year members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. The writers were upset because the board of directors of the Hall of Fame voted last February to bar Rose's name from the ballot because of his suspension by the late commissioner Bart Giamatti.
The writers wanted the choice of whether Rose deserved to be in Cooperstown or not.
Rose, in a prepared statement, said:
"I would like to congratulate Tom Seaver and Rollie Fingers on their election. I am disappointed that my good friend and former teammate Tony Perez was not elected this year. I hope that his election will come in the not-too-distant future."
Perez, also in his first season of eligibility, was fourth in the balloting. He received 50 percent of the vote.
"When you come up through the minors, you want to be a starting pitcher, because that's where the money was then," said Fingers, who broke in with the A's in the 1960s, when they were still in Kansas City.