Orioles great Cal Ripken Jr. might set the mark for the highest percentage of the Hall of Fame vote

Perfectly positioned

January 07, 2007|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,[ Sun reporter]

The drama won't be in the announcement -- it will be in the details.

Cal Ripken Jr., the pride of Aberdeen, the two-decades face of the Orioles organization, a model for workaholics everywhere, almost certainly will be announced Tuesday as one of the newest members of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Ripken, along with former San Diego Padres great Tony Gwynn, is as guaranteed to garner the required 75 percent of the Baseball Writers' Association of America vote as any other first-time-eligible candidate in the past 15 years.

There are still a few mysteries set to be revealed at 2 p.m. Tuesday, however.

How many of the approximately 575 ballots sent out will be returned without Ripken's name checked? Will he, Gwynn or both eclipse the all-time highest percentage of 98.84 set in 1992 by pitcher Tom Seaver, who was named on 425 of 430 ballots? Will Ripken be the first unanimous pick in Hall of Fame history? Based on an e-mail poll conducted by The Sun in which about a third of the anticipated number of 2007 voters responded, Ripken and Gwynn should seriously challenge Seaver's all-time mark.

And yet another year will pass without a unanimous selection.

Of the 178 members of the BBWAA who answered the question about Ripken's induction, only one, Paul Ladewski, a columnist for the Daily Southtown in suburban Chicago, said he didn't vote for Ripken.

"In an attempt to uphold the Hall of Fame standards established by their predecessors, I will not vote for anyone who played in the 1993-2004 period, which I consider to be the Steroids Era," Ladewski wrote in an e-mail to The Sun last month. "That includes Tony Gwynn, Mark McGwire and Cal Ripken Jr."

The San Diego Union-Tribune did a similar poll as it applied to Gwynn's candidacy, and of the 233 responses it received, only Ladewski said he would have reservations about voting for the Padres' eight-time batting champion.

Ladewski, a BBWAA member since 1984, confirmed last week that he submitted a blank ballot, which, in effect, will be counted as a "No" vote for all candidates.

"It's not an anti-Cal Ripken vote or an anti-Tony Gwynn vote; it's a vote about not knowing enough, in my opinion, of the Steroids Era and performance-enhancing drugs to make the kind of decision that needs to be made," Ladewski said.

"From my dealings with Cal Ripken Jr. in the past, he was very pleasant, a good ambassador for the game, and his numbers speak for themselves," Ladewski said. "But I don't have enough information on the [steroids] subject to make a decision."

`None of us ... know'

Ladewski said he doesn't suspect Ripken or Gwynn used steroids, but "by the same token, I don't have any hard and fast evidence that would convince me beyond a shadow of a doubt that they weren't. My gut feeling is they weren't, but none of us really know. Only they do."

Ladewski's decision is one of the findings of The Sun's query, which targeted roughly 400 active BBWAA members. More than 200 responded, with 26 saying they would not vote in the 2007 election because of personal or company policies.

One, Sporting News senior vice president John Rawlings, said he considered sending in a blank ballot to protest McGwire, who, during a congressional hearing in 2005, refused to discuss his speculated use of performing-enhancing drugs. Instead, Rawlings decided not to submit his ballot at all.

"If I send in a blank ballot ... that penalizes two players for whom I have great admiration, Ripken and Gwynn," said Rawlings, who characterized the current Hall of Fame voting procedure as creating a conflict of interest. "Then the mental tug of war gets framed as, `Why punish Ripken and Gwynn because of McGwire's bad behavior?' So, it all nets out that not voting is probably the best course after all."

No reservations

Voters, who can choose up to 10 players each year, were asked five questions by The Sun, including whether they had reservations about selecting Ripken, who retired in 2001, in his first year of eligibility.

This, from St. Petersburg Times baseball writer Marc Topkin, was a typical response: "If Cal Ripken isn't an automatic, no-brainer, first-guy-you-check-on-your-ballot candidate, who is?"

Said voter Mel Antonen of USA Today: "The Hall of Fame is built for players like Cal Ripken. I don't see how anyone could not vote for Ripken. It would have to be the biggest nitpick in the history of the Hall of Fame."

Traditional nitpicking shouldn't be a problem here, according to the poll results.

Most voters don't draw any distinction between first-ballot candidates and others. The rationale is if the honor is deserved, it should come in Year One. No voter said he would leave a player off their ballot in the first year of eligibility with the intention of voting for him the next year.

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