"My contention always has been if a guy isn't worthy on the first ballot, he should be taken off if he doesn't make it the first year," said Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News. "His stats don't get any better the first year than the second. If he is a Hall of Famer, he should make it on the first ballot."
Ripken's initial candidacy also won't be hampered specifically by the presence of Gwynn and McGwire on the ballot. Of the 174 voters who responded to the question, all said they had no concerns about voting for more than one first-ballot player.
"Looking at the voting over the years, it is apparent that fewer voters deny a player a vote simply because it is the player's first year of eligibility," said Mike Peticca of The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer. "Hopefully, should a player ever be a unanimous pick, even the casual fan will understand that it doesn't mean that player was necessarily the best ever. I will never, though, let that possibility stop me from voting for a player."
Upholding the tradition of no unanimous Hall of Famers is also of little concern to those who responded to The Sun survey.
Of the 168 who answered the specific question, all said they had no reservations about a modern-day player being a unanimous selection. A few, however, said it would be difficult to envision one now when the game's greatest players -- such as Ty Cobb (four votes short), Hank Aaron (nine), Babe Ruth (11) and Willie Mays (23) -- weren't.
"If Aaron wasn't, then should anyone be?" said Dave Perkins of The Toronto Star. "But I wouldn't withhold a vote strictly to make sure no one was unanimous."
Paul Hagen of the Philadelphia Daily News was one of the five voters who didn't name Seaver on his ballot in 1992. He said his decision had nothing to do with Seaver or with protecting the no-unanimous tradition.
Hagen turned in a blank ballot to protest the omission of Pete Rose's name in what would have been the all-time hits leader's first year of eligibility. Hagen said the writers -- and not Major League Baseball -- should have made the call on the suspended Rose's Hall of Fame worthiness, as they had with countless others.
"This was, clearly, I thought, a blatant interference with the voting process to keep Pete Rose off, and I didn't think that was right," Hagen said. "I want to stress that it's not that I necessarily would have voted for Pete Rose, but I didn't think it was right for them to step in and not allow Pete Rose on the ballot."
No buzz before
Leading into the 1992 vote, Hagen said there wasn't much buzz about Seaver's being a potential unanimous selection.
"If that had been in my thoughts at the time, maybe I would have voted for Seaver. Clearly, he deserved to be in," Hagen said. "But it didn't enter my thought process at the time."
Bob Hertzel of the Morgantown (W.Va.) Dominion Post, then of the Pittsburgh Press, also submitted a blank ballot in 1992 as a Rose protest. He and Hagen said they voted for Ripken and Gwynn this year. The other three BBWAA members believed to have left Seaver off their ballots in 1992 are now dead.
And so might be the practice of honoring slights of the past.
"It's not any modern player's fault that Willie Mays fell short of being a unanimous pick," said Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla. "And I don't give a hoot about any `tradition' that might have been started by a bunch of dead sportswriters."
Still, most of those responsible for electing Hall of Famers didn't expect a unanimous vote when they cast their ballot for Ripken last month -- and they don't see full agreement anytime on the horizon. Maybe not to uphold a passe tradition, but simply because sportswriters are the disagreeable sort.
"Every generation of baseball writers," said Sporting News columnist Dave Kindred, "has its mavericks marching to music only they hear."
Tomorrow / / Mark McGwire's chances of election to the Hall of Fame look slim. Tuesday / / Would Cal Ripken Jr. still be a Hall of Famer without The Streak? Wednesday / / A special section on Ripken and Hall of Fame news. On the Web / / A multimedia presentation at www.baltimoresun.com/ripken, including - after Tuesday's vote announcement - exclusive video of a Sun interview with Ripken. Fans on Ripken / / Tell us your thoughts about Cal Ripken Jr. as the day approaches for this year's Baseball Hall of Fame class to be announced. The Sun will publish some of your comments in Wednesday's Ripken special section. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, town and a daytime phone number.
The 10 highest voting percentages in Baseball Hall of Fame history (with player and percentage of ballots he was named on):
Rk. Player Year Pct.
1. Tom Seaver 1992 98.84
2. Nolan Ryan 1999 98.79
3. Ty Cobb 1936 98.23
4. George Brett 1999 98.19
5. Hank Aaron 1982 97.83
6. Mike Schmidt 1995 96.52
7. Johnny Bench 1989 96.42
8. Steve Carlton 1994 95.31
9. (tie) Honus Wagner 1936 95.13
9. (tie) Babe Ruth 1936 95.13
Source: National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
COMING WEDNESDAY -- SPECIAL HALL OF FAME SECTION