Monday I will be in Fort Myers, Fla. at the Twins Fantasy Camp. Otherwise I would be on the golf course. No doubt I will be nervous and anxious. I will be thinking about the vote and my cell phone will be with me with my wife keeping watch over it. But I’ll be going about my business and not sitting on pins and needles.
I’ve learned that’s best for me and I’ve also learned it’s better not to have any expectations. I remember one year that the wife of former Minnesota Twins star Tony Oliva threw a big party on the day the Hall of Fame results were to be announced because there were very strong rumors Oliva was going to be elected. People gathered for a celebration but when Oliva didn’t get the votes he needed, the mood went from festive to sad.
This is the time of the year I find myself more defending my numbers and credentials than praising them. The rest of the time I don’t bring up the subject of my Hall of Fame candidacy but there are occasions other former players do broach the topic when I’m with them.
About four or five years ago they brought together all the pitchers with 3,000 career strikeouts and everyone there from Gaylord Perry to Steve Carlton to Tom Seaver to Roger Clemens to Randy Johnson all came up to me and told me I should be in the Hall of Fame. It’s nice when your peers acknowledge your career and say I should be where they are at or where they are going to be. That’s the kind of thing I get a lot of reward out of.
My first year on the ballot was 1998 and in retrospect that probably was the easiest on me of all the Hall of Fame election days. Though confident I had the numbers and credentials to make it to Cooperstown, I knew those who were voting didn’t consider me a first-ballot Hall of Famer. So I didn’t expect much out of the voting and didn’t get much (17.5 percent).
My second year on the ballot my percentage dropped to 14.1. That’s when my frustration first started to set in. It takes 75 percent of the vote to get in and that’s a long way from 14.1 percent. I remember thinking if the voters don’t feel I’m worthy of the Hall of Fame just take my name off the ballot. I didn’t want to go through this year after year but as it turns out that’s what’s happened since if you receive at least five percent of the vote you are on the ballot the following year.
In the five years after 1999 my percentages rose but not by leaps and bounds. Still I was getting more and more support. In 2004 I hit 35.4 percent and in three of the last four years the upward trend has continued with the exception being 2007. Last year was encouraging. I went from 47.7 percent in 2007 to my highest percentage ever (61.9). I still, however, feel I should have been in the Hall of Fame five or six years ago but I’m just hoping my percentages continue to rise.
I find at least a couple of reasons for optimism. The first is that since 1980 only four players who tallied more than 60 percent of the vote did not eventually make it into the Hall of Fame and the second is every player who has garnered 70 percent of the vote has subsequently been elected.
Of course time is running out (after 15 years a player comes off the ballot) but I know Bruce Sutter wasn’t elected until his 13th year on the ballot. And over the last three or four years there have been a lot of positives like some writers and baseball analysts more clearly bringing to light the lack of run support I had especially early in my career. My first eight years in the majors where frustrating because I lost so many close, low scoring games. I’ve seen it written that had I had average run support over those eight seasons, I would have won 340 games in my career.
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Over the years I have mellowed a lot and come to realize that those with ballots from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America are going to vote the way they want and getting angry over it wasn’t helping me. Is venting the right thing to do? I don’t know. I guess every player’s personality is different.
People have asked me should the procedure for being elected to the Hall of Fame be different. They have asked if the writers shouldn’t be the ones voting. Should it be the players or a group of Hall of Famers? My answer is no. The writers earned the right to vote for the Hall of Fame so even though I’m frustrated I say leave the process the way it is. It’s been that way forever so leave it alone.
What I take pride in is things like the letter I got the other day from Brooks Robinson of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association. He was asking me to sign some baseballs and pictures for a fundraiser. And at the very end of the letter Brooks wrote, “It’s your time.” That made me feel good and it made me think back to when players like Harmon Killebrew and Paul Molitor would see me and tell me to just be patient that my time was coming.
I’ll be honest though, sometimes my patience runs out because I want to be on this side of the grass if it does happen. I believe in the power of positive thinking. I’m getting closer to the top of the mountain. I’ve had my share of slips along the way but I’m still trying to reach the peak.
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