Hall could have numerous inductees next year
Maddux, Glavine, Thomas, Kent, Mussina among first-timers on 2014 ballot
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- The old commercial slogan once called a return to Disneyland "the happiest homecoming on earth." The ad men evidently hadn't visited this remote little hamlet in upstate New York of 1,840.
Despite a rare National Baseball Hall of Fame weekend in which no living person was inducted, the smiles on everyone's face as they meandered around town were pervasive. And, well, they should be. This is the mythical cradle of baseball, where the sport seems pure and its link to American roots is eternal.
That was brought home by the induction this weekend of three men whose lives had all ended by 1939: New York Yankees owner Col. Jacob Ruppert, 19th century catcher James "Deacon" White and Hank O'Day, an umpire early in the past century.
And if one really squinted through the rain drops that delayed Sunday's induction ceremony by an hour, you could see Abner Doubleday nodding his approval. The lack of a modern player elected to the Hall by the Baseball Writers' Association of America gave us the opportunity to tell their incredible stories, but it certainly struck a discordant note.
"We're at a point right now where we don't know what's real and what wasn't," Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith said this weekend. "And that's a bad place to be with the game of baseball. This was an abnormal year, but the last five to 10 years has been abnormal for the game. I guess we were destined to get to this point."
No one expects that to happen again next year when the Hall celebrates the 75th anniversary of its opening on Main Street with the induction ceremony on July 27, 2014, and a Boston Symphony concert on the meadow behind the Clark Sports Center 10 days later.
The next writers' ballot will include for the first time: 300-win club members Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, slugger Frank Thomas, second baseman Jeff Kent and 270-game winner Mike Mussina. Add to that the return for the 15th and last time of Jack Morris, one of the most clutch postseason pitchers in history and victorious in the World Series with three teams.
None of them are directly cast under a shadow of the subject Smith was alluding to: the suspicion by writers that most players in the previous era used performance-enhancing drugs.
The Post-Expansion Veterans Committee also will have a tough task, with a 10-man ballot that could include such recently retired managers as Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox, Lou Piniella and Cito Gaston, not to mention the late union leader Marvin Miller, who missed by a single vote the last time this committee met three years ago.
As in any vote for the Hall, a candidate's name must appear on 75 percent of the ballots cast to be elected.
If luck swiftly changes for Hall officials, there could be as many as six new inductees next summer -- three elected by the writers and three from the 16-member Veterans Committee. They can vote for only four people on their eventual ballot of 10. The writers can vote for as many as 10 players off a voluminous ballot that won't be made public until it's officially released.
"You look at the ballot from last year and there are still many worthy candidates already on it," Hall president Jeff Idelson said this weekend. "And when you look at the new players first becoming eligible, you have the potential for a very strong class next year."
At one time, this was expected to be a banner year, but the writers roundly rejected Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza and their prolific numbers. That's the all-time home run leader, a right-hander with 354 wins, the only hitter with three 60-homer seasons and a guy with the most homers of any catcher in history.
The question remains how much drag the players suspected of taking drugs again will have on the players who are not on a ballot that's so deep it may be difficult to reach the 75 percent threshold.
Certainly in the last vote, that drag effected Morris and Craig Biggio, the multipositioned right-handed hitter who played his entire 20-year career with the Astros and had 3,060 hits.
Biggio, also on the ballot for the first time, was the leading vote-getter, having been named on 68.2 percent, but he fell 39 votes shy of election. He received 388 votes among the 569 ballots that were cast. Five of those ballots were left blank. Biggio was followed by Morris at 67.7 percent.
Morris had 254 wins and seven more in the postseason, four of those in the World Series.
It's impossible to quantify how much that affected Biggio, the only retired player aside from Pete Rose with more than 3,000 hits not yet enshrined in the Hall. Rose is the all-time leader with 4,256 and is serving a lifetime suspension for betting on baseball when he managed the Reds. He's ineligible.
Biggio has a second shot at it, and this time could easily make up the needed 39 votes, placing him on a path to induction next year, along with Maddux and his 355 wins, Glavine and his 306, Thomas -- with a .301 lifetime batting average, 521 homers and 1,704 RBIs -- and Kent with 351 homers hit playing second base, the most ever. Mussina will probably have to wait.
You pick 'em.
"Next year we should be back to normal," Smith said. "I'm looking at three managers and possibly three players. Last year, Biggio came very close. I think he'll probably make it. Maddux and Glavine, they're first-ballot material. I was just sitting down and talking to some people. Thomas has wonderful numbers. He has a very good chance. I tried to get him to sign a ball with HOF on it. He wouldn't do it."
Perhaps next year, Wizard, when we all will experience another homecoming to what really is the happiest place on earth.
Ozzie, of course, had a big smile on his face as he said it.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.