Every once in a while, I'll come across a tidbit like this, and I'll remember just how bizarre the Hall of Fame is when it comes to first-ballot inductions and unanimous votes. From David Schoenfield:
Random Hall of Fame factoid: Eddie Mathews received 32 percent of the vote his first year on the ballot.
Eddie Mathews. One of the best third basemen to ever play the game. Almost certainly the best third baseman to ever play at the time he was up for a Hall of Fame vote -- Mike Schmidt and George Brett weren't around yet. One of the eight members of the 500-homer club when he retired.
Not a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Was it his quick decline as he kicked around with the Astros and Tigers? Was it the rumor hat he took the missing "T" from his last name, mixed it with ground rhinoceros horn, and concocted some sort of substance that enhanced his performance? Who in their absolute right mind wouldn't vote for Mathews on the first ballot?
Joe Posnanski has a theory about the wackiness of the Hall of Fame, and he calls it the "Parking Lot Power Trip":
Every single year at events like the Indianapolis 500 or the Super Bowl or the World Series (but also at particularly busy high school football game) you see people in orange vests running around the parking lots — people who, just the day before, were as friendly and generous as anyone else — only they have suddenly and temporarily turned into mini-tyrants.
Which is to say that a little responsibility can be as serious as you want to make it, and that over the years, writers have started yelling at players as they try to park their cars. And along the way, they've invented rules and quirks. The idea of a first-ballot guy is one of them.
If Mathews wasn't a first-ballot guy, well, certainly Roberto Alomar and Barry Larkin weren't. And beyond that there's a notion that because Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb weren't unanimously voted in, no one else should be, either.
It's just so danged weird.
Posnanski says this overly protective attitude -- especially as defined with the omnipresent steroid debate -- will all trickle down into ... something. And it won't be what the Vanguards of the Hall of Fame's Integrity have in mind.
More than anything, it could (and probably would) lead to something utterly unexpected.
Worth remembering the next time that you read that Tim Raines shouldn't be eligible for the Hall of Rickey Henderson and Everyone Better because he wasn't better than Rickey Henderson. Hall of Fame voting isn't just a matter of picking the greatest players in history. It's evolved into a kind of Calvinball for writers.