A short history of the no-inductee Hall of Fame ballots from the BBWAA

On Wednesday, the BBWAA did not elect a candidate to the Hall of Fame for the eighth time. Here's a look at the other seven.

Fast forward to Cooperstown in July. One man with a sno-cone stand, syrup dripping down his outstretched hand like a blue tear. A family huddling together, wishing they had brought a blanket. The great-grandson of Deacon White, playing harmonica on stage. A cold wind blows. A wolf howls.

Alright, maybe it's not quite that dramatic. But it is kind of a big deal, the Baseball Writers Association of America not inducting a player into the Hall of Fame. You'll hear or read that this isn't unprecedented, that it's happened seven times before. And that's true. But there is a big difference between the two eras of zero-inductee elections from the BBWAA. Here's a quick look at the two different eras:

Overcrowded ballots and baseball writers are weird

This is the post-WWII era, when the writers didn't induct anyone in five different elections. Those years, along with the number of eventual Hall of Famers on the ballots in those years:

1945 (56 eventual Hall of Famers)
1946 (46)
1950 (50)
1958 (42)
1960 (40)

Loaded ballots, all of them. There are a lot of footnotes. Some of those eventual Hall of Famers were guys like Branch Rickey and Casey Stengel, who weren't close to qualifying because of their playing careers. And there are more than a couple who were eventual Veteran's Committee mistakes, so perhaps they shouldn't count toward a "loaded ballot" claim. And in '45 and '46, there were a total of 20 players inducted by the Old Timers Committee, with five of those players still living.

But in 1945, the writers of the BBWAA could have submitted a ballot with Rube Waddell, Mickey Cochrane, Kid Nichols, Lefty Grove, Charlie Gehringer, Sam Crawford, Carl Hubbell, Eddie Plank, Home Run Baker, and Amos Rusie, and you'd have to leave off Harry Heilmann, Ed Delahanty, Ted Lyons, Dazzy Vance, Bill Dickey, Bill Terry … the list goes on. And I wouldn't have argued vehemently that Rusie needed to go in before Dickey, or vice versa. There were just too many good options, too many directions in which to run with your ballot.

That's one reason for the no-induction BBWAA ballots back then. But another one is that the writers back then were weird. Do you know who was on the ballot in '45? Well, I just mentioned him, but it's worth singling him out. Lefty Grove was on that ballot. Take a spin around Lefty Grove's Baseball Reference page. He led his league in ERA nine times. He led his league in strikeouts the first six years he was in the league. He had 300 wins and a 30-win season. In the fan-based MLB EloRater, he is currently the fourth-best pitcher of all time.

In 1945, he was named on 11.3 percent of the ballots.

What kind of sniff test are you using for the Hall of Fame that makes it okay to not vote for Lefty Grove? Which criteria, what impossible set of standards would your Hall of Fame have to not put Lefty Grove in? No idea. I can't conceive it.

In 1960, Grove received 2.2 percent of the vote. He had been in the Hall of Fame for 13 years. He was on a ballot with Lefty Gomez and Lefty O'Doul, so maybe a few writers scrawled "ALL THE LEFTYS PLEASE" on a square of toilet paper and mailed it in. No idea.

The important part is that baseball writers were weird back then. Which is totally unlike now.

A dearth of great candidates

In 1971, there was an empty class, but only 15 eventual candidates came from the pool. There were a lot of recognizable names -- Yogi Berra, Duke Snider, Richie Ashburn -- but there wasn't an obvious inner-circle guy other than possibly Berra, who caught the wrath of the first-ballot zealots. Seven players that year were inducted by either the Veterans Committee or the Negro League Committee.

In 1996, only six of the players getting a vote eventually got in. And most of those were fringe cases, too. Consider this list of the players who were later elected:

Career WAR:
Phil Niekro, 91
Ron Santo, 67
Don Sutton, 61
Tony Perez, 50
Jim Rice, 44
Bruce Sutter, 23

And let me rejigger it, to make a point:

Career WAR:
Phil Niekro, 91
Ron Santo, 67
Kenny Lofton, 65
Don Sutton, 61
Tony Perez, 50
Jim Rice, 44
Bruce Sutter, 23

I'm all about having a conversation about Kenny Lofton and the Hall of Fame. I think it's a shame that he dropped off the ballot on the first try, like Lou Whitaker. But I don't think Lofton was a guaranteed, had-to-be, no-argument Hall of Famer. Yet he might have been the third-best player on the '96 ballot. (The Veterans Committee inducted two players in '96, with Jim Bunning still alive.)

So now that we have two categories for the no-inductee BBWAA ballots, which one is 2013 going to fall under? I think … and this might be a shock … that when the slow trickle of time carves a canyon into baseball's collective psyche, when all of this hysteria is over, this year could possibly go under the "Overcrowded ballots and baseball writers are weird" category.

Maybe. I mean, I'm just spitballin' here. But there were 11 players I would have voted for this year, along with two more that I would have seriously considered. It was an overstuffed ballot. That, and I think there was something about performance-enhancing dogs, which seems weird now that I think about it, but I don't follow this stuff too closely.

There you have it: the years when no one was worthy of the Hall of Fame, even though there were several people worthy of the Hall of Fame. This year isn't a precedent-setter. In fact, it fits with the weirdest of the bunch, even if there are some different reasons for this year's empty class from the BBWAA.

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