The next Oriole to make it into the Baseball Hall of Fame may not be as far away as it once looked. The year 2016 won't be the year for Mike Mussina to get his induction, but he has made such significant gains over last year in the early returns on voting that his prospects are looking a lot brighter than they did at any time before right now.
Athletics fan Ryan Thibodaux keeps track of the scattered columns and tweets where Hall of Fame voters reveal their choices ahead of the Wednesday announcement of the results. You can view his Hall of Fame ballot tracker for yourself here. As of this writing, with 141 ballots revealed out of an expected 450 voters, Mussina has received votes on 56% of ballots. That's a big jump compared to the 24.6% he received last year, though still a long way from the 75% he needs to be inducted.
For the most part, Hall of Fame voting is done by balloting among 10+ year members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, who have been active within the past ten years. That second part is a new change for this year, as previously voters held votes for life, even long after they had stopped covering baseball. Some publications don't allow their writers to vote. This includes The Baltimore Sun, so longtime O's columnist Peter Schmuck has to sit out all of this.
Each voter can pick up to ten players on his or her ballot. Some vote for fewer than the maximum, even drastically fewer. Railing against bad Hall of Fame ballots has become something of a blogging/Twitter cottage industry at this time of the offseason. One voter submitted a ballot voting for only Ken Griffey Jr., who is a unanimous selection thus far. Another voted for only Griffey and long-time Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell; probably not coincidentally, this is a Texas-based writer. There are many others, good and bad.
This is Mussina's third year on the ballot. He will get up to ten years to be elected. Previously, this was up to 15 years, but the Hall of Fame chose to reduce that to ten. There are a couple of remaining players with 15 year limits grandfathered in, including Alan Trammell in his final year, and Lee Smith in his 14th year. Players are kicked off of the ballot after receiving fewer than 5% of votes - not much danger for that for Mussina.
The two previous years Mussina was on the ballot saw him receive 20.3% and then 24.6%. Why the big jump this year? The reason for that is not too hard to discern. The past two years have seen five legendary pitchers from Mussina's era inducted. That was Braves tandem Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine in 2014, and the trio of Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz last year.
Mussina's many accomplishments simply don't look as great compared to names like that, although as I have written in the past, on an individual level, his performance was equal to or greater than that of a no-doubt Hall of Famer like Glavine. But Glavine got inducted in his first year and Mussina faces an uphill battle - less of a hill than before, but still a hill - because some writers simply haven't bothered to examine his career yet.
Perhaps now many are starting to do so. Mussina has gained the most votes from the past year out of everyone returning to the ballot. A total of 23 people, so far, who did not vote for Mussina last year have changed their minds and added him to their ballots. That's a significant chunk of the electorate.
Based on previous year's patterns, Mussina's final vote total will probably end up being about 50%. The public/non-public drop-off has been well documented among the HOF voting observers like Thibodaux. The tendency is for those who hide their ballots to represent, ahem, a less enlightened point of view, generally speaking. Mussina, along with Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, and Curt Schilling, have all seen their vote totals drop 5-6% when factoring in non-public ballots.
Three out of those five players may get inducted this year. Along with the so-far-unanimous Griffey, Piazza is at 87.2%, Bagwell is at 81.6%, and Raines has 80.1%. With those latter two tending to lose some support, it'll be close for them and they may come up short once again. That's still better than last year for Bagwell and Raines, who had about 60% support. Raines is in his ninth year on the ballot. He'll be the first player to be affected by the new limit of 10 years, making 2017 his final year.
Where does it all leave Mussina going forward? Anyone getting inducted ahead of him helps. To some extent, he may be seen by some voters as the 11th best player and they can only vote for 10. The BBWAA asked to have the limit increased to 12 or more; this was denied by the Hall of Fame. That's another story.
So if Bagwell and/or Raines make it this year, that is a positive for a similar reason that Mussina's vote total likely went up this year after the likes of Martinez, Johnson, and Maddux were cleared away.
Another helpful thing for Mussina is that there are no new pitchers anywhere near his caliber entering next year's ballot. The best-looking career of the bunch belongs to Javier Vazquez, and if you look at his career stats: Nope. Tim Wakefield will also be eligible for the first time and some dopes will probably vote for him because knuckleball and/or Red Sox, but again, that's not serious competition for Mussina. The more attention Mussina can get, the better it is for his chances.
New position player arrivals next year also don't figure to push him off of crowded ballots. Ivan Rodriguez is probably a no-doubter. Manny Ramirez is probably a no-chancer given the prevailing opinion about anyone who might have taken steroids - and Ramirez, of course, is one of a few players to ever test positive and be suspended twice. Former Oriole Vladimir Guerrero joins the party as well.
Not counting Mussina, I guessed last summer that the next Hall of Fame Oriole could end up being manager Buck Showalter in 2026. The encouraging gains for Mussina this year mean O's fans shouldn't have to wait quite that long for a stake in the annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony. It just won't be coming this year.