Mike Mussina, the greatest Orioles pitcher of my lifetime, had a Hall of Fame-caliber career and pitched his best years for the Orioles. Eventually, enough Baseball Hall of Fame voters will realize this and there will be a new great Oriole in the Hall for the first time since Cal Ripken's induction in 2007. Unfortunately, it's not looking like this year will be Mussina's year.
Ballots for this year's ceremony had to be postmarked by December 31, 2017. Full results will be revealed on January 24. Hall of Fame votes are limited to members of the Baseball Writers Association of America who have been in for at least ten years. Those who have moved on from covering baseball lose their ballots eventually, though there are at least three Golfers West voters this cycle. That sounds like a joke, but it isn't.
Voters are capped at choosing ten players from a ballot that contains 33 names. Depending on one's standards, that can leave players seen as Hall-worthy off of a ballot that tickets the maximum number of names. Those players who are named on at least 75% of ballots will be inducted. Players fall off the ballot after ten years, or after a year in which they are named on fewer than 5% of ballots.
The process is a complicated one that has, in recent years, left a number of deserving players shy of induction. Mussina is one of these. Though his career statistics show that he was one of the greats of his era and of the game's history, he is still hanging around on the ballot for the fifth time this year.
The good news is that Mussina is heading in the right direction. In 2014, Mussina's first year on the ballot, he was named on just 20.3% of ballots submitted. That's just embarrassing for the collective judgment of the writers. This was followed by an equally-embarrassing (for them) 24.6% in 2015. Mussina made a big jump to 43% in 2016 and up again to 51.8% last year. Now he's getting somewhere.
The pattern is continuing again this year. Though the results won't be announced for a week, votes have been trickling out for a while. These votes are thoroughly tracked by a team led by Ryan Thibodaux, who maintains the Baseball Hall of Fame Tracker. Thanks to his efforts, about 45% of the total ballots have been tracked for this year. The results are a positive for Mussina so far: He's currently sitting at 72.9%.
That's an impressive number, and with a lot of the vote still outstanding, almost makes it seem like he has an outside chance this year. Not so fast on that front, though, because past years have seen Mussina with higher totals now than he ends up receiving in the end.
For some reason, the Baseball Hall of Fame allows its voters to keep ballots private rather than being accountable and announcing all voters and their ballots. It has been demonstrated in recent years that the unaccountable voters support Mussina at much lower rates than do those who are willing to stand behind their votes.
Other players who are on the wrong end of this private ballot problem are Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Edgar Martinez, and Curt Schilling. Martinez, in his ninth year on the ballot, may be getting over the hump this year. The rest will have to wait for next year.
Though the lower support on private ballots will knock down Mussina's final percentage, he's still gaining compared to last year, when he was at 59% in the Tracker before the full results were revealed. According to the Thibodaux-led team, Mussina's at a net +14 in raw vote terms compared to the same voters last year, and he's been named on eight out of the ten first-time voters' ballots.
Those are good signs for Mussina, clear indications that he is trending in the right direction. They just aren't enough to get him in there this year. The only part of the Hall of Fame ceremony that will have anything to do with the Orioles will be the brief Orioles tenures of Vladimir Guerrero and Jim Thome, each of whom is a near-lock for election after being named on more than 90% of the ballots so far.
One problem in Mussina's early years when he was getting less support is that he was sharing the ballot with other great pitchers of his era, whose resumes included the kinds of easily-recognizable markers of quality that wow more traditional voters: 300 career wins, 20-win seasons, Cy Youngs, World Series rings.
In 2014, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine were inducted. In 2015, it was Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz. Those guys are pretty good. So is Mussina! His career bWAR of 82.7 exceeds each of the no-doubter Braves, Glavine and Smoltz, and is less than two shy of what the legendary Martinez racked up. He will get his time.
Maybe that will even be next year. A year from now, the new names joining the ballot are not of the caliber that should take notice away from Mussina. Mariano Rivera is the sort of player who will go in right away, and deservedly so.
Other than him, it's far less compelling. The late Roy Halladay could get support on the basis of his strong peak. Andy Pettitte may have some boosters, but he's nowhere close to Mussina's level.
Along with Guerrero and Thome, Braves great Chipper Jones is waltzing towards election in 2018. Padres save compiler Trevor Hoffman is, like Edgar Martinez, currently above the threshold. If those totals hold, that will lead to a crowded induction weekend this year, but not a crowded 2019 ballot. It could all lead to the group that Mussina needs to allow his achievements to stand out in the eyes of those voters who have missed seeing them so far.
We'll know in a week how high Mussina has climbed towards induction with this year's voting. Hopefully, it's high enough to set him up for a date in Cooperstown next summer. Mussina had a Hall of Fame career. His time will come. The only question is when.