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Early returns in Hall of Fame voting finally encouraging for Tim Raines

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Public ballots giving former White Sox table-setter the cushion he’ll need to gain entry in final year

TIM RAINES WHITE SOX

Last year, the White Sox tallied another “Chicago, A.L.” on a Hall of Fame plaque. Sure, it was Ken Griffey Jr., who played only 41 of his 2,671 MLB games in Chicago, but it counts nevertheless.

Tim Raines could make it two years in a row, and the White Sox shouldn’t feel nearly as sheepish about this Cooperstown celebration.

Raines, who scored runs by the bunches as a table-setter for the powerhouse White Sox offenses of the early 1990s, is on pace to clear the 75-percent bar needed for his induction in his 10th and final year of eligibility. Ryan Thibodaux’s ballot tracker has Raines’ name on 88 percent of the 74 ballots made available to him thus far, which is the kind of number history says he needs to start feeling confident about his chances.

Last year, Raines reached striking distance of induction by amassing 69.8 percent of the vote in his ninth try. It registered as a disappointment among his supporters for a number of reasons, most obviously because he didn’t even crack 70 percent and only has one more year remaining on the ballot.

Drilling down, the 69.8 percent was once again significantly lower than the public-ballot percentage. Raines cleared the bar on public ballots submitted before the announcement (75.4 percent), but he ran considerably lower on ballots that did not find an audience (59.2 percent).

This has long been a pattern for Raines, whose base among the electorate is generally active enough in modern baseball to share a ballot, whether on a beat, in a column or via social media. The ones who might not be as engaged are the ones who aren’t as impressed by his case, and so his return on private votes always drags down his overall total.

This being the history, Raines has to outperform the threshold by a comfortable margin on public ballots before anybody can feel particularly comfortable about the likelihood that he sneaks in on his final year. That’s why 69.8 percent could be construed as a blow, because a new 6 percent can’t be taken as a given.

Yet that 69.8 percent also bore good news, as his proximity to the 75-percent bar alone should allow him to gain voters. There’s a small-but-measurable component of the electorate that jumps on the bandwagons at the last minute. Sometimes it’s an earnest conversion, sometimes it’s a guilt-avoidance mechanism (wouldn’t it suck to be the one vote missing?), and sometimes it’s to get a king-maker’s rush (some voters use ballots as a prediction), but all of those elements work in Raines’ favor this time around. Plus, there aren’t any lead-pipe-lock first-balloters that make Raines look less worthy by direct comparison.

Voters have until Dec. 31 to submit their choices, and the Class of 2017 won’t be announced until Jan. 18, so ample time remains for ballots to trickle into Thibs’ tracker. I hope for Raines’ sake that they keep including his name on seven of every eight.

Going back to the point about the first-ballot candidates, Cooperstown will eventually add a couple of the new guys. They just aren’t being received in the same fashion as Ken Griffey Jr., Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Randy Johnson and other superstars of recent classes.

  • Ivan Rodriguez: 83.8 percent
  • Vladimir Guerrero: 71.6 percent
  • Manny Ramirez: 35.1 percent

Even if Rodriguez’s public count is hampered by modern-era suspicions or first-ballot bias, he’s still in good shape to gain entry in his first year. Guerrero might have to wait a turn — or two, since Chipper Jones and Jim Thome headline a strong new crop in 2018 — but Guerrero likely won’t have to suffer the slow track like Raines has.

Ramirez’s vote total is a little surprising in the context of other known or strongly alleged PED users, and you’ll see what I mean when looking at the list of biggest vote surges:

  • Roger Clemens: 19.6 percent
  • Barry Bonds: 19.1 percent
  • Edgar Martinez: 18.8 percent
  • Trevor Hoffman: 13.5 percent
  • Jeff Bagwell: 12.8 percent
  • Mike Mussina: 10.6 percent

Bonds and Clemens are getting 70 percent of the public vote, and it’s possible that they’re benefiting from Bud Selig sailing into the Hall of Fame at the winter meetings. Either people are noticing that it isn’t fair to laud the commissioner who benefited from the era without rewarding some of the stars who made the league so successful during his reign, or Selig’s election finally gives them the cover to voice their support with reduced backlash.

(Ramirez, on the other hand, failed multiple drug tests after the league started cracking down on them, which strikes me like a more logical line of demarcation. It seems weird that voters should be tasked with caring about PED use more than the commissioner did.)

Selig’s induction may also reach the cases of Bagwell and Rodriguez. Both players have long been circumstantially suspected of PED use without having anything resembling hard evidence to support it. Voters may be tired of pretending to be forensics experts.

Martinez and Hoffman are seeing continuations of traditional climbs, although the designated hitter (eighth year, 66 percent) is much nearer to the end than the closer (77 percent, second year). Alas, Martinez’s ceiling might be further fixed by Thome and Jones. Hoffman’s case doesn’t inspire me, mostly due to his lackluster record in big games, but he is the all-time saves leader, and Mariano Rivera isn’t yet eligible.

That leaves Mussina, whose 10.6-percent gain in public ballots might be correlated to Curt Schilling’s 11.6-percent decrease. Both deserve entry in my book, and I don’t think the latter should fall off a ballot because of his political views (more specifically, the ugly ways he expresses them). However, the hard 10-player limit makes it possible to exercise reasonable exclusion. For instance, if you’re maxing out your ballot and only have one spot left for three equal candidates, you might avoid the one who has spent the last year airing all sorts of non-trivial hostilities.