A period of rapid expansion to the membership rolls of the Baseball Hall of Fame continued Wednesday with the election of four new members. Third baseman Chipper Jones and first baseman Jim Thome, elected on their first appearances on the ballot, will be joined by right fielder Vladimir Guerrero and closer Trevor Hoffman when the Class of 2018 is inducted this summer in Cooperstown.
Jones, the switch-hitting slugger who was part of 11 straight division champions with the Atlanta Braves, led all vote-getters in balloting by 10-year members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, with 410 votes out of 422 cast, or 97.2 percent. To earn election, a player must be named on at least 75 percent of ballots. Jones was followed by Guerrero at 92.9 percent, Thome at 89.8 and Hoffman at 79.9.
The four-player class voted into Cooperstown by the writers ties the Class of 2015 as the biggest such group in the past 60 years. Only the inaugural Class of 1936 — Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson and Ty Cobb — was bigger.
With Jack Morris and Alan Trammell elected last month by the Eras Committee (formerly known as the Veterans Committee) — which considers candidates rejected by the writers — it will make for an extra-long induction ceremony on the afternoon of July 29 at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown.
While there is still no firm consensus on how to deal with players tainted by performance-enhancing drugs — slugger Barry Bonds (56.4 percent) and ace Roger Clemens (57.3), among the best at their crafts in the game's history, gained slightly this year, but still fell significantly short of election — the current group of voters has embraced the notion of a large, inclusive Hall of Fame, as opposed to a smaller, more exclusive one.
Wednesday's results brings to 16 the number of players elected to Cooperstown by the writers since 2014, by far the most of any five-year span in the 82-year history of the writers' vote, and follows on the heels of a six-year span from 2008 to 2013 when only seven players earned election. (The Washington Post does not permit its employees to vote.)
Jones, considered among the handful of greatest switch-hitters and third basemen in history, threatened but failed to equal Ken Griffey Jr.'s record for the largest percentage of "yes" votes; Griffey was named on 99.3 percent of ballots in 2016.
That may have been at least partly the result of a perceived backlog of candidates, created by the slow acceptance of PED-stained players — keeping them on the ballot for up to 10 years — and the 10-player limit the Hall of Fame imposes upon individual voters. Many voters expressed frustration with the 10-player rule, and some may have left Jones off their ballots to spread their votes around to players who needed them more.
Thome, eighth on the all-time home run list with 612, also sailed in on his first appearance on the ballot, while Guerrero was on his second try, and Hoffman, who fell four votes shy in 2017, on his third.
Edgar Martinez, seeking to become the first primary designated hitter in Cooperstown, fell just shy in his ninth year on the ballot, being named on 70.4 percent, but putting himself in position to make the cut in 2019.
Other candidates, while falling short this year, positioned themselves for election on future ballots. Mike Mussina, the longtime Baltimore Orioles ace who finished his career with the New York Yankees, was named on 63.5 percent of ballots.
Two other sluggers tainted by failed PED tests — Manny Ramirez and Sammy Sosa — remained far below the levels of support their career records would otherwise warrant.
The rancorous PED issue has been dividing voters for more than a decade now — Mark McGwire, who first appeared on the ballot in 2007, never got above 25 percent in 10 years of consideration, and Rafael Palmeiro fell off the ballot after four tries when his support fell below five percent — and it won't be going away any time soon. Bonds and Clemens will be on the ballot for four more years, and could eventually gain election if their support continues to grow, while Alex Rodriguez, another steroids-tainted slugger, hits the ballot for the first time in 2022.
The 2019 ballot, meantime, will be headed by New York Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera, universally regarded as the greatest closer in history, and two-time Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay, who died two months ago when the private airplane he was piloting crashed off the coast of Florida.