Hall of Fame: Cubs’ Edition

With the announcement of newly elected Hall of Fame selectees Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Craig Biggio, and John Smoltz, media attention will focus deservedly on these great baseball players. Here, however, we prefer to concentrate on Cubs’ players (great or otherwise). For an overview of Hall of Fame election rules look here.

Recent past:
Over the past few years, the Cubs have had a number of former players inducted into the Hall of Fame. Last year, Greg Maddux was a near unanimous selection. Former Cubs’ infielder Tony La Russa also received Hall induction in 2014. In 2012, Ron Santo finally made the Hall of Fame in shamefully overdue fashion following his death. Prior to that, Andre “the Hawk” Dawson got the Hall call in 2010. One-time Cubs’ closer Rich Gossage made the Hall of Fame in 2008 and Bruce Sutter received admission in 2006. While Cubs’ players have fared much better in even numbered years, Ryne Sandberg was elected in 2005. Dennis Eckersley joined the Hall of Fame in 2004 to round out an active Hall of Fame decade for former Cubs. Looking forward, however, things appear dim for former Cubs’ players.

2015 Cubs’ candidates:
In this year’s election, former Cubs’ “greats” Tom Gordon and Cliff Floyd failed to receive the required 5% of the vote to remain on the ballot for next season. While neither player likely expected to be elected to the Hall of Fame, the 2015 vote seals the deal. Two other Cubs, Sammy Sosa and Nomar Garciapara received just enough votes to remain on next years’ ballot. At only 5.5% of the vote, Garciapara’s candidacy teeters on the edge. Sosa’s vote total also places him in danger of being removed from the ballot- a thought inconceivable ten years ago. Worse yet, Sosa’s percentage of the vote has fallen from his 2013 debut of 12.5%, to 7.2% last season, to now just 6.6%. Both players run the risk next year of joining Rafael Palmeiro in the category of prematurely ended Hall of Fame candidacies. Even Fred McGriff with 12.9% of the vote outpaced Nomar and Sammy in this season’s vote. For an analysis of Sosa’s candidacy, look here. McGriff’s Hall of Fame outlook is here. Finally, the top Cubs’ vote getter in 2015 was long-time closer Lee Smith. In his thirteenth year on the ballot, Smith garnered 30.2% of the vote – just 45% shy of the necessary total needed for election. Unfortunately, Smith’s candidacy peaked in 2012 when he was named on over 50% of ballots cast. The recent trend downward for Smith is foreboding as he has but two more years on the ballot until his fifteen years are up. A discussion of Smith’s chances can be found here.

The future:
In 2016, both Sosa and Garciapara will face the challenge of obtaining the necessary 5% of the Hall of Fame vote to remain on the ballot. McGriff, on the other hand, likely will hover around low double digits in the vote percentage – enough to keep his name on the ballot, but nowhere near enough to make him a viable Hall candidate. Smith may see a bump in his Hall of Fame vote as he approaches years fourteen and fifteen. Often players receive a spike in votes as they reach the end of their fifteen-year period of eligibility (see Jack Morris). Next year, Smith will need a significant increase in support based on his poor showing in 2015.

In addition to former Cubs currently under consideration, newcomers to the ballot in 2016 include Mark Grudzielanek, Jim Edmonds, and Bob Howry. From this list, only Edmonds appears to have even a chance of meeting the 5% minimum to remain on the ballot for future years. If you are looking two years ahead, Derrek Lee becomes eligible for election in 2017.

Realistically, the Cubs do not have any former players with good chances of Hall of Fame selection anytime soon. Nonetheless, with four players selected to the Hall in 2015 and a relatively weak class of newcomers (basically just Ken Griffey Jr.), Hall of Fame voters may have less crowded ballots next year. This could spell good news for two Cubs in particular. Perhaps Sosa will garner enough votes to sustain his candidacy. For Sosa, the name of the game is remaining on the ballot while better players known to have used performance enhancing drugs (such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens) are chosen for the Hall. Once these players are elected, it will become more difficult to exclude the next tier of players with checkered pasts – such as Sosa. This strategy is by no means a guarantee for Sosa, but frankly it is all he has at this point. In addition to Sosa’s rope-a-dope strategy, voters may take a second look at Smith. After all, Smith received over 50% of the voter just three years ago and he has not allowed even a single runner to score since that time. As the third all-time saves leader (behind only Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera), Smith helped to revolutionize the modern closer position. One word of caution though, with a strong list of candidates in 2017, next year might be Smith’s best shot at election.

Photo: Village of Cooperstown / Chris Evans / CC BY-SA 2.0 / Alteration: Cropped