Here’s an only slightly edited version of the emails we exchanged in reaction the Hall’s announcement of its first modern foursome. Actually, we got started a little early….
Election’s Eve, 11:59 PM
ERIC: Can’t sleep! Wired and anxious.
MILLER: You worry too much, it’s bad for your health. RJ and Pedro are mortal locks. So is Smoltz at this point. And Biggio’s support is solidifying just short of 85%. I predicted four plaques, and I’m sure of it now.
ERIC: Smoltz currently has the same percentage of public vote that Robbie Alomar did the year he fell just short. Biggio appears safe but he’s nonetheless fourth in the standings and a four-man result is unprecedented in modern Hall of Fame elections. The Baseball Think Factory Gizmo still shows Piazza above the line, barely, but sliding downward.
MILLER: And the writers have increased their depth of their ballots, so this is not your father’s BBWAA election. Take a Valium. Piazza was extremely unlikely when we wrote our predictions a few weeks ago, so what’s changed?
ERIC: I got all Pollyanna after the first 100 or so ballots showed him over 78%. I’ve been down this road before, why do I always fall for it?
MILLER: Because, like me, you care about the Hall more than is probably good for you. You have this thing about fairness, too.
ERIC: There’s a potential silver bullet, though! The new registration process for voters might decrease the total size of the electorate this year, making Piazza’s total look worse in the Gizmo since it is based on last year’s vote total.
MILLER: I guess it’s possible to squint and see that because the least likely to register are among the majority of undisclosed ballots, and those non-disclosers tend to support all candidates less robustly than disclosers do. Dream on that and get some rest.
Election Day, 1:38 PM
ERIC: I am furiously refreshing the Gizmo every few minutes, er, seconds. Piazza not only still above the line but gained a couple tenths of a point in the last hour!
MILLER: Don’t get your hopes up unless you want them crushed. No Chris Jaffe predictions article this year. It’s a part of the annual tradition, and I miss it.
ERIC: Jaffe has been far more reliable than any other prognosticator. Maybe that’s because he uses actual data instead of intuitions.
MILLER: Latest Gizmo update has Sosa under the 5% line by .1%. McGwire is just 0.9% above it. Man, this is going to be close for those guys.
ERIC: Meanwhile a very serious-minded voter knocked Piazza off his ballot in favor of…Troy Percival??? Now that’s strategic voting.
ERIC: Stomach in knots. Hitting refresh compulsively just in case the Hall’s clock is not synchronized with my computer.
MILLER: Stomach filled with a pleasant lunch, nothing to worry about.
2:00 PM Election announcement time
ERIC: Watching live from work (don’t tell the boss!)… the envelope please…. 549 voters, that’s interesting, okay, here we go… It’s four! You called it long before the Gizmo went up. Congrats!
MILLER: And I wish I had the courage of my convictions regarding Smoltz. I trusted the pundits rather than trusting myself, so I didn’t predict a total of 80%+.
ERIC: Good on the voters for clearing Smoltz out so quickly. Biggio must be incredibly relieved. Randy Johnson is one of my wife’s all-time favorites, and even Yankee fans must be glad for Pedro, one of the most thoughtful, interesting, and dominant players of recent memory. This is a high-quality class of honorees.
MILLER: This is two years in a row when I can say I’m proud of the BBWAA. As maligned as they’ve been in recent years, this year they voted for more than any year since 1955. And they averaged 8.4 per ballot.
I’m super interested in Pedro’s speech and in Unit’s hat. Is he a Mariner or a Diamondback?
ERIC: Two seasons and 200 more innings with the M’s, but he was so much more dominant with the D’Backs (four Cy Young Awards) and pitched them to their 2001 championship. I say Snakes. So we both think the writers did good work this year overall, but there’s still a lot of spit-take, WTF “logic” on display. Especially among the silent majority of voters who did not reveal their ballots.
MILLER: Okay, I’m game if you wanna play the WTF game. As a college prof who teaches logic, I hear lots and lots of stuff that makes no sense, so I’ve learned to explain the illogical.
ERIC: Smoltz 83% vs. Schilling 39% and Mussina 25%?
MILLER: Honestly, this is so, so easy. But first, I’ll say that I rank Schilling #20 ever, Mussina #24 ever, and Smoltz #32 ever. I would absolutely take all three, but I’d take Smoltz third, maybe tied with Mussina for second.
Hall voters love closers. They have no clue how to properly evaluate them. Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter are in? Lee Smith gets 30%? Troy Percival gets four votes? Writers love saves. It’s not much deeper than that, so I don’t understand why people are so surprised by the disparity in their vote totals.
I could say more. Schilling wasn’t great until he was older. Mussina never won a Cy, had a losing record in the playoffs, and never won a World Series.
And then there’s this thing called the cheerleader effect. It’s when people look more attractive in a group than by themselves. Want to know why Smoltz looked so attractive to voters? He has two groups. One is Maddux and Glavine. The other is Eck. All Hall of Famers.
ERIC: Yes, I see what you mean about the voters being like eighteen-year-olds taking a logic class for the first time…. How about 37.5% for Clemens but 36.8% for Bonds?
MILLER: Yeah, there’s no excuse here. People must be insane. Vote for both. If you super hate PEDs, vote for neither. But how can you possibly vote for one and not the other?
ERIC: Oh good, I thought I was the one who was insane.
MILLER: Well, maybe, but remember thinking along with crazy people can only make you crazy. OK, now one for you. You like voter conspiracy theories: What’s with the nonpublic voters coming in lower than the public voters for the top-of-the-ballot steroids-era guys but coming in higher for the low-end candidates?
ERIC: Let’s see, which makes the best copy…. Random variation over the lower vote totals? Meh. I know: tactical voting! Yes, the nonpublic voters didn’t go public because they didn’t want it known that they’d tossed Pedro, Piazza, Raines, and/or Bagwell off their slate so that they could ensure that the bottom-barrel players stayed around for another year. That’s the ticket!
Now, like Columbo, I’ve got just one more question for you, sir. Nonpublic voters didn’t support top-level steroids-era guys as strongly as the public voters. They supported non-steroids guy Lee Smith (and his saves!) 70% more than the public voters. They supported non-steroids guy Alan Trammell 14% more than the public guys. So why did non-steroid guy Tim Raines do 13% worse among nonpublic ballots?
MILLER: No matter how you slice it, he’s not Rickey Henderson. More than that, voters have a tough time seeing the value in Raines. He didn’t set a stolen base record like Brock. He didn’t win batting titles like Gwynn. He didn’t have any power. He didn’t reach 3,000 hits. He didn’t ever enter the MVP conversation. He wasn’t one of the dozen best players on his only World Series team.
To vote for Raines, you have to understand baseball. Lots of voters don’t.
ERIC: The room. It’s starting to go swimmy…oh, the colors!
MILLER: But the voters are getting there—for Raines, Bagwell, and especially Piazza. Fourth time’s a charm for Piazza next year?
ERIC: Hard to say with Piazza. Larkin and Sandberg went gangbusters in their final years on the ballot and went from under 65% to election in thin years for top newbies. Piazza’s fellow backstop Gary Carter went more slowly. I’m confident Piazza will go in by 2017, but he might be taking the Biggio path to get there. I don’t know if I’m ready for another 74.8% vote. Anyway, much depends upon whether the voters contract their ballots back to pre-2014 levels. If so, I’m not sanguine about anyone’s chances next year except for Griffey’s. Bagwell has a solid base, but he’s stalling out in the Hodges zone. Schilling is set up to make a long-term run, but is no threat for 2016. Worst of all, the clock runs out on Raines in 2017, and unless someone mounts one hell of a campaign for him for 2016, he’s looking like a long shot to get in before he goes into VC limbo. In case anyone would like to mount such a campaign, the BBWAA published the names of 549 all Hall voters this year, so get crackin’!
MILLER: And lastly, the most important question of all….
ERIC: Did either of us win the Courtesy-Vote Challenge!
MILLER: No, we didn’t. Your guy, Aaron F. Boone, did get one more than my guy, The Punter.
ERIC: But neither of them could top Troy Percival’s 4 votes. Four!?!?!?!?!?
MILLER: See, man, it’s all about the saves.