If baseball fans can agree on one thing regarding the Hall of Fame — a big if, granted — it’s that it’s really difficult for a candidate to gain enshrinement via the writers’ ballot.
Since voting began in 1933, only 124 players have achieved the 75 percent threshold required for election. That’s fewer than two per year, and it sets up the possibility of no new faces showing up for induction weekend except distant relatives of the dead.
Cooperstown’s version of “Amityville Horror” has occurred eight times, most recently four years ago. Instead of celebrating the likes of Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza, who ended up surviving subsequent elections, the Class of 2013 was a veterans’ committee trio consisting of early 20th century umpire Hank O’Day, Jacob Ruppert (who bought the Yankees in 1915) and 19th century star Deacon White.
The usual throng of Hall of Famers returned for the Saturday night parade down Main Street, but when the only player represented during the Sunday afternoon induction ceremony is a first baseman who retired from the Buffalo Bisons in 1890, it’s a buzzkill.
No such disappointment awaits this summer. The Hall class of 2017 will send three inductees, presumably alive, to Cooperstown: first baseman Jeff Bagwell, left fielder Tim Raines and catcher Ivan Rodriguez.
Relief pitcher Trevor Hoffman finished five votes short of joining them, but Hoffman isn’t the type to mourn close defeats — he was, after all, a closer — and he’s got eight years of eligibility remaining.
Eligibility is more problematic for Edgar Martinez, but he knows what he did, and what he did was enough for Seattle to rename the street directly south of Safeco Field “Edgar Martinez Drive.”
Never ruffled by an 0-2 count, Martinez doesn’t figure to lose much sleep over his 58.6 percent total — a healthy jump from the 43.4 percent he drew a year ago, but something of a disappointment for Mariners fans. Early tracking numbers had the two-time AL batting champ at 66 percent, making a push before his name is removed from the ballot in 2019.
Think Russia was involved?
For those worried that Edgar’s candidacy is running out of time, Raines’ election on Wednesday provides optimism. Widely acknowledged as the second-best leadoff hitter of all time — behind the one and only Rickey Henderson — Raines’ debut vote total on the 2008 ballot was 24.3 percent. He lost ground in 2009, seemingly destined to be recalled as a mesmerizing talent with a complicated history.
As Raines was revealing himself to be a breakout star with the Montreal Expos, he got caught up in the early 1980s party culture of North America’s hardest-partying city. Raines’ cocaine dependence was so severe, he changed his sliding style into a head-first approach that preserved the vial of drugs in the back pocket of his uniform pants.
Recovery at a treatment center was one option. Another was snorting his way into oblivion. Raines chose the former and ended up with a 23-season career notable for the 808 bases he stole at an 84.6-percent success rate.
Voters prone to degrade Raines’ on-the-field accomplishments because of his off-the-field behavior gradually came to grasp the saga of a kid tempted with too much, too soon.
His Hall of Fame candidacy gained momentum, reaching 30 percent in 2010, 55 percent in 2015, 69.8 percent in 2016 and then, on his final appearance on the ballot, 86 percent.
“I’m a happy young man,” Raines, 57, told MLB Network after learning of his induction. “I didn’t even think about what happened the last nine years. I’m kind of looking forward. I got what I was looking for.”
So is Cooperstown, which will serve as host for Houston Astros fans traveling to New York to cheer on Bagwell, and Texas Rangers fans traveling to New York to cheer on Rodriguez, and however many Montreal Expos fans remain to cheer on Raines.
Enshrining three players off one ballot will be much different from the way it was in 1971, when nobody reached 75 percent. The closest was Yogi Berra, an 18-time All-Star who participated in the D-Day invasion that enabled the Allies to liberate France from the Nazis.
An essential cog of 10 Yankees championship teams — a veteran of the bloodiest combat of the bloodiest war in the history of mankind — and in his first year of Hall eligibility, Berra was named on a mere 67.2 percent of the ballots.
I can’t explain why my predecessors in the Baseball Writers Association of America were so tone deaf in 1971. What I do know is that on Wednesday, three more candidates were admitted into a club so exclusive, it denied Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Henry Aaron unanimity.
I call that progress, something future Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez might think about the next time he steers his car onto Edgar Martinez Drive.
John McGrath: @TNTMcGrath