For 82 years, the Baseball Hall of Fame existed without a unanimous inductee. All of the game’s eligible greats, from Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth to Willie Mays and Hank Aaron to Cal Ripken Jr. and Ken Griffey Jr., failed to garner 100% of the vote from the Baseball Writers’ Assn. of America. It was a stubborn tradition born and sustained without reason. On Tuesday, it finally ended.
Mariano Rivera became the first player unanimously voted into the Hall, receiving a vote on all 425 ballots cast. Edgar Martinez, Roy Halladay, and Mike Mussina were also elected. The four men will join Harold Baines and Lee Smith, who were selected last month by the Today’s Game Era Committee, for enshrinement in Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 21.
“Wearing No. 42, representing Jackie Robinson, I assume he was the first No. 42 elected,” Rivera said on a conference call. “To be the last No. 42 elected to the Hall of Fame, and unanimously, is amazing.”
Curt Schilling, whose post-career controversies have damaged his candidacy, finished with 60.9% of the vote in his seventh year on the ballot and is trending toward an eventual election. Roger Clemens (59.5%) and Barry Bonds (59.1%) each collected a few more votes this year, but their suspected performance-enhancing drug use remains an obstacle to their election. Both have three years left on the ballot. Fred McGriff’s support jumped to 39.8% in his final year on the ballot. His fate will be up to the Veterans Committee.
Rivera’s unanimous entry comes three years after Griffey set the record with 99.3% of the vote. Regarded as the best reliever of all time, Rivera was converted after a poor rookie season as a starter. He went on to save a record 652 games in 19 seasons with the New York Yankees and had a 2.21 earned-run average.
A 13-time All-Star, Rivera was even better in the postseason, where he had an 0.70 ERA, 42 saves, and surrendered two home runs to the 527 batters he faced across 141 innings in 96 appearances. The Yankees won five World Series titles with him as closer and he was selected most valuable player of the 1999 Series.
Martinez received 85.4% of the vote in his 10th and final year on the BBWAA ballot. In 18 seasons with the Seattle Mariners, Martinez batted .312 with 309 home runs, serving primarily as a designated hitter after not becoming a full-time starter in the majors until his age-27 campaign in 1990. He won two batting titles, led the American League in on-base percentage three times, and accumulated more walks than strikeouts in 10 seasons. He is one of six players who began their careers after World War II to retire with a .300 batting average, .400 OBP and .500 slugging percentage.
“I've enjoyed it more at this point with my family, the way my kids are older now and it just has a lot of meaning, even more meaning now,” Martinez said on a conference call. “The wait, actually it worked out well for me.”
Halladay, who died in a plane crash in November 2017, also received 85.4% of the vote in his first year on the ballot. The right-hander finished with 203 victories, a 3.38 ERA and two Cy Young awards in 16 seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies. He amassed 67 complete games, and his 27 complete games since the start of the 2009 season are still the most in baseball.
Halladay is the first player elected on the first ballot posthumously since Christy Mathewson in 1936; Roberto Clemente was elected by a special election in 1973 after his death Dec. 31, 1972.
“To stand on that stage in Cooperstown and deliver your acceptance speech in front of baseball’s most enthusiastic fans is something that every baseball player aspires to achieve, and Roy was no exception . … His goal was to be successful every single day of his 16-year career. Tonight’s announcement is the end result of that effort. If only Roy were here to personally express his gratitude for this honor, what an even more amazing day this would be,” Halladay’s widow, Brandy, said in a statement.
Mussina squeaked past the 75% threshold required for induction, garnering 76.7% of the vote in his sixth year on the ballot after getting only 20.3% in his first ballot in 2014.
While Halladay’s peak was dominant, Mussina was deemed worthy for inclusion for his high-end longevity. The right-hander accumulated double-digit victories in each of his final 17 seasons, finishing with 270 victories in 18 campaigns with the Baltimore Orioles and Yankees. He didn’t win 20 games until his final season and never won a Cy Young Award, but he was a five-time All-Star, won seven Gold Gloves, and compiled a 3.68 ERA during the steroid era in baseball’s toughest division.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.