The national buzz surrounding Wednesday’s 2 p.m. Hall of Fame announcement centers on whether the Baseball Writers’ Association of America will elect someone — or several players — this year after swinging and missing in 2013.
The best sense is yes, considering the influx of impressive first-year candidates, such as pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and slugger Frank Thomas, as well as solid holdovers Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza and Jack Morris, among others.
For Orioles fans, though, the intrigue surrounds two players who almost assuredly won’t be named on the required 75 percent of submitted ballots: starting pitcher Mike Mussina and first baseman Rafael Palmeiro.
Mussina, who was the Orioles’ most consistently excellent pitcher of the past three decades, is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time.
Palmeiro, whose tremendously steady career was overshadowed by a failed drug test in 2005, may be on the ballot for the final time.
Palmeiro is one of only four players in baseball history to surpass both the 500-home run and 3,000-hit milestones. But he’s also the only one on the ballot to be suspended by Major League Baseball for failing a performance-enhancing drug test.
Consequently, he received just 50 of 569 votes last year in his third year of eligibility. That is just 8.8 percent of the ballots submitted. To stay on the ballot for up to 15 years, a player must receive at least 5 percent each year.
With a backlog of qualified candidates due to the question about PED use and a limit of only 10 votes per ballot, baseball writers throughout the country have complained about being forced to drop deserving players from their ballot.
Palmeiro could become the biggest casualty of the crowded ballot due to the built-in excuse for his exclusion with the failed drug test.
If the polling of ESPN’s eligible Hall of Fame voters is any indication, it’s going to come down to the wire for Palmeiro.
Of the 17 ESPN voters who submitted ballots, only one — the company’s current senior baseball writer and former Baltimore Sun Orioles beat reporter Buster Olney — voted for Palmeiro. That represents 5.9 percent of the votes, which would keep Palmeiro on the ballot for next year if that small sampling is indicative of the full balloting.
The ESPN voters included Mussina on four of the 17 ballots — 23.5 percent. The right-hander, who won a combined 270 games for the Orioles and New York Yankees, also likely will be a victim of the crowded ballot and the belief that only extraordinary candidates should be inducted in their first year of eligibility.
In comparison, former Orioles right-hander Curt Schilling received seven votes from the ESPN panel and was named on 38.8 percent of Hall of Fame ballots last year in his first year of eligibility.
Other former Orioles who appear on the ballot include outfielders Tim Raines and Sammy Sosa and relievers Lee Smith, Armando Benitez and Mike Timlin.
Raines finished fifth overall in last year’s voting with 52.2 percent, and Smith was sixth with 47.8 percent. Sosa had 12.5 percent, the second-lowest total for returning candidates besides Palmeiro.
Benitez and Timlin are first-year candidates and aren’t expected to receive the five percent needed to stay on the ballot for 2015.