Former Orioles ace Mike Mussina continued to move closer to the 75 percent voting threshold needed to earn election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He received 51.8 percent in his fourth year on the ballot.
Mussina garnered 30 more votes than last year, when he received just 43 percent. That's a pretty dramatic increase over one year.
He now ranks sixth among those who will return to the ballot in 2018, trailing Trevor Hoffman (74 percent), Vladimir Guerrero (71.7), Edgar Martinez (58.6), Roger Clemens (54.1) and Barry Bonds (53.8).
If Martinez continues to trend upward approaching his final two seasons on the ballot, much like Tim Raines did, all five of the players ahead of Mussina appear to eventually heading to the Hall of Fame.
Having said that, next year's ballot includes first-timers Chipper Jones and Jim Thome, who both have the credentials to be voted in during their first year of eligibility.
It is significant that Mussina passed Curt Schilling, who received 31 fewer votes this year and took in just 45 percent, a clear sign that Schilling's support fell after a year in which he made a series of controversial comments, including one supporting the lynching of journalists.
When Mussina first appeared on the ballot in 2014 and received just 20.3 percent of the vote, the biggest question was whether he could emerge from a crowded group of Hall of Fame contenders by the time his 10 years of eligibility were exhausted.
But with three players going in this year – Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez – there have been 12 players elected over the past four years. So the field is much less cluttered, which favors Mussina.
Mussina has six more years on the ballot, and essentially has 103 votes to make up in that span. The fact that he has added 113 over the past three years indicates that he's well on his way, possibly by 2020.
The question now is whether Mussina's momentum will continue to be roadblocked by the growing approval of Clemens and Bonds, who are just ahead of him in the voting. Those two players' paths to Cooperstown has been delayed by connections to performance-enhancing drugs.
Both Clemens and Bonds have five years of eligibility remaining, so they have time to continue to build up support. And after Jones and Thome join the ballot next year, Mariano Rivera is the only surefire Hall of Famer to join in 2019 before Derek Jeter is eligible in 2020.
That should also help Mussina moving forward, regardless of where Bonds and Clemens end up, especially if multiple players continue to be voted in at the current pace.
Mussina still has some time to wait, but it's looking more and more likely that he will receive a call from Cooperstown.