When we talk about the controversial 5% rule on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, we often do it in the context of discussing how a player who ultimately got elected to Cooperstown almost fell off the ballot altogether early on.
However, there's a group of former star players worthy of a long look that failed to garner 5% of votes in their first year on the ballot, knocking them out of consideration among BBWAA voters permanently.
At the forefront of that list may be six-time All-Star outfielder Kenny Lofton, who garnered just 3.2% of the vote in 2013, knocking him off the ballot as he failed to meet the 5% threshold needed to return to the ballot the next year.
In a 17-year career that saw him play for 11 different organizations -- most notably having three stints with the Cleveland franchise -- Lofton accumulated 2,428 hits. He won four Gold Glove Awards. He stole 622 bases, which is 15th all time. He hit .300 or better in eight different seasons, finishing his career with a .299 batting average.
What's more, advanced numbers that weren't really a consideration during the time that Lofton was playing may paint an even better picture than his back-of-the-baseball-card numbers did.
Between 1992 and 1999, FanGraphs says that Lofton's 43.3 fWAR was seventh among all position players, topping the likes of Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Larry Walker and Roberto Alomar.
Lofton's WAR 7 -- a statistic that takes a player's seven best single-season bWAR totals and combines them to give you an idea of how good of a peak he had -- was 43.4. The WAR 7 of the average Hall of Fame center fielder is 44.7, so Lofton falls just a bit shy there. But his WAR 7 is 12th in MLB history among center fielders, and tops Hall of Famers like Kirby Puckett and Larry Doby.
There can be further debate had on Lofton's Hall of Fame credentials. Clearly, his numbers don't compare to the inner-circle players at that position, such as Willie Mays, Mike Trout and Mickey Mantle. But are his numbers good enough that he at least was worth staying on the ballot for a second year? Absolutely.
Some voters would point to Lofton and say that it means that the 5% threshold should be eliminated or reformed. But every year, there are players who played a decade or more and deserve to appear on the ballot once, but clearly aren't Hall of Famers and should be removed the following year if they don't have any realistic case for Cooperstown.
The bigger issue is that voters are limited to being able to vote for a maximum of 10 candidates each year. In some years, 10 is more than enough. But in 2013, Lofton was on the ballot with nine players who have been elected in the years since; Craig Biggio, Jack Morris, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Lee Smith, Edgar Martinez, Alan Trammell and the aforementioned Walker. That says nothing of Palmeiro, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy and Sammy Sosa, all of whom also appeared on the ballot that year.
If not for Lofton, the 10-vote maximum should be eliminated because it may have prevented any of the other nine names not mentioned from receiving more votes. It may have prevented Bernie Williams -- who got just 3.3% of the vote in his second year on the ballot -- from hanging on another year. Voters shouldn't be forced to pick more than 10 candidates, but they shouldn't be told they aren't allowed to either.
A compromise position could be keeping the 10-vote maximum, but allowing each voter, if they are so inclined, to designate one first-year candidate to receive their vote without actually receiving their vote. A player couldn't be elected this way, but if you combine those that designate a first-year player to remain on the ballot with those who outright vote for him, it could allow certain candidates to avoid falling victim to the 5% rule if they happen to debut in a crowded ballot year.
Perhaps if such a policy had existed in 2013, Lofton would have been able to get the longer look on the ballot that he deserved.
More Guardians Hall of Fame Notes
- Manny Ramírez continues to struggle to gain traction on the Hall of Fame ballot. After receiving 28.2% of votes in 2021, Ramírez has garnered 39.1% of votes on the publicly available 2022 ballots, per Ryan Thibodaux. Currently, 41.1% of ballots from this year's cycle have been made public. Ramírez spent parts of eight seasons in Cleveland, including driving in a staggering 165 runs in 1999.
- In his fifth year on the ballot, Omar Vizquel has already lost 42 votes from BBWAA members who voted for him a year ago. The 11-time Gold Glove Award winner was accused of domestic violence by his ex-wife Blanca in a December 2020 story published by Katie Strang and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. Then last summer, a former Double-A bat boy who has autism said that while Vizquel was managing the Birmingham Barons, he sexually harassed him and made unwanted advances.