No baseball fan was really surprised to read that Cal Ripken, Jr. and Tony Gwynn were heading to Cooperstown. Of course these two had gotten the overwhelming nod by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Of Course Ripken and Gwynn are to be enshrined at the Baseball Hall of Fame. We, as baseball fans, wouldn’t have it any other way.
Most of the 545 members of that lucky group of baseball writers who get to cast ballots were of the same mind, too. Cal Ripken, Jr. was picked by 537 of these select voters, or 98.5%, while Tony Gwynn pulled up in second with 532 votes, or 97.6%. (A candidate needs 75% for baseball’s highest honor.) And Ripken’s and Gwynn’s tallies rank them with the third and seventh highest percentages, respectively, in the history of Hall of Fame balloting. It’s only fitting, most baseball enthusiasts will say; like a glove.
Among the scarce few baseball writers who left Cal Ripken, Jr. and Tony Gwynn off their ballots was one, Paul Ladewski of Chicago’s Daily Southtown, who guaranteed that neither of these baseball greats would get in to Cooperstown unanimously. Paul Ladewski left his Hall of Fame ballot entirely blank. This type of protest vote was expected for Mark McGwire. The St. Louis slugger was denied his Cooperstown plaque with a mere 128 ballots cast in his favor, a vote of just 23.5%, owing to suspicions of a performance-enhanced home run hitting spree by “Big Red” during his 1998 and 1999 seasons. But for Paul Ladewski to punish Cal Ripken, Jr. and Tony Gwynn in the same manner comes as a shock to many baseball fans, especially those Baltimore, MD, and San Diego, CA.
Cal Ripken, Jr. played all 3,001 games of his 21-year career in a Baltimore Orioles uniform. Ripken started in 16 consecutive MLB All-Star games, receiving more fan ballots (over 36 million) during that span than any other player in history, racking up an American League Rookie of the Year Award, two American League MVPs, and two American League Golden Glove Awards at shortstop along the way. He holds the all-time MLB record of 2,632 consecutive games played. Tony Gwynn likewise spent his entire 20-year career with one team. Gwynn, a lifetime .338 hitter for the San Diego Padres, won eight National League batting titles, an MLB record, while hitting under .300 just once (.289 in just 52 games during his rookie season of 1982). He added five golden gloves at right field just for good measure.
Both are ranked among The Sporting News top 100 baseball players of all time. And beyond all their accomplishments on the field, not the least of which is team loyalty, Cal Ripken, Jr. and Tony Gwynn were indisputable fan favorites; considered true role models in a professional sports world where that tag is truly lacking. Which is precisely what makes Paul Ladewski of Chicago’s Daily Southtown and his blank ballot all the more puzzling to baseball fans. Standing firm in defense of his blank ballot, Paul Ladewski writes in his Daily Southtown column, “At this point, I don’t have nearly enough information to make a value judgment of this magnitude. In particular, that concerns any player in the Steroids Era, which I consider to be the 1993-2004 period …” Not even Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr. are beyond suspicion. And, until the feds go public with the names of some 100 major league players who tested positive for steroids, “Better one year too late than one year too soon, I say.”
Besides, as Ladewski points out, not even Babe Ruth — the Sultan of Swing himself — received unanimous voting into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Nobody ever has.
The one player who came closest was former New York Mets hurler, Tom Seaver, in 1992. His 425 of 430 nods in Hall of Fame balloting that year is a record high 98.8%, two spots ahead of Cal Ripken, Jr. and six ahead Tony Gwynn. And Seaver accomplished this in a year when three different members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, evidently in protest of Cooperstown leaving Pete Rose out of the running, actually left their ballot cards entirely blank. That’s fifteen years in anticipation of Paul Ladewski. Of course, both Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn helped to snub the City of Big Shoulders of subsequent World Series appearances — Ripken with the Orioles over the White Sox in the 1983 ALCS, and Gwynn with the Padres over the Cubs in NLCS the following year — making this blank balloting by Paul Ladewski, who is, after all, a Chicago sportswriter, just a little bit suspicious in itself.