The Baseball Hall of Fame announces its 2017 class on Wednesday and Texas Rangers legend Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez’s legacy hangs in the balance.
The 14-time All-Star catcher is hovering 3.1 percentage points above the 75 percent threshold needed for induction as of Monday afternoon with 215 ballots known, according to Ryan Thibodaux’s ballot tracker. This is Rodriguez’s first year on the ballot.
But less than half of the roughly 450 votes are known, so there’s still a chance for a big Rangers letdown. If Rodriguez falls short, he’s still poised to get in eventually, perhaps a year from now. Only 51 players have been elected in their first year on the ballot.
Still, disgruntled Pudge fans can follow the lead of others and turn their angst into a mission. Fans of Jeff Bagwell, Mike Mussina and Tim Raines have built large followings by devoting websites and social media campaigns to spread the word on their Hall of Fame candidate.
And it might be working. Bagwell and Raines, in their seventh and 10th (and final) years on the ballot, appear headed for induction. Both were over 87 percent as of Monday evening.
Ric Sweeney, who grew up and still lives in Houston, has been devoted to promoting Bagwell’s bona fides since 2014. (Full disclosure: Ric and I have been friends since the seventh grade.)
“I knew he wasn’t a ‘quick glance’ candidate — he didn’t hit the usual Hall of Fame milestones like 500 home runs or 3,000 hits,” Sweeney said. “He required a little digging, not much, but a little bit. So that was the idea behind the campaign: I’ll do that work for you.”
He created the Bags4HOF.com website three years ago, Bagwell’s fourth year on the ballot when he garnered nearly 60 percent of the vote.
“I initially set up the blog and addressed every argument against Bagwell that I could think of,” he said. “And then Twitter provided unprecedented access to the voters and the campaign shifted to being primarily social-media driven.”
Besides providing a reliable research source where voters can study how a player compares to other Hall of Famers and players from his era, the fan campaigns actively engage with voters on social media, hoping to sway them and their vote.
“I try to be very polite on Twitter,” said Ryan Vooris, who along with Patrick Bohn created mussinaHOF.com in 2008 to spread the word on Mussina.
Vooris, 35, is a professor of sports management at the State University of New York at Cortland. Bohn, 34, works for Ithaca College in New York.
“As someone who researches social media and Twitter I know that writers deal with many trolls on Twitter,” Vooris said. “When I reach out to them I usually ask if they might add Mussina to a future ballot. This might sound silly, but I always make sure to use proper punctuation and say thank you. I suspect many writers are tired of criticism about their HOF votes and I don’t want to add to that chorus.”
By keeping it civil and professional, they’ve been able to engage in email conversations with some voters, even swaying a vote or two.
“I want to talk about the merits,” Vooris said. “[Some writers] have mentioned us in articles, books, or on Twitter and I think that kind of recognition is important, because it lets other writers know we are legitimate and a resource for looking deeper at Mussina is out there.”
Bohn has been quoted in The Yankee Index, written by ESPN’s Mark Simon, in a chapter on Mussina, who is in his fourth year on the ballot after winning 270 games over 18 seasons with the Orioles and Yankees. His vote percentage improved 23 points from 2014 to 2016.
With Mussina at 60 percent this year, Bohn and Vooris still have work to do.
“It seemed like some of the arguments people used against him were arbitrary,” said Bohn, referring to Mussina’s lack of 20-win seasons. “And his other accomplishments were overshadowed by other things, so we wanted to remind people of how great he was.”
Sweeney was mentioned by veteran baseball writer and voter Danny Knobler in his ballot-related piece for Bleacherreport.com. Knobler gently ribbed Sweeney for his dogged relentlessness.
“As the persistent @Bags4HoF regularly reminds me on Twitter, Bagwell had a 10-year period in which he ranked among the league leaders in many offensive categories,” Knobler wrote. “He’s still a borderline case, but I’m comfortable now putting him on the right side of the border.”
That’s a victory for Sweeney and by extension for Bagwell. Or is it the other way around?
“This year, I targeted 20 writers who did not vote for Bagwell last year that I thought could be influenced; I sent daily tweets directly to them outlining a lot of Bagwell’s numbers that would resonate,” Sweeney said. “So far so good: of the 20, six have flipped with four citing our campaign as having played a role. Most of the writers have been engaging; some aren’t.”
Rangers fans have been getting a dose of that feeling as the announcement nears and Rodriguez’s percentage hovers above election. If good news doesn’t come Wednesday, your path forward has been laid.