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Hall of Fame takeaways: Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines at doorstep

By John Perrotto, The Sports Xchange   |   Jan. 7, 2016 at 2:24 AM
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When Ken Griffey Jr. was a 19-year-old rookie center fielder with the Seattle Mariners in 1989, Rusty Kuntz was a member of the coaching staff.

Kuntz is now the Kansas City Royals' first base coach, but he vividly remembers watching Griffey for the first time.

"We were in spring training, and I was just blown away," Kuntz recalled last fall during the Royals' run to the World Series title. "I thought to myself that we might be just looking at the perfect baseball player."

Griffey was elected to the Hall of Fame on Wednesday night along with Mike Piazza, and Junior was almost perfect. In his first year on the ballot, Griffey was named of 437 of the 440 ballots cast by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America with at least 10 years of continuous service.

The 99.32 percent rate was the highest in history, breaking the record of 98.84 percent set by Tom Seaver in 1992. Players must be named on at least 75 percent of ballots to be elected.

Griffey and Piazza will be inducted July 24 at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.

"Words can't describe how special this is, and to go in with a great player like Junior makes it even more special," Piazza said.

Here are five takeaways from the voting:

1. Nearly perfect

Some analysts thought Griffey might become the first player to be a unanimous selection in light of being the seminal player of his generation and never having a hint of scandal attached to his name.

However, his 630 home runs -- sixth all-time -- and seven top-10 finishes in the MVP balloting apparently weren't enough to impress three voters. Even so, Griffey said he was not disappointed at fall short of 100 percent.

"I can't be upset," Griffey said. "It's truly an honor to be elected. To have the highest percentage is definitely a shock because I wasn't thinking that way. The big thing is to get into the Hall, not how, just to get in. I'm just thankful to be going in."

2. Fourth time the charm

Piazza finally gained election on his fourth try despite generally being considered the greatest offensive catcher in history. He received 363 votes (83 percent).

Though there never was any evidence that he was a user, some in the electorate said in the past that they did not vote for Piazza because they believe he used steroids. However, he was gracious about gaining election despite the wait.

"Being a student of the history of game and knowing how many great players -- guys like Yogi Berra and Joe DiMaggio -- had to wait a few years to get in has always allowed me to kind of put it in perspective," Piazza said.

3. On the doorstep

Jeff Bagwell (71.6 percent) and Tim Raines (69.8 percent) came close enough to the 75 percent threshold that it seems certain they will be voted in next year.

Piazza's election should enhance the chances of Bagwell, who also has been labeled a steroids user by some despite a lack of evidence. Raines figures to be a sentimental choice as it will be his 10th and final year on the ballot, and he is also helped by staunch support from fans on social-media platforms who provide plenty of statistical reasons why the speedster should be inducted.

4. Bonds and Clemens

If not for their links to steroids, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens already would be immortalized in Cooperstown. Bonds was voted the MVP seven times, and Clemens won seven Cy Youngs, the most in the history of either award.

While neither got close to 75 percent, both Clemens (45.2 percent) and Bonds (44.3 percent) received their highest vote totals yet. Both will be on the ballot for up to six more years, and their chances are now looking at least a little better.

5. Closer gets close

Relief pitchers always have a hard time gaining induction, but Trevor Hoffman seems certain to get a plaque in Cooperstown after getting 67 percent of the vote in his first year on the ballot.

Hoffman's 601 saves are second in major league history behind the 652 of Mariano Rivera, who figures to be a first-ballot lock in 2019.

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Senior writer John Perrotto is The Sports Xchange's baseball insider and a Hall of Fame voter. He has covered Major League Baseball since 1988.

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