For some Hall of Fame candidates, one vote is all that matters
Players who played 10 seasons are eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame
If they don't receive five percent of the vote, they fall off the ballot for good
Eric Young is among those on this year's ballot hoping for just a single vote
In 12 major league seasons from 1984-1995, Jim Deshaies pitched for six teams. He had a losing record and never made an All-Star team, got a Cy Young vote or pitched in the postseason.
Yet five years after he retired, Deshaies' career earned one lasting piece of validation when he received a vote for the Hall of Fame.
The vote was a testament more to Deshaies' character than his career. In the weeks leading up to the balloting for the Class of 2001, he launched a campaign called "One Man, One Vote" and a website --- www.putjdinthehall.com -- and did several interviews promoting his tongue-in-cheek candidacy.
His efforts were rewarded when then-Houston Chronicle columnist John Lopez, now a contributor to SI.com, gave Deshaies the one vote he so desperately desired.
"It was a vote for the good-old fashioned guy that loved playing baseball, the regular guy,'' Lopez said.
Friends of Deshaies' celebrated by putting on a parade in his Houston neighborhood. He knew he wasn't a legitimate Hall candidate, so he said that he was using the platform for educational purposes. His career was so forgotten about that he had to explain that he was a left-handed pitcher.
"During the parade, people said, 'Oh, I didn't realize you played the game,''' Deshaies said. "We had fun with it. When I became eligible for the ballot, I was worried I would be one of those guys who gets shut out.''
It's a common sentiment among those who were good enough to get on the ballot -- to be eligible, players must have played in each of 10 major league seasons -- but not good enough to receive the 5 percent necessary to stay on the ballot more than one year.
On Monday, the results of the voting by the 500-plus members of the Baseball Writers Association of America will be announced, and while most of the attention will go to those who make it (likely Barry Larkin) or come close (like Tim Raines, Jack Morris and Alan Trammell), a few voters might cast a single vote for players who, like Deshaies, have credentials that are nowhere near Cooperstown-worthy.
They are called courtesy votes, and in some ways, they can be as debatable as those given to the players at the top of the ballot. This year, there are 27 players on the ballot, and writers can vote for 10 players, but seldom do writers fill all the slots.
Among those hoping for just a single vote is Eric Young, who played 15 years for seven teams from 1992 to 2006 and retired with 465 stolen bases. Young, whose son Eric Jr. is a current outfielder for the Rockies, was ecstatic when he read media reports in November that he was on the ballot for the first time.
"I was reading it, and then, all of a sudden, there was the last name on the list, 'Young''' he said. "And I thought, 'Hey, they're talking about me.' I couldn't believe it. I started telling people about it. It's hard to explain the magnitude of being on the ballot.''
In a way, Young has been a Hall of Famer for a couple years now. "The shoes I wore when I stole six bases in a game [in 1996] are already in the Hall,'' Young says. "I won't be disappointed if I get one vote because that means some one thinks I'm special. My shoes are there, so if I get one vote, that would be icing on the cake.''
Some players who get a single vote can at least claim that they had Hall of Fame seasons. Tim Wallach, despite being a lifetime .257 hitter, made five All-Star teams and got a vote in 2001. Danny Tartabull had three years of 30 home runs and 100 RBIs and got a vote in 2003. In 2007, Jay Buhner, who had 310 career home runs and hit at least 40 every year from 1995-97, got a vote and said, "It was accomplishment just to get on the ballot.''
Other votes are harder to understand. In 2008, pitcher Todd Stottlemyre got a vote even though he might best be known for an awkward slide into third base in the 1993 World Series that left him with a bloody chin.
And in 2010, David Segui got a vote even though his most significant claim to fame was that he admitted using steroids during his career. Segui, for one, didn't appreciate the gesture. "Obviously, it was some one trying to be comical,'' he said. "It was a big joke because I never had a Hall of Fame career. I was proud of my career, but I didn't play for the Hall of Fame or to try to impress people in the press box. If my peers said I played well, that meant something.''
Most, though, do appreciate being remembered. Five years after his retirement, Ray Knight, who hit .271 for his career and was the World Series MVP for the 1986 champion New York Mets, got a Hall vote, but he doesn't know who checked his name.
"I have a lot of reverence for the game, so good gracious no, I didn't have a Hall of Fame career and didn't deserve a vote,'' said Knight, a broadcaster for the Washington Nationals. "But, it was a good feeling to see that I had a vote and that someone thought enough of me -- for whatever reason -- that they gave me a Hall of Fame vote. People who don't follow baseball ask if I'm in the Hall of Fame, and I say, 'No, but I got a vote.'''
That's one more than most players ever get including some who were, like Knight, World Series MVPs, such as Jose Rijo (shut out in 2008) and Scott Brosius (blanked in 2007).
Some voters don't even like the idea of courtesy votes."I don't think who you are friends with should have anything to do with your vote,'' says retired writer Hal McCoy, who covered the Cincinnati Reds for the Dayton Daily News. "To me, that's making light of the Hall of Fame.''
Still, courtesy votes are a longstanding and accepted part of the Hall of Fame process. Jack O'Connell, the secretary-treasurer of the BBWAA, doesn't mind it. He says the practice has been going on forever, and he said it doesn't affect the integrity of the final vote because of the safeguards built in.
"There is 'favorite-son' voting, but the 75 percent requirement for election is a good safeguard. Obviously, if we got a ballot that had write-ins for Bugs Bunny and Homer Simpson, that would be the end of the voter's right to vote.''
Players are cut from the ballot if they don't get 5 percent, and O'Connell said that's an effective safeguard. "It is hard to imagine a player getting 30 symbolic votes.''
Indeed, for a player at the bottom of this year's ballot -- such as Tony Womack, Brad Radke and Jeromy Burnitz -- it would take approximately that many votes for them to remain on the ballot, and it will take over 400 for election (the official number of ballots cast has not been released; in 2010, 5812 votes were cast with 436 were needed for election and 30 needed to remain on the ballot).
The most controversial courtesy vote ever happened last year, when ESPN.com's Barry Stanton voted for journeyman B.J. Surhoff but not eventual enshrinees Roberto Alomar or Bert Blyleven. Stanton had covered Surhoff when the latter was a 14-year-old in Rye, N.Y., and he could see Surhoff's potential. He told Surhoff that some day he'd be checking Surhoff's name on a Hall of Fame ballot.
Surhoff, who didn't return telephone messages, actually got two votes but it was Stanton's that caused a firestorm. His ballot was called a "complete disgrace'' and the "worst ever.'' Some radio hosts said that Stanton should be forced to give up his ballot.
Stanton doesn't understand the criticism and was amazed at the "viciousness of the Internet.'' Considering what Surhoff accomplished -- he had 2,326 career hits and made an All-Star team -- Stanton doesn't see his vote as a courtesy. And, he doesn't understand why people think that he should give up his ballot, simply because he goes against the norm. "If B.J. Surhoff doesn't deserve consideration, how come he's on the ballot?'' Stanton asks. "If my vote had put B.J. Surhoff in the Hall of Fame, or held someone out, I wouldn't have voted for him.''
Deshaies, of course, took matters into his own hands. His website, which was actually set up former Astros' public-relations official Chuck Pool, said that a vote for Deshaies would give inspiration to "slow-footed left-handers'' everywhere.
After he got his lone vote, Deshaies appeared on national television but not everyone got the joke, including the CNN anchor who interviewed him. "I tried to explain that it wasn't real, but I'm not sure the anchor understood.'' Deshaies says. "There seemed to be some confusion.''
The campaign may have been a joke but knowing he got a vote for the prestigious Hall of Fame will always give Deshaies and others like him something to smile about.
Mel Antonen lives in Washington, D.C., and is a baseball analyst for Sirius-XM Radio.
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