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First-ballot electees are Hall-within-the-Hall

Roberto Alomar, who played second base for the

Roberto Alomar, who played second base for the Mets. Credit: AP Photo (2002)

This is the equivalent of making a rookie carry a veteran ballplayer's suitcase, only maybe a little more serious. Anyway, the philosophy about making it in the big leagues and cracking the lineup of immortality is the same: Wait your turn, kid.

Roberto Alomar will have to wait a year to get into the Hall of Fame because there is still a feeling among voters, members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, that being elected to the Hall on the first ballot means being having a little extra greatness.

Of the 539 voters, 142 evidently thought Alomar did not meet that threshold, so he didn't get in Wednesday. I wasn't among them. I voted for Alomar, notwithstanding his unsightly time with the Mets, because I believe he was one of the greatest second basemen of all time. But I'm not offended. I'm sure he will make it next year. What's more, I think the wait is not the end of the world.

A reasonable person can call it ludicrous, this Hall-within-the-Hall attitude about first-year members. After all, Alomar is not going to become a better player by next year. This point is quite valid: Either you're a Hall of Famer or you're not. First-year winners do not get special seats at the induction ceremony, they don't have a special dinner or separate locker room the way former champions do at the Masters.

Still, I buy the first-ballot threshold. This is not a civil service test. No one is denying someone a living by withholding a Hall of Fame vote. I always think of the response from Gwen Knapp, an excellent writer on the West Coast, when there was outrage about someone (it might have been Mark McGwire) being kept out of the Hall. She said it is not as if he is being denied the right to roam free in the world.

Having been a member of the BBWAA for 22 years, I take it as a compliment that we are more deliberative and discriminating than, say, the committee that awards the Nobel Peace Prize.

A retired long-time baseball writer whom I know and consider a mentor agonized over the Alomar selection. He ultimately decided against voting for him. The former reporter said he does have a special tier for first-year nominees and that Alomar's lackluster performance and general malaise when he hit New York's big stage kept him off that tier.

Baseball writers know the value of patience. Not one of us is allowed to vote until he or she has completed 10 consecutive seasons as a BBWAA member. We also know that our forbears set the bar high. Willie Mays, the greatest player I ever saw, received only 94.67 percent of the votes in his first year of eligibility. Babe Ruth, the greatest player anyone ever saw, got only 95.13. Just last year, Rickey Henderson, the greatest leadoff hitter ever, earned only 94.8 percent. No one ever has gone in unanimously (Tom Seaver came closest, with 98.84).

Not one first-year nominee was elected between the Hall's opening in 1936 and 1962, when Jackie Robinson and Bob Feller got in. Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Cy Young all had to wait for a second go-round.

Here are the 44 who made it in on the first ballot: Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Ruth, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Robinson, Feller, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Sandy Koufax, Warren Spahn, Mickey Mantle, Ernie Banks, Mays, Al Kaline, Bob Gibson, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Lou Brock, Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, Johnny Bench, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Palmer, Joe Morgan, Rod Carew, Seaver, Reggie Jackson, Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt, Nolan Ryan, George Brett, Robin Yount, Kirby Puckett, Dave Winfield, Ozzie Smith, Eddie Murray, Dennis Eckersley, Paul Molitor, Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken Jr., Henderson.

Personally, I believe Alomar belongs in that class. Others don't. I respect them and I believe they are merely trying to honor the aforementioned 44 when they sometimes tell a ballot rookie, "Wait your turn, kid."

Better to be too picky than too lax. The Hall of Fame is that important, as Alomar will attest on the front steps of Cooperstown next year.

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