Making the Hall of Fame should be a rare thing, but for guys that are on the bubble the arguments for and against induction go on and on. The line between what constitutes a Hall of Famer, and someone who isn't becomes a matter for heated debate. This is the case with Atlanta Braves fans and Dale Murphy. Many fans think he's a Hall of Famer, but as of yet not enough writers have agreed with them.
This year (2012) will mark the second to last year that Dale Murphy can be considered for the writer's ballot. Nearing the end of a ballot run has propelled many players towards election to the Hall. This was the case most recently with Bert Blyleven. He began his "ballot career" a year before Murphy, and with less first year support. Blyleven only received 17.5% support in 1998, while in Murphy's first year of 1999 he received 19.3% support. In fact, the first two years Murphy was on the ballot he garnered a higher voting percentage than Blyleven did.
Murphy also received more votes in his second year than Jack Morris received in his first year on the ballot in 2000. Morris is currently being talked up as a serious Hall candidate this year, as he has only two more years of eligibility left after this year's results are released. That momentum is propelling Morris in the same direction that it propelled Blyleven -- each passing Murphy on their way to induction.
On the graph below I traced the Hall of Fame voting percentages of these three players as well as that of Dave Parker:
Murphy also started out with a higher percentage than Dave Parker, but somewhere in the early 2000's Parker slid ahead of Murph. Last year was Parker's last on the ballot, and as you can see he never gained any momentum as his ballot career came to a close. Murphy similarly is not gaining any momentum in the waning years of his ballot career.
So why the positive change in attitude about the careers of Blyleven and Morris, but loss of excitement and eventual flat-lining about the careers of Murphy and Parker? The first explanation that jumps to my mind is what was happening in baseball in the early 2000's. It was the era of abundant home run power; the steroids assisted ascent of offense that made the accomplishments of guys like Murphy and Parker, who played in a more pitching dominated era, seem less impressive to voters, while the pitching accomplishments of Blyleven and Morris began to look better against the backdrop of an era with few dominant and durable pitchers.
I would have thought that there might be some type of post-steroids revelation backlash in the late 2000's that would have caused Murphy and Parker and their numbers to get more consideration, but that clearly didn't happen. Perhaps the arrival on the ballot of more deserving hitters throughout these years drew votes away from them, while fewer deserving pitchers landed on the ballot.
There hasn't been a first ballot Hall of Fame pitcher since Dennis Eckersley in 2004; notice the uptick in votes for both the pitchers above after that year. Since then there have been five first ballot hitters. It seems that the hitters who came along -- and there were a lot more of them -- impressed voters more, while no pitchers came along during that time, and so voters turned to previous candidates to apportion their votes.
Blyleven barely made the Hall in his second to last year. By the above logic Morris' time could be running out if more attractive candidates enter the ballot next year when Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling become eligible for the first time. It gets even tougher in Morris' final year in 2014 when Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine appear on the ballot.
For Dale Murphy, the voting momentum for his induction is just not there. Anything short of an unprecedented last minute surge in 2013, and Murphy will have to wait for the Veterans Committee many years from now. That last minute swell of support likely won't happen, and Braves fans, and fans of number-3 will be left with their memories of a really good baseball player, but not a Hall of Famer.