It remains to be seen how close Rickey Henderson will come to being the first unanimous selection to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but the one sportswriter who publicly disclosed that he didn't vote for Henderson already has admitted he made a mistake.
Corky Simpson, a retired Tucson (Ariz.) Citizen columnist, told the Bay Area News Group on Thursday that unlike the bold stand he took in the 1992 AP college football poll, he "simply goofed" by leaving Henderson off his Hall of Fame ballot and wishes he had a chance to vote again.
"Rickey deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, and if I had my ballot back, he'd have a shot at unanimity — and I wouldn't be hated by quite so many people," Simpson said.
In a Dec. 9 column explaining his Hall of Fame picks, the 70-year-old Simpson, who writes a weekly column for the Green Valley (Ariz.) News & Sun, cited eight choices, among them Tim Raines and Matt Williams. He relegated Rickey — expected to be announced as a first-ballot selection on Monday — to a list of also-rans without explanation as to why he didn't vote for him.
The contents of Simpson's column were detailed on ESPN.com by baseball writer Rob Neyer, which instantly started a firestorm of vitriol on numerous Internet sites about the omission.
"First things first, would I vote for Rickey if I had it to do all over again? Damn right, I would," Simpson said. "I had no idea my ballot would cause such an uproar.
"I'll bet it was worse than when 98 people failed to vote for Catfish Hunter some 22 years ago," he added. "The blogosphere would have exploded if it had been around when 43 people failed to vote for Mickey Mantle, 23 for Willie Mays, 36 for Jackie Robinson, nine for Hank Aaron, 31 for Roberto Clemente, 57 for Yogi Berra, 23 for Stan Musial, 20 for Ted Williams and 28 for Joe DiMaggio."
Green Valley News sportswriter Nick Prevenas said he warned Simpson about leaving Henderson off his ballot when he filed the column, but Simpson told him he "wasn't a Rickey guy and that he would vote for him next time."
In addition to the thousands of diatribes about Simpson's vote on baseball blog sites across the country, several hundred responses were posted directly to the newspaper's Web site under Simpson's column.
"Usually, we're lucky if we get one comment on a story," said Prevenas.
Simpson is now well aware of the controversy he stirred but regrets that it happened.
"If I had properly researched the situation, I would have voted for Rickey Henderson if for no other reason than he played for nine ball teams," he said. "Imagine that. He'll be the first Hall of Famer to have a bronze bust with nine caps stacked on his head.
"Seriously, he was a wonderful player and I simply goofed. I voted for eight deserving men. I could have picked two more — and I wish to heck I had."
Simpson created a national sensation in 1992 when he was the only voter who voted for Alabama over Miami for the entire season in the Associated Press college football poll. He was vindicated when the Crimson Tide won the national championship and served as grand marshal of the celebration parade in Tuscaloosa.
Simpson worked for the Tucson Citizen for 32 years before retiring in 2006. Ironically, when the Arizona Associated Press Sports Editor decided to start a state sports journalism hall of fame in 2003, Simpson was the first inductee.
No Hall of Famer has ever been accorded unanimous selection. Ty Cobb came the closest, missing by four votes. Pitcher Tom Seaver received the highest percentage of votes (98.84) cast but was left off five ballots. In early data compiled by BaseballThinkFactory.org of eligible BBWAA members who have disclosed their ballots in print or online, Simpson is the only one of 89 who didn't vote for Henderson.
The Hall of Fame will release the 2009 voting tallies on Monday.
Contact Carl Steward at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Players who came the closest to being voted unanimously into the baseball Hall of Fame:
Player Missed votes
1. Ty Cobb 4 (222 of 226)
2. Tom Seaver 5 (425 of 430)
3. Nolan Ryan 6 (491 of 497)
4. Cal Ripken 8 (537 of 545)
5. George Brett 9 (488 of 497)
6. Hank Aaron 9 (406 of 415)
7. Bob Feller 10 (150 of 160)
8. Babe Ruth 11 (215 of 226)
8. Honus Wagner 11 (215 of 226)
10. Tony Gwynn 13 (532 of 545)
Others: Mike Schmidt, 16 missed votes; Johnny Bench, 16; Steve Carlton, 19; Ted Williams, 20; Willie Mays, 23; Stan Musial, 23