Brad Ausmus, left, played alongside Craig Biggio, right, for nine years in Houston. Ausmus is the new Tigers manager. (James Nielsen / Getty Images)
Detroit — This year’s Hall of Fame vote was almost as much about who didn’t make it as who did.
And atop the gosh-darn-it list was longtime Astros second baseman Craig Biggio, who Wednesday missed election by two votes. A member of the 3,000-hit club, he needed 429 votes, and received 427.
Count longtime teammate Brad Ausmus among those bumming about Wednesday’s announcement.
“It’s unfortunate,” Ausmus, the Tigers’ new manager, said over the phone from California. “In my mind, he’s very deserving of getting in.
“But it’s a tough process, it was a crowded ballot. I can’t imagine he won’t get in next year.”
Biggio, 48, played his entire 20-year career with the Astros, accumulating 3,060 hits. That’s a benchmark that’s normally good for an automatic ticket to Cooperstown, barring performance-enhancing drug suspicions.
But last year, in his first year on the ballot, Biggio received 68.2 percent of the vote — 75 percent is needed for election — as writers failed to elect anybody in what was seen as a blanket indictment of the so-called steroid era.
This year, Biggio gained 39 additional votes; he needed 41.
Ausmus, who texted Biggio after he heard the news, expanded on his theory for the narrow miss.
“I think there’s a couple of reasons,” said Ausmus, who played alongside Biggio for nine years in Houston. “One, there are some voters whose standards are so high, they refuse to vote for anybody in their first two years. … And I do think the fact you had so many people getting so many votes, it spread the votes out so much, it certainly probably cost Craig (two votes).”
Just so happens, two ballots stand out in particular. One of the 571 voters submitted a blank ballot, and another made a statement by only voting for Jack Morris.
And others who passed might’ve just run out of room on a ballot that featured the likes of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas — who all were elected in their first year on the ballot — as well as Mike Piazza, Morris, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Lee Smith, Curt Schilling, Edgar Martinez, Alan Trammell, Mike Mussina, Jeff Kent, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Larry Walker, Don Mattingly and Sammy Sosa.
Writers only are allowed to vote for 10 candidates max, and with so many suspected juicers jamming up the ballot — and with writers still conflicted on whether to vote for them — it’s becoming tougher and tougher to reach a consensus.
As a result, Ausmus said, “Everybody who played in that quote-unquote steroid era gets hurt quite a bit in the voting process, even if it wasn’t merited.”
It get no less cluttered next year, when Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz join the ballot for the first time.
Since 1960, only one other eligible member of the 3,000-hit club wasn’t elected in his first year: Rafael Palmeiro, who failed a steroid test and fell off the ballot this year. There have been close calls — Robin Yount got just 77.5 percent in 1999 — but Biggio really stands alone.
Biggio was a seven-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner who never was flashy, nor was his stature (5-foot-8). But the stud leadoff hitter was a doubles machine who stole bases and got on base any way he could. Five times, he led the league in getting hit by pitches.
“He was gritty, blue collar. He only knew one speed, and that was full speed,” Ausmus said. “It’s well-known that he was willing to take a pitch off the arm or the back to get on base. He was kind of a throwback to the old-school style of play.”
Another of Ausmus’ Astros teammates, Jeff Bagwell, trended backward this year. The big slugger went from 59.6 percent last year, his third on the ballot, to 54.3 percent this year.
Bagwell was one of the greatest power hitters of his era, but also had a massive physique — which led to PED suspicions, unfair as they may be. His name never has been officially linked to steroids, whether from first-hand accounts or documentation.
Ausmus played seven seasons with Bagwell, and he thinks it’s only a matter of time for his day, too.
“He will,” Ausmus said. “Obviously it will take longer than it will for Biggio, though it’d be nice for them to go in together because they were so connected as teammates and the leaders of the Astros teams.”
2014 Hall of Fame voting
571 votes cast, 429 needed
Greg Maddux 555 (97.2 percent)
Tom Glavine 525 (91.9)
Frank Thomas 478 (83.7)
Craig Biggio 427 (74.8)
Mike Piazza 355 (62.2)
Jack Morris 351 (61.5)
Jeff Bagwell 310 (54.3)
Tim Raines 263 (46.1)
Roger Clemens 202 (35.4)
Barry Bonds 198 (34.7)
Lee Smith 171 (29.9)
Curt Schilling 167 (29.2)
Edgar Martinez 144 (25.2)
Alan Trammell 119 (20.8)
Mike Mussina 116 (20.3)
Jeff Kent 87 (15.2)
Fred McGriff 67 (11.7)
Mark McGwire 63 (11.0)
Larry Walker 58 (10.2)
Don Mattingly 47 (8.2)
Sammy Sosa 41 (7.2).
Players on ballot receiving fewer than 28 votes (less than 5 percent), meaning they are no longer eligible for election by the BBWAA.
Rafael Palmeiro 25 (4.4)
Moises Alou 6 (1.1)
Hideo Nomo 6 (1.1)
Luis Gonzalez 5 (0.9)
Eric Gagne 2 (0.4)
J.T. Snow 2 (0.4)
Armando Benitez 1 (0.2)
Jacque Jones 1 (0.2)
Kenny Rogers 1 (0.2)
Sean Casey 0
Ray Durham 0
Todd Jones 0
Paul Lo Duca 0
Richie Sexson 0
Mike Timlin 0