Terry Steinbach, the longtime American League catcher who batted .271 with 162 career home runs, posed a question for the one writer who pegged him as a Hall of Famer.
"What the hell were you watching?" Steinbach said, laughing.
In 2005, a year in which Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg joined the pantheon of the game's elite, Steinbach garnered one Hall of Fame vote. The backstop achieved plenty -- three All-Star Game appearances, a World Series title, an All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award, a season with 35 homers and 100 RBIs -- but even Steinbach doesn't regard his career as Cooperstown-caliber.
"I consider myself to be a realistic person," said Steinbach, the Twins' new bench coach. "I had a 14-year career, never hit .300, didn't get 3,000 hits. To me, I felt my career wasn't a Hall of Fame career. I wasn't sitting by the phone waiting for a call. But I was honored to get that vote."
Each year since 1987, at least one player has received exactly one Hall of Fame endorsement. A nod for Aaron Sele on this year's ballot sparked some confusion, especially given the lack of accord among the 570 voters. No player received the minimum 75 percent of votes necessary for induction this summer.
Since 1964, 118 players have merited a single Hall of Fame tally, for reasons often unknown. The Baseball Writers' Association of America does not require its members to make their ballots public. Perhaps the voter covered games in the player's home city and enjoyed daily interaction with the guy. Maybe the voter fawned over his play from afar or thought it would be comical for him to get a vote.
Jim Deshaies, who logged an 84-95 record and a 4.14 ERA during his 12-year career, successfully campaigned (in jest) for a single vote when he became eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2001.
Rockies manager Walt Weiss, who never batted better than .282, hit more than eight homers or stole more than 15 bases in a season, drew a vote in 2006. Once-feared sluggers like Jay Buhner, Cecil Fielder, Danny Tartabull and David Justice all earned precisely one endorsement. So, too, did guys like Benito Santiago, Jesse Orosco and Eric Young, a trio of players perhaps deemed worthy by a voter who valued longevity.
"You could argue until you're blue in the face about the Hall of Fame," said Pat Hentgen, who procured a vote in 2010. "Should it be longevity? Should it be peak years? A dominant decade? All of these things?"
While Andre Dawson, Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar gathered the majority of the tallies in 2010, Hentgen, the 1996 AL Cy Young Award winner, stood out to one anonymous voter. Hentgen made three All-Star teams and won 120 games before his 32nd birthday, but injuries and age quickly caught up to him before he retired with a 131-112 mark and a 4.32 career ERA.
"I never really thought there was ever a realistic chance," said Hentgen, now Toronto's bullpen coach. "Even when I was playing at 31 and had the win total that I had, to be able to keep pace until I was 40 just wasn't realistic."
That makes the mystery of who voted for him all the more puzzling. Hentgen plans to assemble a search committee when he arrives at the Blue Jays' Spring Training complex.
"I'm going to snoop around a little bit to find out," he said. "I understand they can only put 10 guys on the ballot. I don't know if it was a courtesy vote or what."
Steinbach would entertain the opportunity to acknowledge his secret admirer if he learned the party's identity. After all, whether he agrees with the vote, he still earned recognition on a ballot that contained four eventual Hall of Famers.
"I'd like to find out which writer that was that voted for me and thank them," Steinbach said. "I was honored. It's neat for my kids to see their dad mentioned with Hall of Famers."