In recent years, the last decade or so, the baseball Hall of Fame ballot has been bloated with overwhelmingly qualified candidates, many automatics, including the likes of Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, which gave the BBWAA writers who conduct the actual voting many thoughts, and columns, and podcasts, discussing who they chose to vote for, and why. The limit of being able to vote for no more than ten candidates meant there were years where valid choices were left “on the cutting room floor” due to a stuffed ballot.
That dilemma may not be the case this year.
On Jan. 26, the Hall of Fame will announce on the MLB channel if any of the 25 “finalists” were named on at least 75% of ballots cast, and if so, they will join Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons, and a representative for Marvin Miller on July 25th this summer as they are formally inducted.
At least we hope there is a ceremony.
As you know, last summer’s Induction was formally postponed due to the Covid-19 shutdown, and while life is at the very edge of beginning to get back to a new normal thanks to a molasses distribution of vaccines, we still don’t know if baseball games will allow fans back into the ballparks, let alone a Cooperstown Induction with nearly 100,000 fans cascading down the long sloping field that contains the ceremony.
We will soon learn if this quartet of plaques will warrant additional wall spaces in the Hall of Fame Gallery, but there is also the possibility there’ll be four and no more.
In last year’s ballots cast, pitcher Curt Schilling, in his 9th year of eligibility, came closest to reaching the required 75% with 70% of the vote. Coming this close often rings the bell the following year as voters take a deeper dive into the achievements of the candidate, but Schilling’s post-career social media rants do not encourage his likability quotient, including public insults to media members, and even though this is not supposed to be a criteria for voting, that old character clause in the Hall of Fame bylaws might cost him a few votes.
The next closest tallies rang in with Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, both barely clearing the 60% barrier, with the pitcher at 61% and the hitter at 60.7%, both also in their ninth year of eligibility.
For many years, writers had 15 years to consider Hall of Fame candidates, but a few years ago, that period was chopped down to ten years, so if any of these three embattled candidates don’t get that anticipated phone call soon, their names will be relegated to some future Veteran’s Committee voting.
So there is a chance the writers pitch another shutout this year. The last time they put up a goose egg was in 2013, and prior to that they came up empty in 1996 and 1971.
Ryan Thibodeaux is someone who heads a staff who tries to keep track of ballots cast and attempts to accurately predict who will get in and at what percentage. You can find his results at: bbhoftracker.com, and you can follow him on twitter.
He’s rarely 100% accurate, as he predicted Jeter would receive 100% of the vote last year, and that did not occur, but he can come pretty darn close.
As of Saturday, the 23rd, this is what the tracker reported: Schilling would receive 74.8% of the vote (and it’s not horseshoes, he has to scale that 75% number to get in, there’s no rounding up). Bonds would receive 72.4%, and Clemens would earn 71.8%.
Other candidates would rate as follows: Scott Rolen (65.0%), Billy Wagner (47.2%), Gary Sheffield (46.0%), Andruw Jones (41.1%), Omar Vizquel (39.3%), Manny Ramirez (33.1%), Jeff Kent (29.4%), Sammy Sosa (21.5%), Andy Pettitte (17.2%), Bobby Abreu (12.9%), and Mark Buehrle (8.6%).
Those receiving less than five percent of the vote, which means they would no longer be considered candidates unless some distant Vet’s Committee shockingly and bizarrely rules more favorably, include: Torii Hunter (4.9%), Tim Hudson (4.3%), and Aramis Ramirez (0.6%). There also were candidates who would be dropped from further consideration with zero recognition: Shane Victorino, AJ Burnett, Barry Zito, Nick Swisher, Dan Haren, Michael Cuddyer, and LaTroy Hawkins.
This is not a condemnation of their skills. All of them good ballplayers, all of them with All-Star credentials. But Hall of Famers?
So this is not a year with true automatics on the ballot. But some writers might take a long hard look at candidates they may have overlooked in the past and give them stronger consideration.
For what its’ worth, and it’s not worth much, as it is just one baseball fan’s opinion, here are the names that would be checked on my ballot: Bonds, Clemens, Helton, Wagner, Sheffield, Kent, Pettitte, and reluctantly, Schilling.
Agree with me or declare my insanity, I am not one of those who goes ballistic because several of these candidates are thought to have used steroids or some other form of enhancing substances.
I have my reasons, many of them, but the main one is that for all of these players from the “steroid era,” you can’t tell me how many pitchers Bonds faced who were also using some form of PEDs, and you can’t tell me how many hitters Clemens faced who were also using some form of PEDs. In that case, they were on a level playing field.
No need to debate the stats each of these players accrued. All of them had worthy seasons. And there are definitely those not on my list who are likely worthy and may eventually get in, such as Vizquel or Rolen. Manny Ramirez was a bit too “Manny” too many times, so there’s a debate that will linger for years as well.
The bottom line is that this entire debate is one of the beauties of the game of baseball, the fact that every fan is a Hall of Fame voter, albeit not officially, and that is why, year after year, we consider and discuss the pros and cons on levels that is never reached when discussing the merits of Hall of Famers in any other sport.
Sadly, we have lost way too many of the great Hall of Famers in the past ten months, the latest of which is one of the greatest of the great, Henry Aaron.
We salute the passings of Al Kaline, Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Joe Morgan, Whitey Ford, Phil Niekro, Don Sutton, Tommy Lasorda, and now Aaron. Their memories, their achievements, their grace and elegance, their humanity and compassion, their generosities, and the joy they brought to our lives will never be forgotten.
RIP, gentlemen. Heaven’s Field of Dreams now includes an even deeper, amazing lineup.