24 Nov 2021 | 08:58
Welcome to the Hall of Fame ballot as devised by Stephen King, George R.R. Martin and Beelzebub. It’s the final appearance on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Curt Schilling — and the first for Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz. There are other intriguing holdovers hoping to get closer to enshrinement — Manny Ramirez and Gary Sheffield are still hanging around — and other intriguing newcomers for the voters to consider.
With the ballots officially distributed on Monday, let’s look at some of the key issues for the 2022 election. Remember the basic guidelines:
Schilling led all players last year with 71.8% of the vote, the first time the BBWAA threw a shutout since 2013 and just the fourth time since 1966. Since that previous clean slate, the BBWAA elected 21 players over a seven-year span, a relative rampage by historical standards. The PED-induced logjam that crowded the ballot for a time and made it more difficult to get elected has mostly been excised, which has served to help previously borderline candidates like Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez and Larry Walker in recent years and should help some of this year’s candidates move closer to election as well.
Still, much of the Hall of Fame discussion over the next month will center on three PED-stained all-time greats and one on-field star with more than a few off-the-field controversies.
OK, this is it for Bonds, Clemens and Schilling. Do anyone of them get in?
For Bonds and Clemens, the answer appears pretty obvious: No. Bonds received 61.8% of the vote last year, while Clemens was right behind him; he received one fewer vote. Assuming the same number of ballots (401), Bonds needs to pick up 53 votes and Clemens 54. The problem is the 2021 vote totals for both players were nearly identical to 2020, when Clemens was at 61% and Bonds 60.7%, and have barely inched upward since 2018, when both were at 56%. Maybe they get some final-ballot sympathy votes, but it appears they have maxed out their support from the writers: It seems highly improbable they climb to 75%.
Normally, Schilling would be able to rely on that final-year surge to get in. Look at what happened to Walker, Martinez and Raines on their 10th and final appearances: Walker, 54.6% to 76.6%; Martinez, 70.4% to 85.4%; Raines, 69.8% to 86.0%
Schilling needs only a fraction of the percentage those players received — he fell 16 votes short last year. Alas, his case is not so simple, and it’s difficult to envision too many “let’s get him over the hump” votes coming his way from writers who haven’t already been voting for him.
I’ve always felt his on-field case has always been vastly underrated by voters. He compares very favorably to John Smoltz, who made it on the first ballot while Schilling received just 38.8% his first time:
Schilling: 216-146, 3.46 ERA, 127 ERA+, 3261 IP, 3116 SO, 80.5 WAR, three World Series titles
Smoltz: 213-155, 3.33 ERA, 125 ERA+, 3473 IP, 3084 SO, 66.4 WAR, one World Series title
As a bonus, they were also the two greatest postseason starting pitchers of their era. Smoltz did win a Cy Young Award (Schilling finished second three times), but it never made sense that Smoltz got in so easily while Schilling faced an uphill battle, even before he turned into a Twitter troll and conspiracy theorist.
His chances do seem to have been hurt by the social media controversies that have erupted in recent years, his most recent one coming after last year’s election when he tweeted support for the U.S. Capitol rioters. After failing to get elected in 2021, Schilling wrote a letter to the Hall of Fame, which he posted on Facebook, asking to be removed from the ballot.
“I will not participate in the final year of voting. I am requesting to be removed from the ballot. I’ll defer to the veterans committee and men whose opinions actually matter and who are in a position to actually judge a player,” Schilling wrote. The Hall of Fame’s board of directors unanimously denied Schilling’s request.
My best guess: Schilling falls short with about the same percentage as last year.
How will Alex Rodriguez do?
Like Bonds and Clemens, A-Rod is one of the 20 greatest players of all time (Bonds is fourth in career WAR, Clemens eighth and Rodriguez 16th), but his case is even more obviously rooted in PEDs than those two, because he was suspended for the 2014 season due to his involvement in the Biogenesis PED scandal. Maybe he will be viewed like Bonds and Clemens — with undeniable Hall of Fame statistics — and come in around 60% of the vote, but it’s also possible he finishes closer Manny Ramirez’s 28.2% in 2021, his fifth year on the ballot (he got 24% in his first year on the ballot). Like Rodriguez, Ramirez was suspended after PED testing began in 2004. Rodriguez was a much better all-around player than Ramirez, so he’ll probably come in higher than 28%, but the lack of support for Ramirez suggests the BBWAA is unlikely to ever elect Rodriguez unless something drastically changes.
OK, how about David Ortiz?
Ah, yes, we’re not done talking about PEDs yet. The New York Times reported in 2009 that Ortiz had tested positive during the initial survey testing in 2003, when there was no punishment. Ortiz vehemently denied the report and during Ortiz’s final season, commissioner Rob Manfred seemed to exonerate Ortiz when he told reporters that the list of positive tests from the survey results included names “where we knew that there were legitimate scientific questions about whether or not those were truly positives.” (Hmm.)
Ortiz never failed another PED test, although the cloud of accusation hangs over him. But other players who were widely believed to have used PEDs have been elected to the Hall of Fame, and, unlike Bonds and Clemens, he didn’t break any hallowed records.
Ultimately, Ortiz towers over the game as much for his larger-than-life persona and clutch hitting in the postseason than just his statistical accomplishments. Indeed, his career WAR of 55.3 is hardly a Hall of Fame slam dunk; Martinez, another player who spent most of his career as a DH, was at 68.4 and it took him 10 years to get elected. Ortiz, of course, has bigger counting stats (541 home runs, 1,768 RBIs) than Martinez, not to mention the playoff heroics. There were few players who impacted the sport or matched Ortiz’s popularity, making him a clear winner in the “He feels like a Hall of Famer” category. Still, the BBWAA has not elected a non-reliever with a career WAR that low since Jim Rice (47.7) in 2009. The low WAR, the PED cloud and the usual bias against first-year candidates will make it close, but I think Ortiz gets in.
Which holdover candidate has the best chance?
Scott Rolen was fourth on last year’s ballot behind Schilling, Bonds and Clemens at 52.9%. This will be his fifth appearance on the ballot, so he’s making strong progress. Keep in mind that Raines, Martinez and Walker were at a much lower percentage at the same stage. Also keep in mind that every player who received 50% of the BBWAA vote — with the exception of Gil Hodges and the players still on the ballot — eventually got elected to the Hall of Fame, either via the BBWAA or a veterans committee. It’s likely Rolen’s vote total surges this year — not to 75%, but he could get to 60% and maybe that surges even more next year when Bonds, Clemens, Schilling and perhaps Ortiz are off the ballot. Voters like to vote for somebody and, Rodriguez and Ramirez aside, Rolen and 2023 newcomer Carlos Beltran will be the best of those on the ballot in upcoming years.
What about Omar Vizquel?
Vizquel’s vote total declined from 52.6% in 2020 to 49.1% last year, perhaps in response to his ex-wife posting an Instagram video alleging domestic abuse. Vizquel was arrested for fourth-degree domestic assault in 2016, but the chargers were later dropped. This past August, a former bat boy for the Birmingham Barons, the Double-A team Vizquel managed for the White Sox in 2019, sued Vizquel for sexual harassment. The White Sox investigated the allegations at the time and fired Vizquel.
Vizquel’s Hall of Fame case was already a heated debate, resting entirely on his defensive wizardry (11 Gold Gloves) and longevity (he played the most games at shortstop in MLB history). His career WAR of 45.6 is well below typical Hall of Fame standards, and he made just three All-Star teams in his career and received MVP votes in just one season (16th in 1999). With more new-school voters entering the ranks of the BBWAA, and relying more on advanced metrics and less on gut feeling and reputation, Vizquel’s candidacy was probably always a long shot via the BBWAA. Look for his percentage to stall in upcoming votes and eventually move to some future veterans committee.
Any other holdovers to watch?
Billy Wagner (46.4% last year on his sixth ballot) and Todd Helton (44.9% on his third ballot) are inching closer to that magical 50% line. Jeff Kent needs a Walker-like burst on his ninth ballot after receiving just 32.4% last year — despite hitting 377 home runs, the all-time record for a second baseman, and driving in 1,518 runs (third behind only Nap Lajoie and Rogers Hornsby). His career WAR of 55.5 and his poor defensive reputation have hurt him along with the crowded ballots earlier in his candidacy. I expect him to take a leap forward, but not enough to get in over the next two years.
Others to watch include Sheffield (40.6%), Andruw Jones (33.9%), Ramirez (28.2%), Andy Pettitte (13.7%) and Mark Buehrle (11.0%). Sosa (17.0%) will time out and join his pal Mark McGwire in veterans committee purgatory.
Any other newcomers besides A-Rod and Ortiz who will stay on the ballot?
Mark Teixeira (409 home runs, 50.6 WAR) and Jimmy Rollins (2,455 hits, an MVP Award, 47.6 WAR) have the best chance, along with former Twins closer Joe Nathan, who compares somewhat to Wagner:
Wagner: 47-40, 2.31 ERA, 187 ERA+, 422 saves, 903 IP, 1196 SO, 27.8 WAR
Nathan: 64-34, 2.87 ERA, 151 ERA+, 377 saves, 923 IP, 976 SO, 26.4 WAR
Similar … but Wagner has more saves and a better ERA. Nathan’s peak from 2004 to 2009 and again in 2013 was extraordinary, but he feels a step behind Wagner and will probably struggle to get to 5%.
Prince Fielder is a great what-if case, with 285 home runs through his age-29 season, but just 34 after that with an early retirement due to a neck injury. Instead of perhaps hitting 600 home runs, he hit 319. I’m not sure he would have been a Hall of Famer even if he had stayed healthy. His power had already declined (30 home runs in 2012 and 25 in 2013) before the injury. It’s not quite fair to call him a one-dimensional player as he hit .283 and had a .382 OBP, but he didn’t really offer enough to be a Hall of Fame player. Still, at his best in his Brewers days, few players were more fun to watch.
The same can be said for two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, who won back-to-back awards with the Giants in 2008 and 2009 and helped them win the 2010 World Series. It was a short, spectacular peak, but he lacked the necessary longevity, a reminder that just getting on the ballot is itself a great way to honor a memorable career.