Yes, that’s the headline. Because if you’re writing the first-ever Hall of Fame Ballot explainer column hosted on the BBHOF Ballot Tracker, and that guy Ryan Thibodaux is technically your new publisher, then you’re writing about the candidates as you check their names on the BBWAA ballot before signing it and mailing it back. And you’re going to write about a lot of voting trends, because all we care about here are four things really:
1. November 22, 2021, Hall of Fame ballot is officially announced and mailed.
2. December 31, 2021, the deadline for about 400 ballots to be returned.
3. January 25, 2022, when new Hall of Fame President Josh Rawitch announces voting results.
4. July 24, 2022, Hall of Fame Inductions.
That’s it. This column doesn’t care about Management vs. Union, except in the ramifications a possible work stoppage might have for any future Hall of Fame cases. Albert Pujols and Mike Trout are first-ballot no matter what, but what about some perennial All-Star who might slink one spot lower in the all-time JAWS rankings at his position, and maybe wind up on the bubble as someone’s No. 11 like Gary Sheffield is on mine?
The lockout also only matters here because it’s a bookend in my own BBWAA life. In 1990, I arrived at Giants camp as a new San Jose Mercury News beat writer, only to cover a 32-day lockout that would wipe out Spring Training and push Opening Day back a week. Being the Merc’s National League columnist also meant devoting more than a few articles to a skinny Pirates outfielder who had 33 homers, 52 steals, a league-high 170 OPS+, left field governance, and his first All-Star election plus first of seven MVPs. Barry Bonds flopped that first postseason by going 3-for-18 against the eventual-champion Reds in the NLCS (the Nasty Boys et al shut down everyone), but he was on his way to becoming one of the best players ever, even before he got big, and unbelievably in futuristic 2021 we would still be talking about him.
Ten years later came this voter’s first ballot, helping to elect Carlton Fisk and Tony Perez in the Class of 2000, so this one marks 23 in a row, just in a different home. And guess what no real baseball Hot Stove news means this winter: Way more BBHOF Tracker talk! Judging by the looks of things so far, the bulk of that conversation is going to come around the holidays. As of this writing on December 17, only about 30 ballots had been made public, so it’s going to be a ballot-reveal tsunami well into the New Year. Speaking only for myself, I don’t want to name names, but the dummy who runs our U.S. Postal Service can take credit for my ballot’s 23-day journey here after it was postmarked. It showed up just as the Hall was about to reissue one, and by the way, tell me again why we in the BBWAA aren’t digital yet except for registration? If it takes 23 more days to make it back up the East Coast, this ballot won’t count, anyway.
So what’s everyone else’s excuse for the dilly-dallying? You can be sure many voters have been taking their sweet time dropping candidates they have supported in the past, due to the presence of so many superstar names. It’s a tough call, even if you’ve thought about it all year. When this ballot is in front of you, you just kind of stare at it like you can’t believe this is really happening. Here are some logical reasons for that delay, before we get to the 10 check marks:
Welcome To The Mother Of All Ballots, aka Moving On Ballot, aka Last Blast Ballot, aka Red Sox Legend Ballot.
Steroid City. PEDecember. We’ve been counting down to the 2022 election every year, even as we have appreciated the 100-percent love for Mariano Rivera and then 99.7 (wasn’t me) for Derek Jeter. Last year was the BBWAA’s first shutout since 2013. Now that Álex Rodríguez and David Ortiz have joined the fun, you have to look up and down this piece of paper and ask yourself:
Can you possibly know exactly who did what and who didn’t? Of course not. I’ve voted for Bonds and Roger Clemens every year, and dismissed Manny Ramírez in his first year only because I had the notion of dismissing anyone suspended after the MLB Joint Prevention & Treatment Plan was instituted. It made some sense, for a while. With A-Rod on the horizon, and with Manny the fourth-most deserving candidate on this ballot according to two different Bill James metrics, I changed my official position to Ah Fuck It, apparently like the Era Committees who just opened the floodgates to anyone nice.
I’m definitely not spending the next 10 years dwelling on an A-Rod soap opera over his body. None of us should be put through another decade like this last one.
The steroid era happened, and the Commissioner who presided over it is long since in the Hall. Really you don’t have to say anything more than that, but I will. The hypocrisy has droned on for a decade – voters acting like they know – they don’t know. The Mitchell Report didn’t resolve anything. It’s not our job to know. I didn’t cover the Giants bathroom, I waited with fellow greenflies for Will Clark and others to come out and I interviewed them while they dressed or undressed, sometimes regrettably, like when I made the mistake of asking him about just being no-hit by Terry Mulholland at The Vet. My real mistake was not looking at my scorebook on the way down and recalling that he had just made the last out in three innings, so the locker room fell silent as he gave me The Nuschler look and chewed my ass out.
Kevin Mitchell roared in laughter. Now that was a Mitchell Report. Hey, that’s how it works when you’re a beat writer earning this moment, which I value with great honor.
And guess what the late, great Bob Gibson said back in 2009?
“Guys have been cheatin’ ever since baseball’s been baseball (and) I’m just glad that I didn’t have to make that decision on whether to do it or not. Because I’d have been one of those guys you’d write about. Probably would have done it, I don’t know. I’d like to think I wouldn’t have, but I don’t know if I’m that strong. If I thought somebody was getting an edge on me and I found a way that I could get it back, maybe I would. Don’t know. I’m glad I didn’t have to make that decision.”
There were a lot of baseball legends who felt the same way. And there were a lot of baseball legends like the late, great Joe Morgan who thought it was our job to Just Say No, even going so far as to write us a love letter a few years back. Is 80-year-old Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame yet? No? And we’re dealing with fighting for our very democracy here in the U.S.? Why do we still care about keeping Pete out? Why keep talking about steroids? I’m just voting for some great ballplayers. Listen for the sound of caving as you watch @NotMrTibbs tweets.
Ballot Turnover for Candidates and Electors.
Voter turnover is happening at a brisk pace, as we have to register right after each World Series and report the last year in which we were active BBWAA cardholders. For me it was 2017, so my own 10-year Countdown to Siberia started the next year as I vote in the meantime with my Lifetime Honorary number. Because of that recently enacted sunset clause, the number of Hall voters from sports media is down almost a third from the 2014 peak of 571. Younger and newer voters are receiving ballots after 10 consecutive years in the BBWAA, and they are by and large ignoring the PED issue, with a generational consensus that the pre-testing era shouldn’t be held against anyone . . . and perhaps removing the qualifier.
Last 5 Cycles, 2017-21, First Time Voters
Bonds 51/60 (85.0%)
Clemens 52/60 (86.7%)
And we can expect the same rate this year, where the Tracker’s Adam Dore said he estimates about 20 first-time voters. So let’s say another 17/20 for each. Those two are looking at 68/80 or 69/80. They would be shoo-ins this year if not or the Old Guard, and they would be shoo-ins if it were still a maximum 15 years of eligibility.
In 2015, that maximum was reduced to 10. Bonds, Clemens, Schilling and Sosa are all in that final year of consideration. The first three are close, hoping at least privately for that bump. Sosa, a more one-dimensional star in his day, has no shot.
Considering that wave of next-gen voters who are less confused and more about the numbers, one could argue that the reduction was done at least partly with this ballot in mind. Morgan and his bloc were adamantly opposed to suspected steroid users, and they had the power to make a change like that. It was attributed to the logjam that we were facing a decade ago, a logjam voters broke with big class after big class.
The 10th and final year on the ballot immediately became a major Tracker trend. In three of the last five years, BBWAA voters have elected a player in his final year on the ballot. We had Larry Walker with 76.6 percent in 2020, Edgar Martinez with 85.4 in 2019, and Tim Raines with 86.0 in 2017. That’s a significant trend that belongs to this generation. Other than Jim Rice (15th year) in 2007, you had to go way back to 1975 for a Ralph Kiner example.
The change from 15 to 10 years coincided with a real breakout of meaningful statistical awareness among the electorate, with more voters weighing WAR and other metrics. At the same time, social media and this Tracker amplified 10th-year cases, specifically causing more and more voters, now more aware of their peer ballots, to overhaul their methodology and use up to 10 allotted check marks rather than the old small ballots. (I know; I’m one of those who converted during Jeff Bagwell’s run).
Add all that up and it is probably human nature that makes one want to vote for a last-ballot player who has a good case to make.
But what we have on this 2022 ballot is something completely different. Walker, Edgar and Rock were textbook cases of candidates whose grassroots campaigns gradually built steam. Statistical cases for Bonds, Clemens and Schilling were all well-known and un-moveable when they first appeared on the ballot. With all of them, it has been off-the-field subjects that caused a wait until year 10.
So while I’m voting for Bonds, Clemens and Schilling, I don’t see any of them in the same light as Walker, Edgar and Raines. And I doubt that any of them are going to enjoy the same last-year bump that gets them into Cooperstown. There’s always the Today’s Game Era Committee, which would be set to consider them next year if all else fails, and based on all the “good guys” the Era Committees just elected, that’s a fat chance.
It’s not just the Y10 issue that is causing a ballot delay, but also the First Blast guys. I’m sure more than a few voters have waited to see what others are saying about Ortiz and Rodríguez. You don’t often get to see a Red Sox-Yankees rivalry play out on the ballot, so it could be fun, although I suspect Big Papi’s ballot life will be very short.
Why I Checked These 10 Boxes And What To Watch On The Tracker
It’s going to be a long, long afternoon of speeches next July 24 in Cooperstown, thanks to the elections of Bud Fowler and Buck O’Neil by the Early Baseball Era Committee and Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Miñoso and Tony Oliva (!!!!!) by the Golden Days Era Committee. Electees and survivors will be lined up, so the only question is how many BBWAA picks join them.
The premise is still the same as it was when I voted while with MLB.com: Start with WAR/JAWS, think about it until your head hurts, talk to others, read peers like Jay Jaffe, check tweets, keep it mainly about on-field, check all 10 boxes, blog your reasons, mail it “back to Jack” and sleep well at night. As difficult as this ballot is, it’s easier than last year because I’m not in bed with Covid and then heading to Tampa General right after checking the names. (Get vaccinated and get boosted, right Curt?)
1. Barry Bonds
His percentage has risen every year except for his second: from 36.2 in 2013 to 34.7 to 36.8 to 44.3 to 53.8 to 56.4 to 59.1 to 60.7 to 61.8 in 2021. So he needs a 13.2% leap now, and as you can see his largest jump was 9.5 in Year 5, back when the bottleneck was being cleared and his flip rate was a whopping 17.1 percent. Bonds’ seven MVPs are four more than anyone else, his 162.4 WAR and 117.6 JAWS far beyond any left fielder. All-time leader with 762 homers, 2,558 walks and 688 intentional walks, proof how badly he scared managers. We know it was more than flaxseed oil, but it’s always a worthwhile investment of times as a voter to re-scan his stats. Same with Pete. These guys belong in the Hall. Alas, unlikely still.
2. Roger Clemens
If these two guys do ever make it onto the Gallery wall, their plaques should look eternally at each other the way Lou Gehrig and Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis do. (Does anyone else admire plaque positioning?) Clemens’ raw flip rate, like Bonds’ of course, was stellar in 2017 with 16.1. . . yet has stagnated since then. Shame. One of the five best pitchers ever, he dominated over 24 years with 354 wins and 4,672 strikeouts. He is one of three on the all-time list in triple figures for JAWS: 102.5, behind Walter Johnson at 126.6 and Cy Young at 120.6. Seven Cy Young Awards, followed by Randy Johnson with five and Steve Carlton/Greg Maddux with four. How amazing would the text be on that plaque? Alas, unlikely still.
3. Scott Rolen
After a disappointing — and to me, shocking — first year with 10.2 percent, Rolen’s case has gradually influenced peers. He increased that to 17.2 in 2019, then to 35.3 in 2020 and a power jump to 52.9 last year. Considering that Rolen is the leading retuning vote-getter outside the Y10 crowd, he doesn’t need to do a whole lot and should continue to rise and straight onto a Cooperstown podium in the summer of 2023. Seriously, if you’re a top-10 in both WAR and JAWS — he’s 10th in each — then there better be a good reason (durability ain’t it) cited by detractors for not checking your box. Over a 17-year career from 1996–2012 with the Phillies, Cardinals, Blue Jays and Reds, he slashed .281/.364/.490 with 316 homers, 2077 hits and 1,287 RBIs. He was a seven-time All-Star and eight-time NL Gold Glove winner. Rolen helped lead the Cardinals to the 2006 World Championship and is viewed by many as the best defensive third baseman of his era. Tony La Russa, who famously feuded with Rolen during their time together in St. Louis, said he “would vote for Rolen in a heartbeat.” Same here.
4. Álex Rodríguez
“I know that I’m someone who loves the game tremendously. I’ve made some tremendous mistakes, and I’ve also worked extremely hard in trying to come back and do things the right way,” he said back in 2016 (from Bryan Hoch article). This is not your average ballot debut, because 3,115 hits used to mean auto-entry. Three MVPs, 14 All-Star selections, 16th all-time with a 117.5 WAR, fourth all-time in RBIs (2,086), seventh in total bases (5,813) and extra-base hits (1,275), eighth in runs (2,021). And this is the part where he and Jeter take a different fork in the first-ballot road. A-Rod juice early and late in his career, leaving himself wide-open for morality-cause defenders. The abyss was 2013, when he was the key figure in MLB’s investigation into the Biogenesis PED scandal, having to apologize to (skeptical) teammates. He threatened to sue MLB and the Yankees, was suspended for 211 games, accepted a reduced ban of 162, covering all of the 2014 regular season and postseason. That is all fresh in the memory, but so are his stats, as well as his public image that he continues to hone as an accessible TV personality. Just remember that Bonds, Clemens and Schilling started with a vote percentage in the 30s, so if A-Rod’s in the 50 range that’s a pretty good sign he’s just got a speed bump.
5. Curt Schilling
The right-hander ranks 21st all-time with a 64.0 JAWS score, and everyone above him but Clemens is in the Hall; so are the next three guys (Fergie Jenkins, Tom Glavine and Tim Keefe) after him, with Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw right after that. But he has some work to do. After 30 ballots, Schilling’s flip rate was -15.2 percent, not a good sign and certainly not reflective of his momentum the last two years. He was 20 votes shy of election with 70 percent in 2020 when Jeter and Walker were elected, then 16 votes shy last year with 285 total votes or 71.1 percent. Schilling then proceeded to throw gasoline on a fire by further disparaging voters (who he already had wanted to “lynch”), something that is probably laudable to his small but passionate minority of like-minded “patriots” who thought the January 6 insurrection was cool, before Joe Biden’s landslide was secured. They wanted to hang two of the top three elected officials in America and had no problems killing cops in the process. J6 and Y10 are probably both going to just pass on into history without much for him to celebrate. That said, I’m going to echo a commenter on Jaffe’s FanGraphs post this week: “While I find Schilling’s views repugnant, I don’t think he should be excluded from the HOF because he doesn’t think the same way I do.” What’s another troll when you’re happy as a clam in the post-Trump era?
6. David Ortiz
So far, so good for the Big Papi supporters. At the 30-ballot mark, he had three votes already from electors who omitted Bonds and Clemens, and a vote from a person who only voted for Clemens; that bodes well for him and indicates he will have a good chance as long as he can stay fairly close to the 75% line, as many voters are not lumping him in with “cheaters.” Ortiz arrives on the ballot as one of a whole host of Red Sox legends I am checking, including two of his Reverse the Curse teammates, Schilling and Ramírez (plus Clemens and, for a cup of tea, Wagner). Boston will absolutely take over Cooperstown when this guy gets in. Just in the hope that Papi will look at the crowd and start his speech with: “This is our fuckin’ city!” He hit 541 homers, and it was the ones in the postseason that really cemented his legacy. His name came up in the Mitchell Report, but Commissioner Rob Manfred has been among those who stood by him since then. Remember that Andy Pettitte is getting no love at all despite unparalleled postseason pitching records, though, so we’ll wait and see what postseason pumps meant to Papi. Ten-time All-Star, 26th among first basemen in WAR (not spectacular) and a top DH of his day. He led the AL in doubles, RBIs, slugging and OPS in his final season at age 40. Good guy, couldn’t wait to interview him when I was in Boston, about any MLB subject, and he always obliged, promoting the game. But at No. 6 on my list, his case isn’t as strong as others’.
7. Manny Ramírez
If you vote for Papi, it’s impossible not to consider the guy who batted next to him in the order all those years. Ramírez has been stuck in the 20s mud each of his first five years (23.8 percent in 2017, then 22.0, 22.8, 28.2 and 28.2). But those taking the Moving On approach might raise that percentage, and an early 36.7 percentage after 30 votes may or may not be progress. He’s in the same camp as A-Rod in that he was suspended after MLB’s drug program was instituted, and doesn’t have A-Rod’s numbers. But he’s still got a hell of a case, certainly no Sammy Sosa here. In fact, Bill James’ Hall of Fame Monitor has him at 226, which is fourth behind A-Rod, Bonds and Clemens in this year’s class. By all other measures, Manny is a lock: 10th in JAWS (54.6) among left fielders, just above the average Hall of Famer . . . and eighth (!) in WAR (69.4). He had 555 homers, 154 OPS+, nine straight 100-RBI seasons and 12 overall, 12 All-Star Games and 29 postseason homers, was a fearsome leader in Cleveland during the 1990s and most notably World Series MVP for Boston in 2004. Could you imagine his Hall speech?
8. Todd Helton
Subtle yet still significant gains on the Tracker for the Toddfather: +2 thru 30 ballots when he started in the mid-40s isn’t bad at all. He should be able to hover around 50 percent with six years remaining. When you are researching Big Papi’s WAR and JAWS rankings at first base, you can’t miss Helton high above him, there in the thick of the legendary inductees, ranking 17th and 15th, respectively. Everyone above him is either inducted, just waiting to be eligible (Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera), or in PED lockup (Rafael Palmeiro). The only question with Helton is when. You can cite Denver altitude all you want, as many voters have done, but Walker spent significant time there on his way to Cooperstown. And Helton gets credit for spending his whole career with one franchise and having that likeability that seems to matter so much to a lot of the electorate.
9. Billy Wagner
Wagner is looking excellent here. After four straight years in the teens, he jumped to 31.7 in 2020 and then leapfrogged to 46.6 last year. Wags has flipped 3/16 no votes from last year without dropping any of his yes votes, and he got a check mark on the one first-year voter who has revealed as of this writing. Dore said: “It may not sound like much, but if you project out that 18.8% flip rate he is currently projecting to finish at 56.4 percent and will have three years remaining and a ton of green in front of him with Bonds and company leaving the ballot.” Wagner’s overall numbers are better than those of Trevor Hoffman, who got into the Hall without me, and a shortfall of career innings means you have to analyze Wagner’s run a little differently. He was lightning on the mound and owns the record for the highest strikeout rate of any pitcher with at least 800 innings: 11.9 per nine, or one of every three batters faced. Wagner’s 0.998 WHIP beats Rivera’s 1.000 for second all-time behind dead-ball era pitcher Addie Joss (0.968). Wagner’s 2.31 ERA and 187 ERA+ were the best since 1920 by any pitcher other than Rivera (2.21 and 205). Oh, and he did kick in 422 saves. You can list numbers like that for him all day, so you have to check his box.
10. Andruw Jones
Similar to Helton, three adds and no drops out of the gate, not a priority this year but steadily making ground and setting himself up for success with five years left in candidacy after this one. He and Wagner have identical flip rates (3/16) through 30 ballots but Wagner’s case is more urgent with only three years after this. Both Wags and Jones have back to back double-digit increases (~15% each year for Wags and ~12% for Andruw) and the fact that neither has a drop is a good sign as there are lots of drops already. Most are just shedding their Omar Vizquel votes, again because it’s the Mother Of All Ballots and just no room. Kenny Lofton’s ballot run was a travesty, and we blew it. I wasn’t hanging around the right stats people then! He’ll be a good case for an Era Committee, and for now we can do something about Jones. Everyone else who mattered from those NL dynastic Braves teams of the 1990s is in the Hall of Fame, even the manager and GM, so get Jones some votes. Jones was a defensive center fielder par none, which is important because he’s well under (34) Bill James’ HOF Standard for Batting (50). Jones is even better when you look at his best seven WAR seasons, ranking ninth at 46.4, ahead of Carlos Beltran. Prognosis is good for Jones in the next five years, and meanwhile a center fielder like Earle Combs really needs to be removed, just there because he played with great Yankees.
6 Bubble Thoughts
Gary Sheffield: It’s Year 8 for Sheff, and I was determined to get him in at No. 10 after seeing Tony Oliva selected by the Golden Days Committee. Sheff’s well above him on the all-time JAWS and WAR lists in right field. Again, you hate to see another Lofton happen on the BBWAA ballot. I couldn’t afford him on this one, and am sure that will be the case with others. But he shot up to 30.5 percent in 2020 and then 40.5 last year, and with a lightened ballot next year it’s his chance to make an even bigger move. Maybe a Final Year electee?
Bobby Abreu: He’s a drop for me in his third year. Again, too many right now with strong cases; I will revisit him next year. He’s right there with Sheffield on WAR and JAWS RF lists.
Omar Vizquel: As mentioned above, he’ll jump back into consideration with a cleaner ballot. Still hard to imagine him not being in the Hall of Fame one way or another, despite all the compiling years. He’s a guy you paid to see. May start voting for him.
Jeff Kent: Same thing. Will return to the conversation next year. But he’s behind a lot of unelected second basemen on the big lists, even Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler.
Andy Pettitte: Sorry 46, but I have to let you go. I tried. Still think you deserve election, didn’t want you to fall off the ballot without a chance like your catcher, Jorge Posada. No room anymore.
Sammy Sosa: Sure, it sounds good to lump him in with so many others on this wild ballot. But for all those homers, Sosa was more one-dimensional and has never been a strong consideration by the electorate. His career rWAR and JAWS are below HOF standards.