The votes have been tallied and tabulated, and the Baseball Hall of Fame has a new class of one. Boston Red Sox legend David Ortiz was inducted in his first year with 77.9% of the vote, with Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling all failing to make the 75% cutoff point in their final year of eligibility.
What does this result mean for the Hall of Fame? Bradford Doolittle, Alden Gonzalez, Tim Keown and Buster Olney are here to break it down.
What do you make of David Ortiz getting into the Hall of Fame after his first year on the ballot?
Doolittle: I probably would have voted for Ortiz. While 500-plus homers is no longer an automatic ticket, his 541 dingers are a strong avatar for the duration of his excellence. His career WAR lags because of his lack of positional value, but that’s an ephemeral thing so abstract that I would hate to make that argument to Ortiz (or anyone else) in person. His job wasn’t to generate positional value but to create runs, and only 34 players have ever created more. Every one of those 34 is either in the Hall, will be in the Hall or would be if not for non-playing factors. The designated hitter has been an actual job in baseball for nearly 50 years, and “Big Papi” did it better than just about anyone. This is even before you get into his postseason record; he’s the all-time leader in postseason win probability added. It’s clearly a Hall of Fame résumé. Apparently enough voters agreed with that to get him in, and the fact that a lot of them really like Ortiz certainly didn’t hurt his cause.
Gonzalez: Ortiz’s early entry is indicative of how sometimes — even in an era consumed by numbers — the eye test and mere common sense should have a say in these evaluations. Ortiz was only a DH, his career WAR surpassed by 243 others throughout history (including 65 retired, eligible players who are not in the Hall of Fame). And yet Ortiz always felt like a Hall of Famer. What he meant to such a storied franchise, how he continually came through on the grandest stage, the way he helped define his era — Ortiz was so clearly That Guy. Add the 541 home runs, the .931 OPS and the 1,832 runs created, and it’s obvious Ortiz put together a Hall of Fame career, even if it might get a little muddled with a positive test in the anonymous survey testing that took place 19 years ago. It should be this simple for — ahem — other candidates. And it shouldn’t require congeniality.
Keown: I’ll preface this by saying David Ortiz had a no-doubt, first-ballot Hall of Fame career, but this vote at this time is a big win for the power of personality. Ortiz’s affability and post-retirement broadcasting gig helped pave the way for a first-ballot election. Given his link to PEDs and the general stingy nature of the current group of voters, it would have been a safer bet to assume that he would have to wait at least a year — if only on principle — to gain election.
Olney: He deserved it as one of the best postseason performers ever and as one of the most dominant hitters of his era. But the logic pretzels created by some of the writers in order to justify voting for Ortiz while not voting for others who have had reported links to PEDs were, well, amusing. Ortiz should have been a first-ballot, slam-dunk entrant into the Hall, but it seems apparent that his popularity and likability were difference-making.
Other than Ortiz, who is the biggest winner from this year’s voting results?
Doolittle: Scott Rolen added enough support that he looks like a shoo-in, perhaps as soon as next year. So I’d give him the biggest winner nod for those under the threshold, just ahead of Andruw Jones and Todd Helton.
Gonzalez: I would lump Scott Rolen, Todd Helton and Andruw Jones all in together, because all three of them technically could — and, in my opinion, should — get in next year, with Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling and Sammy Sosa all coming off the ballot. Rolen (ranked 10th in career WAR among third basemen), Helton (2,519 hits and a .316 career batting average) and Jones (10 Gold Gloves, 434 home runs) each have at least five years remaining on the ballot and have made steady enough progress to make one believe they’ll get in eventually.
Keown: It feels like any of the players in the 60% range with eligibility remaining — Todd Helton and Scott Rolen, primarily — will get a boost from the players who fall off the ballot this year. Historically, players who return to the ballot as the top vote-getters see their careers undergo a reconsideration that almost always works in their favor (Mike Mussina and Jack Morris, to name two). Without Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling taking up three spots on the majority of the ballots, Rolen and Helton are in a good place going forward.
Olney: Scott Rolen took a big jump forward in his voting percentage, in his fifth year of eligibility, making enough progress that it’s apparent he will gain election some day
Who is the biggest loser from this year’s voting results?
Doolittle: Gotta be Schilling. To drop so far from 71% in your next-to-last year on the ballot was both stunning and predictable, given the context.
Gonzalez: Omar Vizquel, who went from 49.1% of the vote last year — his fourth time on the ballot — to 23.9% this year. In December of 2020, after several ballots had already been completed, Vizquel’s estranged wife detailed allegations to The Athletic about Vizquel physically abusing her, claims that Vizquel firmly denied. Eight months later came a civil action alleging Vizquel sexually harassed a batboy while he was managing the Chicago White Sox’s Double-A affiliate, prompting the White Sox to formally terminate their relationship with Vizquel. His case isn’t about inflated statistics or hateful comments, but of disturbing off-the-field behavior. He was looked at as a borderline Hall of Famer before all this became public, and it’s clear now that the BBWAA will never enshrine him.
Keown: Alex Rodriguez, unsurprisingly, is primed to take over the role vacated by Bonds and Clemens. He will be the guy with the historic career who watches his vote totals inch up year after year as younger and more forgiving voters enter the process, but in the end, given the precedent set by Bonds and Clemens, he will be yet another victim of his own hubris. Had either of them made it in, Rodriguez would be deemed the biggest winner from this year’s results.
Olney: The writers who chose to not vote for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens for the Hall. Years from now, as the steroid era is increasingly viewed through a broader context, the selective rejection of two of the most accomplished players of all time — while other users have been honored — is going to look like silly, absurdly selective justice.
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling are now off the ballot. Do you think they will eventually get in through the Hall of Fame’s Today’s Game committee — and, if so, when?
Doolittle: Yes, eventually. Bonds and Clemens might not live to see it happen, though. But time will soften the lens through which future committee members view their mitigating factors, to the point that it will seem absurd that players with those numbers should be absent from Cooperstown. I also strongly feel that the way PEDs will be looked at in the future will be very different from the way they are today. As for Schilling, it’s hard to say without really knowing what his relationship is with former players and others in the game who make up the majority of those committees. I have to assume that relationship is better than what it is with most of the media.
Gonzalez: Brad, I’m almost certain you’re right about that last point. The Today’s Game committee is made up of 16 members — a mix of living Hall of Famers, executives and historians, with the voting body changing each time — and meets two out of every five years, with the next meeting coming in December 2022 and the one thereafter occurring in December 2024. Bonds, Clemens and Schilling can technically be considered in perpetuity; their chances would ultimately hinge on who makes up the voting body in a given year. But if there’s one group that has been more stringent with PED users than BBWAA members, it’s former players who stayed clean. In other words, I don’t see Bonds or Clemens getting in any time soon.
Keown: The Today’s Game committee, which is really Yesterday’s Game committee, has historically taken up the causes of players whose contributions exceed their statistics. It tends to give greater weight to such factors as clubhouse presence and perceived clutch performances to offset statistical shortfalls. The PED era will change all of that; committee members will have the opportunity to look beyond those beloved intangibles and judge the players on their merits. All three will eventually make it, but it will feel somewhat bittersweet.
Olney: It’s apparent that Bonds and Clemens will be inducted eventually through the vote of a special committee, because, over time, the general perspective of a lot of the living Hall of Famers has changed as some former players have died and that body evolves. They could be honored together, and their speeches will be must-watch.
Curt Schilling also will be inducted, some day. His performance during his career merits election.
What does just one player getting voted in a year after nobody got in say about the current state of the Hall of Fame voting process?
Doolittle: It needs to evolve. I still feel like we need more voters – writers, broadcasters, historians, analysts. Just more viewpoints. I also favor the idea put forth by Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which is to simply take a yes/no count for each player on the ballot. If the player gets 75% in the yes category, he’s in. For one thing, it would prevent future backlogs, where voters have to figure out how to use their 10 slots if they think there are more than 10 Hall-worthy candidates.
Gonzalez: That the BBWAA is twisting itself in knots trying to measure morality on an issue it can’t come close to fully comprehending. Many have made the point that there are probably PED users presently in the Hall of Fame, and it is a wholly valid one. Deciphering who used what and how it impacted their careers in an era when the sport failed to properly police the issue is a flawed process that has produced a litany of inconsistencies. Players should be judged within the circumstances of their era. The BBWAA at large has not done that.
Keown: That it is arbitrary and doesn’t always make sense, even when the voters get it right. This year’s ballot was filled with Hall of Fame careers, but most were compiled during the height of the PED era. At this point, it’s clear that a large chunk of that era will go unrecognized — or at least un-enshrined — in the Hall of Fame. It’s been my contention that players who are deemed eligible to be on the ballot, PED stain or not, should be judged solely by their performance on the field. In other words, the writers should stop being baseball’s morality police — and, please, stop engaging in the cap-size/muscle mass guessing game — and let the game deal with its history. There are undoubtedly steroid users who have avoided detection and speculation well enough to gain entry to the Hall, and the idea that an entire era can be policed retroactively and speculatively doesn’t feel sustainable.
Olney: This reflects continued confusion among the writers about how to handle the steroid-era candidates. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens may go off the ballot next year, but Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez and others linked to PEDs will remain for years to come – and year after year after year, the writers will effectively define the theoretical morality of the Hall, rather than simply report on it. It’s not a comfortable place for any journalist to be.
Which one player’s vote total is most surprising to you?
Doolittle: It’s at the back end of the ballot, where Joe Nathan got little support. I’ve written about how deserving I see Billy Wagner as a candidate, mostly because if we are going to put relievers in the Hall of Fame (we have and we do) then I don’t see how he’s not above the line of a Hall-worthy reliever. I have focused on Wagner because he’s already in his seventh year on the ballot. Nathan was in his first, so you would have hoped there would be plenty of time to make his case. Most of the arguments you can make about Wagner you can make about Nathan. I feel like voters just overlooked Nathan completely.
Gonzalez: Alex Rodriguez. If one would have made the case that the BBWAA has softened on PED users, A-Rod can now be presented as a counter. When Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds debuted on the ballot in 2013, they received 37.6% and 36.2% support, respectively. Rodriguez (34.3%) got even less than that nine years later, even though his career stats were almost as cartoonish.
Keown: Let’s go with two: Curt Schilling and Jeff Kent: When Schilling informed the world he no longer wished to be considered, I expected his totals to crater, and he still got a majority of the votes. Kent is an odd case: During his career, I never thought I was watching a Hall of Fame player, but his achievements — most homers by anyone at his position, an MVP, nearly 2,500 hits — are the type that usually draw more than 30% of the vote. The difference in vote totals between Scott Rolen and Kent seems outsized compared to their respective careers.
Olney: The low vote total for Sammy Sosa. No one should be naive about what happened during the steroid era, and how many players used, but it is really interesting that the writers applied a very, very different standard to Sosa — who was never suspended for PED use — than other players who have already been inducted.
Based on this year’s results, do you think anyone will get in on next year’s ballot?
Doolittle: Scott Rolen has a good shot. After that, we’ll see. Andruw Jones and Todd Helton will get a lot of scrutiny from analysts in the build up to the vote, and it will be very interesting to see how much of a 2017 Astros penalty Carlos Beltran will have to pay in his first year on the ballot.
Gonzalez: Carlos Beltran has a legitimate shot, but his involvement now means we will replace parsing the use of steroids with parsing the prevalence of sign stealing. Yaaay. The fact Scott Rolen, Todd Helton and Andruw Jones don’t have any of the aforementioned baggage makes me wonder if all three might actually get in next year. The last time the BBWAA voted three non-first-timers into the Hall at once was 1984, so it’s probably a long shot.
Keown: The Rolen train has been steadily accelerating over the past few years, and I think it’s fair to expect it to reach its destination next year. It feels like Helton – and possibly Andruw Jones, the best player of the three – is on the same trajectory, but he’ll have to wait at least another year for the momentum to build to 75 percent.
Olney: Scott Rolen and Andruw Jones – who have the clear support of the analytic community – may be making speeches in Cooperstown next year.
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