When discussing the Hall of Fame one should always start by dwelling on the good news. The BBWAA avoided pitching consecutive shutouts and elected David Ortiz to Cooperstown on the first ballot. Thanks to Ryan Thibodeaux this surprised few, although many questioned the logic of inducting a longtime DH who’s bWAR was about ⅓ of Barry Bonds while leaving him out. That being said, Big Papi should prove a relatively non-controversial choice for Cooperstown (despite the great Jay Jaffe declining to vote for him).
I am pleased Ortiz will join Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva as a living representative of modern baseball this summer. Ortiz was a truly great hitter who led Boston to the World Series three times over a lengthy career. He retired on a high note and probably could have continued playing into his 40s had he chosen to muddle through the pain longer. I almost forgot, but Ortiz smashed the ball in 2016: leading the AL in slugging percentage, doubles, raw OPS and RBIs. His raw slash line: .315/.401/.620 is excellent and better than his career line overall.
Ortiz was not only a great hitter during the regular season: he wrecked the best pitching in baseball during the playoffs and the World Series as well. Ortiz is arguably the best hitter in World Series history, and certainly the best in the Wild Card Era with expanded playoffs. A career .455 hitter in the World Series: Ortiz was twice an MVP in the playoffs including in the crucial 2004 ALCS where Boston came back from a 3-0 deficit against New York.
To put it simply: you cannot tell the story of baseball without David Ortiz.
The Rest of the Ballot
Which brings us to the rest of the ballot. Most important to this discussion is what did not happen: Barry Bonds & Roger Clemens both failed to earn induction, falling about 10% short of induction in their last go around. Both fell about 35 or so votes short of induction, a fairly sizable sum and more votes than Scott Rolen, who saw his vote tally increase the most, received. Their cases move to the Today’s Game Committee where I suspect they will find a frosty welcome. No PED suspected candidate has been inducted by any rotating committee, and let us briefly consider the case of Mark McGwire.
Mark McGwire never received more than a quarter of the BBWAA vote during his decade on the ballot. There are differences between Big Mac and Barry Bonds (Bonds is arguably the greatest position player of all time, while McGwire is more closely akin to Harmon Killebrew). One his lone appearance at the Today’s Game Committee in 2017 Big Mac received "fewer than five votes" which is quite low considering Mac’s home run total and standing with the BBWAA voters. The next cycle, in 2019, McGwire was replaced by Lee Smith (who was inducted unanimously) and Joe Carter. While Smith’s inclusion was expected, given that two members were inducted by the Today’s Game Committee in 2017, Joe Carter’s inclusion suggests Big Mac received no support.
Sammy Sosa also faced his final year on the ballot, barely budging on the ballot. It does not take a genius to expect the Today’s Game Committee to completely ignore Bonds and Clemens (and all other proven PED users for that matter) in the near future. Perhaps in the fullness of time we will finally achieve consensus on the Selig Era, but my personal belief is this will take decades, perhaps until after both pass away.
Curt Schilling is also a loser, actually losing votes on his final go around. In his case it’s a little more difficult to read; I suspect Curt would have lost support regardless of his comments this cycle but Curt requesting to be taken off the ballot made the choice easy for many voters. Curt faces an even murkier reception by the Today’s Game Committee, although one more likely to result in induction (especially if Curt’s comments fade over time). I shed no tears for the man as he chose his own fate. The same goes with Omar Vizquel who’s shocking decline is only matched by the atrocious allegations against him.
For those who remain on the ballot beyond 2022: Bobby Abreu, Jeff Kent, Gary Sheffield & Manny Ramirez both seem to have plateaued, barely gaining any support from the electorate. I do think Kent may pick up some support next year as his time on the BBWAA ballot closes and six players leave the ballot. I am less certain of the eventual fate of Bobby Abreu who is a statistical darling, but lacks fervent supporters. Manny & Sheffield will likely face the same headwinds which plagued Big Mac, Bonds and Clemens.
Mark Beurhle, Andy Pettitte, Tim Hudson and Torii Hunter all lost support which suggests to me that none face good odds of induction. Torii Hunter in particular seems destined to fall off the ballot, especially with Carlos Beltran joining next cycle. Tim Hudson actually fell off the ballot, which is unsurprising given he barely survived the first one.
The final losers of the cycle are Alex Rodriguez and Joe Nathan, both first time candidates. Joe Nathan did not make it to a second ballot, a shame in my view as I think his case is just as strong as Billy Wagner’s (or at least so close as to deserve a longer look). A-Rod is a slam dunk Hall of Famer statistically who I think will share the same fate as all the other known or strongly suspected PED users on this ballot.
Outside of David Ortiz several candidates received good news this cycle starting with Scott Rolen. Scott is avoiding the curse which plagues third baseman in the Hall of Fame, and gained more votes than anyone else this cycle, moving from 53 to 64% this cycle. I think there is a good chance Scott Rolen is inducted next year which may shine a light on other worthy third basemen long overlooked by the Modern Baseball Committee.
Todd Helton, Andruw Jones & Billy Wanger all received much more support this cycle gaining 7, 7 and 4% respectively. Helton crossed the critical 50% mark (which, before this cycle, meant certain inclusion to every player who crossed the mark by either the BBWAA or a Veteran’s Committee). Andruw Jones and Wagner crossed into the 40s. Overall Jones seems like a strong candidate for eventual induction by the BBWAA as he has five years remaining on his clock. Wagner is less certain as he only has three. That being said if they keep gaining support both will likely earn induction by the next Today’s Game Committee (or it’s replacement).
The final winner of the cycle is Jimmy Rollins who received a surprising, to me at least, 9.4% of the vote. That does not necessarily bode well for his chances in the long run, but is enough support to survive into the next few cycles which contain few certain Hall of Famers.
2023 is a weak class for Hall of Fame candidates with only Carlos Beltran being a strong candidate for induction. I personally would vote for Beltran, but his case does have controversy given the 2017 sign stealing scandal in Houston. 2024 is better with Adrian Beltre, Joe Mauer, Chase Utley, and Bartolo Colon joining. Beltre will assuredly earn induction on the first ballot, while Utley and Mauer will be strong candidates. Colon is an enigma, but he did win over 250 games. 2025 brings Ichiro, C.C. Sabathia, David Pedroia and Ian Kinsler. Ichiro will get inducted, C.C. might, but Pedroia and Kinsler may clog up things. 2026, well into the future, the only potentially strong candidate is Robinson Cano (who might play in 2022).
Overall I expect the following to happen:
2023: Scott Rolen earns induction while Todd Helton and Billy Wagner gain strong support. Carlos Beltran gets about 60%
2024: Adrian Beltre is inducted first ballot, Todd Helton & Carlos Beltran join him. Wagner gets around 70%, and Andruw Jones is staged. Joe Mauer debuts strongly but not quite enough to earn induction in 2025. Chase Utley wallows below 50%
2025: Ichiro is inducted resoundingly, Billy Wagner is inducted, Joe Mauer & Jones get close while Sabathia is the strong debut candidate. Utley maybe makes some moves.
2026: Mauer, Sabathia & Jones are inducted
There is room on those ballots, with three really strong candidates falling off and Ortiz getting inducted, for other lesser candidates to move. The most likely is Jeff Kent. I could see Bobby Abreu becoming a cause celebre like Scott Rolen but it’s tough to foresee. The electorate is adapting to modern statistics, and as more older writers retire I can see results moving more quickly.