What We Learned From The Hall of Fame Voting
The BBWAA elected four players to the Hall of Fame this year. But the voters are sending mixed messages regarding milestones and PEDs. Let’s try to make some sense of it all.
I’m sure you’ve heard the news by now. The BBWAA elected four players to the Hall of Fame as a result of this year’s voting. Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome, and Trevor Hoffman will join veteran’s committee selections when they are formally inducted this summer at the annual ceremony in Cooperstown.
For Hoffman, his third appearance on the ballot was the charm. The first reliever ever to hit the 500 and 600 saves milestones fell just five votes short last time. Guerrero missed by 15 in his first attempt last year, while Jones and Thome earned the prestige associated with being first-ballot inductees.
Candidates with impressive resumes who fell short of induction include Sammy Sosa, Gary Sheffield, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, and Edgar Martinez. The latter received 297 votes, while 317 were required for election.
It’s really hard to make any sense of the voting. But that’s precisely what we are going to attempt to do here today.
Milestones Still Matter, Sometimes
It has always been a widely held belief that attaining certain milestones merited “automatic” induction. Included among those benchmarks were 3,000 hits, 500 home runs, 300 wins, and 3,000 strikeouts.
For decades, every single eligible candidate who hit those marks was indeed elected by the writers. More often than not, those players were voted in on the first ballot. But those voting patterns recently changed, and drastically.
Thome is one of nine players in baseball history to have hit 600 or more homers in his career. Fittingly, he was elected in his first time on the ballot.
The other members of that exclusive club are already in the Hall, except Albert Pujols — who is still active — and Sammy Sosa. Sosa retired with 609 homers—three fewer than Thome—but received only 33 votes in what was his sixth year on the ballot.
Only 16 pitchers have ever reached the elusive 3,000 strikeout mark. All but Roger Clemens (4,672) and Curt Schilling (3,116) are enshrined in Cooperstown. Clemens is third all-time behind Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Randy Johnson (4,875).
“The Rocket” is also the only member of the 300-win club who has not been allowed to take his rightful place in the Hall of Fame. Clemens’ 354 wins ranks ninth all-time.
The three most recent additions to that club of 24—Greg Maddux (355), Tom Glavine (305), and Randy Johnson (303) were all elected recently on the first ballot. Johnson was inducted in 2015 with 97.3% of the vote, while long-time Braves’ teammates Maddux (97.2%) and Glavine (91.9%) went in together the previous year.
Clemens, meanwhile, was named on only 57.3% of ballots this year. He fared only slightly better than Schilling (51.2%). Both appeared on the ballot for the sixth time.
PEDs Still Matter, Sometimes
Sosa, Sheffield, Ramirez, Bonds, and Clemens have all been tied to PEDs. The quintet played the majority of their careers and put up the Hall-worthy numbers before steroids were outlawed and offenders penalized by Major League Baseball in 2005. Ramirez is the only one in that group to have tested positive after the substances were banned. He was suspended twice as a result.
Conventional thinking is that those five players are being kept out of Cooperstown due to their connections to PEDs. But is that really the case? There are already players tied to performance-enhancing drug use in the Hall. Many were elected recently.
In fact, all three players elected by the writers last year fall into this category. Ivan Rodriguez garnered 76% of the vote and was elected in his first time on the ballot, despite being fingered by Jose Canseco as a user. Canseco wrote in his 2005 book that he showed Rodriguez how to inject steroids.
Jeff Bagwell was named on 86.2% of the ballots in his seventh try, even though he admitted to using androstenedione in 1998 and was dogged by persistent accusations beyond that. Tim Raines gained induction with 86% of the vote on his tenth attempt. During the Pittsburgh drug trials, Raines testified that he had spent $40,000 a year on cocaine. He also admitted to carrying the drug on his person and using it during games.
Is Being Nice To Reporters The Most Important Factor?
Mike Mussina is one of only 77 players in baseball history to accumulate 75 wins above replacement throughout their careers. All of those eligible for enshrinement have been inducted except Mussina (83.0), Bonds (162.4), Clemens (140.3), Schilling (79.9), and Deadball era hurlers Jim McCormick (75.8) and Bill Dahlen (75.2).
Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay was recently roasted on Twitter after publishing his ballot, which failed to include Mike Mussina. Although Kay didn’t explain the snub, the omission has been attributed to the apparently well-known and long-standing personal animus Kay has for Mussina. The Twitterverse has it that Kay felt Mussina wasn’t nice to him in interviews.
It’s tough to draw a definitive conclusion based on what I know about the situation. To be clear, I don’t want to make any accusations. But this does bring up a pertinent question. Are there Hall of Fame voters who are granting or withholding their votes based on their personal interactions with the candidate in question?
If that’s the case, it would be very unfortunate. The Hall of Fame is a museum created to tell the story of baseball history. It’s not supposed to be a Hall of Those Who Were Nice to Reporters.
Mussina was never tied to PEDs, while he pitched throughout his career against players who were. Yet, he still managed to build a Hall of Fame resume that clearly places him among the greatest who ever played the game.
Sosa, Sheffield, Ramirez, Bonds, and Clemens may have been tied to PEDs, but aside from being among the greatest players of all time, the other only thing they have in common is that they were disliked by the media. And that is the one thing that differentiates that group from PED users who have already gained enshrinement to Cooperstown.
An interesting test will occur in 2022 when David Ortiz makes his debut on the Hall of Fame ballot. “Big Papi” has an impressive resume and is widely expected to be elected in his first year of eligibility. Ortiz is beloved by the media. He also tested positive for PEDs in 2003.
Are Changes Coming?
Changes in the voting process have been proposed and may be coming soon. I’m going to get into that next week.
I will also delve into the differences in voting patterns between the BBWAA and IBWAA. Stay tuned.