All things considered, despite what Curt Schilling may or may not have you believe, it wasn’t unexpected that baseball’s Hall of Fame voting delivered a blank this year. A little surprising perhaps, but hardly a shock.
Under different circumstances, like an actual ceremony to induct Derek Jeter, Larry Walker and Marvin Miller last year, Schilling quite possibly would have received the necessary 75 percent (301) of the 401 votes and been a class of one for 2021. Instead he fell 16 votes short and sent a letter to Cooperstown asking that he be removed from the ballot next year, which would be his 10th and final year of eligibility on the active ballot.
In asking to be removed, Schilling said he “didn’t consider himself a Hall of Famer” and questioned the qualifications of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, which seemingly supported his own assessment by giving him 71.1 percent of the vote.
But hey, it’s not like you just apply to be a candidate or voter for the Hall of Fame. And it’s probably not an accident that a minimum of 10 years experience is required in either case. All of which means most voters have seen more games than the average big leaguer has played, which may not be comparable but does indicate a degree of qualification.
And make no mistake about it, as a longtime participant (39 years) I can assure you (or Schilling for that matter) that having a Hall of Fame vote is as much of an obligation as it is a privilege — and I haven’t known any who didn’t treat it as such, and that would include the 14 voters who submitted blank ballots this year.
I’m not a fan of blank ballots, but this year’s record number was not a surprise given that there were 11 ballots last year with Jeter’s box the only one checked off, and those almost certainly were among the 14 this year. It should be noted that those votes did not affect the outcome as none of those publicly known had previously voted for Schilling, whose social media activity has been something of a lightning rod in any discussion of his candidacy.
All of which sets up the potential class of 2022 for what could be the most controversial HOF election since the very first one. Next year Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz will appear on the ballot for the first time, when it will be the last time for Schilling, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa. Let the debate(s) begin.
In the meantime, as promised, a look at my ballot this year, which once again had a full complement of 10 names without any real surprises. It didn’t include Bonds or Clemens, who have practically been paired as an entry for an obvious reason — and haven’t made my cut in any of the nine years they’ve been eligible.
The Bonds-Clemens issue has been the ongoing debate that has helped clog up the ballot for most of the last decade. I don’t think a vote, or in this case non-vote, should ever require an apology, but sometimes an explanation is in order and we’ll get into that a few paragraphs later.
With Jeter and Walker having been elected in 2020, there were eight returnees, and filling the other two spots was more challenging than might have been expected. It had generally been accepted that this class was “lighter” than any in the last 10 years, but there was a case to be made for the three “rookies” who survived with more than 5 percent of the vote.
(Though no one was elected in 2013, there were eight future Hall of Famers on that ballot — five elected by the BBWAA voting body — Jeff Bagwell, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Tim Raines and Walker — and three by the Veterans Committee.)
The eight from last year were automatic repeats — Schilling, Scott Rolen, Omar Vizquel, Billy Wagner, Todd Helton, Gary Sheffield, Jeff Kent and Bobby Abreu. Of this group, Vizquel is the only one who had a percentage drop (49.1 from 52.6) from a year ago, most likely a casualty of a domestic abuse case that surfaced in December — before the ballots had to be postmarked but in some cases after they had been filled out.
I have been questioned in the past about support for Sheffield, who like Bonds and Clemens has been associated with performance-enhancing drugs. That decision is based on believing Sheffield’s version of being introduced by Bonds to something called “The Cream” (trust me, it wasn’t hand lotion) without having any knowledge that it was a banned substance.
Sheffield went very public with his complaint against Bonds and insisted his usage was short term, and there hasn’t been any indication of a subsequent failed test. By contrast, Bonds and Clemens had somewhat incriminating issues involving personal trainers. Greg Anderson twice went to jail for refusing to testify in a grand jury investigation of Bonds, and Brian McNamee filed a defamation of character lawsuit against Clemens that was settled before going to trial.
Let’s just say it’s easier to buy the case for Sheffield, baseball’s 26th-leading home run hitter with 509. Of the top 26 home run hitters, only those still active, under PED suspicion or both are not in the Hall of Fame.
A former player — later a coach turned scout who had seen both in their prime — once told me that Rolen was a better defensive third baseman than Brooks Robinson. I didn’t believe him, of course, but hearing those names in the same sentence is enough to influence this vote. Rolen made the most significant jump in the voting this year, getting a total of 212 votes and going from 35.3 to 52.9 percent, so maybe that scouting report has added a few legs.
For me the only difference between Wagner and Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman is the latter has 100 more innings — plus an award named after him. Todd Helton is one of those players who has to overcome the advantages of Colorado’s hitter-friendly Coors Field and I think eventually he will.
The biggest mystery on the ballot for me is Kent, and the most underrated is Abreu. Kent seems to get discredited more because he batted behind Bonds than he gets credit for putting up huge numbers as a productive middle infielder who hit in the middle of the lineup for a long time.
Abreu is one of those guys who is easy to overlook, and he almost was last year, when he got only 22 votes to barely hang on to his spot on the ballot with 5.5 percent of the vote. He only has a 60.2 career WAR, according to Baseball Reference, but comes off a lot better on second look with a .291 average, .395 on-base percentage and eight seasons each of 100-plus RBIs and runs scored — five of those times in the same season (and missed doing it in the same season three other times by a total of seven runs). And, oh yeah, by the way, he stole 400 bases and won a Gold Glove. Those are all old-fashioned numbers, I know. No problem, he deserves to be in the conversation … some day he might even be an old-fashioned Hall of Famer.
The two “rookies” who completed my ballot, pitchers Mark Buehrle and Tim Hudson, fit into the same category as Abreu — the more you look, the more they get your attention.
At first glance, Buehrle’s record is pedestrian (214-160, 3.81 ERA and 59.1 WAR). But he made 30 starts in each of his 15 full seasons and when he retired in 2015 only 14 other pitchers had done that — and the only two not in the Hall of Fame were Clemens and Frank Tanana. In addition, the only year Buehrle didn’t pitch 200-plus innings was his last, when he missed by four outs while compiling a 15-8 record, matching his career ERA and then, as he put it, going out the way he came in — quietly. And maybe prematurely.
On the surface Hudson’s record is a little more efficient — a 222-133 record (.625 winning percentage) with a 3.49 ERA, which somehow translates to a 57.9 WAR. He didn’t finish as strongly in Atlanta as he did in the beginning in Oakland, but like Abreu and Buehrle he also deserves to be in the conversation. The case can also be made for Torii Hunter, the other “rookie” who survived by exceeding the 5 percent mark and was my last cut.
On to 2022. I’m already looking at that ballot and thinking of all the various possibilities.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles