The ironic part of all these passionate Hall of Fame debates is that I bet many of you reading this have never actually been to the actual museum. Nonetheless, we want our favorite players elected. We want greatness validated. We want Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens elected. Or we definitely don’t. Some winners and losers of the 2018 Baseball Writers’ Association of America voting results (remember that 75 percent is needed for election):
Winner: Concession stands on induction day
With Chipper Jones (97.2 percent), Vladimir Guerrero (92.9), Jim Thome (89.8) and Trevor Hoffman (79.9) joining Jack Morris and Alan Trammell, elected in December by the Modern Era committee, we’ll have six living players giving speeches on July 29. In electing four new members, the BBWAA matched its generosity from 2015, when Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio were elected. The BBWAA has now elected 13 players over the past four years, matching the most ever over a four-year period. Throw in three players elected in 2014 and that’s 16 in five years.
This is a good thing. Compared to other eras, the 1980s and 1990s had been vastly underrepresented. When the BBWAA threw a shutout in 2013 — the induction ceremony that summer featured an umpire who had been dead since 1935, an owner who helped keep the color barrier intact, and a catcher who caught barehanded — there were concerns voters were going to dismiss an entire era of baseball. Even with four new inductees, there’s still a logjam of viable Hall of Fame candidates. The BBWAA remains tough and disciplined in its voting and Cooperstown is still the most difficult Hall of Fame to gain entrance.
Winners: Jones, Thome, Guerrero and Hoffman
One major disagreement about Hall of Fame qualifications is the argument that some players “just feel like Hall of Famers,” while others don’t, regardless of whatever the numbers or advanced metrics may suggest. Jones is that rare player who qualifies as an inner-circle immortal, the definition of what people think of when they think “Hall of Famer,” which explains his high percentage. He’s one of the five or six best third basemen of all time, combining both peak value and longevity while anchoring the offense for 12 playoff teams. He becomes the sixth member of the Atlanta Braves dynasty of the 1990s and early 2000s to reach the Hall of Fame, joining Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, plus manager Bobby Cox and GM John Schuerholz.
When you dig into Guerrero’s numbers, you learn his qualifications weren’t a slam dunk — he had a relatively short peak of dominance and his career WAR of 59.3 isn’t great for an outfielder — but he’s one of the guys who felt like a Hall of Famer when active and his career counting numbers (449 home runs, 1496 RBIs, along with a .318 average) ended up good enough to get him elected on his second ballot.
Hoffman pitched forever and is second in career saves to Mariano Rivera, and voters have always favored longevity. He fell five votes short last year, but he cleared with comfort this year. San Diego Padres fans will be playing some “Hell’s Bells” in celebration.
While I wasn’t surprised Thome got elected on the first ballot, I was surprised his vote total was so high. At the outset of the voting, I figured he’d just squeeze in, especially considering Guerrero didn’t get in last year on his first try. I applaud the voters for recognizing Thome’s value (72.9 WAR) beyond just the 612 home runs. Here’s something I learned that is kind of fascinating, however: Thome won just one Silver Slugger Award in his career. I went through year by year and he probably should have won another just once (Jason Giambi won in 2002 even though Thome had the higher OBP, higher slugging and more home runs), and arguably should have won at third base in 1995 and first base in 1997.
Loser: Edgar Martinez
A disappointing result for Martinez, who was polling as high as 81 percent in Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame Tracker a week ago. He plummeted in the final tally, however, dropping to 70.4 percent after the non-public ballots were added, 19 votes short of election.
Winner: Edgar Martinez
The good news is Martinez has seen his percentage increase from 27 percent in 2015 to 43.4 percent to 58.6 percent to that 70.4 percent and still has one year left on the ballot. He needed another big boost this year and got it. His case is similar to Tim Raines, who reached 69.8 percent on his ninth ballot and sailed to election on his final ballot. In fact, look at all the recent close calls over the past decade. Everyone with at least 69 percent of the vote made it the next year.
2017: Hoffman, 74.0 percent to 79.9
2016: Jeff Bagwell, 71.6 percent to 86.2
2016: Tim Raines, 69.8 to 86.0
2015: Mike Piazza, 69.9 percent to 83.0
2014: Craig Biggio, 74.8 percent to 82.7
2010: Bert Blyleven, 74.2 percent to 79.7
2010: Roberto Alomar, 73.7 percent to 90.0
2008: Jim Rice, 72.2 percent to 76.4
The other positive for Martinez is that next year’s list of new candidates isn’t especially strong. You have Rivera as a sure thing, and then Roy Halladay and Andy Pettitte as interesting candidates, but the best position players are Todd Helton and Lance Berkman. Given the final-year bump and lack of strong new candidates, he should get over the hump.
Losers: Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens
This was the sixth year on the ballot for Bonds and Clemens, and that time has allowed a little more perspective on how to view their candidacies. They received a significant boost a couple of years ago when the Hall of Fame purged the number of voters, and I think they’ve been helped by the election of suspected performance-enhancing drug users as well as the commissioner who presided over this era. The totals were 57.3 percent for Clemens and 56.4 for Bonds, but that’s only a couple of percentage points increase from last year. While they continue to fare well among new voters, established voters are more entrenched in their anti-steroid view, and with only four years left on the ballot, I’m not sure they have the momentum to get to 75 percent.
Winner: Mike Mussina
Loser: Curt Schilling
Schilling appeared on the ballot a year before Mussina (they’ve been on six and five years now) and in my book are very strong candidates with similar career value — Schilling had the higher peak (plus his great postseason record), while Mussina retired with 270 wins and a very strong career. Schilling was ahead of Mussina until 2016 — he had 52 percent that year to 43 percent for Mussina — but Mussina pulled ahead last year and remained well ahead this year, 63.5 percent to 51.2. It appears Schilling’s controversial political comments have perhaps hurt him. Mussina is trending upward while Schilling has stagnated, and the conclusion has to be that his political views have hurt him at the ballot box.
Winner: Omar Vizquel
Losers: Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones
All three first-time candidates were known for their defense, but only Vizquel started off strong in the balloting. With 37.0 percent, he’s in a great starting position, better than many the BBWAA eventually elected. His candidacy is headed straight to Jack Morris territory: a holy war between the statheads and the “go with your gut” voters. He’s one of the greatest defensive shortstops ever, but Jones is one of the greatest center fielders (in a much shorter career) and Rolen the most valuable all-around player of the trio. At least Rolen (10.2 percent) and Jones (7.3 percent) remained on the ballot and will get their cases debated in the future, unlike some other interesting recent first-ballot candidates like Jim Edmonds, Kenny Lofton, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams.
Loser: Jeff Kent
In a different era, when we cared more about RBIs and WAR hadn’t been invented, Kent would have been an easy Hall of Famer.
He’s the career leader in home runs by a second baseman, had more RBIs than Guerrero, and won an MVP Award. His career WAR of 55.2, however, is weak for a modern Hall of Famer. He’s still at just 14.5 percent and his percentage isn’t budging.
Kent has five years left, so the door isn’t closed. Two things that have to happen: With 16 players elected during his five years, he needs a less-crowded ballot in the future to move him onto more ballots. And he needs to become the next Blyleven, Raines or Martinez and get that Hall of Fame campaign in motion.