Posted January 30, 2014

The Hall of Fame waiting game

Hall of Fame, JAWS
Craig Biggio may be the only person to gain election to the Hall of Fame this year. (AP)

Craig Biggio may be the only person to gain election to the Hall of Fame this year. (AP)

For all of the controversy and verbiage regarding this year’s Hall of Fame ballot, there exists the very real possibility that none of the 37 players will muster the necessary 75 percent to gain election, which would result in the first BBWAA vote shutout since 1996. Between the unusually large slate, differing opinions over how to handle candidates linked to performance-enhancing drugs, general first-ballot squeamishness and an old-school/new-school split with regards to sabermetrics, it appears that no player has as overwhelming a consensus as he may need, at least according to the two widely recognized online straw polls. Of the 114 ballots tracked by the Baseball Think Factory’s 2013 Hall of Fame Ballot Collecting Gizmo, no candidate has more than Craig Biggio’s 67.5 percent, while both Biggio and Raines have 69.4 percent of the 85 individual ballots tracked by the blog The Girl Who Loved Andy Pettitte.

The BTF sample represents almost 20 percent of last year’s vote total; if the same number of ballots were cast as last year (573), Biggio would need to bring home 76.9 percent of the as-yet-unreported ballots. That’s not an impossibility for a player with the near-automatic marker of 3,000 hits, but it’s no guarantee either. The other candidates polling above 50 percent — Jeff Bagwell (65.8 percent), Mike Piazza (63.2 percent), Tim Raines (62.3 percent) and Jack Morris (61.4 percent) — would all need somewhere in the 77-78 percent range from the outstanding ballots. Again, not an impossibility, but perhaps less likely given that none of them has a similar milestone marker. Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, who are both polling at 44.7 percent there, would need 82.5 percent among the unreported votes, which in this polarized environment clearly isn’t going to happen.

Based upon current reports, what follows is a quick prognosis for the candidates, listed in order of the results from BTF. Note that I’ve covered each one’s merits at length over the past month, and reiterated the top candidates’ merits in brief with regards to my virtual ballot, so I won’t spend the space here flogging those same horses.

Biggio: As I noted at the outset of my JAWS series, Biggio represents the most likely to be elected based upon his 3,000 hits and lack of any credible PED-related suspicion. Among modern candidates with 3,000 hits, only the PED-tainted Rafael Palmeiro has failed to gain first-ballot entry; Pete Rose was banned for life before he officially reached the ballot. Even so, this could be play-at-the-plate close this time around. With the memory of Biggio’s protracted march toward the milestone perhaps a bit too fresh in the minds of voters, he could fall short, though his boosters can still take heart; in modern voting history (since 1966, when the BBWAA returned to annual balloting), the highest percentage ever received by a first-year candidate who fell short was Roberto Alomar’s 73.7 percent, and he sailed in easily in his second year of eligibility.

Bagwell: Though the PED whispers are still out there, Bagwell’s merits appear to be winning voters over gradually. Of the candidates to receive between 60 and 74.9 percent in their third time on the ballot — Robin Roberts (72.7 percent), Roy Campanella (69.9 percent), Early Wynn (66.7 percent), Don Sutton (63.8 percent) and Phil Niekro (62.2 percent) — Roberts and Wynn went in the next year, while Campanella, Niekro and Sutton took two more years.

Piazza: Despite some amount of PED whispers, Piazza appears poised for a strong debut, if not one that garners him first-ballot entry. Of the nine players debuting with 60 to 74.9 percent of the vote since 1966, catchers Yogi Berra (67.2 percent) and Carlton Fisk (66.4 percent) were both elected the next year. That any voters considered either of those two — a three-time MVP and pillar of a dynasty on the one hand, and an 11-time All-star who set home run and longevity records at the position on the other — unworthy of first-ballot entry says more about voter idiocy when it comes to the first-ballot distinction than anything else. The same is largely true for Piazza, who is simply the best-hitting catcher of all-time.

Raines: Among the 13 holdover candidates, none appears poised to make a bigger gain than Raines, who received 48.7 percent of the vote in 2012, his fifth year on the ballot. At this point the question is when, not if, he’ll get in, though that could still take a bit of time; the three modern candidates to receive 60 to 74.9 percent of the vote in their sixth year (Tony Perez, Hoyt Wilhelm and Don Drysdale) needed an average of three more years to go over the top.

Morris: Though he leaped from 53.5 percent in his 12th year on the ballot to 66.7 percent in his 13th, Morris is finding the last mile to be a hard one; he doesn’t appear to be making the kind of breakthrough likely to send him over the top this year. Bert Blyleven, the last starting pitcher to be elected, went from 62.7 percent in year 12 to 74.2 percent in year 13 to 79.7 percent in year 14. While Morris’ boosters had hoped he would follow that pattern, he may instead follow that of Jim Rice, who needed all 15 years of eligibility to gain entry, going from 63.5 percent in year 13 to 72.2 percent in year 14 to 76.4 percent in his final year. The alternative is the company of Nellie Fox and Enos Slaughter, who needed to wait for entry via the Veterans Committee after failing to garner that last handful of votes in their final year of eligibility.

Bonds and Clemens: While their failures to gain first-ballot entry will be held up by some as a significant rebuke of their individual merits and of all PED-related candidates, neither of these two is being equated with Palmeiro — the lone candidate on the ballot to fail a steroid test — or Mark McGwire, both of whom have failed to garner even 25 percent of the vote in their times on the ballot. Since 1966, 24 candidates have debut above 40 percent, and the only ones who have failed to gain eventual entry via the BBWAA vote are Lee Smith (42.3 percent debut), Bagwell (41.7 percent) and Steve Garvey (41.6 percent); the first two are still on the ballot, while the latter lasted the whole 15 years without making it and didn’t have anywhere near the merits that Bonds (seven MVP awards) or Clemens (seven Cy Young awards) or both (standings at or near the top of several key statistical categories) did.

Edgar Martinez: In his fourth year of eligibility, his candidacy appears to have stalled at least somewhat; he’s polling at 38.6 percent according to BTF, which would be a gain of just over two percentage points from last year. Among the candidates receiving between 33 and 45 percent of the vote in year four are some who eventually gained entry (Rice, Goose Gossage, Luis Aparicio), some who needed the VC (Slaughter and Johnny Mize), and some who didn’t make it (Garvey, Gil Hodges and Maury Wills).

Alan Trammell: Trammell climbed from 24.3 percent in his 10th year of eligibility to 36.8 percent in his 11th, but he doesn’t appear to be maintaining that momentum; in this, his 12th year on the ballot, he’s at 38.6 percent along with Martinez. No modern candidate who has been that low that late has gained entry via the BBWAA, though Fox, Ron Santo, Richie Ashburn and Bill Mazeroski did so via the VC.

Curt Schilling: Currently polling at 37.7 percent in his first year of eligibility, Schilling looks like anything but an automatic selection. Of the 10 modern candidates to debut with between 30 and 40 percent, only Gossage, Eddie Mathews and Lou Boudreau were eventually elected by the BBWAA, while Slaughter, Pee Wee Reese and Jim Bunning needed the VC and Martinez, Wills, Al Lopez and Luis Tiant are all on the outside looking in. I’d guess that once 300-game winners Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson — who become eligible in the next two years — gain entry and Morris is off the ballot, Schilling will come into stronger focus and begin climbing.

Lee Smith: Smith appears to have been hurt the most by this year’s new candidates; having reached 50.6 percent last year, his 10th of eligibility, he’s polling at 37.7 percent this year. If that holds, that leaves him in VC-or-bust territory as far as modern candidates go.

Dale Murphy: Despite the high-profile efforts of his children to call attention to his merits, he’s polling at just 20.2 percent in his final year on the ballot, and would need around 89 percent of the outstanding ballots to gain entry. That’s not going to happen.

McGwire,  Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa: Polling at 16.7, 15.8 and 14.9 percent, respectively, this trio is in PED-linked purgatory, though they at least appear likely to remain on the ballot for awhile. Once Bonds and Clemens gain entry, resistance to other PED-linked candidates may soften somewhat, but it does appear that far fewer voters are otherwise convinced of this trio’s merits.

Fred McGriff: After receiving 23.9 percent in his third year of eligibility, the Crime Dog appears likely to take a hit, as he’s polling at just 15.8 percent this year. In the modern annals, no player receiving that low a share in his fourth year has gained entry via the BBWAA, though a few — including first baseman Orlando Cepeda — have done so via the VC.

Larry Walker: Like McGriff, he’s poised for a staggering blow to his candidacy; after receiving 22.9 percent in his third year of eligibility, he’s polling at 14.9 percent this year. He can look to the rally by Blyleven (17.4 percent in year three) for a glimmer of hope, but it’s getting late early for him.

Don Mattingly: He hasn’t seen 20 percent of the vote since 2002, and he may not make it until year 15. After receiving 17.8 percent in his 12th year of eligibility in 2012, he’s polling at 7.0 percent, putting him in significant danger of falling off the ballot — if not this year, then next year.

Kenny Lofton: Despite being a borderline candidate on the sabermetric merits — he’s below the JAWS standard among centerfielders, but above the median score and among the top 10 at the position — he’s in very real danger of falling off the ballot after his first year of eligibility, à la Bobby Grich and Lou Whitaker. BTF has him at just 2.6 percent, around half of the 5.0 percent needed to maintain his eligibility, and the gathering crowd on the ballot won’t help him at all.

All of the other candidates — holdover Bernie Williams as well as the remaining newcomers — are polling at less than two percent, making it unlikely that they’ll even be on next year’s ballot. We’ll find out who, if anyone, gets in on Wednesday at 2 p.m. Eastern time.

This article has been corrected to remove an erroneous comparison to Luis Aparicio’s third-year voting percentage.


It’s going to be very interesting and possibly frustrating over the years I think to see other guys get voted in. This debate is going to be never ending for as long as baseball is around whether they get in or not. There is a right answer in my opinion and I think they shouldn’t get in. I don’t see why they should and I know they were such a big part of baseball history but it doesn’t seem fair to let them in. Really intrigued to see what happens over the next 5 to 10 years surrounding this.



The entire MLB HOF election process is irrational, inconsistent, and hypocritical.  Ultimately, players receive the award/recognition, not because of anything they did or did not do on the field, but based upon nothing more than the hardening or softening of a sports writer's heart.  Players either were, or were not, worthy of the Hall of Fame on the day of their retirement.  Second, one cannot rationally compare the statistics of one generation to another, as there are far too many variables (beyond the player's ability), which contributed to those numbers (read Outliers).  Finally, it is absolute hypocrisy to consider, speculate, and weigh non-performance issues for merely SOME players.  Are Clemens and Bonds out because they used performance enhancing drugs, or because it was a violation of the MLB rulebook?  Who knows how many pre-PED-Ban players used PEDs?  Who knows what drugs and rule-breaking activities that Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb and Hank Aarons engaged in?  Even Pete Rose, who broke a rule as a manager, is excluded.


Humans are flawed, imperfect creatures.  Your Hall of Fame is for the fans of these players (me), who cheered them on as they excelled in a sport/recreational activity (baseball).  Lose the dogma and self-righteousness, smash the stained glass windows, and step off of your freaking pedestal, and let's celebrate the athletes, enjoy the nostalgia, and move on already.   


I think it's rather foolish to try to look for precedents for Bonds and Clemens. They're two of the best player ever, but they are also pretty much confirmed steroids users, and while they would have been Hall of Famers without PEDs, their numbers are certainly overinflated. To wit: Bonds put up the three best seasons by OPS+ in the history of baseball, and he did it at ages 37, 36 and 39. Repeat: at age 39, Bonds put up a higher OPS+ than anyone in the history of baseball. The next three highest seasons (discounting a pre-1900 player named Fred Dunlap, who is actually No. 4 on the list with an absolutely ridiculous 256 OPS+ in 1884 as a result of .412/.448/.621 season that he never even came closing to matching--his next best season OPS+ has 156) all belong, as we might expect, to Babe Ruth. He's the best player ever, after all.


But the difference is that the Babe did it at the ages of 25, 28 and 26. Granted Ted Wiliams had the 10th-highest OPS+ (8th-best since 1900) at age 38, but the difference is that he had an even better season at age 22. Bonds' two-best non-PED seasons were in 1992 and 1993 with an OPS+ just over 200 each year, but he never came close to the insanity of three seasons at 259+ or better that he would hit in his late 30s. In fact, Bonds is the only player to put up an OPS+ of 210 or more (let alone 250 or more) at age 30 or older without having ever cracked that number in his 20s, except for Mark McGwire, and we all know about him. Granted, there are only two other guys who have ever put up 210+ OPS+ over the age of 30, and their names are Ruth and Williams. But Bonds would not have joined them without help. That seems indisputable to me. And while I don't feel like breaking Clemens down (for the sake of time and space), I feel the same way about him. He was a great player and definitely a Hall of Famer. But he wouldn't be arguably the best pitcher ever without the helps of PEDs.


Anyway, my point is that by the numbers, Bonds and Clemens should be unanimous Hall of Famers. But obviously, they're not going to get anywhere close to induction this year, as they seem headed for a total in the 40s. Undoubtedly, some voters are just voting against them this year as a way to make some stupid moral point. These are the same people who decided that Robbie Alomar was not a first-ballot Hall of Famer because of an incident with an umpire that had nothing to do with his ability as a player, which was proven when he got 90 percent the next year. So that's actually a 17 percent increase in one year, almost entirely because of the umpire incident and/or the idiots who refuse to vote anyone first-ballot because there were people just as dumb who didn't vote for Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb and Willie Mays and everyone else.


So if we assume that Bonds and Clemens end up with about 45 percent (they should probably get exactly the same total but there is apparently at least one voter is who is voting for Bonds but *not* Clemens, which seems like a good reason to revoke his ballot--there is a case for voting for both and a weaker case for voting for neither, but there is no case for voting for one and not the other), that still leaves 30 percent for induction. If they both get a big jump along the lines of what Alomar did in their second year because sanctimonious sportswriters have already made their point (let's say a 15 percent jump for both), that would only get them to around 60 percent, and they'd need an additional 15 percent to make it. And for the record, I actually don't think they're going to get as big a jump as Alomar did because I think people are more opposed to PEDs than a single bad decision, at least in terms of whether a one-year waiting period is enough penance.


Under normal circumstances, that would mean they essentially would be locks for election at some point. But these are not normal circumstances. As I already said, they should be no-doubt, first-ballot Hall of Famers (90 percent or more of the vote) already. But they're not going to get anywhere close. And this isn't a matter of someone like Bert Blyleven, who the voters didn't appreciate as much at first (he got less than 15 percent of the vote in his second year and ended up with almost 80 percent in his 14th), but who they grew to appreciate as others made persuasive cases in his favor. People already understand the Hall of Fame cases for Bonds and Clemens, but a lot of them just don't care. I think there are enough voters who have decided that they can't vote for a PED guy under *any* circumstances that I really don't see how Bonds or Clemens gets there anytime soon (within the next five years, let's say). Maybe ever.


If I had to guess, I'd bet it's at least 10 years before they get in, and the only things that I can see changing these hardliners' votes are either A) they get to their final few years of eligibility or B) one or more celebrated "clean" already-inducted Hall of Famers turn out to have been on PEDs. The first scenario might make the writers rethink things because they don't wanted to be judged as complete morons by history (which will probably happen, anyway, but voting them in late is better than not at all). The second scenario would cause them to at least have to consider that the Hall of Fame is no longer this pristine temple they make it out to be (not that it is anyway, but nobody is more holier-than-thou than Hall of Fame voters). Even then, I'm not sure they would make it.


I just don't think the cases of any of the other players who debuted in the 40s and eventually got elected are in any way similar to the cases of Bonds and Clemens. How many of those guys were regarded as among the best player ever when they were still playing? My guess would be none. I actually think guys like McGwire, Palmeiro and Sosa are better comparisons (though they're in an even deeper hole than Bonds and Clemens are, but they're a pretty good gauge for just how many Hall of Fame voters are still so upset by PEDs that it's affecting their judgement) for what might happen than the guys who already made it.

DwayneHammond 1 Like

 @JohnG1 Um... no.  Alomar should have been voted in because his "issue" had nothing to do with his performance.  Clemens and Bonds?  I have no way to know when they started cheating.  That's the problem with cheating you see... we have no way to trust their word regarding when they started or what impact it had.  Clearly, they felt the benefits of cheating were worth whatever possible repercussions could come from it.

As a result, I have no way to know if either player would have ever even made it to the majors without cheating.  Obviously you think they would... and I think they probably would have as well... given that i don't THINK they started cheating when they were teenagers.  Problem is, their willingness to cheat takes away my ability to know for sure... and since that is entirely a decision they made themselves, then for me they have chosen to disqualify themselves from being celebrated.  

There is nothing to celebrate about a "sportsman" who cheats.


It is total BS that the Murph is not in when other candidates with similar numbers but EXTREMELY large character flaws are getting in. I don't take my son to baseball games as much as I used to for this reason, their are not enough guys like Dale Murphy anymore, and when there is they are not celebrated. 



Which "flawed" characters with similar numbers to Murphy are in the Hall?  There are certainly some very weak VC choices at all positions from the pre-war era, but I'm sure that's not the standard you are suggesting be maintained. 


A quick look at shows that of the ten players most similar to Murph, only two ever made the cut -- Snider (12th ballot) and Santo (Veteran's Committee).  His numbers (both counting stats and advanced metrics) are very similar to fellow centerfielders Fred Lynn, Bernie Williams, Ellis Burks.  Jim Wynn, Cesar Cedeno and Chet Lemon produced even more value -- lighter on power numbers but ahead in other areas.  These CFs all posted career OPS+ of 121-129 with Murphy at the bottom of that list.  He did have a higher peak value than all but Cedeno and Wynn and has more MVPs than the others combined. 


He'll get in eventually, but it will be via the VC.  As much as I like Murph, I can't really argue that such a late coming honor would be any sort of injustice...


 @ustinjepsonj It's the Baseball Hall of Fame, not the Human Being Hall of Fame. Compare Murphy's numbers with someone like McGriff, who isn't getting much support, and then explain to me why Murphy should be in the Hall and don't talk about defense. Gold Gloves are a silly award, Murphy was a negative dWAR player more often than positive, even while winning Gold Glove Awards.


 @WarrenTwocock  @ustinjepsonj

1) So don't talk gold gloves because YOU see that as a silly award....

2) One of the things that is outlined as having to be factored into voting is...character.

3) Murphy carried a subpar club on his shoulders....for a DECADE.


As for the McGriff comparison....


In Toronto, McGriff had a solid lineup around him. Roberto Alomar hitting right in front of him.


In San Diego, he had Gary Sheffield hitting right behind him. Sheffield nearly one a triple crown during that time.


In Atlanta, McGriff was brought on to a team that had already been to 2 of the last 3 world series. He had good bats both in front and behind him.


The best player Murph had behind him long term? Jeff Blauser.


Put Murph (a guy with 2 home run and 2 rbi titles...WITH NO HELP)... in the lineups McGriff played in. You don't think his numbers jump? LOL


This is hilarious -- definite argument ender.  Thank you for saving me the trouble...

The Hoff
The Hoff

 @Mel  @WarrenTwocock  @ustinjepsonj Alomar hitting in front of McGriff?  Talk about silly and moronic.  McGriff got traded FOR Alomar.  They never played on the same team. 



 @ustinjepsonj I agree. If they are looking to put a character guy in, then Dale Murphy or Craig Biggio should be enshrined Wednesday.


I wonder what a glut of people not getting elected does in future years. At some point, someone deserving will be left out because of the glut of players missing out due to steroid users.