On Tuesday, we finally got the final part of the Class of 2022 for the Hall of Fame. On his first ballot, David Ortiz reached induction, appearing on just shy of 78% of ballots.
I have a variety of thoughts on Ortiz’s induction, and they’re pretty much all positive. I don’t know that you could tell the story of baseball in the 2000s without mentioning David Ortiz. His bat was fantastic, but he was also a key fixture of the postseason, and a huge personality within the game. You could probably say he wasn’t the best player on the ballot this year, but as I’ve said in the past, I’ve largely given up on caring about the order candidates go into Cooperstown; as long as they’re deserving, it’s fine.
Really, if I have any comments, it’s that I was a little surprised that BBWAA writers were willing to put him in without waiting. I figured that his status as a pure DH might scare off some first-time voters, but after seeing the love he got from writers the last few years and his early returns on Ryan Thibodaux’s Ballot Tracker, I adjusted my expectations (I’m learning, following my shock at Vladimir Guerrero’s strong debut a few years ago; I really thought he would be another guy who would have to claw his way in).
Ortiz will be joining the six Veterans Committee inductees announced back in December, Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat, Minnie Miñoso, Gil Hodges, Buck O’Neil, and Bud Fowler. And of course, if you were here the other day for the launch of my latest Sporcle quiz, Hall of Famers by Birthplace, I’ve updated that as well.
So what of the rest of the ballot? Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens saw their percentages take their largest leaps in years, landing right around two-thirds of the vote. If they still had fifteen years on the ballot, they might have made it; they’ve been trending upwards with newer voters, and I imagine that would only continue. Unfortunately, thanks to the rule change from a few years ago, this was their final go-around on the BBWAA ballot.
However, nothing ever really ends in Hall of Fame debates. They’ll be eligible for the “Today’s Game” ballot of the Veterans Committee starting this December. Their upwards trend with newer voters probably won’t mean much there; I imagine that group will be voters on the older side of things. And this isn’t even getting into the fact that the Hall seems to have much more direct control over that voting body; I wouldn’t be shocked if they don’t even make the official ten-person ballot, as awkward as that’s going to look for them.
Sammy Sosa and Curt Schilling also aged off the ballot. Between those four, plus Rafael Palmeiro, Kevin Brown, and Kenny Lofton (all of whom are VC-eligible for the first time as of this December, I believe), things might get crowded on the ten-person ballot… which is probably why we won’t see most of them. And I don’t even want to know how having even one or two players cuts into everyone else’s vote totals, given how tight the budget of votes is in the process. Either way, I’m excited to see the gradual progress the Veterans Committee has made over the last few years suddenly slam to halt! Or maybe I’m being too pessimistic.
Let’s move on to more encouraging developments. Scott Rolen was once again the biggest winner of the non-inducted set, seeing his percentage jump by double-digits for the third year. Sure, his 10.3-point increase is smaller than his last two years, but this was also a stronger debut class than the last few years (at least, just going by the number of first-year candidates getting votes). He’s just 11.8% shy of induction, and given that the 2023 debuts look closer to the 2020-21 classes than this year (plus there will be a lot more room on the ballots, given all of the names aging off)… there’s a very real chance he’s inducted next year.
Continuing down the ballot, Todd Helton jumped past Billy Wagner, and will be going into the 2023 election as the returning runner-up. Like Rolen, his pick-up wasn’t as big as the last two seasons (just 7.1%), but it was still good enough to tie for the second-biggest pick-up this year, and it got him past the 50% mark. Historically, that’s been a very good indicator for future candidate induction. 23% is probably a little much to make up in one year, so we’ll likely be waiting until 2024 or beyond… although again, we’re going to be seeing pretty unprecedented clearing of ballot spaces next year in a weak debut class, so weird things may happen.
After him, Billy Wagner also passed that 50% line in his seventh try; he now has three more tries to pick up 24% of the vote. For some perspective, three years ago, he was only getting 16.7%. I think it’s pretty likely he gets in on the BBWAA ballot now, especially once you factor in that players in their final year usually get an extra boost from voters, on top of what they normally get from trends. That will hopefully be enough to cancel out any crowding from stronger debut classes.
10% after Wagner, we have Andruw Jones, who passed Gary Sheffield and tied Helton for the second-biggest gain of the year. He’s about 34% shy of induction, which is coincidentally almost exactly what he’s picked up over the last three seasons. Of course, Jones is only in his fifth ballot appearance, so he even has some wiggle room there. Again, I feel extremely confident that his case continues to build to an eventual induction.
Everything after that is a much more open question. Gary Sheffield didn’t make up any ground in try number eight, even ignoring that he likely has a ceiling somewhere around where Bonds and Clemens topped out. Alex Rodriguez debuted at 34.3%, which is coincidentally right around where Bonds and Clemens started out. Jeff Kent and Manny Ramírez both gained less than a single percent in attempts number nine and six, respectively; I imagine Kent at least will eventually go in front of a much more receptive Veterans Committee. And Omar Vizquel saw one of the biggest single-year voting drops in history (-25.1%), following a year of reports on his horrendous behavior (including domestic abuse allegations from his ex-wife, which MLB is still investigating; and the revelation that his firing from minor league coaching a few years ago was tied to sexual harassment of a team batboy, which Vizquel and the Birmingham Barons are still facing a lawsuit over).
And then, we have the bottom of the ballot. Andy Pettitte dropped 3% of the vote, landing around 10%. Jimmy Rollins debuted at 9.4%, which is honestly better than I expected on a still relatively-crowded ballot. I expect he’ll hang around a few more years. Bobby Abreu remained relatively stagnant as well; it’s probably not a great sign that Rollins passed him on his first try, but who knows, maybe he’ll pick up more votes next year from big-Hall voters having more room.
Mark Buehrle and Torii Hunter just finished above the 5% threshold, ensuring they’ll see a third year on the ballot. Meanwhile, Tim Hudson lost 2% and fell off in his second year, and Joe Nathan didn’t quite make it to the line in his first try. I’ve written about Hudson in the past, and it’s a shame he won’t be back. Meanwhile, I’m a little more indifferent to closers in Hall voting at this point, and I don’t know that Nathan is an egregious miss. On the other hand, there’s a reasonable argument he’s the best non-Wagner closer not in the Hall right now, and a 45% difference between them like we see in the voting seems extreme. But back on the first hand, there is still a ballot crunch, and using two of your ten spots on closers with this many good options feels like a hard sell. I don’t know what to make of all that.
Either way, no one below those two will be back next year. Speaking of, as I mentioned, it’s a weaker ballot. Carlos Beltran leads first-time names, and like I said last time, I really don’t know what to expect. His numbers are obviously, but I have no idea how voters will treat him after the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. My guess is that if it affects voters’ opinions at all, it will be closer to the one-year penalty Roberto Alomar endured than the indefinite purgatory that Bonds and Clemens have seen, but I also don’t really have anything to go off of at this point other than a gut reaction.
After him, there are a few interesting names, but nobody I expect to see serious traction (John Lackey, Jayson Werth, Jered Weaver, etc.). I’m curious if that, plus all of the spots opened up by Bonds/Clemens/Schilling/Sosa leaving, leads to large gains up and down the ballot, even for cases that likely ultimately fall short (like Sheffield and A-Rod).
2024 is the much busier year, with Adrian Beltre at the head as the likely first-ballot choice. Joe Mauer will also get a lot of support, and should be inducted eventually, but catchers have notoriously generally not been first-ballot elections. Chase Utley is also there, and while he should be a Hall of Famer someday, he’s so underrated by large swaths of the baseball press that I wouldn’t be shocked if he lands somewhere in the low 20s for a few years (maybe even lower). David Wright is an interesting might-have-been, and might make it to a second ballot. Given all of those names, plus the relative lack of age-outs in 2023 (only Jeff Kent), I wouldn’t be shocked if the backlog candidates see smaller gains, more akin to what they got this year.
And 2025 will likely be more of the same, with Ichiro Suzuki (easy first ballot) and CC Sabathia (maybe not first-ballot, but I think the writers elect him eventually) debuting alongside a few other interesting names who might pick up some votes. Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, Felix Hernandez, Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin, Brian McCann, Ben Zobrist, and Curtis Granderson all feel like guys who should at least get something in the 5-10% range. I don’t know if I personally would induct any of them (maybe Martin and McCann? I need to think about their framing value a little more; and maybe Felix for his peak?), but they all feel like they deserve a few years of discussion?
Of course, that’s a lot of guys to keep around for only two or three ballots, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they all cancel out. Maybe there will be a bit of room, though, between Rolen, Helton, Beltre, and maybe some combination of Wagner (2025 will be his final year), Jones, Beltran, and Mauer going in by this point. Either way, there isn’t much in the pipeline for the year after that (Cole Hamels, if he can’t make a comeback? Alex Gordon? Ryan Braun???), so it’s not like there’s a lot of pressure to clear out names at that point.
That will bring us to Buster Posey and the players who are retiring this year, which we technically don’t yet have a complete list of, so we should probably cut things off there. In the meantime, congratulations again to David Ortiz and the other 2022 inductees!
(This piece is also published and available on Hot Corner Harbor.)