This was the last year that members of the Baseball Writers Association of America could submit their Hall of Fame ballot anonymously. From here on out, everybody’s ballots will be disclosed at the end of the process.
ESPN’s Jayson Stark is a fan of the switch, as were most of the baseball writers who voted on the change. He quoted a few writers who disagreed with the idea, citing the fundamental democratic idea of the secret ballot. The reasoning is more that there are number of voters who could freely assemble weird ballots without getting yelled at.
Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame tracker — which will still be a vital tool after the change — showed an even bigger gap between private and public voters, despite the fact that three players completed the climb. The notable discrepancies for returning players, with a negative mark to indicate below public total (and compared to 2016’s discrepancy):
- Barry Bonds: -22.0 (-3.5)
- Roger Clemens: -19.4 (-2.6)
- Mike Mussina: -17.5 (-18)
- Edgar Martinez: -16.1 (-12.1)
- Curt Schilling: -15.3 (-21.3)
- Fred McGriff: 15.2 (4.4)
Curt Schilling shows that he was a divisive candidate even if he didn’t open his mouth. Mike Mussina’s in the same boat without saying anything. They’re victims of cognitive dissonance and a lack of critical thinking — the steroid era supposedly made it easier to hit, but the best pitchers of the era get no credit for conquering it. Martinez also falls victim to the curmudgeon bias since he spent most of his time as a designated hitter.
Transparency could lead to these voters — old-school or outdated, depending on your perspective — getting harassed by baseball fans, which sucks. It could also lead them to an information exchange that they’ve managed to avoid, which needs to happen.
But Bonds and Clemens are the ones who show where the new battleground has opened up. With Bud Selig getting into the Hall via the veteran’s committee, and suspected users like Ivan Rodriguez, Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza getting the nod over the past couple years, they’re approaching the threshold where nobility is overshadowed by naivete. There was no way to know how many PED users were in the Hall before Bonds and Clemens arrived on the ballot. Now that their peers are breaking through with normalcy, with greater acceptance from baseball fans, the holdouts might ask, “Who are we doing this for?”
(I agree with an idea I saw — I think it was on Baseball Think Factory — that Bonds and Clemens’ delayed entrance is already a blemish on their immortality. They should’ve been first-ballot all-timers based on what they accomplished, but if they get in, they’ll gain entry by barely breaking 75 percent on one of their last chances.)
It’s worth scrutinizing these votes and mindsets because the ballot only gets more crowded next year. Bagwell, Raines and Rodriguez are off the ballot, but the incoming class is equally impressive, which still leaves the massive backlog voters are having trouble sifting through.
Chipper Jones is a lock, since he’s a .300/.400/.500 switch-hitter who played his whole career for the Braves. He fell short of magic numbers -- 2,726 hits and 468 homers — but the .303 average with more walks than strikeouts should put his hitting accomplishments beyond reproach. He should be a 90-percent guy.
Jim Thome should also coast in based on his traditional counting stats. He’s seventh all time in homers (612) and walks (1,747), while 26th in RBIs (1,699). He hit a respectable .276 for a slugger, and his OBP (.402) and slugging percentage (.554) made up for the strikeouts. This looks like an iron-clad case, especially since he spent less than half his career as a designated hitter. Being a growing man in the 1990s and 2000s is really the only mark against him, but he’s managed to avoid suspicion, perhaps by being one of the game’s most beloved players.
But when it gets to Scott Rolen and Andruw Jones, they’re both hampered by biases that have caused the ballot to be overloaded in the first place.
Rolen: Third base is a position voters have traditionally struggled with. Ron Santo might be Rolen’s equivalent for offense and defense, and while his case looked highly credible while he was on the ballot, he could only get in through the veterans committee. Rolen will also be directly compared to Chipper Jones this time, which won’t benefit him.
Andruw Jones: Defensive stats do a lot of the heavy lifting with him, which is usually a problem for voters. He also peaked early and was reduced to bench-player status shortly after turning 30, which is an even more extreme version of Tim Raines’ career arc. The 434 homers from an all-time great defensive center fielder should give him a decent leg up, but Jim Edmonds had in some ways a better offensive profile, and he was one and done.
I’m relieved to see players from my childhood gaining entry more easily, because it’s counterproductive to use shoddy forensics to pretend an entire era didn’t happen. Now it just needs to happen a little quicker so qualified players like Edmonds and Jorge Posada stop slipping through the cracks entirely. I’m not entirely sure the switch to public voting will make that happen, but the debate so far benefited from volume, and it’ll only get louder from here.