Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Hall of Fame Voting, January 26, 2021

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From a year ago:

“If we get through next December, though, all that waits a year after that is...Alex Rodriguez, whose ‘anonymous’ positive drug test led to a witch hunt by one commissioner, and David Ortiz, whose ‘anonymous’ positive drug test was handwaved away by the next commissioner. We’re headed for a 2022 voting cycle that features Omar Vizquel and the Four Horsemen of the PEDocalypse. The meteor has 23 months to get here.”

Almost. I thought Curt Schilling, a fully-qualified Hall of Famer on based on his playing career for about 15 years now, would get in this time. Schilling, however, continued to alienate some voters, and far more non-voters, with his support of far-right positions, up to and including election conspiracies and the attack on the Capitol. Added to a post-playing career filled with similar stances, Schilling’s vote total barely moved this year, stepping to 71.1% from 70.0% last year.

Schilling wasn’t elected, and in fact, no one was. Of the highest three returning vote-getters, no one’s Hall case is a referendum on their playing career, but rather, how the character clause is interpreted by various voters. Some believe Schilling’s post-career adoption of a seamhead Alex Jones pose is disqualifying, while others have, for nearly a decade now, considered Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds disqualified by rumors of their use of PEDs. To a lesser extent, each player’s alleged mistreatment of women has been a factor, one brought up more in recent years.

The two players went nowhere in the voting, Clemens coming in at 61.6% for the second straight year, Bonds at 60.7% for the second year in a row. I want to return to what I wrote four years ago:

“The story that got most of the attention, after the honorees, was the advance of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in the balloting. In their fifth years of eligibility, two of the 20 best players in baseball history finally climbed over 50% in the voting, with Clemens one vote ahead of Bonds. The overwhelming consensus is that this means the two are on track to be elected by the writers in the near future. I don’t see this as certain at all.

The gains of the two have come during a two-year period in which everything has fallen their way. Last year, the BBWAA eliminated lifetime voting privileges, a move that seemed to cull many voters with a doctrinaire view of baseball and sports drugs. Bonds and Clemens lost raw votes, but their percentage, the important number, jumped from 37% to 44-45%. This year, the election of Bud Selig to the Hall by the Veterans Committee opened up a line of thinking that if the commissioner during the so-called “steroid era” (there was no “steroid era”) could be honored, then it was hypocritical to take a hard line on the most visible scapegoats of the era. With that fresh in everyone’s minds, Bonds and Clemens gained about 40 votes apiece, and now sit at 54%.

The percentage gains of the two are providing the illusion of momentum. What’s actually happened is a pair of externalities that have served the two well. First, the voting pool changed in a way friendly to them; then, Selig was named to the Hall. That explains all of their percentage rise, and even with that, the two are 100 or so votes from being elected. There are no obvious externalities on the horizon that will boost their vote totals. Even if you account for changes in the voting pool, which grows a little younger and arguably a little less Never Roids! each year, there isn’t time for a quarter of the pool to turn over. So even after the changes of the last two years, 46% of the electorate thinks that two of the best players in baseball history, neither of whom failed a PED test, shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame. I’m not sure how that changes over the next five years. If 25.1% of the electorate are hardline Never Roids! guys -- which doesn’t seem like an unreasonable guess -- the two never get in.”

We can probably interpret their stagnant vote totals as meaning about 39-40% of the voters are Never Roids! voters. Barring something unforeseen, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will not be elected to the Hall of Fame.

The first baseball argument among the results belongs to Scott Rolen, a laughably overqualified Hall of Famer who was the only other player to be listed on more than half the ballots, jumping from 35.3% to 52.5% in his fourth year. It seems very likely that Rolen, with six years left and some soft ballots coming up, will be elected.

Omar Vizquel...well, he’s sort of a baseball conversation, but he’s more felt to me like an update on Jim Rice or Jack Morris, an attempt to rewrite history to tell a better story. His vote percentage fell from 52.6% to 49.1%. I think there’s a ceiling on his support from a baseball standpoint, and reports in December that Vizquel has been accused of domestic abuse may have cost him some votes. Rolen moving ahead of Vizquel is a good sign that the more qualified player will be elected.

Billy Wagner (46.4%), Todd Helton (44.9%), Gary Sheffield (40.6%), Andruw Jones (33.9%) and Jeff Kent (32.4%) all gained support, with Jones’s jump from 19.4%, in his third year on the ballot, the most significant. Helton has a lot of stathead support and as a player strongly associated with one team, may soon be the beneficiary of the kind of push similar players have gotten in the past. I like his chances the best among this group, then Wagner, and then Jones. I have never listed any of the five on my non-ballot, but the whole group falls into the gray area for me, where I don’t feel strongly about their candidacy either way.

Manny Ramirez, suspended twice by MLB for sports-drug use, has leveled off at 28.2%. We can probably consider that figure a proxy for the percentage of voters who don’t care about sports drugs at all. Sammy Sosa picked up a few votes (17.0%), but he has no chance of being elected.

There were no qualified Hall of Famers among first-timers on the ballot, but the dearth of clearly qualified candidates probably helped Mark Buehrle (11.0%) Torii Hunter (9.5%), and Tim Hudson (5.2%) stick around for a second year.

We get to do all of this again next year, and it gets worse, as Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz join the party. As I alluded to a year ago, Ortiz now being on the ballot with the baseball villains of the modern age provides for some wonderful opportunities for hypocrisy.

Bud Selig remains in the Hall of Fame.