Kicking Off the New Year—and Hall of Fame Season!
Happy New Year to all!
OK, so it’s very clear that this year’s Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot is very different from every ballot since … well, it’s been at least a decade, maybe longer. Obviously, the biggest change is that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are no longer on it. But there’s something else.
I want you to think for a moment about position players who retired with at least 68 WAR. That is, admittedly, a somewhat random number, and there’s a decent chance you don’t like WAR, but we’re just trying to create a baseline here, and 68 WAR is a great career.
There are 13 retired position players in the modern era — which is to say, since 1901 — with 68-plus WAR who are not in the Hall of Fame.
A couple of them — Albert Pujols and Adrián Beltré — are not yet eligible for the Hall. They’ll be elected first-ballot.
Three of them — Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro and Pete Rose — were not voted in because of non-baseball stuff.
Four of them — Bobby Grich, Kenny Lofton, Graig Nettles and Lou Whitaker — were not voted in because, in my view, people simply did not appreciate how great they were. I’d vote in all four, myself (along with Dwight Evans, with 67 WAR).
That leaves four: Carlos Beltrán, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez and Scott Rolen.
Those four are on the ballot this year.
That’s down from years past (there are also no pitchers with 68 WAR on the ballot this year). How far down?
Players on the ballot with at least 68 WAR:
So you can see — it was really crazy for a while there. Only in the last three or four years has the Hall of Fame ballot returned to a more normal shape, with only a handful of really compelling candidates.
I cannot remember for sure, but I believe my first Hall of Fame ballot was in 2005. There were four players on that ballot with 68-plus WAR — Bert Blyleven, Wade Boggs, Alan Trammell and Ryne Sandberg. This was before WAR was a thing — I found an interview I gave after my first vote, and I was talking back then about “neutral wins.”
Anyway, that’s what Hall of Fame ballots used to be. In 2006, after Boggs and Sandberg were elected, there were only two players with 68-plus WAR. In 1996, when no player was elected, there were only three. This crazy ballot logjam from 2013 to 2020 completely altered how voters had to think about the Hall of Fame.
And during that time, a lot of people voted for the maximum 10 players allowed. I asked the great Ryan Thibodaux what percentage of people voted for the maximum 10 players since he’s been keeping the Hall of Fame Tracker. He sent me this handy chart:
As you can see, roughly half the people maxed out their ballots in the mid-2010s.
And this year? It will be fewer than one in five. In fact, Ryan expects that 18.8% to drop considerably — he thinks we will have the lowest percentage of 10-man ballots since he started keeping track, lower even than 2021.
This makes sense … but now that I have voted, I will tell you: I did max out my ballot. Here’s why: As far back as I can remember — and this goes back to the time even before the PED players came long — I have voted for the maximum of 10. At first, I did this because Bill James recommended it. I think I mentioned that recently, but I have actually gone back and found the email. It was in 2006, my second voting year.
“I would always prefer to vote for ten, because if everybody votes for ten, only two or three will be elected. If people leave spaces empty, the expectation goes down dramatically.”
The funny thing is — and I had completely forgotten this until I found the email — Bill then went through that 2006 ballot player by player and admitted he couldn’t vote for 10. The most he could do was eight.
Well, to be fair, that was a really thin ballot — there were only four players with even 60 WAR and only three more with 50 WAR. But you want to know something funny? Seven players on that ballot have been elected to the Hall of Fame, and it seems possible to me that one or two or even three more might still be elected.*
*The players elected off that 2006 ballot: Bert Blyleven; Andre Dawson; Goose Gossage; Jack Morris; Jim Rice; Lee Smith; Alan Trammell. Players who might still get elected someday include Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Tommy John and, who knows, maybe Steve Garvey or Dave Parker.
All of this said to me: Go ahead, vote for your top 10 players. I mean, sure, if you hit rock on the way down the list, if you get to players who you think: “No, that person is definitely not a Hall of Famer,” then stop. But as long as the No. 10 player has a viable and legitimate Hall of Fame case, hey, why not?
This year, I found 10 candidates who have, in my mind, a viable Hall of Fame case. Would I put all 10 of them in my personal Hall of Fame? No, but look, if it was my personal Hall of Fame, I’d probably replace 100 players who are already in the Hall of Fame. That’s not an exaggeration.
Anyway, as we close in on election day — Jan. 24 on MLB Network — I’ll break down the ballot and get to the countdown of the 10 players I voted for. And before we do that, I’ll go through the other 18 players. In fact, let’s kick off Hall of Fame season now with a couple of players who probably won’t get any votes at all: