The votes are in! Let’s check in on the winners and losers from Tuesday’s Hall of Fame voting results, which saw Derek Jeter get elected in his first year on the ballot, Larry Walker make it in his final year on the ballot, and Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds finish with similar totals as a year ago.
Winner: Derek Jeter
After Mariano Rivera finally broke the 100% barrier last year, Jeter fell one vote short of being a unanimous selection. There will, of course, be a witch hunt for that solitary voter, but let’s not let one misguided voter ruin Jeter’s day.
Jeter’s spot in Cooperstown is secure. Is he the greatest shortstop of all time? No, that’s Honus Wagner or, if you prefer a player who debuted later than 1897, Cal Ripken. Jeter’s career WAR of 72.4 is a lot closer to that of Alan Trammell (70.7) than Ripken (95.9). Still, Jeter’s legacy goes beyond the raw numbers and — overrated, underrated or somewhere in between — he’s a clear inner-circle Hall of Famer, one of the sport’s living icons.
Winner: Larry Walker
Walker’s meteoric rise the past few ballots — he was at 21.9% in 2017 — culminated in a final-year push that raised his total from 54.6% in 2019 to 76.6% this year, just over the 75% threshold. Walker’s election was always going to be a tough battle, despite a career WAR of 72.7 that … well, it’s higher than Jeter’s. Walker’s 8,030 plate appearances are the third fewest by any Hall of Fame hitter who began his career after 1950, ahead of only that of Mike Piazza and Kirby Puckett. Walker’s greatest seasons came at Coors Field, a baseball amusement park. He played at least 150 games just once in his career. So why was he finally elected?
1. The thinning of the ballot. During Walker’s early years on the ballot, it was overstuffed with a backlog of strong candidates. Walker might have been a Hall of Famer in the minds of many voters, but he wasn’t one of their top 10 players on the ballot, and the rules allow a maximum of 10 votes. But 17 players were elected the past five years, and the relative lack of obvious candidates the past couple of years helped open more slots for Walker’s name.
2. A younger voting bloc that is going to pay more attention to numbers, such as WAR, and less attention to some of the traditional numbers, such as hits and home runs. It appears that the younger voters are also more willing to consider players who had high peak value, even if their careers lacked longevity or counting numbers. In recent years, we’ve seen Walker, Edgar Martinez and Roy Halladay fit this pattern.
3. That final-year thing. Voters want to elect Hall of Famers. The average voter selected more than six names, and sentiment often rules the day in a player’s 10th year. Walker, Martinez and Tim Raines all were elected in their final ballots over the past four years.
4. Oh, yeah, Walker was also a great all-around player, a five-tool talent who hit .313/.400/.565 with a park-adjusted OPS+ of 141 that is higher than that of Vladimir Guerrero, Alex Rodriguez, Reggie Jackson or Ken Griffey Jr.
Winner: Curt Schilling
In his eighth year on the ballot, Schilling saw his vote total increase from 60.9% to 70.0%. By comparison, his total is higher than those of Walker (34.1%), Martinez (58.6%) and Raines (55.0%) were in Year 8, and Schilling arguably has a stronger Hall of Fame case than any of those three. Of course, nothing is a slam dunk with Schilling. It seems that a certain percentage of voters has held his post-career propagation of hate speech and conspiracy theories against him. Players such as Walker who were once behind Schilling in the voting have leapfrogged him. There will be no groundswell of folks advocating for him like there was for Raines, Martinez and Walker. Still, the 2021 ballot is particularly weak (Tim Hudson and Mark Buehrle are the best newcomers), and that could help Schilling clear the hurdle.
Losers: Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens
Also in their eighth year on the ballot, Bonds and Clemens had a similar result as in 2019: Their vote totals went from 59% to just over 60% (60.7% for Bonds and 61.0% for Clemens). As has been the case, the totals from the publicly revealed ballots — which are almost all from active baseball writers — are much more favorable to Bonds and Clemens (both had more than 70% on the public ballots) than the private voters, who tend to be the retired writers or football writers who used to cover baseball and the like. With just two years remaining for these two, the voter turnover isn’t happening quickly enough to get them elected. That would eventually turn them over to the veterans committee, and that’s assuming the Hall of Fame hierarchy, which has made its anti-PED stance rather clear, puts them on that ballot. (Mark McGwire, after falling off the BBWAA ballot, was included on the Today’s Game ballot for 2017, but not 2019.)
Winner: Scott Rolen
In his third year on the ballot, Rolen took a big leap, from 17.2% to 35.3%. That’s no guarantee of future election, but it puts him on the right path, and the relative dearth of strong candidates in upcoming years should help his vote total continue to mount. Rolen is a stathead favorite, thanks to his 70.2 career WAR that ranks him ninth all time among third basemen, a total heavily boosted by his defensive metrics. (He also won eight Gold Gloves, so it’s not like the numbers don’t match the reputation.) He had just one top-10 finish in MVP voting, and I wonder if the current crop of in-their-prime third basemen, such as Nolan Arenado, Alex Bregman and Anthony Rendon, could actually hurt Rolen’s chance.
Winner: Omar Vizquel
I’m hesitant to call Vizquel a winner, as his vote total in his third year went from 42.8% to 52.6% — not as big a leap as Rolen had. Still, this puts Vizquel in a strong position to get to 75% over the next seven years. Vizquel is also in a different boat than Walker, Schilling or Rolen: He is not a stathead favorite, with just 45.6 career WAR. Some will argue that, despite 11 Gold Gloves, his defense is overrated, and his defense is basically his entire ticket to Cooperstown (he did play the most games ever at shortstop). Although he’s in a good position after three years, there’s also a large bloc of voters who don’t see him as even a borderline candidate.
Loser: Manny Ramirez
On his fourth ballot, Ramirez received 28.2% of the vote. He has two big strikes against him. Compared to Bonds and Clemens, he isn’t on the same level as a player. You can reasonably contend that those two are the greatest position player and greatest pitcher of all time. Ramirez was an amazing hitter, with a .312/.411/.585 career line, 555 home runs and 1,831 RBIs, but he was nowhere near the all-around player that Bonds was. In fact, Ramirez’s 69.4 WAR — dragged down by his terrible defense — is similar to that of some of the borderline candidates we’ve discussed. The bigger strike — or strikes — is the two positive PED tests in 2009 and 2011, which arguably places Ramirez in a different category than Bonds or Clemens.
Loser: Andy Pettitte
Pettitte debuted last year at 9.9% but failed to gain significant traction in Year 2, receiving 11.3%. He won 256 games and started and won more games than any other pitcher in postseason history, but voters have assessed his lack of peak value — only three seasons above 4.0 WAR — and deemed him short of Hall standards. Pettitte seems like a veterans committee selection sometime in the 2030s, when we’re feeling especially nostalgic for those great Yankees teams of the ’90s and early 2000s.
Winner: Todd Helton
Now that Walker broke the Coors Field bias, Helton’s chances have to be greatly improved. He nearly doubled his vote total, from 16% to 29.2%. He isn’t as qualified as Walker, with 60 career WAR and only five seasons of 5 or more WAR, but now it’s possible to see a path for him to Cooperstown.
Winner: Bobby Abreu
Another stathead favorite, though his 60.0 WAR is borderline at best. His supporters will point out that total is higher than Guerrero’s. OK, maybe Abreu is underrated, and Guerrero is overrated. From 1998 to 2006, Abreu hit .305/.416/.513. If you like RBIs, he had eight 100-RBI seasons. He stole 400 bases, including six seasons of 30-plus steals. His case does deserve to be debated (and now it will, as he managed to remain on the ballot).