Not too long ago, we were in a bit of a Hall of Fame election crisis. Nobody knew what to do with players associated with PEDs. This created a huge backlog of qualified candidates on the ballot, including some years with more than 20-plus reasonable candidates.
In 2013, the baseball writers simply threw up their arms and elected nobody. Meanwhile, the veterans committee didn't elect a single living player over a 17-year period. The three men enshrined in 2013 were a catcher who last played in 1890, an umpire who died in 1935 and an owner from the pre-integration era.
It was a mess.
Luckily, we've moved on. A glut of superstar Hall of Famers such as Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr. and Chipper Jones hit the ballot and the BBWAA went on an election spree, voting in 20 players in a six-year span, including three players -- Mike Piazza, Ivan Rodriguez and Jeff Bagwell -- with questionable reputations concerning PEDs. The veterans committee suddenly flipped as well and elected five players over the past three years, including former catcher Ted Simmons this year.
What's next? Let's predict what happens the rest of the decade in Hall of Fame voting, starting with the results from Tuesday's announcement of who will join Simmons in Cooperstown this summer.
New to ballot: Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi
Last year on ballot: Larry Walker
Jeter is expected to join longtime Yankees teammate Mariano Rivera in the 100 percent club -- now that Rivera broke that ridiculous standard last year, there's no reason that inner-circle Hall of Famers like Jeter shouldn't likewise be unanimous selections.
The other candidates with a chance are Walker and Curt Schilling. As of Sunday morning, Walker had received 85.4% of the publicly revealed ballots, according to Ryan Thibodaux's Hall of Fame tracker. That's a huge surge from Walker's 54.6% total last year and would put him well above the 75% threshold needed for election.
Except. ... The problem is the nonpublic voters always bring down players' total. Walker needs to be named on 68.3% of the estimated remaining ballots to get to 75%, but last year received just 27.9% of the private ballots (and 48% of the public ballots revealed after the results were announced). Even with the usual gains from a final-year push, this one is going right down to the wire, but I think Walker is going to fall just short.
Schilling, in his eighth year on the ballot, received 60.9% last year and was at 79.5% of the public vote as of Sunday. He needs 72% of the remaining votes and since his private tally will also likely be much less, it appears he too will fall just short.
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are also on their eighth ballot and plateaued last year at 59%. Both are currently under the 75% threshold and there's no way that number is going up Tuesday. They're not getting in.
Prediction: Derek Jeter (along with Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller)
New to ballot: Tim Hudson, Mark Buehrle, Torii Hunter
Last year on ballot: Nobody
Veterans committee: Early Baseball (pre-1950) and Golden Days (1950-1969)
This will be an interesting year. Without any strong first-year candidates and with nobody on their final ballot (at least before getting punted to the veterans committee), it wouldn't be shocking to see a shutout. Even the veterans committee addresses the two eras that are already widely represented.
This looks like an opportunity for Schilling to take advantage of a soft ballot to get over the hump, post-career warts and all. Even in 2013, the year nobody was elected, the average ballot contained 6.6 names -- the voters want to elect somebody every year. In his previous ballots, Schilling has been compared to pitchers like Maddux, Martinez, Johnson, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Mike Mussina and Roy Halladay. With the ballot clear of strong "competition," he looks better.
As for the two veterans committees, I see four strong candidates from the Golden Days era: Dick Allen, Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and Minnie Minoso. The last time this era was considered was 2015, and Allen and Oliva received 11 of 16 votes from the committee, falling one vote short. Kaat received 10 and Minoso eight.
In my mind, Minoso is clearly the best candidate. In the 1950s, he ranked eighth among position players in WAR, even though he didn't play in 1950. And because of the color barrier, he was already 25 as a rookie. With a career line of .298/.389/.459, 1,023 RBIs, 1,963 hits and 50.5 WAR, his numbers might appear a little short, but factor in three or four prime seasons missing from the beginning of his career and he deserves the honor. Unfortunately, he died in 2015.
The other three could also get in. Kaat, who won 283 games, followed that with a long broadcasting career and is still working at age 81. He also follows the pattern of recent veterans committee selections: length of career is more important than a high peak of excellence. See, for example, Harold Baines and Jack Morris being selected instead of the likes of Dale Murphy and Orel Hershiser.
Prediction: Curt Schilling, Minnie Minoso, Jim Kaat
New to ballot: Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Mark Teixeira, Jimmy Rollins, Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon
Last year on ballot: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling (if not already elected), Sammy Sosa
Veterans committee: Today's Game (1988 to present)
Well, now, won't this be special? A-Rod's first year of eligibility coincides with the last ballots for Bonds, Clemens and Sosa (who continues to fare poorly in voting). I think Rodriguez, with his season-long suspension for 2014, is going to fall into the same category as Bonds and Clemens: One of the greatest players of all time, but no ticket to Cooperstown.
From 2003 to 2016, arguably no player loomed as a bigger figure than Ortiz. He was a popular, dynamic hitter on three World Series winners, performed well in the postseason and became a cult hero in Boston. With his level of fame, 541 home runs and 1,768 RBIs (22nd all time), he would normally sail right in (despite a borderline 55.3 WAR). But because Ortiz's name was leaked as one of the 104 players who tested positive for PEDs during the initial screening process in 2003, he also arrives with a small cloud hanging over his head. I think he waits a year.
What about Omar Vizquel? The man who played the most games at shortstop and won 11 Gold Gloves could be the anti-PED vote. He debuted at 37% in 2018, received 42.8% last year and is currently polling at 48%. He's the rare player who actually fares just as well on the private ballots. In other words, the older voters like him, while the younger breed of pro-analytics writers are not as much in favor due to a 45.6 career WAR that is low for a modern Hall of Famer. Although Vizquel's election either via the BBWAA or veterans committee is inevitable, I think he has to wait a bit longer.
We could completely revisit the steroids era if Mark McGwire is included on the Today's Game ballot. He was up for vote in 2017, but received fewer than 5% of the vote and wasn't included in the 2019 discussion. Larry Walker would be eligible for this ballot if he doesn't get in this year, and while 72.7 WAR makes him a strong candidate, his relatively low counting stats (383 HRs, 1,311 RBIs, 2,160 hits) work against him. Still, he'll be so close this year that I think he gets in. Bruce Bochy would also be eligible, assuming he doesn't return as a manager (which he hasn't completely ruled out). Lou Piniella fell one vote short in 2019 and might come up again as well.
Prediction: Larry Walker, Bruce Bochy
New to ballot: Carlos Beltran
Last year on ballot: Jeff Kent
Veterans committee: Modern Baseball (1970 to 1987)
I don't know if Beltran was a lock before the Astros' cheating scandal erupted -- with 1,582 runs and 1,587 RBIs, he's one of just 38 players to reach both of those numbers, and his 69.6 career WAR is a strong total -- but I would guess even in a couple of years the sign-stealing issue will be fresh enough to taint his legacy. He'll get in eventually, just not on the first ballot.
Kent is the all-time leader in home runs by a player whose primary position was second base (377), drove in 1,518 runs and won an MVP, but his case has failed to pick up any momentum. Last year, he received just 18.2% of the vote and he's polling at 31% this year, his seventh on the ballot. On the other hand, Walker was at 22.3% in his seventh year and given the general weakness of this ballot, Kent could be the next player to get a big surge his final year.
That leaves the Today's Game committee: Lou Whitaker was on the 2020 ballot and received six of the 16 votes, but he's an extremely well-qualified candidate (75.1 WAR) and had the long career the veterans committee seems to like. Dwight Evans is a personal favorite and received eight votes in 2020, so he just needs to sway three more committee members, but I think Whitaker leapfrogs him into Cooperstown.
Prediction: David Ortiz, Lou Whitaker
New to ballot: Adrian Beltre, Joe Mauer, Chase Utley, David Wright, Bartolo Colon, Matt Holliday, Adrian Gonzalez
Last year on ballot: Gary Sheffield
Veterans committee: Today's Game (1988 to present)
A new wave of accomplished candidates will hit the ballot in 2024. Adrian Beltre's sustained excellence makes him an easy first-ballot lock, with 3,166 hits, 477 home runs, 1,707 RBIs and 95.6 career WAR, including 10 seasons of 5-plus WAR.
Joe Mauer and Chase Utley were amazing at their best, but both fight uphill battles to election due to lack of longevity. Mauer had nine seasons behind the plate in which he won three batting titles, an MVP and was the best all-around catcher in the game, but concussion issues forced him to move to first base for the final five, mediocre seasons of his career. Given the lower bar for catchers and his high peak value, I'd vote for him, but he's not a first-ballot guy. With 65.4 career WAR, Utley had similar career value to Ryne Sandberg (68.0), Roberto Alomar (67.1) and Craig Biggio (65.5), but no hitter who started his career after 1950 has made the Hall of Fame with fewer than 2,000 hits and Utley had just 1,885.
I have Kent missing election by the BBWAA. The Harold Baines selection has made it impossible to know exactly what the veterans committee is going to do moving forward, because if you elect every player better than Baines you'd have to build a new wing in Cooperstown. Still, unless the composition of the committee changes, Kent has to merit strong consideration.
Jim Leyland has yet to appear on a ballot and while his .506 career winning percentage isn't great, he's 17th on the all-time wins list, won a World Series, made eight trips to the playoffs and was always popular and well respected.
Prediction: Adrian Beltre, Jeff Kent, Jim Leyland
New to ballot: Ichiro Suzuki, CC Sabathia, Ian Kinsler, Troy Tulowitzki
Last year on ballot: Billy Wagner
Veterans committee: Modern Baseball (1970 to 1987)
Ichiro is a no-brainer, but Sabathia is more difficult to assess. He's similar to former teammate Andy Pettitte, who received just 9.9% of the vote in 2019 and is tracking at 11% this year:
Sabathia: 251-161, 3.74 ERA, 116 ERA+, 62.5 WAR
Pettitte: 256-153, 3.85 ERA, 117 ERA+, 60.6 WAR
Sabathia has a Cy Young Award and a few more high-level seasons, but Pettitte has the record for most postseason wins.
In my book, Wagner compares favorably to Trevor Hoffman and recent veterans selection Lee Smith, but he's almost 200 saves behind Hoffman and Smith threw nearly 400 more innings. I think Wagner falls short.
For the veterans committee, I wonder about two-time MVP Dale Murphy, who had a short peak and hasn't fared well on his previous ballots, but was such a beloved player that his case will be revisited. He had just six seasons above 3.1 WAR. In the end, he probably falls short again, while Evans finally gets the call. I'll also go with Beltran and Vizquel finally getting the call alongside Ichiro. You can call this class the all-defense team of Hall of Famers.
Prediction: Ichiro Suzuki, Carlos Beltran, Omar Vizquel, Dwight Evans
New to ballot: Felix Hernandez?
Last year on ballot: Manny Ramirez
Veterans committee: Golden Days (1950 to 1969)
Players eligible in 2026 will have played their last season in 2021. King Felix might not end up pitching in 2021 given his results from last year, but, sadly, his career fell short of Hall of Fame standards anyway. Manny Ramirez, like his fellow PED candidates, will remained locked out of Cooperstown.
For the Golden Days era, we return to Allen and Oliva. Oliva is one of the great what-ifs in baseball history. He won three batting titles and hit .304 in his career, but his knees went bad at 32 and he finished with just 43.1 WAR. I think he falls short.
Prediction: CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte
New to ballot: Albert Pujols?
Last year on ballot: Omar Vizquel (if not already elected), Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones
Assuming Pujols plays through the remaining two years of his contract, he would become eligible in 2027 and should join Rivera in the 100% club.
Rolen is polling right around 50% on the public ballots this year and with 70.2 career WAR, he's a player the younger, analytic voters favor. If he hasn't made it by now, he feels like the type of player to get a strong, final-year push.
The veterans committee hasn't revealed what era it will be voting on in 2027, but if we follow the pattern, we go back to Today's Game (1988 to present). One player I'd like to see get a second look is Kevin Brown, who fell off the BBWAA ballot after one season. He's a stathead favorite with a more dominant peak than either Sabathia or Pettitte. He's a match for recent first-ballot inductee Roy Halladay:
Brown: 211-144, 3.28 ERA, 127 ERA+, 68.2 WAR
Halladay: 203-105, 3.38 ERA, 131 ERA+, 65.4 WAR
Still, he probably falls short. How about Fred McGriff though? He's a classic veterans committee candidate with a long career, 493 home runs and is viewed as one of the clean players from the PED era. He peaked at 39.8% in his final year on the BBWAA ballot, but he also battled the ballot logjam throughout his period of eligibility. I think he's a borderline candidate at best with just four 5-WAR seasons, but if he had seven more home runs he might already be in.
Prediction: Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, Fred McGriff
Last year on ballot: Todd Helton, Andy Pettitte (if not already elected)
Molina is currently in the final year of his contract, but I can see him playing at least through 2022 and becoming eligible in 2028. Heck, if he's willing to be a backup catcher, he could probably play into his early 40s. Hey, Carlton Fisk lasted until he was 45.
Helton was amazing for five or six years, but I think the back problems leave him a couple of great seasons short of a Hall of Fame career. It might not be a strong ballot in 2028, so that could help him, but with a short peak and 61.2 career WAR, I don't think he gets in.
If the veterans committee votes on the Modern Baseball era (1970 to 1987), here's a long-shot candidate: former Cardinals and Reds general manager Bob Howsam. He built the 1967 World Series champion Cardinals (although he had left for Cincinnati by then) and built the Big Red Machine, one of the best teams of all time. Mark Armour and Dan Levitt, who wrote "In Pursuit of Pennants," a great book on the best general managers in the game's history, ranked Howsam No. 4 all time.
Prediction: Yadier Molina, Bob Howsam
Last year on ballot: Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi
If Cabrera and Cano make it through the ends of their current contracts (2023), they will hit the ballot in 2029. Votto has a club option for 2024, but given his recent fade, I'm not sure he makes it that far. Cabrera, of course, is a first-ballot choice while Cano will be hurt by his 2018 PED suspension. I think he gets in eventually, but it will take a few years.
Votto looked like a no-brainer Hall of Famer a couple of years ago, but that's no longer the case. He's sitting on 60.2 career WAR, but his counting stats -- 284 home runs, 944 RBIs -- are low for a first baseman. I do wonder how he would be viewed if he had won seven batting titles instead of seven on-base percentage titles. Of course, the voting bloc by 2029 will be much more informed regarding Votto's extremely high peak of excellence, so he has a chance to get selected. A couple more bounce-back seasons would help, though.
I have pitchers Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer all playing through at least 2024 and not yet eligible. I think all four are pretty much Hall of Fame locks at this point, and if any suffer some sort of career-ending injury they could appear in 2029 or earlier.
The veterans committee, meanwhile, likely would revert to the Today's Game era (1988 to present). Candidates could include all the PED guys I haven't yet put in, plus Kevin Brown, Andruw Jones, Bernie Williams, Kenny Lofton and Jim Edmonds, among others. Lofton is a stathead fave with his 68.3 career WAR, but his vagabond career hurts him and a lot of that value is from his defense. He's a better candidate than Omar Vizquel in my book and he did play on a lot of good teams (11 postseason appearances).
I kind of glossed over the steroids guys. At this point, I don't think Bonds, Clemens, A-Rod, Manny, McGwire or Sosa get in. Maybe attitudes will change by the end of the decade.
We'll give our final nod to Terry Francona, who is already 18th on the all-time wins list, has two World Series titles and is still going strong.
Prediction: Miguel Cabrera, Joe Mauer, Kenny Lofton, Terry Francona