The 2017 Hall of Fame class was announced last night with three members. What else did we learn from the voting results?
Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, and Ivan Rodriguez are going into the baseball Hall of Fame after being named on over 75 percent of the official ballots of the BBWAA. All three are very deserving candidates. Raines had been gaining steadily for years after Canadian baseball writer Jonah Keri began championing his cause. Bagwell, too, overcame lingering (and unsubstantiated) rumors about his ties to PEDs. Rodriguez, the best combination of offense and defense ever seen in a catcher, also overcame his own PED ties to become a first-ballot inductee.
Outside of the top three, there are several others who came very close to reaching Cooperstown. Closer Trevor Hoffman fell five votes short, and outfielder Vladimir Guerrero fell 15 votes shy of the Hall of Fame. Both are sure to make it next year. There were also several key gainers and losers among the candidates.
We now have another year before the debate around the 2018 class, the voting process, steroids, and sabermetrics ramps up to full force. While we wait, here are five key takeaways from the 2017 voting for the Hall of Fame.
Aug 22, 2015; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees former catcher Jorge Posada address the crowd during a ceremony for the retirement of his number before the game against the Cleveland Indians at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
5. Jorge Posada was a victim of the Rule of 10
I doubt many baseball writers are losing sleep over the fact that Jorge Posada will never be a member of the Hall of Fame. He was, at best, a fringe candidate to begin with. Still, his career certainly warranted more than one year on the ballot. The backstop for the prime years of the Yankee dynasty received only 17 votes, failing to top the minimum five percent required to stay on the ballot.
Posada is without a doubt a shade below the catchers who have been inducted in recent years — Gary Carter, Mike Piazza, and Ivan Rodriguez — but not so far off that he should be a one-and-done candidate. Over 17 years, Posada hit 275 home runs, reached base 2,674 times, made five All-Star teams, and caught for four World Series winners.
Catcher has historically been one of the hardest positions for players to reach the Hall of Fame. Only nine of the 14 catchers in the Hall have been voted in by the writers. The remaining five got in from the Veterans Committee. There are quite a few great catchers from years gone by who missed out on induction, and Posada is among them. He is in or around the top ten in most offensive categories among catchers in league history, but was never a great defender. Without the Rule of 10 and a backlog caused by hesitancy to vote for anyone from the Steroid Era, Posada would have had a few more years on the ballot, which he does deserve.
August 3, 2012; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox former pitcher Curt Schilling throws out a ceremonial first pitch prior to a game against the Minnesota Twins at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
4. Curt Schilling cost himself big time
Only three players in baseball history to top 50 percent of the vote at one time have failed to reach the Hall of Fame. Schilling will eventually become the fourth. The postseason hero turned right-wing nutjob dropped from 52 percent in 2016 to 45 percent this year. Make no mistake about it, Schilling’s insistence on sharing awful, xenophobic, Islamophobic, transphobic memes on social media and making ill-advised jokes about lynching journalists cost him a shot at the Hall.
Schilling has only himself to blame. He was a borderline candidate to begin with due to the fact that his peak as an elite pitcher was short. His case was mostly based on postseason heroics. It became too easy for writers to drop him from their ballots as he continuously spewed hateful speech online even after being fired from a job at ESPN. Schilling is now with Breitbart news.
Even after seeing his vote totals drop precipitously, Schilling was back at it again on Twitter, arguing with a parody account of Sidney Ponson. This drop will not be a one-year bump, either. Schilling will only continue falling until his ten years on the ballot are up. Meanwhile, noted adversary of the media, Jeff Kent, received only 16.7 percent of the vote. If Kent is being left off because he was prickly with the media for most of his career, that is an inexcusable invocation of the already flimsy “character clause” that governs the voting process.
Jul 7, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Seattle Mariners hitting coach Edgar Martinez (11) watches batting practice before the game against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
3. Big gains for Edgar Martinez
Some writers continue to write off the accomplishments of the best DHs in baseball history because they do not play the field. Edgar Martinez has been a victim of that antiquated belief for years, but made the biggest jump among returning candidates this year. He was up all the way from 43.4 percent last year to 58.6 percent. Martinez will eventually be a Hall of Famer, perhaps as early as next year.
That Martinez is a Hall of Famer based on his offensive numbers, is not really up for debate. The reason so many writers flipped and added him this year, however, is. Was there suddenly some cataclysmic shift in the line of thinking of the BBWAA, or did David Ortiz hit 500 home runs and retire this year? Most likely, the voters realized they cannot wait to vote for Big Papi in five years and realized they had better go ahead and induct Martinez, who is actually the superior offensive player.
If that’s how the logic works for the voting members of the BBWAA, the voting process needs a major overhaul. Edgar Martinez should not be a Hall of Famer because David Ortiz will eventually be a Hall of Famer. Vote for Edgar on the basis of his own numbers, not because you are more willing to accept Ortiz simply because he hit 500 home runs and performed well in the postseason. Martinez could come back today, take 850 empty plate appearances, and still have a better career on-base percentage than Ortiz. The Seattle Mariners great leads Ortiz in WAR by double digits.
It’s clear that Edgar Martinez belongs in the Hall of Fame, with or without David Ortiz getting the red-carpet treatment.
Jul 24, 2016; Cooperstown, NY, USA; Hall of Fame Inductee Ken Griffey Jr. makes his acceptance speech during the 2016 MLB baseball hall of fame induction ceremony at Clark Sports Center. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
2. Public balloting will help
Twitter and social media, and the excellent Ryan Thibodaux (@NotMrTibbs — worth a follow 365 days a year regardless of ballot tracking) have brought much-needed transparency to the Hall of Fame vote. For the first time next year, all ballots will be made public knowledge. That should help force out some of the “small Hall” crowd hiding among the older voters who have continued keeping their ballots private. In the pre-announcement tracking, several candidates had polled much higher, only to see their percentages drop steeply upon the official announcement.
Big percentage of the ballots not published to date did not include Bonds and Clemens, who plummeted from 70% range to 53-54%
Baseball has one of the most inclusive Halls among the four major sports. Less than a quarter of a percent of players who played the game in the 1990s have been inducted. Compare that with over one percent historically. The movement towards a much smaller Hall has been fueled in some ways by a reluctance to accept that the Steroid Era happened and move on. There are older writers, too, who have failed to accept the changing nature of the game. Three-hundred wins should not be the bare minimum for a pitcher to reach Cooperstown. Closers and DHs are a part of the game, and will be from here on out.
The best players in those roles are just as eligible for the Hall of Fame as their counterparts who throw the first six innings (down from the nine customarily thrown in the 1920s) and the fielders (who often have lesser offensive numbers than the best DHs). A full reveal of all ballots cast will help force out the stodgiest members of the BBWAA, or at least force them to vote in a way that better reflects the current state of the game.
Mar 18, 2016; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves special guest Chipper Jones (10) prior to the game against the Miami Marlins at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
1. The 2018 class could be a big one
As mentioned it the preceding slide, the baseball Hall of Fame is one of the most exclusive clubs in the world. It does seem, though, like some progress is being made to accept a wider range of players who have left a sizable impact on the game.
That’s 12 players elected by BBWAA in last four years, most in any four-year period since the first four (1936-39).
Looking ahead to the 2018 class, the Hall of Fame could be getting as many as six new members. Hoffman and Guerrero are locks. First-ballot candidates Chipper Jones and Jim Thome are also very strong candidates. Neither had ties to steroids. Jones was the best hitter on the dynastic Atlanta Braves teams of the 1990s and early 2000s. Thome is one of only nine players to hit 600 home runs, and was popular with everyone in the league. That’s four sure-fire candidates.
Next year could be the year for Edgar Martinez. There are three strong candidates coming off the ballot next year along with Lee Smith, who continued getting over a third of the vote up to his final year on the ballot. There will be plenty of free votes for the DH, and writers may hesitate to make him go all the way to his tenth time on the ballot. More gains for Bonds and Clemens could also follow. Same goes for the criminally underrated Mike Mussina.
It all adds up to a large class, which is a positive for baseball and its Hall of Fame.