Dec. 31 is the deadline for BBWAA members to submit their Hall of Fame ballots, and nearly one third of them have already made their ballots public. And here’s a hell of a thing: Probably not this year, but Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will make the Hall of Fame within a couple of years.
I’m looking at the indispensable BBHOF Tracker, maintained by Ryan Thibodaux, and 135 writers have revealed their ballots—that’s 31 percent of the total number of voters. Here’s where the top contenders stand now:
- Jeff Bagwell 93.3%
- Tim Raines 90.4%
- Ivan Rodriguez 85.2%
- Vladimir Guerrero 77.0%
- Barry Bonds 71.1%
- Roger Clemens 71.1%
- Trevor Hoffman 71.1%
- Edgar Martinez 68.9%
- Mike Mussina 63.0%
- Curt Schilling 53.3%
With the obvious and important caveats that less than a third of ballots are being polled, and that the type of writer who chooses to make their ballot public tends to favor certain players more than the electorate at large, a few things jump out:
• Bagwell (seventh year on the ballot) and Raines (10th and final year) are near-certain locks to make Cooperstown. First-timers Pudge Rodriguez and Vlad Guerrero, too, are in above the 75 percent cutoff in this sample, but we don’t really know much how their polling here will differ from the BBWAA as a whole. We’ve seen Bagwell and Raines pick up votes each year, and their cushions are large enough to overcome any discrepancies between polling and voting.
• Curt Schilling’s candidacy definitely appears to have been hurt by his transformation into your Facebook uncle. Despite his obvious accomplishments, he’s polling right about exactly where he finished in the final voting last year—and we’d expect his final tally this year to come in even lower than his polling, just as it did in 2016. Baseball writers hold grudges.
• Trevor Hoffman’s going to get in before long, and it could even be as soon as next month. He finished at 67.3 percent last year, a 3.8 percent improvement on what his polling showed. A similar bump added to his current 71.1 percent polling would put him reeeeeal close.
• Edgar Martinez has the potential for a huge bump this year. He’s polling at 68.9 percent, compared to his final vote total of 43.4 percent this year. Even with a discrepancy between polling and final, that’s the sort of bump that promises induction within the next year or two. Edgar Martinez, of course, was awesome.
• And that brings us to Bonds and Clemens, Clemens and Bonds, the sine qua non of the whole HOF/steroids debate. It is a given that they will not perform quite as well in the final voting as they do in this polling—again, the BBWAA voter who makes his ballot public tends to be younger, more internet-savvy, less likely to believe that association with PEDs should be a disqualifier.
Again, it’s more instructive to look that their gains. Both are polling at 71.1 percent, huge leaps from how they finished last year. (Clemens at 45.2 percent; Bonds at 44.3 percent.) Even if you factor in losses similar to their drops between polling and voting last year (Clemens -5.5 percent; Bonds -6.9 percent), they’ll be incredibly close—right around 65 percent. Only two men have ever gotten more than 50 percent and not eventually made it in.
The BBWAA as a whole appears to have finally come around on Bonds and Clemens, likely because the membership has changed drastically. Last year the Hall of Fame announced new rules that takes the vote away from older, inactive BBWAA members who haven’t covered the sport in more than a decade. That change, plus the growing acceptance of the steroid era for what it was—an important, pervasive, unignorable sea change in the game, without which the history of the sport can’t accurately be told—means that Bonds and Clemens, each with five more years on the ballot after this one, are Cooperstown-bound. Just not yet.
The newest Hall of Famers will be announced on Jan. 18, 2017. The BBHOF Tracker will keep updating as more ballots are made public, and you can absolutely lose an hour playing around with it. I encourage it.