For an unprecedented seventh year in a row, and as part of a still record-setting surge, the BBWAA elected multiple candidates to the Hall of Fame with the 2020 ballot. Derek Jeter and Larry Walker had very different playing careers and voting paths, but both gained entry via results that carried a fair bit of drama into Tuesday evening’s announcement, as the questions of whether the former would join former teammate Mariano Rivera as the second unanimous selection in as many years, and of whether the latter would end up on the right side of 75%, were both up in the air.
|2014||Greg Maddux (97.2%)||Tom Glavine (91.9%)||Frank Thomas (83.7%)|
|2015||Randy Johnson (97.3%)||Pedro Martinez (91.1%)||John Smoltz (82.9%)||Craig Biggio (82.7%)|
|2016||Ken Griffey Jr. (99.3%)||Mike Piazza (83.0%)|
|2017||Jeff Bagwell (86.2%)||Tim Raines (86.0%)||Ivan Rodriguez (76.0%)|
|2018||Chipper Jones (97.2%)||Vlad Guerrero (92.9%)||Jim Thome (89.8%)||Trevor Hoffman (79.9%)|
|2019||Mariano Rivera (100%)||Roy Halladay (85.4%)||Edgar Martinez (85.4%)||Mike Mussina (76.7%)|
|2020||Derek Jeter (99.7%)||Larry Walker (76.6%)|
We now know the answers, of course, and I’ve already delved into the ballot’s big take-home points. What follows here is my look at how each candidate fared, with a few lumped together for obvious reasons. Having written so much about the two honorees, I’m starting at the bottom of the results and working my way to the top, though of course I do hope you stick around to the end, if only to meet Robinson Canoe.
Josh Beckett, Heath Bell, Chone Figgins, Rafael Furcal, Carlos Peña, Brian Roberts, José Valverde (1st year on ballot, 0.0%)
There’s no shame in being shut out on a Hall of Fame ballot. That check box next to these players’ names is the reward for their unique, impressive careers. As Vin Scully liked to remind viewers, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”
Adam Dunn, Raúl Ibañez, Brad Penny, J.J. Putz (1st, 0.3%)
Each of these guys received exactly one vote — that would be One for Dunn, if not One and Dunn, and can we please let the big lug be on next year’s ballot so I can give that joke a callback? Anyway, none of the lone votes were recorded in Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame Ballot Tracker prior to the announcement, so we’re left wondering as to whether they came from brothers-in-law, secret Santas, or beat writers who thought they deserved a small tip of the cap, the last of which was a common and widely-accepted gesture before the ballots got too packed.
Cliff Lee (1st, 0.5%)
Though he had the stronger postseason resumé, Lee wasn’t quite the equal of Johan Santana in terms of Cy Youngs or JAWS, and even Santana received rude treatment from the voters on a more crowded ballot (2.4% in 2018). Both remain members of that fraternity of pitchers we recall fondly — Fernando Valenzuela, Dave Stieb, David Cone, Bret Saberhagen, and so on — while wondering what might have been had it not been for so many injuries.
Eric Chávez (1st, 0.5%)
A six-time Gold Glove winner who rates among the best players (by WAR) never to be selected for an All-Star Game, Chavez avoided a shutout in the voting in part because longtime A’s beat writer Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle included him on a ballot that otherwise matched my own virtual ballot (swapping out Andruw Jones). Wrote Slusser, “My formerly small-Hall stance has gone out the window because I’d like worthy candidates to stay on the ballot more than a year or two. That’s why I included Chavez this year — watching him play third base throughout his entire 12-plus years with Oakland was a joy. I’m hopeful he gets at least one more year of consideration, though I suspect this might be one of just a handful of votes for him.”
Jason Giambi (1st, 1.5%)
The former AL MVP has a higher peak score (42.2) than BBWAA-elected Hall of Fame first basemen such as Jim Thome, Bill Terry, Eddie Murray, Harmon Killebrew, and Tony Perez, but thanks in part to his BALCO connection, his candidacy went the way of another former MVP who’s right below in him the JAWS ranking, 2006 one-and-done candidate Will Clark. The Giambino got even less support than Will the Thrill, six votes to 23. Should have kept the mustache.
Alfonso Soriano (1st, 1.5%)
Paul Konerko (1st, 2.5%)
I get that his pivotal role in helping the White Sox to their first championship in 88 years means the world to the team’s fans, but the number of earnest articles I saw in November, suggesting he deserved serious consideration for Cooperstown — it was like watching somebody send a bunny across a crowded interstate highway. Still, Konerko has got a statue at [Googles White Sox ballpark name] Guaranteed Rate Field, and that’s more than the rest of this year’s candidates can say.
Bobby Abreu (1st, 5.5%)
The underappreciated Abreu — who made just two All-Star teams during an eight-year span across which he averaged 5.7 WAR — is the only one of this year’s 17 non-Jeter newcomers who made the 5% cut and will remain eligible for the 2021 ballot. I couldn’t quite justify including him on my virtual ballot, choosing Gary Sheffield and (ugh) Curt Schilling over him for its final two spots. Nonetheless, I’m happy to see the guy with the sweet swing and the .395 career on-base percentage survive for another year, when I and others can mull his candidacy further.
Andy Pettitte (2nd, 11.3%, up 1.4%)
While all 14 holdovers on this year’s ballot gained ground relative to last year — the second year in a row that’s happened — none gained less than Pettitte, despite the clearance of two superior starters (Roy Halladay and Mike Mussina) from the slate. Next year’s top pitching newcomers, Tim Hudson and Mark Buehrle, outrank Pettitte slightly in JAWS and crossed the 200-win threshold themselves, but the bet here is that they’ll go one and done while Dandy Andy’s candidacy will persist for awhile without really going anywhere.
Sammy Sosa (8th, 13.9%, up 5.4%)
The clearance of ballot space helped Sosa return to double-digit support for the first time since his 2013 debut. He’s still got no shot at election, and I have yet to include him on my virtual ballot due to the logjams, but I have a special spot in my heart for him, and not just because during a previous non-baseball-related career I once chose Sosa to appear on the cover of the World Almanac For Kids, for which I was the creative director.
Sosa’s continued presence on the ballot should serve as a reminder of the different and sometimes unfair and hypocritical ways that PED questions get parsed. He wasn’t part of BALCO or the Mitchell Report, and never drew a suspension once testing and penalties were in place. If commissioner Rob Manfred can exonerate David Ortiz for his failing the supposedly anonymous 2003 survey test on the grounds that a certain number of samples that tested positive would have been challenged by the players’ union if suspensions were at stake, then Sosa ought to be extended the same courtesy.
This piece from The Athletic’s Marc Carig, who did include Sosa on his ballot and received a surprise phone call from the slugger himself, is worth reading.
Andruw Jones (3rd, 19.4%, up 11.9%)
Jones’ double-digit gain was the sixth-largest in absolute terms but the largest in relative ones; he’s the only candidate on this year’s slate who got more than two-and-a-half times last year’s support. That’s still not much to write home about, but it does take him off the watchlist when it comes to falling victim to the Five Percent Rule, and with seven years of eligibility remaining, there’s still a chance he gains traction.
Jeff Kent (7th, 27.5%, up 9.4%)
I’ve never given Kent strong consideration for a ballot spot, and he doesn’t fare well in JAWS, but I’m always mystified by the dearth of support he receives even from more old-school voters given the easy selling points of his all-time lead in home runs by a second baseman, ranking number two behind Rogers Hornsby in slugging percentage for the position, and eight 100-RBI seasons. Seven years into his candidacy, this is the first time he’s cleared 20%. Maybe, like Jack Morris and (probably) Fred McGriff, he’s a candidate who’s more likely to be smiled upon by an Era Committee than a body of voters often put off by his prickly persona.
Manny Ramírez (4th, 28.2%, up 5.4%)
This is the first time Ramirez has broken out of the 22-24% range, but given that four other players whom he outpolled last year leapfrogged him, it’s clear that those two suspensions for PED usage might as well be concrete bricks chained to his candidacy.
Todd Helton (2nd, 29.2%, up 12.7)
Though his was merely the fifth-largest gain in this year’s cycle, Helton has to be the greatest beneficiary of Walker’s election, as it helps to validate his own considerable accomplishments in Coors Field. Per the Tracker, he actually gained more votes from returning voters (38) than Walker (35), but for some reason, he also lost more returning votes (six) than any other. As Tracker team member Anthony Calamis pointed out, at least a couple of the drops among published ballots came from voters who added Walker as a matter of prioritizing his final-year bid, suggesting they’ll return to the fold. Also worth noting is Helton’s unusually poor showing among first-time voters (1-for-9); of the surviving candidates, only Abreu did as poorly. Helton can already count on this 2021 newcomer’s vote, at the very least.
Gary Sheffield (6th, 30.5%, up 16.9%)
Sheffield posted the third-largest gain of any player on this year’s ballot by percentage and the second in terms of net votes among returning voters (44). By percentage, his is also the largest gain ever by a PED-linked candidate, a reflection both of his peripheral entanglement in BALCO (he briefly trained with Bonds and claims not to have known the cream he was given was a steroid) and the impression his style at the plate left upon those who watched him; reading ballot explainers, I sensed the same genuine excitement among those who finally found room to add him as I felt when including him on my virtual ballot for the first time.
Sheffield’s gain is the 22nd-largest of any candidate in the modern voting era (since 1966, when the writers returned to annual voting). Setting the six surges that carried candidates across the 75% threshold aside, 10 of the 15 players besides Sheffield who had gains of such size or larger were eventually elected by the writers. The five that weren’t — Phil Caveretta, Nellie Fox (later elected by the Veterans Committee), Gil Hodges, Minnie Minoso, and Johnny Sain — averaged 15.5% before the jump and 36.7% after, though those percentages are weighted down by Minoso’s absurd 1.8% showing in 1985, a consequence of the way his pinch-hitting comebacks caused his candidacy to fade into obscurity in front of voters less familiar with his career. None of the eventually elected players vaulted from such a low percentage as Sheffield, and in fact, the list of writer-elected candidates who ever polled below 15.0% at any point is a short one: Bert Blyleven (14.1% in his second year out of 14 on the ballot) and Walker (10.2% in his fourth year out of 10). All of which is to say that Sheffield is still looking at a steep climb to 75%, though reaching 50%, which could help his case in front of Era Committee voters, seems more doable.
Billy Wagner (5th, 31.7%, up 15.0%)
Billy Wags posted the fourth-largest percentage gain, and the third in terms of net votes among returning voters (40, with not a single voter dropping him). He’s still a long way from election, but it’s worth noting that he actually received a higher share of the vote than Bruce Sutter did in his fifth year (31.1%) — notable not only because Sutter is now in the Hall but because he has the smallest body of work of any of the eight enshrined relievers (1,042 innings, still 139 more than Wagner). Of course, Sutter was elected in his 13th year, which is time that Wagner doesn’t have, but given voters’ reactions to the urgency created by the shrinking of the eligibility window from 15 years to 10, he may not be licked yet.
Scott Rolen (3rd, 35.3% up 18.1%)
Outside of Walker’s election, Rolen’s big jump — the second-largest of the cycle, and the largest in terms of net votes gained among returning voters (54, without a single voter dropping him) — is the most gratifying aspect of this year’s results. The parallels to Walker’s case are striking, in that both contended with injuries that cut into their career totals; they’re not obvious Hall of Fame material if you’re looking only at their hit and homer numbers, but once you account for their elite defense and smart baserunning, their overall value is such that each ranks 10th at his respective position in JAWS. The two were teammates in St. Louis for the latter part of 2004 and all of ’05, though they combined to play just 156 games in the latter season due to injuries.
With Martinez and Walker off the ballot, Rolen may be the next candidate to get the spotlight from statheads (I’d include him in the next edition of The Cooperstown Casebook, if there is one). Craig Edwards wrote a good look at just how special Rolen’s prime was. Bookmark that and show it to a voter or three next November.
Omar Vizquel (3rd, 52.6%, up 9.8%)
He missed out on a double-digit gain, but as I noted on Tuesday night, Vizquel’s climb above 50% is of greater significance; the above trio of holdovers aside, nobody aside from Hodges has ever reached that threshold and then failed to gain entry eventually, either via the writers or a small committee. Vizquel still has another seven years to make up the remaining ground, but then again, Hodges reached exactly 50.0% in year three of a 15-year run and didn’t get to 75%.
Like Jack Morris before him and Yadier Molina soon enough, Vizquel is a polarizing candidate. Many voters, going by the eye test, consider him the most spectacular shortstop of his time (a subjective call, but not an unreasonable one) and therefore on par with light-hitting Ozzie Smith in terms of his all-around game, but that assertion is at odds with any advanced statistics. To say that Vizquel is no darling of the statheads is an understatement; he fares so poorly in JAWS that Andrelton Simmons would have overtaken him in 2019, his eighth season, if not for injury, and already crushes his seven-year peak score. Last year, in our inaugural crowdsource balloting, Vizquel received just 4.9%, and this year, he got 11.1% — but of course, those people don’t have an actual vote.
The problem for Vizquel, I think, is that a good chunk of the electorate is influenced enough by advanced stats that getting to 75% won’t be easy. His net gain of 22 votes from among returning voters merely ranked eighth, he received just three out of nine votes from first-timer, and a greater share from among private ballots (56.6%) — a demographic that tends to be older and thus vulnerable to being sunsetted out of the electorate — than pre-election public ones (49.3%).
Barry Bonds (8th, 60.7%, up 1.6%) and Roger Clemens (8th, 61.0%, up 1.5%)
It would be inaccurate to say this pair has been completely stopped in their tracks, but their rates of gaining ground have slowed to the point that it appears there’s enough entrenched dissent to filibuster until their eligibility runs out with the 2022 cycle. Bonds’ last three elections have seen bumps of 2.6%, 2.7%, and 1.6%, with Clemens in a similar boat. While each received votes from eight out nine newcomers who published their ballots prior to the election, neither changed many minds, with Bonds netting just two votes from returning voters, and Clemens just one. They benefited from the sunsetting of long-inactive voters in 2016 and the election of steroid-era commissioner Bud Selig in ’17, but would appear to need another ground-shaking event to cause voters to reconsider their positions. Maybe the sign-stealing scandal and reminders of the commonalities between MLB’s belated response to that mess and to the influx of PEDs in the 1990s will have an impact, or perhaps it will take until the pair’s final ballot appearance, which will mark the arrivals of Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez, who served a year-long suspension for PED usage. But don’t hold your breath.
Curt Schilling (8th, 70.0%, up 9.1%)
This is the fourth time since his debut that Schilling has posted a gain of at least nine points; of course, he’s lost at least seven points twice thanks largely to matters of his own doing. As noted on Tuesday, of the 21 modern voting era candidates who received at least 70% but fell short of 75% and still had eligibility remaining, 20 of them — all but Jim Bunning in 1988 — were elected the next year. Particularly in an election year, Schilling’s ongoing capacity for self-sabotage makes his closing the gap less of a sure thing than most.
I included Schilling on my virtual ballot this year, but I’ll revisit that decision with my real ballot next year, because I don’t find the thought of voting for him any more satisfying than that of leaving him off the ballot on the grounds of, say, my aversions to hoarders of Nazi regalia, those who cozy up to white supremacists, and those who pretend they were joking when comes to the various expressions of hatred they’ve spewed on social media. If Schilling isn’t able to show genuine contrition or self-reflection for his mistakes, why should a voter wrestle with the decision to include or exclude him on a ballot?
The thought of Schilling being the only living honoree at a 2021 induction should have denizens of Cooperstown quaking in fear over the economic hit. Short of whipping the Golden Days Era Committee vote in favor of Dick Allen or Jim Kaat or Tony Oliva or whomever, or praying that Bonds, Clemens, or Vizquel is miraculously elected, I’m not sure how that can be avoided.
Larry Walker (10th, 76.6%, up 22.0%)
I love the video clips of players getting the call from BBWAA secretary/treasurer Jack O’Connell with the news that they’ve been elected. Like those of Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez, and Mariano Rivera, I got choked up watching this one, even though I didn’t see it until Wednesday:
— MLB (@MLB) January 21, 2020
I have questions not just about that SpongeBob SquarePants shirt but also if any of the other men in the picture are brothers Gary, Carey, or Barry — and no, I’m not making this up, as parents Larry Sr. and Mary were certainly committed to the bit.
I went on at length in Tuesday’s writeup about the distinctions of Walker’s election, so I’ll go brief here. He’s the first Canadian-born position player elected, the first Rockies player (even via a cup of coffee) elected, the third former Expos outfielder elected in the past four years (Raines and Guerrero being the others), and, ahem, the seventh out of 14 players profiled at length in The Cooperstown Casebook to be elected in that same span. Among post-1966 candidates, his 10.2% in 2014 now stands as the second-lowest mark received by a candidate eventually elected by the writers, his 22-point jump from last year’s 54.6% is the second-largest of any post-1966 candidate who cleared the 75% bar, his two-year gain of 42.5% is second only to Luis Aparicio‘s 42.7% (from 41.9% in 1982 to 84.6% in ’84), and his 54.7% gain over three years is tops, dusting Early Wynn’s 48.1% (from 27.9% in 1969 to 76.0% in ’72).
In case you’re wondering, Walker said at the Hall’s Wednesday afternoon press conference that his preference is to wear a Rockies cap on his plaque, “a hard decision as a Canadian” given his pioneering status in the Hall as well as his time with the Expos.
Derek Jeter (1st, 99.7%)
I get that there’s outrage — and schadenfreude — over Jeter missing out on unanimity, whether it was due to strategic voting or sabotage by a disgruntled writer in New York, Boston, Miami, or elsewhere. The local Fox affiliate even reached out to me for my perspective as part of a segment in which you can hear Jeter handling the matter with the same trademark aplomb he applied to every other controversy in his career (watch also for appearances by The Athletic’s Tim Britton and the Jaffe-Span household mascot Robinson Canoe, a taxidermied squirrel visible over my left shoulder):
In the grand scheme, the rogue no-Jeter vote doesn’t matter. We should be grateful that this person’s grandstanding yielded less of a payoff than that of the trio of voters who publicly trumpeted their own one-candidate ballots, making the situation about themselves for a moment. All of this will be forgotten by the time Jeter is inducted on July 26; what will be remembered and celebrated is his spectacular 20-year career, his unflappability in the glare of the white-hot New York media spotlight, and his strong work as an ambassador for the game.
Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.