The 2019 Hall of Fame election results from the BBWAA’s vote broke new ground with the unanimous election of Mariano Rivera, the first candidate to run the table since the voting began 83 years ago. With the late Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, and Mike Mussina topping 75% as well, it also produced the institution’s fifth quartet in electoral history, and the third in five years, after these four:
In the six cycles since the 2013 shutout, the writers have elected 20 players, surpassing the 15 elected from 1951-56 for the most elected in a six-year span. With an eye toward electoral history and more recent trends, what follows here is both my rundown of the fates of all 35 candidates on the ballot (some of which will figure into my updated five-year outlook for Monday) and a clearinghouse for an assortment of relevant notes and links. One thing that stands out: all 15 holdover candidates gained ground, even if it was just by 0.2% (I’m working to confirm as to whether this is a first). None of those candidates’ share of the vote went down relative to 2018, though that doesn’t always mean that that they made real forward progress in burning a precious year off their eligibility clocks.
Mariano Rivera (1st year, 100%)
It’s still almost unbelievable that Rivera was the first candidate elected unanimously. That honor rightfully would have gone to any one of a few dozen players before him if not for the self-appointed guardians of the Cooperstown gate, but it took a perfect storm of voter accountability, transparency, a candidate who was the best ever at his speciality, and a man universally respected throughout the industry, one who lived up to the responsibility of being the last player to wear Jackie Robinson’s otherwise-retired number 42, in order for it all to come together. And oh, what a moment to behold.
Once upon a time, there was a thought that the Joe Torre-era Yankees dynasty might not produce a single Hall of Famer. Now they have three, namely Torre himself (as manager, of course), Tim Raines (admittedly, a role player by that point) and Rivera, with Derek Jeter on the way next year. Rivera is the eighth Hall of Famer to spend his entire career with the Yankees (Earle Combs, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Whitey Ford, and Mickey Mantle are the others, and Jeter is next) and the second Hall of Famer born in Panama, after Rod Carew.
On Tuesday night, after the election results were announced, I did a spot for “The Big Sports Show” on St. Louis radio station WTRS, where hosts Ben Fredrickson and Brendan Wiese pointed out that I chose pretty well when it came to the cover subject for The Cooperstown Casebook.
Edgar Martinez (10th, 85.4%, up 15.0%)
The first modern candidate to post four straight year-to-year gains of at least 10 percentage points, Martinez took a much rougher, though no less rewarding, road to Cooperstown than Rivera. As previously noted, he’s the sixth candidate in modern electoral history (since 1966, when the writers returned to annual voting) to be elected in his final year of eligibility, after Red Ruffing(1967), Joe Medwick (1968), Ralph Kiner (1975), Jim Rice (2009), and Raines (2017). He’s the fifth Puerto Rico-born Hall of Famer, after Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Alomar, and Ivan Rodriguez, and as La Vida Baseball’s Jose de Jesus Ortiz — a former president of the BBWAA — pointed out, his election alongside Rivera makes 2019 the first time the writers have elected two Latino inductees in the same year. Together, Rivera and Martinez run the total of Hall of Famers who spent their careers with a single team to 54.
As with the candidacy of Raines, the election of Martinez is somewhat personal. He was a favorite of mine when I was simply a fan, and I supported his candidacy from the outset in 2010. The Martinez profile I put together for Baseball Prospectus and ESPN Insider in December 2010 is the first version of a piece that was adapted for SI.com, the Casebook, and ultimately FanGraphs, reflecting the annual ups and downs of his candidacy.
There’s more to it than that. My uncle Harold Jaffe spent his retirement years as the gregarious “mayor” of the then-Safeco Field Diamond Club, but just as I was finishing the Casebook in January 2017, he passed away after a long illness. I had come to refer to that side of the family as the Edgar Martinez Wing of the Jaffes, and so Martinez’s candidacy took on an additional layer of meaning. In an appearance I did for the Mariners Hot Stove Show on Tuesday night (starting at the 13:20 mark here), I got a bit verklempt, discussing both Edgar and Harold, whom co-host Shannon Drayer called “an absolute Safeco treasure.” She had some kind words for me as well.
Roy Halladay (1st, 85.4%)
I’ve mentioned that Halladay was the first player posthumously elected by the BBWAA in a regular election since Rabbit Maranville in 1954, and the only other one elected by the writers in his first year of eligibility besides Christy Mathewson in the Hall’s inaugural election in 1936 (he died in 1925). I have more on that topic in a separate feature in the pipeline, so enough said about that angle for now.
Here’s one to ponder: who will be the next starter elected on the first ballot? Backstage at MLB Network in Secaucus, where I made a pre-announcement appearance on MLB Now, Jayson Stark (himself a Hall of Famer this year, via the 2019 Spink Award) and I pondered the question and concluded that the first pitcher to have a real shot would be Justin Verlander, since neither of us sees CC Sabathia as a slam dunk. I’m not yet sure Verlander is a slam dunk, either (let’s see how he finishes his career) and so upon further consideration, I might choose Clayton Kershaw as the next lock. We shall see…
Mike Mussina (6th, 76.7%, up 13.2%)
I didn’t catch this on Tuesday, but the 20.3% Mussina received in his 2014 ballot debut is the third-lowest percentage of any modern player elected by the BBWAA. The only ones lower? Duke Snider, with 17.0% in 1970, and Bert Blyleven, with 17.5% in 1998. It took Blyleven 14 years and a substantial grassroots campaign to gain entry; that Mussina only needed six is both a reflection of the growing impact of advanced statistics on the process and a testament to how overstuffed the ballots have been. Nonetheless, he made double-digit gains in three years out of the four since that debut, and now he has to figure out which cap to wear on his plaque (I lean Orioles – he was a perennial Cy Young contender in Baltimore, and represented the team in all five appearances). The link between Blyleven and Mussina is significant in another way. It took 20 years between the elections of non-300 win starting pitchers Fergie Jenkins in 1991 and Blyleven in 2011. We’ve had four since then: Martinez and Smoltz in 2015, and Mussina and Halladay this year. It’s about damn time.
Curt Schilling (7th, 60.7%, up 9.7%)
If not for his noxious public persona — the reprehensible things he’s said on social media and the radio, the cozying to white supremacists, the conspiracy theories — he would have beaten Mussina to Cooperstown, because he had a one-year head start on the ballot, and a 9.3% lead as of 2016 (52.3% to 43.0%). Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences, however, and the voters gave Schilling a little chin music in 2017. As it is, he’s regained his momentum, receiving his highest share of the vote to date and putting himself within striking distance next year, particularly as he’s the top returning candidate by voting percentage. Of course, his capacity for self-sabotage doesn’t guarantee a smooth path to 75%.
If you were hoping that the Gruesome Twosome would regain momentum — which certainly appeared possible, given that both were about 6.5 points ahead of last year’s pre-election results in the Ryan Thibodaux’s (@NotMrTibbs) Hall of Fame Ballot Tracker — the answer is apparently no. The pair had public-versus-private differentials of 25.5% and 25.6%, respectively, the largest in Tracker history; those have since dropped below 20 points as more ballots have been revealed, but that still doesn’t count as good news.
ESPN’s Jeff Passan reached out to 60 voters who according to the Tracker excluded both players from their ballots. He got responses from 18, 15 of whom told him that they couldn’t ever see themselves changing their minds. Whether or not that group constitutes a representative sample of the electorate is an open question, but here’s some sobering data from the Tracker: each had net gains of just three votes from returning voters, with Clemens matching last year’s total and Bonds tripling his. First-time voters went 7-for-8 on both this year, while last year, they were 12-for-13 on Clemens and 11-for-13 on Bonds. But that math doesn’t help them as much as flipping a no to a yes.
In other words, it’s probably going to take another jolt akin to the 2016 decision to sunset inactive voters, and the 2017 election of Bud Selig, commissioner of the steroid era — which together helped Bonds and Clemens climb from the mid-30s to above 50% — for a substantial bloc of voters to change their minds. How about this: in 2022, their final year on the ballot, Alex Rodriguez, who served a full year suspension for PED violations, will be eligible for the first time, as will David Ortiz, who reportedly tested positive in the 2003 survey test, a result that commissioner Rob Manfred essentially waved off during the love-fest of the latter’s retirement tour, on the grounds of “legitimate scientific questions” about at least 10 samples, “issues and ambiguities were never resolved because they didn’t matter… [because] we knew we had enough positives to trigger the testing the following year.”
Rodriguez might be an obvious no in 2022, but neither Bonds nor Clemens are known to have failed the survey test or any other steroid test administered by Major League Baseball. As with Ortiz, both were beyond the league’s ability to discipline for any infraction, and let’s face it, they’re miles beyond Ortiz in terms of their overall caliber of play. How is somebody going to justify voting for Big Papi but leaving the pair off? We’ll find out.
Larry Walker (9th, 54.6% up 20.5%)
As noted on Tuesday, Walker posted the largest year-to-year gain of anybody on this year’s ballot and the ninth-largest in modern history; he’s also in the top five for two-year and three-year gains (32.7% and 39.1%, respectively). It’s a remarkable surge, no doubt, and again, the good news is that aside from current candidates, only Gil Hodges has received at least 50% and never gained entry.
Still, Walker finishing in the mid-50s instead of the high 50s was a sobering blow given the optimism of the past couple of weeks. He had a 25-point differential between published ballots (65.9%) and private ones (40.9%), the third-largest of any candidate this year after Bonds (25.6%) and Clemens (25.5%). Thus he fell short of the 57.1% projected by Adam Dore last week, an estimate that Dore described as “conservative.” Similarly, he fell short of the 57.2% median projected by Jason Sardell, the cycle’s most accurate projectionist. Can’t win ’em all.
As for next year, Walker needs to replicate this year’s jump almost exactly in order to get to 75%. Doing that would make for the third largest leap over the finish line in modern voting history, but here’s the thing: only one candidate has done so from below 60%, and he had a four-point head start on Walker.
Like Walker, Kiner was in his final year of eligibility when he made that jump, and as we’ve seen in the cases of Raines and Martinez, voters tend to close ranks around players in their final turn — as well they should, given that all three of these candidates were robbed of five years of eligibility by the Hall’s unilateral rule change in 2014, when all three were scuffling for votes.
Omar Vizquel (2nd, 42.8%, up 5.8%)
The gain doesn’t look like much and no, he’s not a candidate that I support based upon his low JAWS ranking, but Vizquel is actually in very good shape as far as the voting goes. Only one modern candidate has polled above 40% in his second year and failed to gain entry via the writers, and — again, as the exception that seems to prove every Hall of Fame voting rule — that’s Hodges. Bet on some voters to consider him for the first time based upon their distaste for the fact that Jeter won five Gold Gloves with defensive metrics that are horrifying.
Fred McGriff (10, 39.8%, up 16.6%)
In his final year of eligibility, the Crime Dog posted the ballot’s second-biggest year-over-year gain, which enabled him to surpass 25% for the first time in his 10-year candidacy and approach 40%. It’s a showing not unlike that of Alan Trammell, who in 15 years on the ballot back in the olden days (2002-2016) didn’t break 20% until his ninth year, topped 30% for the first time in his 11th year, backslid into the low 20s but gained 15.8% in his final turn to top out at 40.9% — and then was elected by the Modern Baseball Era Committee in his first try. Between the final-year surge and the easy statistical hook of his 493 homers, McGriff seems likely to travel the same path in front of the 2022 Today’s Game Era Committee.
On MLB Now, Stark and I sat down with host Scott Braun to discuss McGriff and various other ballot matters:
Manny Ramirez (3rd, 22.8%, up 0.8%)
Manny is three ballots into his candidacy, with less than two points of variance between his high (23.8% in 2017) and low (22.0% last year). Shorter version: Two suspensions, no chance.
Jeff Kent (6, 18.1%, up 3.6%)
He’s short in my system, and I gather that his prickly personality made him less than a media favorite, but I remain shocked that the all-time home run leader among second baseman is six years into his candidacy and has yet to reach 20%. For what it’s worth, this is Kent’s best showing yet, and according to the Tracker team’s Anthony Calamis, he had 10 mentions from voters who said he would have been one of their picks if they had more than 10 slots, tied for the second-highest total. Six of those were McGriff voters, and recent history says that the conversion rate on voters using those spots is pretty good (expressing it mathematically is complicated). Like McGriff, Kent’s best chance at reaching Cooperstown is probably to build to 40-50% and then hope for better luck in front of the Today’s Game panel.
Scott Rolen (2nd, 17.2%, up 7.0%)
Rolen didn’t double the support he received in last year’s debut, but he did make some headway, and he stands to make more as the traffic thins out. Not only did he lead all candidates with 11 mentions in the “If I had space” category, but now that Martinez and Mussina are in, and Walker has only one more year, Rolen’s candidacy stands to benefit from being a focal point for attention from the statheads.
Billy Wagner (4th, 16.7%, up 5.6%)
With three relievers elected in the past two years (Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, and Lee Smith) to bring the total enshrined to eight, standards are starting to come into focus. This time around, half again as many voters included Wagner as last year, and he tied with Kent with 10 “If I had more space” mentions. He should benefit from being the ballot’s top closer, for those who swing that way, but it’s still going to be an uphill climb.
Todd Helton (1st, 16.5%)
A Hall of Fame-related conversation at the Winter Meetings with a fellow writer (one who has a ballot) led to a gentlemen’s wager over Helton’s first-time percentage. With a pint of beer at stake, we agreed to set the over/under at 30.0%, and I — who eventually included the first baseman on my virtual ballot — took the under. That’s one less brew I’ll have to pay for next December. I’m a bit surprised that Helton did not fare quite as well as Walker in his debut (20.3%), though to be fair, this year’s ballot is deeper than 2011’s.
And don’t count him out just yet. He got nine mentions from the space cases, and I suspect next year’s focus on Walker — and that particular slot on the ballot freeing up for 2021, regardless of outcome — will benefit Helton in the long run as well.
Gary Sheffield (5th, 13.6%, up 2.5%)
He picked up a few votes among holdovers, and I know that two analytically included first-time voters, ESPN’s Christina Kahrl and Keith Law — both alums of Baseball Prospectus (as am I) — included him due in part to their suspicions over the extent to which his defensive metrics are such outliers. He went 0-for-6 among the other newcomers in the Tracker, however, and appears fated to remain in down-ballot limbo.
Andy Pettitte (1st, 9.9%)
Despite his high win total and strong postseason track record as part of the Torre-era Yankees dynasty, Pettitte did not make an auspicious debut. That almost certainly had far less to do with his appearance in the Mitchell Report and subsequent admission of HGH usage than it did his presence on a ballot with four clearly Hallworthy starters (the two elected, as well as Clemens and Schilling, warts and all). Other than postseason volume, which ain’t nothing, there’s no area where he stacks up as the best of the bunch, and it’s still a 10-slot ballot. I suspect his future is as a Kent or Sheffield-type candidate who gains enough support not to be in danger of falling off the ballot but doesn’t come anywhere close to 50%, let alone 75%.
Sammy Sosa (7th, 8.5%, up 0.7%)
Between the eye test and the New York Times report that he was on the 2003 survey test positive list (see above), Sosa can’t escape the perception that his career, and particularly his 609 homers, was purely PED-driven. He hasn’t been in double digits since his 2013 debut (12.5%) but he does have enough support to stick around on the ballot and remind the baseball world of the inconsistent standards voters have applied to PED-linked players.
Andruw Jones (2nd, 7.5%, up 0.2%)
Whether it’s due to ballot crowding, the quick fadeaway in his 30s, the post-career domestic violence allegation, or the Rule of 2,000 — nobody with fewer than 2,000 hits whose career took place in the post-1960 expansion era has ever been elected — Jones didn’t gain any traction. Still, it appears that the strength of his defensive metrics and position within the Braves’ dynasty will keep him on the ballot for further consideration.
Michael Young (1st, 2.1%)
Young fell below the 5% cutoff but did receive nine votes, including two from longtime Rangers beat writers Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News and T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com. Once upon a time, when ballots were less crowded and the process less scrutinized, such gestures of respect were commonplace. Grant, who took considerable heat for giving Young a first-place vote for MVP in 2011 (when Verlander beat out Jacoby Ellsbury), was prepared to to do the same for including him here, and explained his rationale at length, summarizing, “The Hall of Fame is a state of mind more than anything else, the qualifiers the things that make a player special in each individual fan and voter’s mind. In mine, Michael Young left an indelible mark on a franchise and the game. And if you want to laugh at me for that, it’s OK.” No laughs here, and no pitchfork.
Five votes for the former, four for the latter. There’s little doubt in my mind that both had Hall of Fame-caliber talent, but their bodies didn’t hold up long enough to yield careers that could stand out alongside those who lasted longer. Berkman, with 1,905 hits, is the latest victim of the Rule of 2,000, while Oswalt’s fate resembles that of 1980s Blue Jays great Dave Stieb, just as his career did. The good news is that the Astros are creating their own team Hall of Fame, and while this pair isn’t part of the inaugural class, there’s little doubt they’ll get their due soon.
Miguel Tejada (1st, 1.2%)
Between the various allegations connecting him to PEDs — the mention in Jose Canseco’s book, the desperation of Rafael Palmeiro trying to pin his own positive test on Tejada, the Mitchell Report mention, and finally his actual suspension for using a banned stimulant in 2013 — and the fadeaway in his mid-30s, Tejada never had a real shot at election. Nonetheless, the arc of his career, from its extreme poverty and age falsifying in the Dominican Republic to the highs and lows of the Moneyball years in Oakland to the big contract and the mess he got himself into later, is fascinating and instructive. “No one player encapsulates baseball’s modern era better,” wrote Sports on Earth’s Jorge Arangure in 2013, who called him “baseball’s version of Forrest Gump, an observer and participant in some of baseball’s most defining moments of the era.”
Placido Polanco (1st, 0.5%)
Not a Hall of Famer but a better player than you probably remember. Damn, could that guy pick it.
As the great Vin Scully often reminded viewers, “They also serve who only stand and wait.” There’s no shame in being shut out on the ballot; that check box next to these players’ names is the reward for their unique, impressive careers.
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.