Hall of Fame Voters Decide David Ortiz Is in a Class by Himself

Kate Collins / Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin

There’s no shutout this year — instead, there’s joy in Cooperstown. On Tuesday, the Baseball Hall of Fame announced the voting results for this year’s BBWAA ballot, and after a year in which no candidate was elected and featured a contentious election cycle in which it quickly became apparent that the four prominent 10th-year candidates wouldn’t gain entry in their final year of eligibility, David Ortiz broke through on his first try. The centerpiece of the Red Sox’s three championships from 2004-13 — the first of which broke an 86-year drought — and the record-holder among designated hitters in several key categories, Ortiz received 77.9% from among the 394 writers who cast a ballot.

Over a two-month span during which discussions of character-related issues — mainly pertaining to performance-enhancing drugs and domestic violence — at times loomed larger than those pertaining to traditional and advanced statistics and other credentials, Ortiz gained entry while Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Curt Schilling did not. That trio, all in the final year on the writers’ ballot, had the highest shares of the vote last year, but between Bonds’ and Clemens’ links to PEDs and Schilling’s long history of toxicity via his social media accounts, none was able to change the minds of enough voters this year. Schilling, in fact, requested to be removed from this year’s ballot after falling short last year, and while the Hall denied that request, so many voters obliged that his share of the vote dropped 12.5% from last year’s ballot-leading share of 71.1%. He ranked fifth from among the 30 candidates, while Bonds (66.0%) and Clemens (65.2%) ranked second and third respectively, with Scott Rolen (63.2%) fourth.

Prior to the announcement of the results, Ortiz, Bonds and Clemens all received over 75% of the vote from the 205 ballots published in the Ballot Tracker, but as has generally been the case for most of the top-tier candidates since people began tracking ballots, their actual shares of the vote were several points lower. But despite fears that the writers would fail to elect a candidate for the second cycle in a row, something that last happened in 1958 and ’60, when the BBWAA voted biennially, the charismatic “Big Papi” received relatively robust support even given his own link to PEDs and his time spent as a DH, two factors that have served as stumbling blocks for some candidacies. Ortiz spent his 20-year major league career (1997-2016) with the Twins and Red Sox, made 10 All-Star teams, won eight Edgar Martinez Awards as the game’s top DH, finished among the top four in the AL MVP voting four times, and hit 541 home runs, the 17th-highest total in major league history. He hit an astounding .455/.576/.795 in 14 World Series games while helping the Red Sox win championships in 2004, ’07, and ’13, and created numerous memorable moments in the postseason via his clutch hits. He emerged as a civic icon in Boston, particularly for his declaration, “This is our fucking city!” when the Red Sox returned to play in the wake of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Ortiz will join Era Committee honorees Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva as well as representatives for the deceased Gil Hodges, Minnie Miñoso, Bud Fowler, and Buck O’Neil for induction into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York on July 24. The presence of Ortiz ensures a much larger crowd than Kaat, Oliva, and the bygone honorees — all of whose careers ended in 1983 or earlier — would have drawn had the writers pitched another shutout. Indeed, after the 2020 Induction Weekend was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic and that year’s four honorees were belatedly inducted in a muted midweek celebration last September 8, the election of Ortiz is a gift to the Hall and the Cooperstown-area economy.

As for Bonds, Clemens, and Schilling, that trio and Sammy Sosa, who received 18.5% this year and never came close to induction during his 10-year run on the ballot, will all be eligible for inclusion on next year’s Today’s Game Era Committee ballot, which will be announced in November. That is, if the Hall doesn’t change the rules, as it did with PED users in mind when its board of directors voted in the summer of 2014 to shorten candidates’ eligibility windows from 15 years to 10. That change took effect with the 2015 ballot, in the aforementioned quartet’s third year of eligibility. The 2023 Today’s Game ballot could also include Bruce Bochy and several other managers, plus Fred McGriff (who aged off the ballot three years ago), Kenny Lofton (who went one-and-done on the same 2013 ballot in which Bonds et al debuted) and a whole lot of others. Candidates from that group will be voted upon again in December 2024 for induction the following summer.

As for Rolen, the comparatively uncontroversial third baseman continued his climb towards election by gaining 10.3%, the largest jump of any candidate on this ballot but a smaller one than in either of the past two cycles. He debuted with just 10.2% of the vote on the 2018 ballot, but advanced statistics — such as his no. 10 ranking in WAR and JAWS among third basemen, bolstering his claims as an elite fielder at the hot corner and a very good hitter for his position — have fueled his rise. He broke 50% for the first time last year, while Todd Helton (52.0%) and Billy Wagner (51.0%) did so for the first time. That’s significant, because with the exception of Bonds, Clemens, Schilling, and those still on the ballot, every candidate who’s ever received 50% from the writers has eventually been elected (rest easy, Gil Hodges). Despite trending near 50% via the Tracker, both Andruw Jones (41.1%) and Gary Sheffield (40.6%) fell off significantly among the private ballots. On that subject:

I’ll have more to say about each and every candidate on this ballot in a breakdown that will run on Wednesday, but for now, here are six takeaways from the voting results.

No Company is Good Company

Ortiz is the first BBWAA-elected candidate to have the spotlight to himself since Barry Larkin in 2012, though in the two decades before that, such solo acts were quite common. In this millennium alone we’ve seen Ozzie Smith (2002), Bruce Sutter (2006), Goose Gossage (2008) and Andre Dawson (2010) go it alone, and the five players elected from 1993-98 (Reggie Jackson, Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt, Phil Niekro, and Don Sutton) did so as well. Like Ortiz, Dawson (77.9%) and Sutter (76.9%) didn’t have much margin for error as they cleared the 75% bar. Ortiz’s 307 votes were 11 more than the minimum needed to reach 75%, which is still nearly double that of Larry Walker’s close scrape (76.6%, clearing by six votes) in 2020.

Packed Ballots

In the aforementioned years in which only one candidate was elected, it was rare for voters to average 6.0 names per ballot; in fact one has to go back to 1995 (Schmidt) to find a one-man class that reached that level; the 1997 ballot on which Niekro was elected contained just 5.32 names, the lowest average for any of the BBWAA’s 78 ballots since the process began in 1936. This year, voters included 7.11 names per ballot, the highest for any one-man class since 1981; when Bob Gibson was elected that year, voters averaged 7.8 names.

The 7.11 names per ballot bucked a recent trend, as did the share of voters using all 10 slots. Both were at their highest levels since 2019, if not quite at the levels that produced 18 honorees from 2014-19:

Recent BBWAA Ballot Trends
Year Votes Votes Per Ballot All 10 Elected
2013 569 6.60 22% 0
2014 571 8.39 50% 3
2015 549 8.42 51% 4
2016 440 7.95 41.6% 2
2017 442 8.17 45.2% 3
2018 422 8.46 50.0% 4
2019 425 8.01 42.8% 4
2020 397 6.61 20.5% 2
2021 401 5.87 14.5% 0
2022 394 7.11 33.8% 1
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
“All 10” figures via BBWAA. Yellow shading = modern record (since 1966).

The PED Factor

Ortiz is the first candidate to be elected despite having been linked to PEDs either by a reported positive test on the supposedly-anonymous 2003 survey test, a suspension by MLB, or via another investigation. In 2009, the New York Times‘ Michael S. Schmidt reported that he and teammate Manny Ramirez were among the 100 or so players who failed the survey test. If you’re wondering why Ortiz was the voters’ exception rather than Bonds and Clemens — both of whom denied knowingly using the drugs — it’s worth remembering that late in the 2016 season, when the Boston slugger was on his farewell tour and his eventual Hall of Fame candidacy was a common topic, commissioner Rob Manfred all but exonerated him, saying this to reporters:

“If there were test results like that today on a player, and we tried to discipline, there would be a big grievance over it. It would be fully aired, vetted, tried, resolved… Even if Rob Manfred’s name was on that list, he might have been one of those 10 or 15 where there was probably, or possibly, a very legitimate explanation that did not involve the use of a banned substance. I think it’s really unfortunate that anybody’s name was ever released publicly.”

Manfred added that he felt it was unfair that Hall of Fame voters were using “leaks, rumors, innuendo, not confirmed positive-tests results” against candidates.

Manfred’s words jibe with previous reports such as the 2009 one from the New York Daily News‘ Christian Red and Teri Thompson, who noted shortly after the Ortiz leak, “The supplement 19-norandrostenedione was legal in 2003 and contained the steroid nandrolone, a hard-core performance-enhancing drug used to build muscle.”

Ortiz, for his part, said shortly after Schmidt’s report, “I definitely was a little bit careless back in those days when I was buying supplements and vitamins over the counter — legal supplements, legal vitamins over the counter — but I never buy steroids or used steroids.” At the time he also noted that he had been tested by MLB 15 times since 2003, plus two more times via the World Baseball Classic, all without a positive result.

None of that entirely clears his name, but it does confirm that his explanation was at least plausible, and as far as voters were concerned, that was sufficient. Even so, that he was elected while Bonds, a far more complete all-around player who likewise was never disciplined by MLB for any PED-related infraction, fell by the wayside still makes for some serious cognitive dissonance. As distinguished FanGraphs alumnus Jeff Sullivan put it:

As has been thoroughly documented, the game was rife with players who used PEDs before MLB and the Players Association finally introduced testing and penalties in 2004, and at best we know only a fraction of those who used. It’s probable that some of those users have already been elected — and that’s without pointing out that the ubiquitous amphetamines that circulated throughout the game for decades starting in the 1960s were performance-enhancers as well, and not only also illegal (as are anabolic steroids) but considered more detrimental in terms of their classification via the Controlled Substances Act.

As to whether the election of Ortiz opens the door for other survey test-linked candidates, it probably won’t help Ramirez or Alex Rodriguez, both of whom were later suspended by MLB for clear violations of the league’s drug policy. On this ballot, Ramirez polled 28.9% in his sixth year of eligibility, his highest share to date but his third year in a row in the 28-29% range. Rodriguez received 34.3% in his first year of eligibility, about two points below Bonds’ first-year share (36.2%) and over three points below that of Clemens (37.6%). Rodriguez has nine more years of eligibility via the writers, so the conversation about PEDs isn’t going away anytime soon.

The DH Factor

Ortiz spent a far greater share of his career as a designated hitter than any other candidate elected to date. He’s the third to have taken a majority of his plate appearances in that capacity, and the fourth to have taken a plurality that way:

Hall of Famers With a Plurality of Time as Designated Hitter
Player Total PA PA as DH % DH Elected
David Ortiz 10,091 8,861 87.8% BBWAA 2022
Edgar Martinez 8,674 6,218 71.7% BBWAA 2019
Harold Baines 11,092 6,618 59.7% Today’s Game 2019
Frank Thomas 10,075 5,698 56.6% BBWAA 2014
Paul Molitor 12,167 5,338 43.9% BBWAA 2004

I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up

Beyond the eternal debate over how to handle PED-linked candidates, Schilling and another candidate, Omar Vizquel, saw their support plummet due to other issues. Schilling reached 70% on the 2020 ballot, but continued to sabotage his own candidacy in the following year by spreading election and COVID-19-related conspiracy theories on social media, and gained just 1.1% last year. After calling for martial law, voicing support for the January 6 Capitol rioters, and then requesting that the Hall of Fame take him off this year’s ballot so he could avoid accountability for his toxic emanations, he dropped 12.5% as noted above.

As for Vizquel, as of the 2020 ballot he appeared to be trending towards election, receiving 52.6% of the vote. Allegations that he physically abused his wife surfaced during last year’s election cycle, putting a small dent in his level of support; he fell only to 49.1% in part because by the time The Athletic’s Katie Strang and Ken Rosenthal published their in-depth report in mid-December, many voters had already cast their ballots. The combination of that report and a more recent one alleging that he sexually harassed an autistic batboy while managing the White Sox’s Double-A affiliate caught up to him this time, and resulted in an exodus of voters that’s without comparison in modern voting history:

Largest Drops in BBWAA Voting Since 1967
RK Player Yr0 Pct0 Yr1 Pct1 Drop
1 Omar Vizquel 2021 49.1% 2022 23.9% -25.2%
2 Luis Tiant 1988 30.9% 1989 10.5% -20.4%
3 Maury Wills 1981 40.6% 1982 21.9% -18.7%
4 Lee Smith 2013 47.8% 2014 29.9% -17.9%
5 Bucky Walters 1968 23.7% 1969 5.9% -17.8%
6 Tony Oliva 1988 47.3% 1989 30.2% -17.1%
7 Mickey Lolich 1988 25.5% 1989 10.5% -15.0%
8 Jim Bunning 1978 47.8% 1979 34.0% -13.7%
9 Harvey Kuenn 1988 39.3% 1989 25.7% -13.6%
10 Jim Rice 1998 42.9% 1999 29.4% -13.5%
11 Alan Trammell 2013 33.6% 2014 20.8% -12.7%
12 Curt Schilling 2021 71.1% 2022 58.6% -12.5%
13 Ken Boyer 1988 25.5% 1989 13.9% -11.7%
14 Richie Ashburn 1978 41.7% 1979 30.1% -11.6%
15 Larry Walker 2013 21.6% 2014 10.2% -11.5%
16 Nellie Fox 1981 41.9% 1982 30.6% -11.3%
17 Elston Howard 1981 20.7% 1982 9.6% -11.1%
18 Steve Garvey 1998 41.2% 1999 30.2% -11.0%
19 Jim Bunning 1988 74.2% 1989 63.3% -10.9%
20 Gil Hodges 1981 60.1% 1982 49.4% -10.7%

Several of those drops have more to do with the arrivals of stronger candidates on the ballot than with anything the candidates who fell have done, though Willis’ brief but disastrous stint managing the Mariners in 1980-81 — which lasted just 83 games — couldn’t have helped. Even so, he, Fox, Hodges and Howard all declined precipitously as Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson landed on the ballot for the first time in 1982 and were resoundingly elected. Likewise in 1989, the arrivals of Carl Yastrzemski, Johnny Bench, Gaylord Perry, and Fergie Jenkins caused Tiant and six other candidates to plummet. In 2014, Smith, Trammell, and Walker (plus Martinez and Schilling, who were bumped down two rungs by this year’s results) were crowded out by the arrivals of Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and Frank Thomas, that on top of the Bonds/Clemens/Sosa/Craig Biggio/Mike Piazza group from the year before (which also included Schilling!). Nine of the candidates above bounced back to gain entry to the Hall, but only Rice and Walker did so via the writers. That doesn’t bode well for Vizquel at all.

The Undercard

I was one of just four voters to cast a ballot for Joe Nathan prior to the announcement of the results, and while he received more support from voters who did not publish their ballots, he still fell three votes short of getting the necessary 5%, ruling him out from further consideration by the BBWAA. He was one of 11 candidates to fall victim to the Five Percent Rule. Ten of those were first-year candidates, while second-year candidate Tim Hudson was the other. Jimmy Rollins was the only other first-year candidate besides Ortiz and Rodriguez to receive at least 5%. Two other second-year candidates squeaked through with less than 6%:

2022 BBWAA Hall of Fame Voting Results
Player Yrs Votes 2022 Pct 2021 Pct Change
David Ortiz 1 307 77.9%
Barry Bonds* 10 260 66.0% 61.8% 4.2%
Roger Clemens* 10 257 65.2% 61.6% 3.6%
Scott Rolen 5 249 63.2% 52.9% 10.3%
Curt Schilling* 10 231 58.6% 71.1% -12.5%
Todd Helton 4 205 52.0% 44.9% 7.1%
Billy Wagner 7 201 51.0% 46.4% 4.6%
Andruw Jones 5 163 41.1% 33.9% 7.2%
Gary Sheffield 8 160 40.6% 40.6% 0.0%
Alex Rodriguez 1 135 34.3%
Jeff Kent 9 129 32.7% 32.4% 0.3%
Manny Ramirez 6 114 28.9% 28.2% 0.7%
Omar Vizquel 5 94 23.9% 49.1% -25.2%
Sammy Sosa* 10 73 18.5% 17.0% 1.5%
Andy Pettitte 4 42 10.7% 13.7% -3.0%
Jimmy Rollins 1 37 9.4%
Bobby Abreu 3 34 8.6% 8.7% -0.1%
Mark Buehrle 2 23 5.8% 11.0% -5.2%
Torii Hunter 2 21 5.3% 9.5% -4.2%
Joe Nathan* 1 17 4.3%
Tim Hudson* 2 12 3.0% 5.2% -2.2%
Tim Lincecum* 1 9 2.3%
Ryan Howard* 1 8 2.0%
Mark Teixeira* 1 6 1.5%
Jonathan Papelbon* 1 5 1.3%
Justin Morneau* 1 5 1.3%
A.J. Pierzynski* 1 2 0.5%
Prince Fielder* 1 2 0.5%
Carl Crawford* 1 0 0.0%
Jake Peavy* 1 0 0.0%
* ineligible for future consideration on BBWAA ballots.

I’ll have plenty more to say about the voting results in my next installment. In the meantime, you can watch me on Wednesday’s MLB Now at 2 pm ET on MLB Network, and check out the discussion I had with Rosenthal on his Hall of Fame Special moments after the announcement of the results.

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, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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2 years ago

How about taking away voting privileges of writers who turn in a blank ballot every year? Ron Cook in Pittsburgh does so admittedly every year.

2 years ago
Reply to  whiteyinpgh

(wrong nesting)

2 years ago
Reply to  whiteyinpgh

I asked Jay that very question in his chat last week and he was not a fan.

2 years ago
Reply to  olethros

I get that most of these suggestions are tongue in cheek, but the notion of penalizing voters for the “wrong” vote or voting pattern generally defeats the purpose of voting to begin with.

2 years ago
Reply to  whiteyinpgh

He must have voted for Rivera…

Dan B
2 years ago
Reply to  whiteyinpgh

Just don’t count blank ballots so they count to the denominator either.

2 years ago
Reply to  Dan B

then he could cast one vote for a guy like Fielder who won’t make 5%

2 years ago
Reply to  kevbren849

I think that the symbolism of casting a blank ballot is a pretty strong pull. And if they do cast a ballot for Prince Fielder, then they have to write a whole column saying “actually, I didn’t mean it” and that would be fun to read.

2 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

What if someone truly doesn’t think any of the candidates are worthy in a given year? Not saying that’s all of those who submit a blank ballot, but how exactly would one separate them out?

Jason Bmember
2 years ago
Reply to  bohknowsbmore

“What if someone truly doesn’t think any of the candidates are worthy in a given year?”

Just as an exercise, could anyone look back at the ballots over the past couple of decades and see zero deserving candidates on any of them? I didn’t try the exercise myself but am curious how that might look. I think it would be pretty difficult to find a year in which there were realistically zero deserving candidates but am open to an example.

2 years ago
Reply to  Jason B

This year? Depending on your views on PED use and encouraging the murder of journalists/overthrowing of the USA’s government, you could very easily make a case against every player on the ballot.

2 years ago
Reply to  whiteyinpgh

Those who left Schilling off their ballots care more about politics than the game of baseball. Let’s take their privileges away too.

2 years ago
Reply to  Barry

Schilling used his baseball-derived celebrity to celebrate mob violence and murder, and to disseminate toxic lies. Such behavior certainly should be taken into account by those determining his future association with baseball. It’s not a political issue but one of basic human decency.

2 years ago
Reply to  RobotBoy

I would agree if Schilling actually did those things. I would say your comment is the result of toxic lies painting Schilling wrongly as a racist. And many many…many…players and politicians celebrtated BLM and their violence and incendiary language.

2 years ago
Reply to  Barry

People have more sympathy for PED using pathological liars than Schilling. When it comes to players who e.g. beat up women and do a bunch of drugs then ‘only stats matter,’ but look how the mob downvotes you when you dare go against the media’s weak-kneed moral condemnation of Schilling.