Hall of Fame Voters Pitch Another Shutout

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2021 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Eight years ago, on the most top-heavy Hall of Fame ballot in at least half a century, the BBWAA voters pitched a shutout, electing nobody in what was seen by some as a referendum on character, particularly as it pertained to candidates linked to the usage of performance-enhancing drugs. On Tuesday, the writers put up a zero again, capping another election cycle dominated by debates over the significance of the on-and off-field transgressions of candidates, and — for the first time since 2012 — lacking any obviously qualified newcomers to the ballot.

Of the 401 ballots cast, a record 14 were blank. Whether those were done as protests against the notion that anybody from this ballot was worthy of enshrinement, or that in electing a record 22 candidates over the past seven years, standards had gotten too lax — those voters will have to answer that question themselves, if they haven’t already. Their ballots are included in the total, thus making it harder for anybody to reach 75%; had those voters instead made paper airplanes out of their ballots and flown them out the window (does anybody still do that?) the threshold for election would have fallen from 301 votes to 290.

Receiving the highest share of the vote were three ultra-polarizing candidates who have lingered since that infamous 2013 slate, namely Curt Schilling (71.1%), Barry Bonds (61.8%), and Roger Clemens (61.6%). Schilling, whose 2020 share of 70% made him the top returnee, fell 16 voters short, his progress once again slowed by a public persona that only grew more noxious in the midst of a pandemic and a contentious presidential election. Bonds and Clemens, all-time greats whose PED usage has split the electorate since they arrived on the ballot, barely budged relative to last year, with the former gaining 1.1% and the latter 0.6%. All three have just one year of eligibility remaining, and I can promise you, it won’t be pretty. Schilling, for his part, has requested to be removed from the ballot.

On a happier note, Scott Rolen headed a group of mid-ballot candidates who made substantial gains that will help to offset their slow starts. Rolen made the largest jump of any candidate, gaining 17.6% from last year to reach 52.9%. If you’re a longtime reader of my coverage, you know the next line by heart: With the exception of Gil Hodges and the current candidates on the ballot, every candidate who has reached 50% has eventually been elected by either the writers or a small committee.

For weeks, it was apparent that this shutout was coming, based upon the published ballots in Ryan Thibodaux’s indispensable Hall of Fame Ballot Tracker. Via the modeling by Jason Sardell, the most accurate projectionist in the past two election cycles, as of December 31, after 100 ballots were published, Schilling’s odds of reaching 75% were at 0.1%, while Bonds’ odds were at 0.0002%, with every other candidate at zero. As of January 14 (144 ballots), Schilling was still at 0.1%, and while he had risen to 0.3% by January 24 (163 ballots), his odds had dwindled by an order of magnitude, to 0.003%, through 203 ballots as of Tuesday afternoon.

While the joy in Mudville — er, Cooperstown — may be muted by Tuesday’s results, the good news is that if the Hall is able to proceed with its Induction Weekend this year, the scheduled honorees from last year’s pandemic-postponed proceedings, namely Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons, and the late Marvin Miller, will not be overshadowed by more controversial candidates.

What follows here are six quick takeaways from the voting. I’ll be back with a full candidate-by-candidate breakdown on Wednesday.

Does Character Count?

At the root of the dialogue around this year’s ugly cycle is how much weight to give to the “integrity, sportsmanship, and character” section of the voting rules. In recent years, that mainly came into play regarding PED-linked players, including this ballot’s Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, Andy Pettitte, Manny Ramirez, and Gary Sheffield. No candidate who has been disciplined for PEDs by MLB, or who appeared in the Mitchell Report, or who has been reported as failing the 2003 survey test has been elected thus far. The progress of Bonds and Clemens has been particularly slowed to the point that they’ve respectively gained just 8.0% and 7.5% in the past four election cycles, and it appears increasingly likely that they won’t be elected by the writers. That said, when Alex Rodriguez, who served a year-long PED suspension in 2014, and David Ortiz, who reportedly failed the ’03 survey test, become eligible next year, some voters may reevaluate where they draw their lines.

Even in the wake of MLB’s adoption of a domestic violence policy in 2015, Hall voters had given relatively little weight to allegations in that area, perhaps because of the overlap with the PED-tinged Bonds, Ramirez, and Sosa; additionally, Andruw Jones pled guilty to a 2012 battery charge. The issue moved front and center this time around. In October, Omar Vizquel‘s wife Blanca accused him of domestic abuse via Instagram Live. Those allegations were largely ignored within the industry until The Athletic’s Katie Strang and Ken Rosenthal dove in; their December 16 report included accounts of multiple incidents of domestic abuse, as well as an open MLB investigation in connection with Vizquel’s 2016 arrest.

Though many writers had already cast their ballots by then, more than a dozen voters who had previously included him reported dropping him when they revealed their ballots for Tracker purposes, and while the same number of voters flipped to adding him (some of them preceding The Athletic’s bombshell), his progress towards 75% — from 37.0% in 2018 to 42.8% and 52.6% in the next two cycles — ground to a halt. His 49.1% made him the only one of the 14 returning candidates to lose support.

As for Schilling… excuse me while I cut and paste from Tuesday morning’s piece, because carrying these receipts around is a chore unto itself… his lengthy laundry list of transgressions includes Islamophobic and transphobic social media posts that long ago cost him his job as an analyst at ESPN, and his momentum towards 75% was halted during the 2016 presidential election cycle when he shared a tweet in support of lynching journalists. Even so, he gradually regained lost ground, and pulled to the doorstep of Cooperstown with 70% of the vote last year, a position from which 20 out of 21 candidates who still had eligibility remaining were elected the following year.

Apparently determined to test the percentages, Schilling could not resist adding fuel to the fire during the 2020 presidential election cycle by spewing election-related conspiracy theories; sharing a call for martial law; and comparing Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, to a Nazi. After the December 31 voting deadline, he also tweeted his support of the insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Capitol building on January 6, further underscoring the extent to which he has crossed lines. Reportedly, at least one voter (and perhaps multiple ones) contacted the Hall about the possibility of rescinding their votes for him, but the Hall apparently refused.

Regardless of how narrowly one views the character clause — not to mention the suggestion that a candidate is being punished merely for expressing his political views, a charge that won’t hold water given that Trump-supporting Mariano Rivera was the first unanimous honoree just two years ago — supporting an attempted coup of a legitimately elected president would seem to be a transgression worth making an exception for. That wasn’t in play this year, but as a first-time voter, I avoided invoking the character clause with respect to Bonds, Clemens (who is alleged to have had an inappropriate relationship with an underaged girl), and Jones on the grounds that the clause was conjured up by a commissioner (Judge Landis) who spent his entire 24-year term upholding the game’s shameful color line. I viewed my omission of Schilling as a protest against the notion that he’s owed any deference for his hateful post-career conduct; if he’s ever elected, it won’t be in my name. More than ever, I stand by that decision.

The Victim

Shortly after the results were announced, Schilling made a lengthy post to his Facebook page, the gist of which was summarized by a few reporters on Twitter. This will suffice:

Allow me to suggest in light of the above litany that it is hardly out of character for a man who buys into election conspiracy theories to believe that 71.1% of the vote — whether in his favor or not — is an opinion that doesn’t matter. In attempting to withdraw his name from consideration, Schilling is trying to dodge the consequences of his post-deadline actions, which have turned off additional voters. Instead, he’s playing the victim. That said, the prospect of an election cycle in which we don’t have to air his laundry has some appeal.

Schilling’s request is unprecedented in terms of the BBWAA voting, though Miller, the former executive director of the players’ union, asked out of the Veterans Committee process in 2008. The Hall did not honor his wishes, including him on the 2010 Veterans Committee ballot, the 2014 Expansion Era Committee ballot, and the 2018 and 2020 Modern Baseball Era Committee ballots. He was finally elected eight years after his death.

Hall Chairman of the Board Jane Forbes Clark released a statement to USA Today on Schilling’s request:

“As you know, the Board of Directors of the National Baseball Hall of Fame sets the rules and procedures for the BBWAA balloting process. The Board has received Curt Schilling’s request for removal from the 2022 ballot, and will consider the request at our next meeting.”


This is the fourth shutout of the modern voting era, which I date to the BBWAA’s return to annual balloting in 1966 — a move that itself owed something to the writers’ slow pace of honoring recently retired players, with five shutouts in 14 elections during the 1945-60 span (’45, ’46, ’50, ’58, and ’60), and just 17 candidates elected from 1945-64. Here are those modern-era shutouts:

BBWAA Ballot Shutouts Since 1966
Year Top 3 Candidates 50%+
1971 Yogi Berra (1st, 67.2%)*, Early Wynn (3rd, 66.7%)*, Ralph Kiner (9th, 58.9%) 4
1996 Phil Niekro (4th, 68.3%)*, Tony Perez (5th, 65.7%), Don Sutton (3rd, 63.8%) 3
2013 Craig Biggio (1st, 68.2%), Jack Morris (14th, 67.7%), Jeff Bagwell (3rd, 59.6%) 5
2021 Curt Schilling (9th, 71.1%), Barry Bonds (9th, 61.8%) Roger Clemens (9th, 61.6) 4
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
* = elected one year later.

You read that correctly; Berra, a three-time MVP and 10-time World Series champion, was not elected in his first year of eligibility, and neither were Wynn, Niekro, and Sutton, all of whom won at least 300 games. Voters for some reason chose to be extremely stingy when it came to honoring first-timers at those junctures, and, well, it made for some very silly outcomes.

The 2013 ballot was an absolute cluster****. Its first-year candidates included the all-time leader in homers (Bonds, a seven-time MVP), the best post-World War II pitcher (Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young winner), the best-hitting catcher of all-time (Mike Piazza), a member of the 3,000 hit club (Biggio), a member of the 600-homer club (Sammy Sosa, a former MVP), a member of the 3,000 strikeout club who was additionally the best postseason pitcher of his generation (Schilling), and a fantastic leadoff hitter who made six All-Star teams and stole over 600 bases (Kenny Lofton). Fourteen players on the ballot exceeded the JAWS standards at their position, yet it took until 2015 for Biggio to be elected, ’16 for Piazza… and we’re still waiting for a third honoree from that group, but the way those candidates lingered has had a lasting effect on the process, causing other worthy candidates to slip through the cracks.

Rolen, Rolen, Rolen

Three years ago, Rolen debuted with a paltry 10.2%, that despite ranking 10th all time in JAWS among third basemen. He gained seven points in 2019, but last year had the second-largest gain of any candidate after Walker, jumping from 17.2% to 35.3%. His two-year gain of 35.7% is the fourth-largest for any modern candidate after Luis Aparicio (42.7%), Walker (42.5%), and Wynn (38.8%), and his three-year gain of 42.7% ranks fifth. I’ll have those tables built for my candidate-by-candidate rundown.

Also posting double-digit gains over last year were Todd Helton (up 15.7% in year three, to 44.9%), Billy Wagner (up 14.7% in year six, to 46.4%), Andruw Jones (up 14.5% in year four, to 33.9%), and Gary Sheffield (up 10.1% in year seven, to 40.6%). Jeff Kent (up 4.9%), Bobby Abreu (up 3.2%), Sosa (up 3.1%) and Pettitte (up 2.4%) did inch forward, but did not make the kind of gains that portend eventual election.

Making the cut, barely

Of the 11 candidates making their ballot debuts, three — Mark Buehrle (11.0%), Torii Hunter (9.5%), and Tim Hudson (5.2%) — received enough support to retain their eligibility. That rated as something of a surprise given that both Hunter and Hudson were below the 5.0% threshold in the Tracker, with 4.4% and 3.4%, respectively. Three other newcomers avoided a shutout, while five did not receive any support.

Given that I only included nine candidates on my ballot, I do feel a twinge of regret in not tossing a courtesy vote Dan Haren’s way for quality tweets of this ilk:

The Incredible Still-Shrinking Ballot

Due to the lack of strong first-year candidates, as well as the clearance of so many holdovers in recent years, voters averaged just 5.87 slots per ballot, the lowest since 2012, when they averaged 5.10; last year they fell below 7.0 for the first time since 2013, a span during which the modern record was broken three times. Likewise, just 14.5% of this year’s voters used all 10 slots, the lowest share since at least 2012. Here’s the recent history:

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

The 401 ballots cast this year was a slight increase of four over last year, but still down 31% from a high-water mark of 581 in 2011, and down 27% since 2015, the last year before The Hall instituted a rule sunsetting voters more than 10 years removed from covering the game.

There’s a lot more to dig into, but for now, we’ll stop here.

2021 BBWAA Hall of Fame Voting Results
Player Yrs Votes 2021 Pct 2020 Pct Change
Curt Schilling 9 285 71.1% 70.0% 1.1%
Barry Bonds 9 248 61.8% 60.7% 1.1%
Roger Clemens 9 247 61.6% 61.0% 0.6%
Scott Rolen 4 212 52.9% 35.3% 17.6%
Omar Vizquel 4 197 49.1% 52.6% -3.5%
Billy Wagner 6 186 46.4% 31.7% 14.7%
Todd Helton 3 180 44.9% 29.2% 15.7%
Gary Sheffield 7 163 40.6% 30.5% 10.1%
Andruw Jones 4 136 33.9% 19.4% 14.5%
Jeff Kent 8 130 32.4% 27.5% 4.9%
Manny Ramírez 5 113 28.2% 28.2% 0.0%
Sammy Sosa 9 68 17.0% 13.9% 3.1%
Andy Pettitte 3 55 13.7% 11.3% 2.4%
Mark Buehrle 1 44 11.0%
Torii Hunter 1 38 9.5%
Bobby Abreu 2 35 8.7% 5.5% 3.2%
Tim Hudson 1 21 5.2%
Aramis Ramirez* 1 4 1.0%
LaTroy Hawkins* 1 2 0.5%
Barry Zito* 1 1 0.2%
A.J. Burnett* 1 0 0.0%
Michael Cuddyer* 1 0 0.0%
Dan Haren* 1 0 0.0%
Nick Swisher* 1 0 0.0%
Shane Victorino* 1 0 0.0%
* ineligible for future consideration on BBWAA ballots.

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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Mike NMN
3 years ago

Jay, excellent in all respects. On Schilling, if I had the vote, I’d still put his vileness in, but I’d dislike myself for doing it and pretending it’s all about objectivity. It seems to me that the voters got this year right, including the 14 who mailed in blank ballots. You have follow your own internals on these choices, and there’s an excellent case to be made that none of them belong. As to the approaching candidacy of A-Rod and Ortiz, I hope (but don’t expect) the voters will show similar wisdom.

3 years ago
Reply to  Mike NMN

On the contrary, there is NO case worth considering to be made for none of them belonging.