JAWS and the 2022 Hall of Fame Ballot: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, and Sammy Sosa

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2022 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. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Content warning: This piece, and the original pieces to which it links, contains details about alleged domestic violence and sexual impropriety. The content may be difficult to read and emotionally upsetting.

Ten years ago, one of the most talented classes of first-year Hall of Fame candidates landed on the BBWAA ballot. From a group that included Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Kenny Lofton, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, and Sammy Sosa — not to mention four holdover candidates subsequently elected by the writers, and three chosen by the Era Committees — the writers elected no one, pitching their first shutout in 17 years. Voting hasn’t been the same since. While Biggio and Piazza were eventually elected by the writers, the quartet of Bonds, Clemens, Schilling, and Sosa has not been, and none of the four is likely to reach the magic 75% this year, either. Their continued presence on the ballot, and the rancorous debate that’s surrounded their candidacies, has at times gummed up the process, diverting attention away from other compelling candidates and souring many participants and observers on the entire process. The politics of glory, indeed.

The polarizing public debate surrounding candidates linked to performance-enhancing drugs — a group that at the time included not just Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa but also Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro — led the Hall’s board of directors to change the rules mid-candidacy by reducing players’ windows of eligibility from 15 years to 10. Where Hall president Jeff Idelson said in 2011 with regards to PED-linked candidates, “[W]e’re happy with the diligence of the voters who have participated, and the chips will fall as they fall,” once it became apparent that Bonds and Clemens were trending towards election, the institution put its thumb on the scale via board member Joe Morgan’s open plea for voters not to consider steroid users. Morgan’s letter conveniently sidestepped the likelihood that some steroid users — and numerous known users of another performance-enhancing drug, amphetamines — had already been elected.

Voters who had already given the so-called “character clause” a thorough workout once McGwire and Palmeiro gained eligibility further contorted themselves to rationalize not voting for Bonds or Clemens, players whom they and their peers had previously honored via seven MVP awards (Bonds) and seven Cy Young awards (Clemens) even while they were putting up astronomical numbers. While Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa were linked to PEDs through extensive reporting, none was ever suspended by Major League Baseball, for their infractions took place before any kind of enforcement mechanism was in place; still, some subset of Hall voters decided that a measure of frontier justice was appropriate.

It’s been a wearying decade when it comes to those candidates, and if you think it’s about to end, you’ve probably forgotten that Alex Rodriguez, the first player to earn a full-season suspension for PED use, just began his 10-year run of eligibility. What’s more, Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, and Schilling (who has never been linked to PED use but who has discovered unprecedented ways to sabotage his own Hall of Fame candidacy while bringing questions of character to the foreground) will all be eligible for inclusion on next year’s Today’s Game Era Committee ballot.

In an effort to condense our publishing schedule — which was crowded by a double dose of Era Committee profiles — and to minimize the extent to which I relitigate the same arguments I’ve made for a decade, I am dispensing with my annual renewal of these profiles. Instead, I’m using this post as a clearinghouse to link to and excerpt last year’s editions; to update the candidates’ stats as they pertain to the relevant JAWS standards (which shifted slightly with the recent Era Committee voting and my introduction of the experimental, workload-adjusted Starting Pitcher JAWS, or S-JAWS); to update their voting trends in relation to last year’s results; and to round up anything else we’ve learned since the last time I ran these profiles. Note that I’ll be doing something similar for at least two other batches of candidates as well so that all of the major ones get their day in the sun before the December 31 voting deadline.

Roger Clemens (61.6% on 2021 ballot)

2022 BBWAA Candidate: Roger Clemens
Pitcher Career WAR Peak WAR Adj. S-JAWS
Roger Clemens 139.2 64.0 101.6
Avg. HOF SP 73.3 40.7 56.8
354-184 4,672 3.12 143
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

From the intro:

Roger Clemens has a reasonable claim as the greatest pitcher of all time. Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, and Grover Cleveland Alexander spent all or most of their careers in the dead-ball era, before the home run was a real threat, and pitched while the color line was still in effect, barring some of the game’s most talented players from participating. Sandy Koufax and Tom Seaver pitched when scoring levels were much lower and pitchers held a greater advantage. Koufax and 2015 inductees Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez didn’t sustain their greatness for nearly as long. Greg Maddux didn’t dominate hitters to nearly the same extent.

Clemens, meanwhile, spent 24 years in the majors and racked up a record seven Cy Young awards, not to mention an MVP award. He won 354 games, led his leagues in the Triple Crown categories (wins, strikeouts, and ERA) a total of 16 times, and helped his teams to six pennants and a pair of world championships.

Alas, whatever claim “The Rocket” may have on such an exalted title is clouded by suspicions that he used performance-enhancing drugs. When those suspicions came to light in the Mitchell Report in 2007, Clemens took the otherwise unprecedented step of challenging the findings during a Congressional hearing, but nearly painted himself into a legal corner; he was subject to a high-profile trial for six counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to Congress. After a mistrial in 2011, he was acquitted on all counts the following year. But despite the verdicts, the specter of PEDs hasn’t left Clemens’ case, even given that in March 2015, he settled the defamation lawsuit filed by former personal trainer Brian McNamee for an unspecified amount.

More here.

Barry Bonds (61.8% on 2021 ballot)

2022 BBWAA Candidate: Barry Bonds
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Barry Bonds 162.7 72.7 117.7
Avg. HOF LF 65.2 41.6 53.4
2,935 762 .298/.444/.607 182
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

From the intro:

If Roger Clemens has a reasonable claim as the greatest pitcher of all time, then the same goes for Barry Bonds as the greatest position player. Babe Ruth played in a time before integration, and Ted Williams bridged the pre- and post-integration eras, but while both were dominant at the plate, neither was much to write home about on the base paths or in the field. Bonds’ godfather, Willie Mays, was a big plus in both of those areas, but he didn’t dominate opposing pitchers to the same extent. Bonds used his blend of speed, power, and surgical precision in the strike zone to outdo them all. He set the single-season home run record with 73 in 2001 and the all-time home run record with 762, reached base more often than any player this side of Pete Rose, and won a record seven MVP awards along the way.

Despite his claim to greatness, Bonds may have inspired more fear and loathing than any ballplayer in modern history. Fear because opposing pitchers and managers simply refused to engage him at his peak, intentionally walking him a record 688 times — once with the bases loaded — and giving him a free pass a total of 2,558 times, also a record. Loathing because even as a young player, he rubbed teammates and media members the wrong way (occasionally, even his manager) and approached the game with a chip on his shoulder because of the way his father, three-time All-Star Bobby Bonds, had been driven from the game due to alcoholism. The younger Bonds had his own issues off the field, as allegations of physical and verbal abuse of his domestic partners surfaced during his career.

As he aged, media and fans turned against Bonds once evidence — most of it illegally leaked to the press by anonymous sources — mounted that he had used performance-enhancing drugs during the latter part of his career. With his name in the headlines more regarding his legal situation than his on-field exploits, his pursuit and eclipse of Hank Aaron’s 33-year-old home run record turned into a joyless drag, and he disappeared from the majors soon after breaking the record in 2007 despite ranking among the game’s most dangerous hitters even at age 43.

More here.

From an electoral standpoint, this pair has been pretty inseparable since hitting the ballot — only in their debut were they more than a point apart — and so they’re more easily lumped together as the Gruesome Twosome. Their candidacies began to pick up steam starting in 2016, the year that voters more than 10 years removed from active coverage were removed from the Hall of Fame electorate. Those older voters, who were less likely to publish their ballots publicly, tended to have a more hardline stance when it came to PED users, and so their elimination paved the way for significant gains in voting shares. Bonds and Clemens gained further momentum following the 2017 Today’s Game election of commissioner Bud Selig, who presided over the so-called “Steroid Era” and who additionally had sullied his own candidacy by participating in the owners’ mid-1980s collusion scandal. “Senseless to keep steroid guys out when the enablers are in Hall of Fame,” tweeted Susan Slusser, a past BBWAA president then serving as the Oakland A’s beat writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. “I now will hold my nose and vote for players I believe cheated.”

The Morgan letter, published in November 2017, stopped the pair in their tracks; since then, Clemens has gained just 7.5% over four cycles, and Bonds just 8.0%. Here’s a breakdown of the former’s yes and no votes (the latter’s breakdown is virtually identical, and so I’m using just one for illustrative purposes):

Roger Clemens’ Year-by-Year Hall of Fame Voting
Vote 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Yes 206 199 (-7) 239 (+40) 242 (+3) 253 (+11) 242 (-11) 247 (+5)
No 343 245 (-102) 203 (-38) 180 (-23) 172 (-8) 155 (-17) 154 (-1)
% 37.5% 45.2% (+7.7%) 54.1% (+8.9%) 57.3% (+3.2%) 59.5% (+2.2%) 61.0% (+1.5%) 61.6% (+0.6%)
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Via Ballot Tracker team member Adam Dore’s flip rate data, Clemens flipped a total of 45 no votes to yes on the 2016 and ’17 ballots that were shared publicly, with just four voters going in the other direction, for a net of 41 flips — the most impactful gains a candidate can make, since every no must be offset by three yes votes. In the four cycles since then, however, Clemens has netted just eight flips. That has mattered far more than the 87.1% share he’s received from among 62 first-time voters starting with the 2017 cycle; those new yes votes aren’t subtracting from the no votes, though sports media’s contraction and the ongoing effect of the 10-year sunset clause has downsized the electorate by nearly 30% relative to its 2014 peak of 571 voters.

As I told Slusser last year, it has become increasingly clear with each passing year that there’s a large enough opposition to run out the clock against Bonds and Clemens. While there may be a few voters out there who have withheld their votes for the first nine years of their candidacies as a means of keeping the pair in purgatory but are now poised to flip to yes, I’m skeptical that it’s a sizable enough number to change the outcome. Based on last year’s vote, Clemens would need to flip a net of 54 voters. Not happening.

Indeed, the opposition is too entrenched, and now the Hall will have two major holes in it without the all-time home run leader and the most successful post-World War II pitcher. Bonds and Clemens will remain on the outside looking in for their roles as the poster children of a complete institutional failure that implicated the commissioner, the owners, the Players Association, and even the media as well as the players themselves.

Sammy Sosa (17.0% on 2021 ballot)

2022 BBWAA Candidate: Sammy Sosa
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Sammy Sosa 58.6 43.8 51.2
Avg. HOF RF 71.1 42.4 56.7
2,408 609 .273/.344/.534 128
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

From the intro:

Like Mark McGwire, his rival in the great 1998 home run chase, Sammy Sosa was hailed at the height of his popularity as a hero, a Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, and a great international ambassador for baseball. In the same year that McGwire set a new single-season record with 70 home runs, Sosa hit 66 and took home the National League MVP award. Three times in a four-year stretch from 1998 to 2001, he surpassed Roger Maris‘ previously unbreakable mark of 61 homers, and he hit more homers over a five- or 10-year stretch than any player in history. In 2007, he became just the fifth player to reach the 600-home-run milestone after Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Barry Bonds.

As with McGwire, the meaning of Sosa’s home runs changed once baseball began to crack down on performance-enhancing drugs, with suspicions mounting about his achievements. He was called to testify before Congress in 2005, along with McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and several other players. Sosa denied using PEDs, but while he never tested positive once Major League Baseball began instituting penalties for usage, The New York Times reported in 2009 that he was one of more than 100 players who had done so during the supposedly anonymous survey tests six years prior.

More here.

Though Sosa has never officially been connected to PED usage save for the Times‘ 2009 report, his share of the vote is closer to that of Palmeiro, who actually failed a test and was suspended, than to Bonds or even McGwire, who topped 20% in each of his first four years on the ballot and never slipped into single digits. Commissioner Rob Manfred all but exonerated David Ortiz — another player reportedly on the survey test, per the Times — during the Red Sox slugger’s farewell tour, saying, “There were double digits of names, more than 10, which we knew there were legitimate scientific questions about whether or not those truly were positives…. Those issues and ambiguities were never resolved because they didn’t matter. We would have sorted that out if we ever thought those names would become public. At the time, we knew we had enough positives to trigger the testing the following year.”

Notably, Manfred did not extend the same courtesy to Sosa. That Sosa might have used a substance that produced a less ambiguous result should matter much less than the breach of privacy and trust produced by the exposure of the names on the list, which were obtained when overzealous federal agents seized the results as part of the BALCO investigation and then began leaking names while they remained under court seal. As MLB itself said in a statement with regards to the leaked names, “Given the uncertainties inherent in the list, we urge the press and the public to use caution in reaching conclusions based on leaks of names, particularly from sources whose identities are not revealed.” Yet the league and a large share of the votes and the public seems to have reached such a conclusion regarding Sosa, and like Bonds and Clemens, he’ll remain outside the Hall for the foreseeable future.

Curt Schilling (71.1% on 2021 ballot)

2021 BBWAA Candidate: Curt Schilling
Pitcher Career WAR Peak WAR Adj S-JAWS
Curt Schilling 79.5 47.5 63.5
Avg. HOF SP 73.3 40.7 56.8
216-146 3,116 3.46 127
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

From the intro:

On the field, Curt Schilling was at his best when the spotlight shone the brightest. A top starter on four pennant winners and three World Series champions, he has a strong claim as the best postseason pitcher of his generation. Founded on pinpoint command of his mid-90s fastball and a devastating splitter, his regular season dominance enhances his case for Cooperstown. He’s one of just 18 pitchers to strike out more than 3,000 hitters, and is the owner of the highest strikeout-to-walk ratio in modern major league history.

That said, Schilling never won a Cy Young award and finished with “only” 216 regular-season wins. While only one starter with fewer than 300 wins was elected during the 1992-2014 span (Bert Blyleven), four have been tabbed since then, two in 2015 (Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz) and two in ’19 (Roy Halladay and Mike Mussina), suggesting that’s far less of an obstacle than before.

Schilling was something of a late bloomer who didn’t click until his age-25 season, after he had been traded three times. He spent much of his peak pitching in the shadows of even more famous (and popular) teammates, which may have helped to explain his outspokenness. Former Phillies manager Jim Fregosi nicknamed him “Red Light Curt” for his desire to be at the center of attention when the cameras were rolling, while Phillies general manager Ed Wade said, “Schilling is a horse every fifth day and a horse’s ass the other four.” Whether expounding about politics, performance-enhancing drugs, the QuesTec pitch-tracking system, or a cornerstone of his legend, Schilling wasn’t shy about telling the world what he thought.

That desire eventually extended beyond the mound. Schilling used his platform to raise money for research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and, after a bout of oral cancer, recorded public service announcements on the dangers of smokeless tobacco. In 1996, USA Today named him “Baseball’s Most Caring Athlete.” But in the years since his retirement, and particularly over the past half-decade, his actions and inflammatory rhetoric on social media have turned him from merely a controversial and polarizing figure to one who has continued to create problems for himself.

More here.

For all of the ups and downs that have marked his candidacy, Schilling received 70% of the vote on the 2020 ballot, and had he not continued to add to the noxious cloud that has befouled his candidacy, he would have been a shoo-in last year. Among candidates who reached at least 70% and had eligibility remaining, 20 out of 22 crossed the 75% threshold the following year, the exception being Jim Bunning (twice). But by the time I published the latest iteration of Schilling’s profile last December 28, the stack of receipts for his behavior had grown to include sharing presidential election-related conspiracy theories; calling for a declaration of martial law; and comparing Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, to a Nazi.

After the December 31 voting deadline, Schilling doubled down by tweeting his support of the insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Capitol building on January 6, a move that was a bridge too far for some voters who had otherwise continued to support him. Reportedly, at least one (and perhaps multiple ones) contacted the Hall of Fame about the possibility of rescinding their votes for him. According to Hall of Fame Ballot Tracker team member Anthony Calamis, by the end of January 2021, 22 voters had publicly indicated that they would either withdraw their support from Schilling on the 2022 ballot, or at least consider doing so.

When the dust settled and the 2021 ballots were counted, Schilling gained just 1.1%, and the BBWAA voters pitched their first shutout since 2013. Realizing that his electoral goose was cooked, Schilling took the unprecedented step of requesting to be removed from the ballot so as to avoid any accountability for his actions, and he called the voters “a group of morally bankrupt frauds” to boot. The BBWAA responded by calling Schilling’s request a violation of the election rules, and the Hall’s board of directors concurred. So he’s back for year 10.

Last year, my first as a voter, I included Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa on my ballot, because I draw a distinction between PED infractions that took place during the game’s “Wild West Era” before testing and penalties were in place and those that came afterwards. At the same time, I left Schilling off, not because I put any stock in the character clause — I have not excluded any candidates on the basis of domestic violence allegations (such as those against Bonds and Sosa) or sexual improprieties (Clemens) — but because I have no interest in giving the man a more prestigious platform from which to share his unhinged and increasingly dangerous views. I anticipate a repeat of that split this year, but I’ll explain my own thought process at greater length when I introduce the rest of my ballot later this month.

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

Schilling’s lost 3 votes out of 23 returning voters, so yeah, he’s not getting in.

My take on this is that for Bonds / Clemens / Schilling, it’s the veteran’s committee turn. They’ve been busy electing guys like Harold Baines, so clearly they have enough time on their hands to think through whether they want Bonds and Clemens and Schilling in their club. This is actually one of the few times when guys actually in the Hall of Fame have better insight into whether candidates “deserve” to get in than the rest of us.

I can’t say I’m thrilled to debate A-Rod’s candidacy for the next 10 years but it’s got to be better than this discourse.

2 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

A-Rod never hurt anyone besides notions of integrity and so on. It’s fair to hold that against him, but he’s never been dangerous to anyone, far as we know. And so I agree, the discourse will be less unpleasant.

2 years ago
Reply to  JustinPBG

There were those death threats to Anthony Bosch when he was cooperating with MLB. A-Rod has always been his own worst enemy.

2 years ago
Reply to  JustinPBG

A-Rod hurt lots of people. He threw family and teammates under the bus when linked to Biogenesis. He slandered and sued the Yankees team doctor. He lied like a HOFer. He was, in short, a complete and total douchebag.

Adam Weisberger
2 years ago
Reply to  JustinPBG

A-Rod sued the Yankees’ team doctor in his individual capacity. Hurtful, and unforgivable.

OddBall Herrera
2 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Agreed, It’s all over for Schilling except the crying. Losing those votes when he needed to be gaining is a sign of how this are going to go.

There is no A-Rod debate if Bonds and Clemens aren’t in so I think his candidacy becomes remarkably straightforward – apparently it is agreed at this point that it is a no go on the PED superstars and he is a (if not The) prime offender, so what more is there to say?

2 years ago

That the make up of the voters is going to change enough in 10 years that ARod probably gets in by year 10.