The Hall Calls: Two for 2020, Derek Jeter and Larry Walker

It’s back to business as usual for the BBWAA’s Hall of Fame voting, the results of which were announced on Tuesday evening. The messy and occasionally exasperating tradition of non-unanimity, which took an unprecedented one-year vacation when Mariano Rivera was elected with 100% of the vote last year, has returned. While Derek Jeter appeared on track to join Rivera in that exclusive club, one as-yet-unidentified voter from among the 397 ballots cast in this year’s election chose to throw a wrench in the works. No matter. Ol’ No. 2 will have to settle for the second-highest vote share in Hall history (99.75%) as well as the requisite bronze plaque in Cooperstown. He’ll have some company in the Class of 2020, as the writers also elected Larry Walker with 76.6% of the vote. Walker, the first Canadian-born position player ever elected, follows Tim Raines (2017) and Edgar Martinez (2019) as the third candidate in the last four election cycles to be chosen in his 10th and final year of eligibility.

With “only” two honorees this year, the writers’ unprecedented streak of electing at least three candidates annually has ended at three years; the last time they elected two was in 2016, when Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza were chosen. Even so, this is the seventh consecutive election in which the BBWAA has tabbed multiple candidates; that breaks a tie with the 1951-56 span, which was bracketed by back-to-back shutouts on either side. The 22 candidates elected over the past seven cycles is a record, far outdoing the 16 from the 1950-56 or 1951-57 stretches.

What follows here is my big-picture look at this year’s results; I’ll be back with my candidate-by-candidate breakdown on Wednesday.

Not Everybody Has to Agree

It was one of the dumbest traditions in all of sports, but for 82 years, from the first Hall of Fame election in 1936 through 2019, it was practically the law of the land: no candidate could receive 100% of the vote. Because the grizzled scribes who voted in the inaugural election could not unite to agree on Ty Cobb (98.2%) or Babe Ruth (95.1%), inevitably some self-appointed guardians of the gate would dissent in the name of tradition. Ted Williams and his 19 All-Star appearances, six batting titles, and combat heroics? Pfft, 93.4% in 1966. Stan Musial and those 3,630 hits, seven batting titles, and three MVP awards? Harumph, 93.2% for him in 1969. Willie Mays, with his spectacular power/speed/defense combination? Meh, 94.7% in 1979. Hank Aaron and his home run record, not to mention 3,771 hits and the RBI record too? Feh, 97.8% in 1982, though to be fair, that mark was still the highest since Cobb.

In 2016, Griffey came tantalizingly close to running the table, receiving unanimous support on all of 211 ballots published prior to the announcement of the election results but being snubbed by three unidentified voters. Even so, he set a new record at 99.3%, surpassing the 98.84% Tom Seaver received in 1992. Griffey’s high score took place in an age of increased voter transparency, and while the BBWAA’s desire for complete transparency was thwarted by the Hall of Fame a couple years later, the stage was set for Rivera when he reached the ballot last year. The all-time leader in saves, and arguably the best postseason player of his generation, Rivera benefited from a perfect storm of voter accountability, transparency, inarguable excellence at his specialty, and universal respect throughout the industry.

Jeter did not have all of those conditions working for him to the same degree. He’s not the best shortstop ever, just 12th in JAWS at the position due to lousy defensive metrics, and he merely replicated his outstanding regular season showing in the postseason instead of becoming even more dominant. Yet he’s a 14-time All-Star who ranks sixth all-time in hits, he was a key part of five championship teams, and he spent two decades as an outstanding ambassador for the sport. Other than first-time voter Sean Forman (of Baseball-Reference fame) publicly musing about the potential to exclude him for strategic reasons — to support a candidate who would otherwise have been number 11 on a 10-slot ballot — no voter seemed to waver on it. Yet one was apparently lurking in the weeds, and whether that voter cast their ballot with sabotage or strategy in mind is immaterial. It’s a done deal.

And in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter. Jeter’s eminently worthy of his spot in the Hall of Fame, and his celebration in Cooperstown on July 26 will be no less jubilant. Here he is on the all-time voting share leaderboard:

Highest BBWAA Voting Percentages
Rk Name Year Votes % of Ballots
1 Mariano Rivera 2019 425 100.0%
2 Derek Jeter 2020 396 99.7%
3 Ken Griffey Jr. 2016 437 99.3%
4 Tom Seaver 1992 425 98.8%
5 Nolan Ryan 1999 491 98.8%
6 Cal Ripken Jr. 2007 537 98.5%
7 Ty Cobb 1936 222 98.2%
8 George Brett 1999 488 98.2%
9 Hank Aaron 1982 406 97.8%
10 Tony Gwynn 2007 532 97.6%
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

A True Cliffhanger

The suspense over whether Walker, a true five-tool star and a personal favorite, would make it in his final year on the ballot was nearly unbearable. While he received 83.5% support on the ballots published in Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame Ballot Tracker prior to the announcement, the election’s various forecasters were split down the middle. Myself, I clung to the frequent updates of Jason Sardell (@sarsdell), who uses a probabilistic model that at last call gave Walker an 81% chance of election. That was apparently far ahead of the great right fielder’s own thinking, according to a tweet he sent on Tuesday afternoon:

As voters revealed their ballots in recent days, every omission took on an outsized importance, particularly as arguments over how much time he missed due to injuries, how often he faced Randy Johnson, and how much Coors Field pumped up his numbers were rehashed again and again. It seemed possible that a couple of votes either way could make all the difference between making it now and having to wait until at least the 2022 Today’s Game ballot. The examples of Nellie Fox and Ralph Kiner loomed large. Fox missed by just two votes in 1985, his final year on the writers’ ballot, and then wasn’t elected until 1997 by the Veterans Committee. Kiner cleared the bar by just one vote in 1975, his final year on the ballot.

As it was, Walker made it with six votes to spare, which is merely tied for the 10th-smallest margin among those elected:

Scraping the 75% Bar
Player Year Votes Total Pct Margin
Al Simmons 1953 199 264 75.4% 1
Willie Keeler 1939 207 274 75.5% 1
Ralph Kiner 1975 273 362 75.4% 1
Fergie Jenkins 1991 334 443 75.4% 1
Pie Traynor 1948 93 121 76.9% 2
Lefty Grove 1947 123 161 76.4% 2
Cy Young 1937 153 201 76.1% 2
Herb Pennock 1948 94 121 77.7% 3
Jackie Robinson 1962 124 160 77.5% 4
Early Wynn 1972 301 396 76.0% 4
Ivan Rodriguez 2017 336 442 76.0% 4
Bill Terry 1954 195 252 77.4% 6
Larry Walker 2020 304 397 76.6% 6
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

It’s a happy coincidence to find Jenkins, the first Canadian-born player in the Hall, on that list. Walker is the seventh 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 (’68), Kiner (’75), Jim Rice (2009), Raines, and Martinez. The three elected in the past four years had to overcome the loss of five years of eligibility after the Hall’s unilateral rule change in 2014.

Walker’s comeback is even more remarkable than his immediate predecessors’. He debuted at 20.3% in 2011 and polled as low as 10.2% in 2014; by comparison, Raines never fell below 22.6%, and Martinez never slipped below 25.2%. In fact, that 10.2% is the second-lowest share ever received by a modern candidate who was eventually elected by the writers, ahead of only Bob Lemon’s 7.0% from 1966 as the lowest. Among modern candidates, Walker’s 42.5% gained over the past two cycles is second only to Aparicio’s 42.7% (from 41.9% in 1982 to 84.6% in ’84), and his 54.7% gain over three years is tops:

Largest 3-Year Gains on BBWAA Ballot Since 1969
RK Player Yr0 Pct0 Yr3 Pct3 Gain
1 Larry Walker 2017 21.9% 2020 76.6% 54.7%
2 Early Wynn 1969 27.9% 1972 76.0% 48.1%
3 Luis Aparicio 1981 36.9% 1984 84.6% 47.7%
4 Nellie Fox 1982 30.6% 1985 74.7% 44.1%
5 Billy Williams 1982 23.4% 1985 63.8% 40.4%
6 Gary Carter 1999 33.8% 2002 72.7% 38.9%
7 Eddie Mathews 1975 40.9% 1978 79.4% 38.5%
8 Don Drysdale 1975 21.0% 1978 57.8% 36.8%
9 Billy Williams 1984 50.1% 1987 85.7% 35.6%
10 Luis Aparicio 1980 32.2% 1983 67.4% 35.2%

Walker’s 22-point jump from last year’s 54.6% is the second-largest of any post-1966 candidate who cleared the 75% bar, nestled between two other relatively recent examples:

Largest One-Year Gains Resulting in Election
RK Player Yr0 Pct0 Yr1 Pct1 Gain
1 Barry Larkin 2011 62.1% 2012 86.4% 24.3%
2 Larry Walker* 2019 54.6% 2020 76.6% 22.0%
3 Vladimir Guerrero 2017 71.7% 2018 92.9% 21.2%
4 Yogi Berra 1971 67.2% 1972 85.6% 18.4%
5 Luis Aparicio 1983 67.4% 1984 84.6% 17.2%
6 Eddie Mathews 1977 62.4% 1978 79.4% 17.0%
7 Ralph Kiner* 1974 58.9% 1975 75.4% 16.5%
8 Tony Perez 1999 60.8% 2000 77.2% 16.4%
9 Roberto Alomar 2010 73.7% 2011 90.0% 16.3%
10 Tim Raines* 2016 69.8% 2017 86.0% 16.2%
Since 1967. * = elected in final year of eligibility.

For more on big jumps, see this from last year.

Big Schill and the Gruesome Twosome

As anticipated, this was not the year for the ballot’s three most polarizing players, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Curt Schilling, all of whom made some progress towards 75% but just as significantly burned through another year of eligibility, their eighth on the ballot. Bonds and Clemens, whose statistical cases are overwhelming, have been held back primarily by their connections to performance-enhancing drugs, while Schilling has been held back by his corrosive public persona. We’ll skip rehashing the details here.

Schilling, who received 60.9% of the vote in 2019, gained 9.1% to get to an even 70.0%, which puts him clearly within striking distance next year. Since 1966, 24 candidates have received at least 70% but fallen short of 75%. Three (Fox, Orlando Cepeda, and Red Ruffing) were in their final year of eligibility on the writers’ ballot; of the other 21, only Jim Bunning (74.2% in 1988) failed to clear 75% the following year. Bunning tumbled backwards by more than 10 points in 1989, couldn’t make up the ground in his remaining two years on the ballot, and was eventually elected by the Veterans Committee, as were Fox and Cepeda; Ruffing was elected in a since-abandoned run-off process.

As for Bonds, he gained 1.6% from last year’s 59.1%, with Clemens adding just 1.5% from last year’s 59.5% — about half of what they gained from 2018-19. It’s fair to say that the two candidates’ momentum has completely dissipated, and it will take a radical reconsideration from the holdouts for them to get to 75% before their time in front of the writers is done. Right now, that’s just not happening. Per the Tracker, while Bonds and Clemens each received votes from eight out nine newcomers who published their ballots prior to the election, they changed very few minds, with the former netting just two votes from returning voters, and the latter just one. Schilling, who got votes from seven out of nine newcomers, did net 13 votes from returning voters, some of whom may have selected him in the past but did not do so in 2019.

Significant Gains

With the recent flood of elected candidates and Jeter the only must-vote newcomer, voters had plenty of room to throw their support behind holdover candidates, and some made very impressive gains. Scott Rolen and Gary Sheffield more than doubled their support from last year, with the former vaulting from 17.2% to 35.3% and the latter from 13.6% to 30.5%. Billy Wagner nearly joined them, climbing from 16.7% to 31.7%. Todd Helton (up 12.7% to 29.2%) and Andruw Jones (up 11.9% to 19.4%) both posted double-digit gains. Omar Vizquel (up 9.8% to 52.5%) just missed out on that distinction, but more importantly, he crossed the 50% rubicon. Aside from current candidates, only Gil Hodges has received at least 50% and not gained eventual entry from either the writers or a small committee.

The Incredible Shrinking Ballot — and Electorate

Going into this election, it seemed likely that the recent parade of large classes would end. Not only was Jeter the only clear first-ballot honoree on this year’s slate, but the only additional suspense concerning first-year candidates was whether Bobby Abreu would even make it to a second election; he did, scraping by with 5.5% — 22 votes, two more than his candidacy needed to survive. The other 16 first-year candidates received 10 or fewer votes (2.5% or less), with seven of them shut out completely.

With that shortage of strong first-year candidates, as well as the clearance of so many holdovers in recent years, voters used an average of 6.61 slots per ballot, the lowest since 2013; they’ve averaged 7.95 or more every year since, breaking modern records three times. Likewise, just 21% of this year’s voters used all 10 slots, less than half the rate of last year. Here’s a look at 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 42% 2
2017 8.17 45% 3
2018 8.46 50% 4
2019 8.01 43% 4
2020 6.61 21% 2
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
“All 10” figures via BBWAA. Yellow shading = modern record (since 1966).

Meanwhile, the 397 ballots cast was the fewest cast in any BBWAA election since 1985. The total represented a drop of 6.6% from last year’s 425, and a more jarring 31.7% drop from the high-water mark of 581, set in 2011. The shrinking electorate owes not only to the ongoing contraction of the media industry but the ramifications of a 2016 rule change that took ballots away from any voters more than 10 years removed from active coverage. Per the Tracker, it’s also worth noting that at least seven participants in last year’s election died in the past year, including the Elias Sports Bureau’s Seymour Siwoff, the owner of BBWAA card no. 1, representing the longest tenure of any writer, and this year’s Spink Award winner, Nick Cafardo. The total has been further diminished by a handful of still-eligible voters who have voluntarily surrendered their ballots in recent years.

Maybe they just had enough of the elections’ highs, lows, and absurdities. Me, I can’t get enough of them. I’ll be back with my full candidate-by-candidate breakdown on Wednesday.

2020 BBWAA Hall of Fame Voting Results
Player Years Votes Pct
Derek Jeter 1 396 99.7%
Larry Walker 10 304 76.6%
Curt Schilling 8 278 70.0%
Roger Clemens 8 242 61.0%
Barry Bonds 8 241 60.7%
Omar Vizquel 3 209 52.6%
Scott Rolen 3 140 35.3%
Billy Wagner 5 126 31.7%
Gary Sheffield 6 121 30.5%
Todd Helton 2 116 29.2%
Manny Ramírez 4 112 28.2%
Jeff Kent 7 109 27.5%
Andruw Jones 3 77 19.4%
Sammy Sosa 8 55 13.9%
Andy Pettitte 2 45 11.3%
Bobby Abreu 1 22 5.5%
Paul Konerko* 1 10 2.5%
Jason Giambi* 1 6 1.5%
Alfonso Soriano* 1 6 1.5%
Eric Chávez* 1 2 0.5%
Cliff Lee* 1 2 0.5%
Adam Dunn* 1 1 0.3%
Brad Penny* 1 1 0.3%
Raul Ibanez* 1 1 0.3%
J.J. Putz* 1 1 0.3%
* ineligible for future consideration on BBWAA ballots. Zero votes (and also eliminated): Josh Beckett, Heath Bell, Chone Figgins, Rafael Furcal, Carlos Peña, Brian Roberts, José Valverde.

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

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The Duke
4 years ago

Schilling will need two more years. The writers have a large contingent of petty, thin-skinned people. I’m guessing they will make it hard for him to go in next year and possibly the following year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go to the vets

OddBall Herrera
4 years ago
Reply to  The Duke

I do agree that there are some sports journalists out there who can’t help taking the chance to pat themselves on the back for getting to be social activists in some small way by lodging a protest vote against Schilling and, by extension, his politics.

But come on, the guy did just hit 70% with two years left. It’s not like he’s been blackballed from consideration. I think it’s absurd that Mussina is in, and we’re now talking Pettite’s merits, and Schilling is still sitting out there, but he looks like he’ll get there and more and more journalists are conceding that the point has been made.

Here’s hoping we get “Heel year” and we get Bonds, Clemens, Arod and Schilling all at once! Get out your thesaurus sports writers, going to need to find some synonyms for ‘outrage’ 🙂

4 years ago

It’s not his politics that is rubbing them the wrong way. Heck, baseball writers are probably the most conservative of the major sports. What is bothering them is his retweeting of a meme suggesting violent lynchings of the media.

4 years ago
Reply to  The Duke

Found the Curt Schilling burner account.

4 years ago
Reply to  thestatbook

Or just someone that knows baseball. You’d have to be an idiot to think he is not a Hall of Famer. Or that the reason he isn’t yet has anything to do with his stats. But sure..embarrass yourself and your family more, statbook.

Lauren Walkermember
4 years ago
Reply to  lakawak

How is his family embarrassed

4 years ago
Reply to  lakawak

Geez, didn’t realize Curt Schilling had TWO accounts on here.

4 years ago
Reply to  The Duke

I don’t think the word is “thin skinned” if you just disapprove of lynching media workers

4 years ago
Reply to  hombremomento

If he meant it literally, then sure, not voting for a guy trying to start a public murder makes sense. He’s just a dick and that’s why people aren’t voting for him.

4 years ago

If it was entirely based on stats, I’m very sure that Curt would be inducted. And while I agree that it shouldn’t intrude in a HOF case, its not “thin-skinned” to criticize him for it.

4 years ago

That’s how gaslighting works. It’s a favorite right wing technique. Keep pushing the envelope with offensive and outrageous speech, then when people are actually offended, walk it back with a “just joking” or “out of context” and accuse the other side of being too sensitive or misunderstanding your intent.

4 years ago
Reply to  manormachine

Gaslighting is disputing whether or not he said it- which he did. Saying something like “you’re crazy, he didn’t say that, there’s no way.” What you’re referring to is definitely a thing, I’m just not sure it’s gaslighting. It’s kind of shifting the overton window, except no one in baseball feels like writer murder is a policy that’s actually on the table because schilling said it.

4 years ago
Reply to  dukewinslow

Journalists face real threats to their physical safety every day, in every country. By citizens and by governments. Were you unaware? These hilarious “jokes” based on rage contribute to real harm vs. real people.

4 years ago
Reply to  dukewinslow

It’s gaslighting in that they say something that clearly isn’t a joke, then reply “I was obviously joking” when challenged.

4 years ago
Reply to  manormachine

All sorts of people gaslight. I don’t know if Curt has backtracked before (probably not considering his shirt fiasco).

4 years ago
Reply to  The Duke

I think we are at a point where a bunch of writers know Schilling is a Hall of Famer but don’t want to have to be the one to vote him in. I expect that if he doesn’t make it next year, he will make it easily in his final year. I expect a bunch of voters will feel like they used their protest vote by keeping him out for as long as possible but will feel obligated to vote for him in his last year.

4 years ago
Reply to  The Duke

I guess the average Fangraphs reader has thinner skin than the typical sports writer because Schilling only garnered 67 percent on the crowdsource poll.