When we talk about the Hall of Fame ballot these days, the first question is always about who’s going to get in. But really, that’s just the appetizer for the bigger, juicier question that you either love the drama of or can’t wait to stop hearing about.
What’s going to happen with Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling?
They are, at this point, the three most polarizing candidates that Baseball Writers Association of America voters have to cast judgment upon each year, whose Cooperstown credentials they have to weigh against their own standards of the Hall of Fame’s morality clause.
With the results of this year’s vote coming Tuesday, it seems like a safe bet that neither Bonds, Clemens nor Schilling should be waiting by the phone. This won’t be their year unless everything we think we know about Hall of Fame voting turns upside down. But they should at least jot down any speech ideas they have, because it’s starting to look like Bonds, Clemens and Schilling will get in. Eventually.
This year’s Hall of Fame results so far
Let’s examine what we know about this year’s vote thanks to the hard work of the Baseball Hall of Fame Vote Tracker team:
• All three candidates are above 70 percent on known ballots. Schilling is at 74.2 percent, Clemens is 73.1 and Bonds is at 72.6 (Yes, there are people who vote for Clemens but not Bonds for some reason). Those are short of the 75 percent needed for induction.
• We know by now the totals usually go down once we see the ballots of the entire electorate. Right now, those percentages account for about 45 percent of Hall of Fame voters. Last year, Bonds lost nearly 20 percent when all the ballots were taken into account. Clemens lost just over 15 percent and Schilling was hit hardest, losing 25 percent.
• Here’s where things are looking up for our controversial trio: Schilling has gained 14 votes that he didn’t have last year. Bonds and Clemens have each gained three. Since Schilling finished (51.2 percent) lower than Bonds (56.4) and Clemens (57.3), that means they’re all more or less in the same range right now.
• All three players are in their seventh year on the ballot, meaning they three more seasons to get to 75 percent. We know the Hall of Fame electorate is getting younger. This year, Bonds and Clemens are appearing on the ballots of first-time voters 85.7 percent of the time, which bodes well. Schilling’s number there is 71.4 percent.
This is not enough for me to say confidently that Bonds, Clemens and Schilling will get in by their 10th year, but this is the first year their gradual increases combined with the changing electorate has made me think that it’s completely possible. Here’s how their final percentages have looked over the years:
The important difference between Bonds, Clemens and Schilling
One important thing to consider is thinking isn’t the same about Bonds, Clemens and Schilling across the board. They’re controversial for different reasons. For Bonds and Clemens, it’s their connection to performance-enhancing drugs. For Schilling, it’s his political controversy — and in, particular, his endorsement (albiet jokingly) of lynching journalists, the very people who vote for the Hall of Fame.
The thinking there won’t necessarily sync up. Not all Bonds and Clemens voters are Schilling voters, but the fact that Schilling is appearing on so many more ballots this year could be a sign that perhaps a less controversial year in the public eye has helped him. But that also means another chaotic year in 2019 or 2020 could hurt him. And remember that he is not a shoo-in on numbers alone — he was great, but he wasn’t a first-ballot Hall of Famer back before the controversy.
With Bonds and Clemens, you know what you’re getting at this point. Voters are either giving them the OK with PED baggage or they’re not. The facts of that case aren’t evolving.
But the electorate is. The opinions are. And the qualifications for what makes a Hall of Famer is — hello, Harold Baines — so the times, they could be a-changin’.
And that’s good for Bonds, Clemens and Schilling.
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