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Chipper Jones, Jim Thome highlight 2018 Hall of Fame ballot

Chris Cwik
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Making the baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot is no easy task. You have to be a sure-fire superstar to get the call your first time around. Even some of the game’s greatest players have waited multiple years before getting inducted.

For every Ken Griffey Jr., who coasts in easily based on his contributions. There’s a Mike Piazza, a player who sits on the ballot for years even though it’s clear they are deserving of enshrinement.

This year was no different. Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines were the two highest voter-getters, each receiving around 86 percent of the vote despite the fact that they’ve been on the ballot for a number of years. Ivan Rodriguez barely made it in on his first try, getting 76 percent of the vote.

Chipper Jones is the biggest name on the 2018 Hall of Fame ballot. (Getty Images/Rich Addicks)
Chipper Jones is the biggest name on the 2018 Hall of Fame ballot. (Getty Images/Rich Addicks)

The 2018 Hall of Fame ballot could offer a similar scenario. Atlanta Braves star Chipper Jones makes his debut on the ballot, and seems like a lock to get the call. Over 19 years in the majors, Jones hit .303/.401/.529, with 468 home runs. He won an MVP award, made eight All-Star teams and ranks sixth all-time in bWAR among third baseman. It dangerous to predict anyone getting in on the first ballot, but it’s tough to argue against Jones.

On the flip side, you have Jim Thome. Statistically, it makes sense for Thome to get the call on the first ballot. Over 22 years in the majors, Thome hit .276/.402/.554, with an incredible 612 home runs. He made five All-Star teams, and though he never won an MVP, Thome finished in the top-10 in the voting four times.

Jim Thome's numbers should get him into the Hall of Fame eventually. (Getty Images/David Maxwell)
Jim Thome’s numbers should get him into the Hall of Fame eventually. (Getty Images/David Maxwell)

But the argument doesn’t end there. Thome received nearly 3,500 plate appearances as a designated hitter, and the Hall hasn’t been kind to those players over the past few years. Frank Thomas managed to get in on the first ballot, but Edgar Martinez (58.6) still waits for the call. Martinez did see a significant increase in his vote total this year, which indicates the voters are changing their mind regarding the position. It’s also worth noting that the majority of Thome’s playing time came at first base, so that separates him from Thomas and Martinez.

The bigger issue for Thome could be the fact that he was a power-first player during the steroid era. Thome was never connected to PEDs during his career, but that doesn’t always matter. Whispers about Jeff Bagwell didn’t pop up until he was eligible for the Hall of Fame. Whether or not they have merit, those rumors were the biggest reason it took seven years before Bagwell (86.2) finally got the call. The fact that Bagwell actually did get in should bode well for Thome, but it might not be enough to get him in on the first ballot.

Those two will be joined by St. Louis Cardinals baseman Scott Rolen. Rolen has some stats worthy of induction, but there is some doubt as to whether he’ll get the support he needs. Over 17 years in the majors, Rolen hit .281/.364/.490, with 316 home runs, all while playing exceptional defense at third. His 70 bWAR ranks him 10th all-time at the position, and his 56.8 JAWS score is just above the average Hall of Fame third baseman.

Scott Rolen's Hall of Fame case should create plenty of conversation. (Getty Images/Jonathan Daniel)
Scott Rolen’s Hall of Fame case should create plenty of conversation. (Getty Images/Jonathan Daniel)

Despite those figures, Rolen could get overlooked by voters. The 10-vote-per-ballot rule could play a role, but there’s also a sense Rolen was a solid contributor during his career and not a superstar. His numbers, while strong, make him close to a borderline candidate anyway. Some voters may look beyond his stats and resort to those arguments to keep him out of the Hall.

Other intriguing names making their debut on the 2018 ballot include Omar Vizquel, Andruw Jones, Johnny Damon, Johan Santana, Jamie Moyer and Brad Lidge. None of those players meet the typical Hall of Fame benchmarks at their positions, though Vizquel could receive some support based on his longevity, reputation and defensive prowess. For a full list of every player who could be on next year’s ballot, head here.

And, of course, there’s still Trevor Hoffman and Vladimir Guerrero, who will be looking for some extra votes after falling just short in 2016. Hoffman needs just five additional votes to get into the Hall in 2017.

While those players stand the highest chance of getting the call among returnees, there’s also Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina and Martinez. All four players saw their vote totals rise again this year. They could inch close to induction in 2018. That may not be the case with Curt Schilling (45.0) or Manny Ramirez (23.8). Schilling lost some support this year due to his mouth, while voters punished Ramirez for failing two PED tests during his career.

Curt Schilling may not see an uptick in votes in 2018. (Getty Images/Nick Laham)
Curt Schilling may not see an uptick in votes in 2018. (Getty Images/Nick Laham)

Chipper may be a lock, but the rest of the players on the ballot will be subject to the same questions we’ve seen in recent years. Even if voters are able to look past the less controversial candidates, Bonds, Clemens, Ramirez and Schilling are still in the picture.

As the voters have shown in recent years, sorting out rumored steroid use, the character clause and failed PED tests are far more important than whether a player deserves to go in on the first ballot. With all of those issues still very much in the forefront, 2018 promises to provide us with yet another argumentative and contentious voting season.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik