- From the newest members of the Hall of Fame to those whose time on the ballot has come to an end, let's run down each candidate's final 2017 vote results and what lies in their future.
The 2017 Hall of Fame election results, announced on Wednesday evening, brought another bumper crop of honorees, with Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez all topping the necessary 75% to earn a bronze plaque. The trio runs the tally elected by the BBWAA over the past four election cycles to 12, the highest over any four cycles since 1936–39, the timespan between the inception of the Hall and its actual opening in Cooperstown.
Beyond the knowledge that the aforementioned trio will be inducted on Sunday, July 30, there's still a whole lot to chew on with regards to the results, starting with the two near-miss candidates, Trevor Hoffman and Vladimir Guerrero. With an eye toward electoral history and more recent trends, what follows here is my rundown of the fates of all 34 candidates on the ballot, some of which will figure into my updated five-year outlook for Monday.
Two years after fellow Killer B Craig Biggio's own overdue election, his longtime Astros teammate will join him in Cooperstown, having completed an impressive two-year surge. Bagwell received 55.7% of the vote in 2015, then jumped by 15.9% last year (the third-largest gain) and nearly equaled that with this year's second-largest gain. His share of the vote is the largest of any seventh-year candidate since the voters returned to annual balloting in 1966; in fact, it appears that he's actually the first candidate in that span to be elected in lucky year seven.
The fifth modern player elected in his final year of eligibility after Red Ruffing (1967), Joe Medwick ('68), Ralph Kiner ('75) and Jim Rice (2009), Raines experienced the ballot's biggest jump, that after gaining 14.8% from '15 (55.0%) to '16 (69.8). His share of the vote exceeds that of any other last-call honoree (Ruffing's 86.9% in a run-off, after getting 72.6% on the regular balloting, doesn't count) and that of any other modern (i.e. post-1966) candidate in his fifth year or later save for Bagwell and 11th-year honoree Duke Snider (86.5%).
This one has some personal resonance, as Raines was both one of my favorite players growing up and one whose Hall of Fame case I've been making from the outset, including via one of my first forays at SI.com, back when the site had a content agreement with Baseball Prospectus. I’ll have a special look at his path to Cooperstown in the near future.
Remarkably, Rodriguez is just the second catcher after Johnny Bench (1989) to get elected by the writers on the first ballot. Three-time MVPs Yogi Berra (two years) and Roy Campanella (five ballots, including one before the return to annual voting) didn't get in immediately, nor did Gary Carter (six years), Carlton Fisk (two years), Mike Piazza (four years) or Bill Dickey (eight years after retirement, back before the five-year waiting rule was in effect). Rodriguez is also the first position player in Rangers history to be elected.
As noted previously, the two other times since 1966 that three candidates returned to the ballot after receiving 65.0% or more (regardless of how many years it had taken), only the top two vote-getters from the previous year were elected: '83–84 (Harmon Killebrew and Luis Aparicio in, Hoyt Wilhelm outside) and '86–87 (Billy Williams and Catfish Hunter in, Jim Bunning outside). That trend held true on the 2017 ballot, with Hoffman falling short of 75% by a mere five votes, the second-closest near miss since I started covering elections in '04, behind Biggio's two-vote shortfall in '14.
Guerrero missed by 15 votes, the closest first-ballot shave since Roberto Alomar missed by eight votes in 2010. The good news for both Hoffman and Guerrero is that 17 out of 18 candidates who received at least 70% of the vote and had eligibility remaining were elected the next year. The bad news is the painful example of Bunning, who fell short in both his 11th and 12th years of eligibility (with 70.0% and 74.2%, respectively) and needed another nine years before being elected by the Veterans Committee. Guerrero is a long ways from that, thankfully.
Crossing the 50% threshold for the first time in year eight, Martinez posted the ballot's second-largest gain for the second year in a row and suddenly is closer to 75% than Raines was two years ago. This is another one with personal resonance: Not only am I proud to see my JAWS profile specifically cited by actual voters as changing their minds (and to see it recirculated by the Mariners and their fans to the point that my name actually becomes a trending topic on Twitter), but I also have a family connection to the team.
My uncle Harold Jaffe—a boisterous, outgoing "people person" if there ever were one—spent more than a decade in his retirement years working as the concierge captain at the Safeco Field Diamond Club, where he was known as "The Mayor." He passed away last Friday after a long illness, and his memorial service was at the Diamond Club on Tuesday. The last time I spoke to him and his family via phone, one of the things we discussed was Edgar's remarkable surge in the voting via the pre-election results, and I'm told that put a smile on his face.
Crossing the 50% threshold for the first time after benefiting from the slow evolution of the electorate, the softening of attitudes regarding PED-linked candidates and the recent election of former commissioner Bud Selig, Bonds and Clemens are now on a path to their plaques in Cooperstown. As noted previously, excluding the holdovers remaining on the ballot, only Gil Hodges, Jack Morris and now Lee Smith have failed to gain entry after crossing that threshold. The Gruesome Twosome won't be elected next year, but with five years of eligibility remaining and with a wave of analytically inclined internet-based voters set to join the ranks (including this scribe, in 2021), their eventual induction appears quite likely.
Like Martinez, Bonds and Clemens, Mussina crossed 50% for the first time, continuing a surge that began with his ballot-leading 18.4% gain last year. His candidacy has benefited greatly from an analytical viewpoint that puts his run prevention skills relative to the high-scoring era into context. With six more years of eligibility remaining, he's got plenty of time to close the gap.
Schilling's social media-fueled self-immolation made him the ballot's biggest loser; only one other candidate saw his vote total fall, and only by a fraction. According to the Ballot Tracker, Schilling—who topped 50% for the first time last year—was dropped from the rolls of at least 28 voters who included him last year, though he was also added by at least 15 voters, according to that same source. I suspect that for many who dropped him, it was a one-year "purpose pitch" meant to deliver a message of extreme disapproval over his conduct rather than a permanent disqualifier. While I won't underestimate his capacity to continue undermining his own candidacy with further inflammatory statements, he still has five years remaining on the ballot and a case that is both analytically sound and includes the best postseason resumé of his generation.
It's closing time for the former all-time saves leader, whose level of support fell off significantly after he received 50.6% in 2012, just before the ballot grew almost unbearably crowded. Barring a further rule change, Smith is the last candidate to spend 15 years on the ballot, one of three grandfathered in with the Hall's '14 rule change. Whether he will be considered as part of the 2018 Modern Baseball Era Committee panel (for candidates whose main contribution came in the 1970–87 window) or the '19 Today's Game one (for those from '88 onward), he does seem like a candidate who would benefit from the old-school point of view that tends to dominate such small committees. I'd bet the odds of him getting in within the next few years are better than 50–50.
The ballot's new black sheep, Ramirez received nearly as strong a level of first-ballot support as Raines (24.3% in 2008) despite being suspended twice for PED violations. Nearly one-quarter of the electorate, then, apparently views failed tests as non-disqualifying, sees his suspensions as an extension of the less-than-flattering "Manny Being Manny" behavior that brought him so much notoriety during his playing career or appreciates that his talent level was so far above the bar for Cooperstown—à la Bonds and Clemens—that they simply want to see the best players of an imperfect era recognized. Even as someone who left him of my virtual ballot (I draw a line between pre-testing era allegations and post-testing infractions), I think it will be fascinating to watch the evolution of his support in the coming years for what it tells us about voters' ongoing reckoning with that era.
Walker does seem to have benefitted at least somewhat from the head-to-head comparisons with fellow ex-Expo Guerrero, but his share of the vote is still less than it was in his second year of eligibility (2012, 22.9%). In terms of modern voting history, he's in no-man's land, as the lowest level of support for anybody who was elected in his final three years of eligibility is nearly triple Walker’s (Jim Rice, 63.5% in 2007, his 13th year). His case will wind up in front of the Today's Game panel, where I fear the analytical nuances—the appreciation of his quantifiable contributions on the base paths and in the field, as well as the park adjustments that better contextualize his Coors Field stats—won't be appreciated.
Like Walker, the Crime Dog is in rough shape with regards to the writers, and he only has two years of eligibility remaining. On the other hand, his 493 home runs and contributions to the Braves' run of success stand to benefit greatly when he reaches the Today's Game panel. Given that you can't swing a fungo bat in Cooperstown without hitting a Hall of Famer associated with Atlanta’s run—Bobby Cox, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Schuerholz and John Smoltz have all been elected in recent years, and Chipper Jones will likely be next year—the odds are that McGriff will have a strong advocate on that committee.
Four years into his candidacy, there's no traction to be had for Kent. The lowest share of the vote of any modern fourth-year candidate elected by the writers is Blyleven (23.5% in 2001), and Kent is unlikely to experience a similar groundswell of support from the analytics community, particularly with five fewer years of eligibility.
Whether it's the crowd on the ballot, his tangential BALCO connection, awful defensive metrics or his ever-controversial persona, voters are staying away from Sheffield in droves. Still, he has seven years of eligibility remaining, and he's not that far behind where Blyleven (17.4% in 2000) was at the same stage, albeit with less time to close the gap.
The only other candidate besides Schilling to lose ground, Wagner saw his total drop by a single vote. The good news is that a substantial segment of the electorate still thinks he's worthy of continued consideration, with numerous voters also mentioning that he just missed their cut. The bad news is that he probably would have benefited from Hoffman getting in, freeing up space on ballots from those sympathetic to the uphill battle closers face for Hall recognition.
The softening of attitudes towards PED-linked candidates apparently goes only so far. Sosa is now five years into his candidacy, and unlike Bonds, Clemens, or even Ramirez, a supermajority of voters believes that despite his 609 career homers, he wouldn't be anywhere near worthy of enshrinement without PEDs.
Posada received just 17 votes, six shy of what was necessary to remain on the ballot. While his 121 OPS+ testified to his strength as an offense-first catcher, the fact is that 10 of the 14 catchers enshrined for their major league work exceed it, even if only four of them did so over the course of more plate appearances. Despite Posada’s prominent role on four championship teams and six pennant winners, his modest postseason performance and defensive shortcomings left him far from a must-vote, particularly given the crowd of worthy candidates.
These four first-year candidates avoided being completely shut out (their vote totals were three, two, two and one, respectively), but as anticipated, they went one-and-done just the same. There's no shame in that, as none of them had even borderline cases based upon traditional stats or advanced ones, but they all left their marks on baseball history with great careers that included postseason heroics and (except in the case of Ordoñez) championships.
In a time with less transparency and a less crowded ballot, most of these players would have received a token of support from a writer here and there to avoid a shutout, but the times have changed. Again, there's no shame in the shutout after their unique, impressive careers; they join distinguished company, and as the great Vin Scully often reminded viewers, “They also serve who only stand and wait."