Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling and Sammy Sosa will be eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame for a second time in 11 months if they are not elected on their 10th and final time on the writers’ ballot. The scheduling quirk begs two questions: Should they immediately push others off the crowded ballot of the Today’s Game Era Committee, and do they stand a better chance of getting elected there?
Preliminary tabulations of the writers’ ballot by the Baseball Hall of Fame Tracker suggest the four players will not reach the 75% threshold needed for election. Results are announced Jan. 25. With their eligibility exhausted on the writers’ ballot, their candidacy can be considered by the 16-person Today’s Game Era Committee, which just so happens is scheduled to meet in December in its twice-every-five years cycle.
A severe ballot crunch is about to hit that committee. Only 10 candidates are permitted on Era Committee ballots. A screening committee decides who should be included. Today’s Game candidates this year include players who made their greatest impact since 1988 and did not play past 2007. Candidates also can include managers, umpires and executives who have been retired at least five years, though, managers and umpires who are at least 65 years old are eligible six months after retirement, and executives at least 70 years old are eligible even if still active.
How difficult is it to pick 10 candidates for the ballot this year? Possible candidates include:
• Bonds, Clemens, Schilling and Sosa. They certainly have the numbers to jump to the front of the line. But should two tries within a calendar year be a consideration on a crowded ballot?
• Managers Lou Piniella, Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel, Bruce Bochy and Jim Leyland. Piniella, Johnson and Manuel are holdovers from the Today’s Game ballot in 2018. Piniella fell one vote short of election with 11. In '16 he also received the most support among those not elected, with seven.
Bochy, 66, seems to be a lock. He has the most wins of any manager not in the Hall of Fame and is one of only eight managers with 2,000 wins and three World Series titles. Leyland, 77, has a strong case. He is one of only three managers not in the Hall with 1,700 wins and three pennants. The others are Bochy and Terry Francona, who is still active with Cleveland.
• Umpires Joe West and Gerry Davis. The recently retired West, 69, passed Bill Klem for the most major league games umpired. Davis, 68, retired after last season as one of only four umpires with 5,000 games.
• George Steinbrenner. The late Yankees owner has come up short on three committee ballots.
• Albert Belle, Joe Carter, Will Clark and Orel Hershiser. The four holdover players from the 2018 ballot each received “fewer than five votes,” according to the limited vote totals the Hall released. Lee Smith (16) and Harold Baines (12) were the only candidates who reached the 75% threshold needed for election.
• Rafael Palmeiro, Kenny Lofton, Mark McGwire, John Olerud, Robin Ventura and Fred McGriff. In addition to Bonds, Sosa and Clark, they are among the top 10 bWAR leaders among position players eligible for the ballot.
• Kevin Brown, David Cone, Bret Saberhagen and Chuck Finley. After Clemens and Schilling, they are the bWAR leaders among eligible pitchers.
• John Franco. He has the most saves of any reliever eligible.
That’s 27 good candidates. And the more strong candidates there are among the final 10, the tougher it becomes for any candidate to be named on at least 12 of the 16 ballots.
The Today’s Game committee convenes again in 2024. Added to holdovers from the names mentioned above will be Jeff Kent and Gary Sheffield, when the ballot also will include those who didn't play past 2009.
The last committee included nine Hall of Famers, four executives and three media members. Do Bonds and Clemens stand a better chance with the committee than with the writers? Not likely. The fate of McGwire may hold a clue. McGwire is the only steroid user to appear before the two previous committees. In 2016 he received what was identified only as “four votes or less.” He was then dropped from the ballot in '18 while Baines, Belle, Clark and Hershiser returned and Carter was added. All five players had less voting support from writers and less WAR than McGwire.
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