The Baseball Writers’ Association of America is almost ready to reveal its National Baseball Hall of Fame election results, so it’s time to prep for the big announcement.
Below are answers to all your questions about the Class of 2020 election, which looks poised to honor at least one turn-of-the-millennium legend -- and possibly two.
What are the criteria for election?
Players must have appeared in at least 10 Major League seasons to be eligible for consideration, and they must be retired from the Major Leagues for five seasons before they can appear on the BBWAA ballot. They can remain on the ballot for a maximum of 10 years.
A player must appear on at least 75% of the writers’ ballots to gain election to the Hall, and if he does not gain election, he must earn at least 5% of the vote to remain eligible for BBWAA consideration the following year.
Who is already in this year?
We already know two members of the Hall’s Class of 2020: Catcher Ted Simmons and former MLB Players Association director Marvin Miller, both of whom were elected by the Modern Baseball Era Committee in December. It’s the fourth straight year in which a veterans’ committee vote has yielded electees.
Who are the first-time candidates?
Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi, Derek Jeter and Cliff Lee headline those debuting on the BBWAA ballot, alongside Josh Beckett, Heath Bell, Eric Chávez, Adam Dunn, Chone Figgins, Rafael Furcal, Raúl Ibañez, Paul Konerko, Carlos Peña, Brad Penny, J.J. Putz, Brian Roberts, Alfonso Soriano and José Valverde.
Former Expos, Rockies and Cardinals slugger Larry Walker is in his 10th and final year of eligibility.
Who looks most likely to get in?
Jeter is as slam-dunk a candidate as it gets; the only question is whether he will join his former Yankees teammate, Mariano Rivera, as the second player in history to be voted to the Hall unanimously.
Walker’s hopes, on the other hand, are very much up in the air. He’s firmly in “toss-up” mode, having appeared on 83.5% of public ballots through Monday (as tracked by Ryan Thibodaux, aka @NotMrTibbs on Twitter) but likely facing less support from voters who prefer to keep their ballots private. Walker came into his final ballot year likely needing to “flip” about 45% of his “no” votes from 2019 into “yes” votes, and he had flipped 51.5% of those votes known to the public as of Tuesday afternoon. Various Hall of Fame forecasts have him right on the bubble, so stay tuned.
Three more longtime holdovers -- Curt Schilling, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens -- are also trending right around the 75% threshold on public ballots, but they have historically garnered much less support from private voters. So, this year appears to be a two-horse race with Jeter and Walker.
Could Jeter really be unanimous?
As of Monday, the 14-time All-Star had appeared on all 218 writers’ ballots that had been made public. Even if Jeter fails to appear on someone's ballot, he's virtually assured of garnering one of the top five totals ever:
1) Mariano Rivera (2019): 100%
2) Ken Griffey Jr. (2016): 99.32%
3) Tom Seaver (1992): 98.84%
4) Nolan Ryan (1999): 98.79%
5) Cal Ripken Jr. (2007): 98.53%
Walker could get in on his last BBWAA ballot, is that rare?
We saw Mariners legend Edgar Martinez do just that last year at this time, after a decade of waiting on the ballot. Before him, five previous players were elected in their final year of BBWAA eligibility: Tim Raines (2017), Jim Rice (2009), Ralph Kiner (1975), Joe Medwick (1968) and Red Ruffing (1967).
What if Walker misses by a handful of votes?
That's certainly looking like a possibility, but Walker should get another shot soon. The Hall of Fame has four separate era committees vote on a rotating basis, and the Today's Game era -- which considers contributions from 1988 to the present -- is scheduled to convene in the fall of 2021 for inclusion in the Class of '22. Walker would go before a much smaller electorate there, with committees typically consisting of 16 former players, executives and historians. (The same 75% threshold applies).
The closest any player has come to election without getting the necessary 75% is just two votes. That heartbreak was felt three separate times: Craig Biggio in 2014, Nellie Fox in 1985 and Pie Traynor in 1947. All three eventually became Hall of Famers. On the flip side, four Hall of Famers got in by a single vote: Willie Keeler (1939), Al Simmons (1953), Kiner (1975) and Ferguson Jenkins (1991).
Who is in danger of falling off?
On the other side of the ballot, a handful of players are simply hoping to reach 5% and stick around for 2021. Abreu appears to be the only first-timer, apart from Jeter, with a chance of getting that percentage, but it will be close -- he had appeared on 6.0% of public ballots as of Tuesday afternoon. Former Braves center fielder Andruw Jones and Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte both survived close calls in their debuts last year, but each of them looks assured of moving on to Year 3 with small gains in public votes. Slugger Sammy Sosa, now in his eighth year on the ballot, also looks safe to stay as he tracks around 17%.
Third baseman Scott Rolen (+51 net votes from 2019), outfielder Gary Sheffield (+43), closer Billy Wagner (+38), first baseman Todd Helton (+32) and second baseman Jeff Kent (+32) probably won't gain election this year, but those five have made the biggest gains compared to last year at this time. Rolen has a chance to cross the 50% line in 2020, which would position him well with seven years of eligibility remaining. For comparison's sake, Walker didn't cross 50% until last year.
Schilling is hovering above 75% of public ballots after landing on 64.7% of public votes last year, so his stock is definitely rising. Over the last three years, Schilling's vote total has increased from 45% to 51.2% to 60.9%. But the clock is ticking; Schilling will only have two years of eligibility left if he doesn't hear his name called Tuesday night.
What about Bonds and Clemens?
There's an argument that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are the greatest hitter and pitcher, respectively, of all-time, based on statistics alone. There's much more to their stories than that, of course. Voters are still split on how much weight performance-enhancing drug allegations should bear on their legacies. But, with each one in his eighth year of eligibility, time is beginning to run out.
As of Monday, Bonds had gained two net votes from 2019, and Clemens just one. Both players finished around 59% last year, so those small gains are not going to get the job done. However, with the stream of no-doubt candidates running dry after Jeter, the ballot should be fairly open for Bonds and Clemens to try to make their necessary gains over the next two years.
Aside from Jeter’s vote total, is there any other history on the horizon?
If Walker can join Jeter in the Class of 2020, it would mark an unprecedented seventh straight year that the BBWAA elected at least two player candidates. The 20 players elected over the past six years set a record, smashing the previous mark of 15 BBWAA electees from 1951-56.
But that bountiful harvest could start dwindling after Tuesday. Pitchers Mark Buehrle and Tim Hudson and center fielder Torii Hunter will lead the first-time eligibles for 2021, with Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz entering the conversation in ’22. The first trio will likely fall short of election, and the cases of A-Rod and Ortiz should spark lots of debate. The last time the BBWAA didn’t elect at least one player was back in ’13.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.