The coronavirus pandemic delayed the formal induction of the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020. But will there be a Class of 2021 to join Derek Jeter, Larry Walker and Ted Simmons on the dais in Cooperstown this summer?
We will find out today, when MLB Network reveals the results of the 2021 Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s Hall of Fame ballot. The four-hour announcement show, presented by Camping World, is live right now ahead of the 6 p.m. ET reveal. The show is being simulcast on MLB.com and, for the first time ever, in the MLB app on connected devices.
Last year, Jeter was voted into the Hall on his first BBWAA ballot and Walker on his last. Simmons and late players’ union executive Marvin Miller were voted in by the Modern Baseball Era committee. With the Golden Days and Early Baseball Era Committees having postponed their votes until the winter of 2021-22, the BBWAA ballot was the only means to create a Class of 2021. A player must appear on at least 75 percent of ballots cast to gain entry to the Hall.
The 2021 ballot did not have any first-timers with clear-cut Cooperstown cases, and the holdovers from past ballots -- fronted by Curt Schilling, whose name was checked on 70 percent of ballots cast last year -- have complicated cases of their own.
Here are five key questions that will be answered tonight:
1. Will Schilling get over the line?
As a simple matter of math, Schilling, in his ninth and penultimate year on the BBWAA ballot, has the best chance for entry this year. In the past 30 years, Jack Morris is the only player to get shut out by the writers despite reaching at least 65 percent with at least two years remaining on the ballot. (Morris eventually made it in via the Modern Baseball Era Committee.)
But, of course, Schilling’s inflammatory political commentary over the years has done him no favors in this process, and a number of voters have said they are not voting for Schilling after voting for him in past years. It is worth noting that his recent public support of the U.S. Capitol riot came after ballots were due to be submitted.
In Ryan Thibodaux’s tracking of publicly released ballots, Schilling is hovering around 75 percent support. Typically, players’ percentages go down in the actual results, as voters who keep their ballots private have generally tended to vote for fewer players. Schilling, for example, did 22.7 percent better on public ballots versus private a year ago, according to Thibodaux’s data. (The exception to this phenomenon is players on their final year on the ballot, like Walker last year, who saw a surge among “private” voters.)
2. Where does Omar Vizquel stand?
Omar Vizquel has made big strides on past ballots. He cleared the 50 percent mark last year, in his third try.
But allegations of domestic abuse that were made by his ex-wife, Blanca, published by The Athletic in December, will affect Vizquel’s tally this time. The Athletic story was published in mid-December, by which point some voters had already submitted their ballots. But with a Dec. 31 ballot due date, the allegations could still have made a major impact on Vizquel's candidacy.
We know from the public ballots that at least 11 Vizquel voters from a year ago had gone the other direction this year, though Vizquel, whose iffy offensive metrics have inspired significant debate, had also gained at least eight votes. He’s sitting at around 40 percent on the public ballots, which suggests he is losing support.
3. Who will gain the most momentum?
Per the public tracking, we are seeing significant jumps for several holdovers on the 2021 ballot. As of this writing, Todd Helton (plus-30 votes), Scott Rolen (plus-29), Andruw Jones (plus-29), Billy Wagner (plus-23) and Gary Sheffield (plus-18) had all seen a strong uptick.
Given that all of those players were south of 40 percent support on last year’s ballot, none in that group are expected to get in this year. However, they are the players most positively impacted by the less-crowded ballot, and they could be setting themselves up for future induction. Rolen had the highest public percentage of that group at last check, with 62.1 percent support. As our own Mike Petriello wrote recently, there is a strong argument that the Hall has been too stingy with players from the last 50 years, and the uptick of votes for this group could be viewed as a response to this trend.
4. What about Bonds and Clemens?
As has become annual tradition, the results for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will be watched closely. The performance-enhancing drug implications have impacted what would statistically be slam-dunk Hall of Fame cases, and, even as a past ballot logjam has cleared, Bonds and Clemens have made only incremental gains in their percentages (61.0 percent for Clemens last year, 60.8 percent for Bonds).
Thibodaux’s tracking, at last look, had Bonds at 71.8 percent and Clemens at 71.2 percent. But again, those percentages are likely to come down in the final tally.
As with Schilling, this is the ninth year out of a possible 10 on the ballot for Bonds and Clemens.
5. How will the first-timers fare?
We already know this will mark the first time since 2013 that no first-time-eligible players will get inducted. The more pertinent question is whether any of the 11 first-timers (Mark Buehrle, A.J. Burnett, Michael Cuddyer, Dan Haren, LaTroy Hawkins, Tim Hudson, Torii Hunter, Aramis Ramirez, Nick Swisher, Shane Victorino and Barry Zito) will reach the 5 percent threshold necessary to remain on the ballot in 2022.
The three with the best chance are Buehrle (7.9 percent of public ballots, as of this writing), Hunter (5.1 percent) and Hudson (4.0 percent).