4 players facing last chance on HOF ballot

November 22nd, 2021

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America revealed its 2022 Hall of Fame ballot Monday, and four players who were among the best of their generation -- two pitchers and two position players -- are in their 10th and final year of eligibility.

Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling and Sammy Sosa will have one final shot to be elected to Cooperstown via the BBWAA ballot, though they may get another chance down the road should their names be placed in consideration for the Hall of Fame’s Era committees.

The 2022 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will take place on July 24 in Cooperstown. This year’s ballot was released by the BBWAA on Nov. 22, and voters have until Dec. 31 to submit their ballots. Election results will be announced live on MLB Network on Jan. 25, 2022.

Here’s a breakdown of where each candidate stands heading into his 10th and final ballot, as well as how he got there:

Bonds was the premier slugger of his generation, posting a .966 OPS (164 OPS+) with 411 home runs and 445 steals from the beginning of his MLB career in 1986 through the 1998 season. He won three National League MVP Awards and eight Gold Glove Awards with the Pirates and Giants over that period. At that point, Bonds was 33 years old, a superstar on a direct path to Cooperstown.

Bonds missed a significant portion of the 1999 season due to injury, but returned healthy in 2000, setting a then-career high with 49 home runs and finishing second to teammate Jeff Kent in NL MVP Award voting. Then came Bonds’ historic 2001 campaign, in which he rewrote the record books by smashing a single-season record 73 home runs to go along with a 1.379 OPS.

Two years later, Bonds was connected to the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the BALCO investigation as he continued to put up mammoth numbers at the plate -- from 2002-04, he slugged .786 with 136 homers and 578 walks, breaking his own single-season mark with 232 free passes in ’04 (a record 120 of them were intentional).

Bonds’ last Major League game came in 2007, the year he surpassed Hank Aaron and became the all-time home run leader with 762. In 2013, Bonds’ first year on the Hall of Fame ballot, he garnered 36.2 percent of the vote. The PED ties clearly clouded his candidacy, and his support remained at about 35 percent until 2016, when it jumped to 44.3 percent. Bonds made even more gains the next year, jumping to 53.8 percent.

Support for Bonds continued to climb, but not at a rapid enough rate to get him close to the 75 percent threshold for election -- last year, he received 61.8 percent of the vote.

In many ways, Clemens was the pitcher version of Bonds -- arguably the greatest of his generation, the right-hander won the 1986 AL MVP Award along with three AL Cy Young Awards in 13 seasons with the Red Sox from 1984-96. He was 33 years old when he signed with the Blue Jays as a free agent following the 1996 season.

Clemens picked up right where he left off when he got to Toronto, winning Cy Young Awards in 1997 and ’98. The Jays traded Clemens to the Yankees the following offseason, and though he struggled early in his time with New York, he helped the Yankees win a pair of World Series titles in 1999 and 2000 before winning his sixth career Cy Young Award in 2001.

Following two more seasons with the Yankees, Clemens signed with his hometown Astros, going on to win his seventh Cy Young in 2004, and posted a career-best 1.87 ERA over 32 starts in 2005, his age-42 campaign. Clemens pitched another year with Houston before re-signing with the Yankees in 2007, his final MLB season.

Clemens’ accomplishments on the mound made him a lock for the Hall of Fame, but in 2012, his longtime strength coach, Brian McNamee, testified in court that he injected Clemens with performance-enhancing drugs multiple times from 1998-2001.

The PED connection has kept Clemens out of the Hall for the first nine years of his candidacy, and his support has pretty much mirrored that of Bonds over that time -- he received 61.6 percent of the vote last year.

Schilling etched his name in the annals of baseball lore as one of the best big-game pitchers in the game’s history, and that was no more evident than in 2004, when he helped the Red Sox win their first World Series title in 86 years.

Boston made Schilling a second-round Draft pick in 1986 but traded him to the Orioles before Schilling made his MLB debut for Baltimore in 1988. The right-hander made 44 appearances (five starts) for the O’s before being dealt to the Astros in a three-player swap prior to the 1991 season.

Schilling’s tenure with Houston was also short -- the Astros traded him to the Phillies in April 1992. Philadelphia is where Schilling rose to prominence. He went on to become a three-time All-Star in nine seasons with the Phillies, pitching to a 3.35 ERA and helping them reach the 1993 World Series. He was traded to the D-backs midseason in 2000, and in ’01, he teamed with Randy Johnson to lead Arizona to its first World Series title, taking home co-MVP honors with the Big Unit.

The D-backs traded Schilling to the Red Sox prior to the 2004 season, and that October, he pitched in what became known as the “bloody sock” game -- in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series against the Yankees in New York, Schilling tossed seven brilliant innings with a torn tendon sutured onto the skin of his right ankle. Boston won that game and completed the most improbable comeback in baseball history by erasing a 3-0 deficit and winning the pennant the next night in Game 7.

Schilling received 71.1 percent of the Hall of Fame vote last year, closing in on the 75 percent threshold for election to Cooperstown. But that represented just a 1.1 percent increase from the prior ballot. Some voters went on record to explain that they removed Schilling from their ballots due to offensive comments he has made in recent years, including on social media.

Sosa was a very talented player -- the type with 30-homer/30-steal potential each year -- in the mid-1990s, but it was in 1998 that he became a superstar as part of an epic home run race with Mark McGwire. The two belted homer after homer, captivating the nation with their chase of Roger Maris’ single-season record of 61.

Sosa finished second to McGwire in the chase, but broke Maris’ record by launching 66, whereas McGwire finished with 70. Sosa went on to smash 301 homers over the next six seasons before playing two seasons with the Orioles and Rangers to end his career.

It was the Rangers who originally signed a 17-year-old Sosa out of the Dominican Republic in 1985. Sosa made his big league debut four years later for Texas, and he was traded that July to the White Sox. Following two unremarkable seasons on the South Side, he was dealt to the crosstown Cubs, with whom he found stardom.

Even prior to his monster 1998 campaign, Sosa became a power-speed threat with the Cubs, though his plate discipline left a lot to be desired. From his breakout 1993 season through 1997, the slugging right fielder hit .268/.321/.511 with 170 homers and 132 steals.

But Sosa’s production took a quantum leap from 1998 onward, and in 2003, he reportedly failed a drug test -- though MLB did not then have penalties for failing a PED test. Two years later, he testified along with several other current and former MLB players before congress regarding PEDs, stating he had never used them.

The PED linkage has shrouded Sosa’s Hall of Fame candidacy, and he has never received more than 17 percent of the vote, which was his total last year.