Game's controversial greats fall off Hall ballot

January 26th, 2022

Four of the biggest stars in recent history have occupied spots on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for the past decade, only to see their annual vote total fall beneath the 75 percent threshold necessary for election. 

For Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling and Sammy Sosa, 2022 marked their 10th and final shot at election by the eligible voters from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, but none garnered enough votes to be inducted this year.

Thanks to a 2014 rule change by the Hall of Fame, players who earn at least five percent of the vote remain on the ballot for 10 years instead of the previous 15.

For Bonds, Clemens, Schilling and Sosa, those 10 years have now expired, leaving their Hall fate up to the Today’s Game committee, which will next meet in December to consider candidates for 2023 induction, then again two years later.

Here’s a closer look at the four players, their cases for Cooperstown and how close they ultimately were to election:

Barry Bonds

(22 seasons, Pirates/Giants)

Cooperstown Case: Bonds’ on-field résumé screams Hall of Fame. Baseball’s all-time home run leader with 762, the seven-time NL Most Valuable Player and 14-time All-Star boasts a .298/.444/.607 career slash line; more walks (2,558) than any player in history; 1,996 RBI (No. 4 all-time) and a staggering 162.7 WAR, the fourth-highest total in history behind only Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson and Cy Young.

Bonds’ connection to performance enhancing drugs soured many voters on his Hall candidacy, despite the fact that he never tested positive or received any discipline from Major League Baseball. It remains to be seen whether the Today’s Game committee will view it in a similar light.

The vote: Bonds’ vote totals lingered in the 34-36% range during his first three years on the ballot, though his support began to climb in 2016, when he earned 44.3%. That number jumped to 53.8% in 2017, his fifth year on the ballot, climbing marginally in each of the next three years. He topped the 60% mark for the first time in 2020, but he only reached 61.8 in 2021 and 66.0% this year, ending his decade-long run on the ballot nine percent of the vote short of election.

Roger Clemens
(24 seasons, Red Sox/Blue Jays/Yankees/Astros)

Cooperstown Case: Clemens is the pitching equivalent to Bonds, capturing seven Cy Young Awards, one MVP Award, 11 All-Star selections, seven league ERA titles, 354 wins (9th all-time), 139.2 WAR (8th all-time), 4,672 strikeouts (3rd all-time) and two World Series rings.

Like Bonds, an overwhelming suspicion of PED use kept him from being elected by the writers, many of whom have held a firm line against players with strong connections to steroids. Clemens also never tested positive or received any discipline, but those facts didn’t sway the voters who drew a line in the sand on the issue.

The vote: Clemens’ ascending vote totals have been nearly identical to Bonds’ numbers, as the two have seemingly been supported by the same voters. Clemens actually received a slightly higher percentage than Bonds in their first eight years on the ballot, though Bonds earned one more vote than Clemens in 2021. Clemens received 65.2% this year, garnering three fewer votes than Bonds.

Curt Schilling
(20 seasons, Orioles/Astros/Phillies/D-backs/Red Sox)

Cooperstown Case: Schilling’s career numbers are excellent, though not in the same stratosphere as Bonds and Clemens. The right-hander won 216 games with a 3.46 ERA, earning six All-Star selections and striking out 3,116 batters, the 15th-highest total in history. Schilling is one of six pitchers with 3,000 strikeouts and fewer than 1,000 walks (711), while his 4.38 strikeout-to-walk ratio is the second-best mark of all non-active pitchers since 1900.

Schilling’s candidacy gets a big boost from his postseason performance; he went 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 starts, helping the D-backs win the only World Series in franchise history in 2001 and the Red Sox to their curse-busting 2004 title. Some voters view Schilling’s win total and lack of a Cy Young Award as reasons not to vote for him, while others believe his career ERA is too high. Then there are his outspoken ways, which have turned off some voters who cite the Hall’s character clause. With no PED stain against him, Schilling could have strong support from the Today’s Game committee.

The vote: Schilling’s first three years on the ballot saw him receive 38.8%, 29.2% and 39.2%, though his total climbed to 52.3% in 2016. He reached the 60% mark in 2019, then topped 70% in both 2020 and 2021. Following the 2021 announcement, Schilling publicly requested to be removed from the ballot, and while the Hall of Fame’s board of directors voted unanimously to keep him on the ballot, his request may have contributed to his 2022 vote total falling to 58.6%.

Sammy Sosa
(18 seasons, Rangers/White Sox/Cubs/Orioles)

Cooperstown Case: The 1998 NL MVP and seven-time All-Star finished his career with a whopping 609 home runs, the ninth-most in history. He’s the only player ever with three seasons of 60-plus home runs, including his 66-homer season in 1998 when he and Mark McGwire battled all year in pursuit of Roger Maris’ single-season home run record. Sosa’s .273/.344/.534 slash line doesn’t put him in the same class as Bonds, and unlike Bonds, who won nine Gold Glove Awards, Sosa’s defense left plenty to be desired.

Like Bonds and Clemens, Sosa has been linked to PEDs despite never testing positive or facing any discipline from the league. Sosa reportedly tested positive during the 2003 survey testing, and while Commissioner Rob Manfred publicly exonerated David Ortiz based on the same report, he did not do the same for Sosa. The fact that Sosa’s first four years were unremarkable (1.3 total WAR) hasn’t helped his case, either. His career 58.6 WAR ranks 206th all-time.

The vote: Sosa never earned the same type of support that Bonds or Clemens did, receiving only single-digit percentages in six of his first nine years. His 2021 total of 17% marked Sosa’s highest percentage prior to this year, when he received 18.5% in his final turn on the ballot.