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Bonds, Clemens gain in Hall of Fame voting

January 18, 2017

We knew going into Wednesday night's announcement that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were not going to be in the 2017 Hall of Fame class. The intrigue, rather, rested in the details, in how much of an upswing of support these two players, whose Hall of Fame-worthy statistics have been

We knew going into Wednesday night's announcement that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were not going to be in the 2017 Hall of Fame class. The intrigue, rather, rested in the details, in how much of an upswing of support these two players, whose Hall of Fame-worthy statistics have been clouded by their controversial association with performance-enhancing drugs, would receive.
The ballots revealed publicly before the announcement accounted for 56.6 percent of the electorate and suggested major gains, with Bonds and Clemens both surpassing the 60-percent threshold. The final tallies revealed more modest gains: Bonds went from appearing on 43.3 percent of ballots last year to 53.8, and Clemens went from 45.2 to 54.1.
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Still, these gains were statistically significant. To date, the only players to appear on at least 50 percent of ballots in a Baseball Writers' Association of America vote without gaining entry before their ballot expiration dates were Gil Hodges, Jack Morris and, now, Lee Smith, who obtained support on just 34.2 percent of ballots in his 15th and final year but appeared on 50.6 percent of ballots in 2012.
Obviously, Bonds and Clemens could fall victim to the same fate Hodges, Morris and Smith did, but they both have five years of BBWAA ballot eligibility remaining and some mathematical momentum.
:: 2017 Hall of Fame election results ::
The BBWAA recently voted to make all ballots public, but that move toward transparency takes place next year. So for now we rely to an extent on the work of fan Ryan Thibodaux, who tracks public and anonymous ballots, to get a sense of the ins and outs behind the percentage changes.
What we learn is that Bonds appeared on the ballots of at least 23 voters who didn't cast a vote for him a year ago, while Clemens gained at least 24 votes this way. Both players also received a wealth of support from first-time voters, as we'll assess in a second.
Here's a look at the three factors that pushed Bonds and Clemens over the 50 percent mark.
1. Attitude adjustments
Some voters went with a simple explanation: In so many words, "I changed my mind."
Peter Gammons, the 2004 J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner, wrote on "The Hall of Fame is the museum of baseball history, hence I am at the point where the best player in the last 40 years and arguably the pitcher ever need to be parts of that museum, with whatever addendum is deemed necessary for their plaques."
:: 2017 Hall of Fame election coverage ::'s own Chris Haft said he changed his stance because, "Both these guys remain guilty in the court of public opinion. But they've cleared their respective legal hurdles, leaving no concrete reason not to vote for them."
Mike Piazza got in the Hall last year despite being tied to evidence-free steroid suspicion, and the same goes for Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez this year, at least in terms of reckless whispers. Plus there's a growing number of voters, apparently, who've suggested PED repercussions should apply to the seasons after which they formally were banned.
2. 'Young' love
We've heard pretty widespread assumption that as the BBWAA voting body gets "younger," the tolerance for Bonds, Clemens and other assumed or proven PED offenders will grow.
Unfortunately, nobody's checking IDs at the door here, and age is all relative anyway.
So for our purposes, let's just define "young" as "new to voting" (writers must be in the BBWAA for 10 years before they receive a Hall vote). Are Bonds and Clemens getting a big push from those who have recently obtained their eligibility?
Well, yes and no. Thibodaux's Tracker has made note of first-time voters for the past three ballots. In 2015, nine out of 15 publicly available ballots from first-timers had Bonds and Clemens' names checked off (60 percent). Last year, that support dipped to 45.5 percent for Bonds (five of 11 known first-time ballots) and 54.6 for Clemens (six of 11 known first-time ballots).
But this year, there was a surge of support from the newest members of the voting body. Not all ballots were publicly revealed, but Bonds and Clemens appeared on 13 of the 14 known first-time ballots -- or 92.9 percent.
Who can say if that trend will continue among other first-timers in the coming years? But it was another facet that helps explain the overall uptick in Bonds' and Clemens' 2017 tallies.
3. Selection of execs
Some voters have said that the election of executives of that era, with one of the most recent being the ninth Commissioner, Allan H. Bud Selig, influenced the sea change for Bonds and Clemens. It's a dubious line of thought, because Selig certainly didn't spoon-feed anybody PEDs and, more to the point, he brought about sweeping changes and unprecedented success overall, even getting a handle on PEDs via comprehensive drug testing through the course of labor negotiations and in a period when the media took its time to catch on to the magnitude of the dilemma across all sports.
That said, a number of voters -- including John Fay of the (and formerly with the Cincinnati Enquirer), Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald and Peter Botte of the New York Daily News -- have gone public in saying it was Selig's induction that swayed them to vote for Bonds and Clemens for the first time.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.