COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- While the Hall of Fame debate surrounding Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling and Sammy Sosa isn’t over, the venue for the argument has changed.
The four candidates, all complicated by controversies, fell short of election this week in their 10th and final time on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot. Of course, there is another path to baseball immortality, and they won’t wait long to learn how feasible it is for them.
Bonds, Clemens, Schilling and Sosa could potentially be on the ballot for consideration by the 16-member Today’s Game Committee, which meets this December to vote on players, managers, executives and umpires whose greatest contributions were made from 1988 to the present day.
Any candidate receiving at least 75 percent support from the committee will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame’s 2023 class.
Even though the committee’s work is conducted in private, there should be at least as much intrigue surrounding the outcome as with the next BBWAA vote, in which Carlos Beltrán is the most notable first-time candidate.
Schilling requested -- unsuccessfully -- to be removed from the most recent BBWAA ballot in order to hasten his consideration by the Today’s Game Committee. Schilling said a group including his playing peers would provide a fairer judgment of his career than a panel of baseball writers. The wisdom of that assertion will be tested when the committee meets about 10 months from now.
Of course, it’s premature to suggest that Bonds, Clemens, Schilling and Sosa will be included among the 10-person ballot at all. They must first receive the imprimatur of the BBWAA-appointed Historical Overview Committee, which meets later this year to screen candidates for consideration by the final 16-member veterans committee.
Every spot on the ballot will be precious, considering the strength of other candidates. Fred McGriff may have the strongest chance of any former player. He slugged 493 home runs and surely will benefit if any Atlanta Braves contemporaries in the Hall -- John Schuerholz, Bobby Cox, Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux or John Smoltz -- serve on the committee, with members to be selected later this year by the Hall of Fame.
Kenny Lofton, Bernie Williams, David Cone, Kevin Brown and David Wells are eligible, too, because their cohorts have completed 10 years of consideration by the BBWAA. Other players who dropped off after receiving less than 5 percent of the vote -- Carlos Delgado, Jim Edmonds, Paul Konerko, Jorge Posada and Johan Santana -- must wait until their balloting class is considered 10 times.
Bruce Bochy and Jim Leyland, no longer active MLB managers, could be included on the ballot, along with recently retired umpire Joe West.
It is possible that the Historical Overview Committee will allow a couple of years to pass before placing Bonds, Clemens, Schilling and Sosa on the Era Committee ballot, given that they were just considered by the baseball writers for 10 consecutive years. That would also provide McGriff, Lofton, Williams, Cone and others with a stronger chance to be elected on a less “crowded” ballot. After this year, the Today’s Game Committee is next scheduled to meet in 2024 for induction in the summer of 2025; it is fair to expect Bonds, Clemens, Schilling and Sosa would appear on the ballot then if they are passed over next winter.
When the Today’s Game Committee last met in 2018, it elected Lee Smith and Harold Baines. Lou Piniella received 11 votes -- one shy of election. Piniella can return this year, along with others who fell short last time: Albert Belle, Joe Carter, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel and George Steinbrenner.
For decades, Hall of Fame era committees have done crucial work in honoring candidates who weren’t eligible for the BBWAA ballot -- like managers, executives and umpires -- or legendary players overlooked by the writers. Ted Simmons, who delivered a memorable speech at his enshrinement last September, is the most recent example.
In a typical year, the writers’ ballot captures more public attention than era committees. But these are extraordinary times. The spotlight is about to shine on Cooperstown’s discreet deliberation as never before.