Storylines to watch on '22 Hall of Fame ballot

November 22nd, 2021

An unprecedented streak of additions to the Baseball Hall of Fame ended in 2021, but will it be more than a one-year blip?

That's the question as we head into the 2022 voting cycle, which kicked off with Monday's reveal of the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) ballot. The slate of candidates features 17 holdovers who polled at 5% or better last year, plus 13 newcomers.

In 2021, no player reached the necessary 75% threshold for induction for the first time since 2013. The BBWAA had voted in at least two players in each of the past seven years -- setting an all-time record -- and sending a total of 22 players to Cooperstown in that span.

But with the backlog of deserving Hall of Famers whittled down and no prominent first-timers joining the fray, 2021 was a different story. Curt Schilling was the top vote-getter (71.1%), just four players topped the 50% mark, and only three of 11 new candidates (Mark Buehrle, Torii Hunter, Tim Hudson) will stay on the ballot for ‘22 after getting at least 5%.

With that shutout as the backdrop, here is a first look at the major storylines surrounding the BBWAA’s Class of 2022 ballot.

One last chance for some big names

Four high-profile superstars are now entering their 10th and final year of BBWAA eligibility: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Schilling and Sammy Sosa. This is the make-or-break year: Either they get in, or they are off the ballot. (The Hall’s Eras Committees -- formerly known as the Veterans Committee -- could still consider them in future years).

Sosa, who got 13.9% of the vote last year, has too wide a gulf to overcome. The other three are within range but face serious questions that make them far from sure things.

After making significant progress in three consecutive voting cycles (reaching 70.0% in 2020), Schilling only gained 1.1 percentage points last time around, finishing 16 votes short. Some voters went on record to explain that they removed Schilling from their ballots due to his continuing habit of making offensive, intolerant comments. (Schilling’s public support of the U.S. Capitol riot came after ballots were due to be submitted). Furthermore, Schilling requested to be removed from the 2022 ballot, which the Hall's board of directors declined to do, keeping him in consideration for 2022.

Meanwhile, Bonds (61.8% in 2021) and Clemens (61.6%) continued to stagnate. Since the duo jumped to roughly 54% support in 2017, they have gained little ground, dogged by ties to performance-enhancing drugs.

Will voters soften on any of those three, based on the fact that it will be their final go-around? Perhaps, but it’s not clear that enough minds will change to make a difference.

A-Rod arrives

If you feel like you will miss the Hall of Fame debate surrounding Bonds and Clemens, don’t fret. Alex Rodriguez is here.

Rodriguez is the top player joining the ballot in 2022, and his candidacy figures to feature a similar dynamic to those other two controversial figures. On the basis of his numbers and accomplishments alone, A-Rod would be a first-ballot lock for Cooperstown. The 14-time All-Star won three MVP Awards, cleared 3,000 hits and 300 stolen bases, ranks fourth all-time in homers (696), and posted 117.5 Baseball-Reference WAR -- more than any position player besides Bonds over the past 60 seasons.

But Rodriguez’s connections to PEDs are clear cut. In 2009, he admitted to using them while with the Rangers in 2001-03, then was implicated in the Biogenesis scandal, resulting in a 211-game MLB suspension that an arbitrator reduced to 162 games upon appeal, keeping Rodriguez out for all of the 2014 season and postseason.

In other words, the 2022 voting cycle is likely to be just the beginning of a protracted conversation about Rodriguez’s candidacy and baseball legacy.

Big Papi takes the stage

A-Rod isn't the only notable first-time candidate. That stacked list includes Mark Teixeira, Jimmy Rollins, Carl Crawford, Jake Peavy, Justin Morneau, Prince Fielder, Joe Nathan, Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Papelbon and Ryan Howard.

However, the player with the best shot at election is David Ortiz. Is it a slam-dunk case, though? The accolades (10 All-Star selections, seven Silver Slugger Awards), gaudy offensive numbers (.931 OPS, 541 homers), postseason heroics and his legendary status in Boston certainly bode well. The recent inductions of Edgar Martinez and (via the Today’s Game Era Committee) Harold Baines also should ease the way for a player who spent most of his career as a DH.

On the other hand, Ortiz’s 55.3 WAR is not a standout number, putting him in a virtual tie with, among others, Jeff Kent (who has struggled to gain Hall traction). Martinez, with 68.4 WAR, needed 10 years on the ballot. WAR isn’t everything, of course, especially given some of Ortiz’s aforementioned qualifications. Still, he might not get to 75% right away.

Can Rolen and Co. maintain their pace?

While Bonds, Clemens and Schilling have stalled at the top of the ballot, other players continue to make big gains.

Consider the case of Scott Rolen. The eight-time Gold Glove Award-winning third baseman has seen his support jump from 17.2% to 35.3% to 52.9% over the past three voting cycles and enters his fifth year on the ballot in great position. It may be a stretch to expect Rolen to make it to Cooperstown in 2022, but based on his trendline his ultimate election looks probable, perhaps in ‘23.

Others are headed in the right direction as well. Todd Helton (29.2% to 44.9% in his third year), Billy Wagner (31.7% to 46.4% in his sixth year), Gary Sheffield (30.5% to 40.6% in his seventh year) and Andruw Jones (19.4% to 33.9% in his fourth year) also saw significant gains in 2021 that they will try to carry forward into this cycle. The situation is most urgent for Sheffield (three ballots left) and Wagner (four), who are starting to get short on time.