Ryan Thibodaux has gradually become an influential figure in the modern National Baseball Hall of Fame election process, and one of the least likely. He is a mild-mannered, married, 35-year-old baseball fan in Oakland who took his infant son to his first A's game this past season, works in the healthcare field and generally shies away from personal publicity.
If it weren't for Jeff Bagwell, his "boyhood baseball hero," you probably never would have heard of him or his BBHOF Tracker. That ever-changing, color-coded spreadsheet is projected to tabulate and calculate more than half -- for the first time -- of all publicly known ballots in advance of a much-anticipated Hall of Fame announcement.
The results of the 73rd BBWAA Hall of Fame election will be revealed at 6 p.m. ET on Jan. 18 live on MLB Network, and simulcast live on MLB.com beginning at 5 p.m.
"I do my ballot tracking 'work' merely as a hobby in my spare time, though of course it's taking up more of my spare time than I ever anticipated, and it's only gotten more difficult to manage this year with the arrival of my first kid," Thibodaux wrote in emails to MLB.com. "But it's still as fun for me as ever. I started five years ago, simply as a way of passing the time in the offseason. I'm basically a one-sport guy, so it's baseball or nothing for me."
• Baseball Hall of Fame
Members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America who have served at least 10 consecutive years, and who are approved in the Hall's new annual registration process, are eligible to vote. Ballots were issued in November, and the deadline to return them was Dec. 31. It is increasingly common for voters to publicize ballots in an age of social media and transparency, and Thibodaux's BBHOF Tracker was one of the reasons.
With about 40 percent of ballots known as of Thursday -- based on Thibodaux's estimated total of 435 overall ballots cast -- holdovers Bagwell and Tim Raines each continued to appear on more than 90 percent of them. Ivan Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero, both new to the ballot, were tracking at or above the 75-percent threshold required for election. Trevor Hoffman, Barry Bonds, Edgar Martinez and Roger Clemens were all close.
"As far as this year's returns, Bagwell and Raines seem to be in excellent shape," Thibodaux said. "It would take something of a catastrophe for them to fall below 75 percent again this year.
"Three other candidates are going to be fascinating to watch: Guerrero, Hoffman and Rodriguez. … The thing Hoffman has going for him is that he's one of the few players who actually does better among the voters who don't make their ballots public than those who do. His final percentage might be a bit better than what my tracker shows going into the announcement."
Thibodaux's passion for baseball was nurtured in the Astrodome, where he rooted for the Astros before moving to Oakland in 1995. Bagwell's National League Most Valuable Player Award season (8.2 WAR) had been the year before that, and Thibodaux always expected to see him -- and 2015 Hall inductee Craig Biggio -- enshrined one day.
"It's fair to say that a primary reason I became so interested in the Hall balloting process was due to Bagwell's candidacy, along with Biggio's," Thibodaux said. "I do my best to remain neutral about all candidates on Twitter and elsewhere these days, but most of my close followers know that Bagwell is my guy, and I'm so thrilled that he seems to be set up very nicely for induction, finally, this year.
"I wish he hadn't had to wait so long, but if he had gotten in on the first or second ballot, as he should have, I probably wouldn't have ever started the ballot tracker."
On Wednesday night, Bagwell thanked the "people who are keeping track for me," with Thibodaux leading the way. Thibodaux said no players have directly asked him about their chances, but he includes current HOF candidates Curt Schilling and Billy Wagner among those who follow his Twitter account.
"I get the sense that a lot of players don't want to follow the day-to-day happenings," Thibodaux said. "I can imagine it might drive them a little crazy, especially someone who might be on the brink of 75 percent but not a sure thing."
And what about that @NotMrTibbs handle? For the curious, Thibodaux explained: "There's no good story to it. ... It means nothing, contains no inside joke and offers no philosophical belief system."
Some people ask Thibodaux if he is removing some of the suspense on such a big day. He said that question is "something I worry about quite a bit," but he thinks the opposite is true. Thibodaux said his tracker makes more people engaged and adds to the anticipation.
"We baseball and Hall fans get to vigorously debate players, ballots and the meaning of Hall of Fame induction for two full months every year the way things are now," Thibodaux said. "I think that's fantastic, and fun, and exciting."