Hall of Fame voters are still sharply divided on Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.
The electorate is changing, however, and that could be good news for both.
Bonds and Clemens inched past the 50-percent mark for the first time Wednesday, each appearing on about 54 percent of ballots cast by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. For a fifth straight year, Bonds and Clemens fell short of the 75 percent needed for induction, but their support is slowly climbing.
Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez were elected to the Hall on Wednesday.
Bonds and Clemens remain on the outside looking in because of drug suspicions, but they could continue to gain ground as more new voters are welcomed into the process.
“I think, just generationally, people in their 20s and 30s look at this different than people in their 50s and 60s,” said Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star, a first-time voter who supported Bonds and Clemens. “Maybe we’re missing something — I’m not one of these people that thinks, like, I’m right and they’re wrong. It’s just different viewpoints.”
A writer can receive a Hall of Fame vote when he or she has been an active member of the BBWAA for 10 consecutive years, so newcomers are always on the way. In 2015, the Hall of Fame eliminated voters who had been inactive for more than 10 years — a move that further boosted the influence of newer voters.
The closest thing to a Hall of Fame exit poll is Ryan Thibodaux’s online vote tracker , which has charted over half the ballots from this year’s election. Of the 14 first-time voters identified on the site as of Wednesday night, 13 supported Bonds and Clemens.
One of those first-time voters was Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News, who said he supported Bonds after former Commissioner Bud Selig was elected as part of this class by a veterans committee. Selig presided over the era in which drug suspicion became so rampant.
“The last few years in my Sunday column in The Buffalo News, I refused to use Barry Bonds’ name. In my column, it became kind of a trademark. I just referred to him as No. 25,” Harrington said. “So now people see my article in The Buffalo News — ‘Wait a minute, how did you vote for Bonds and Clemens?’ I explained in my column a couple weeks ago: To me, I felt, the Bud Selig thing was a tipping point.”
Bonds and Clemens are back on the ballot next year, along with newcomers such as Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Andruw Jones, Scott Rolen, Johan Santana and Omar Vizquel. Here are a few more things to watch:
The BBWAA voted to release each voter’s Hall of Fame choices to the public, starting next year. That change will add transparency to the process, although there are some concerns about groupthink and peer pressure.
“I’m very conflicted about this,” Mellinger said. “I applaud the reasons that they are public. We are a profession that demands transparency in others, so why shouldn’t we have the same here? I get all that. I can’t argue against any of that. The part that I’m uncomfortable with is: I hope that people still vote their hearts and their minds and don’t change based on, you know, ‘I don’t want to get ripped on Twitter.’”
Raines had plenty of support in sabermetric circles.
“You’ve got these new stats. You’ve got WAR (wins above replacement). You’ve got all this stuff,” Raines said. “Back in the day, when you looked at a Hall of Famer, you looked at 500 home runs, 300 wins and 3,000 hits, and a lot of times if you didn’t reach those criteria, it was kind of hard for anyone to kind of look at you as a Hall of Famer. But I think the way the game has changed today, the way they look at the stats and everything, it has changed.”
The next beneficiary of modern stats could be Mike Mussina, who achieved 51.8-percent approval this year. Mussina never won a Cy Young Award, but according to Baseball-Reference.com, his career WAR is comparable to that of Nolan Ryan and Bob Gibson.
Nearly half of this year’s 442 voters used the maximum 10 slots on their ballots, and although three people were elected, players like Trevor Hoffman (74.0 percent) and Vladimir Guerrero (71.7) fell just short, meaning they’ll be back to take up votes again next year. With some credible new candidates eligible in 2018, the 10-player limit could come into play for quite a few voters.
Lynn Henning of The Detroit News has abstained from voting at all when he’s felt there were more than 10 Hall-worthy players. He didn’t have that problem this year, but it could happen again.
“The 10-ballot restriction is silly, it’s perverse, it’s unjust, it’s convoluted. It’s a complete affront to players who deserve recognition, when they’ve earned recognition and are otherwise screened out because of some arbitrary adherence to this number 10,” Henning said. “I think it’s the most outlandishly preposterous restriction I’ve ever been exposed to in the realm of professional voting.”
One challenge Hall voters now face is evaluating players who had more specialized roles — like designated hitters and closers.
“It’s easy to find context for a Vladimir Guerrero or a Mike Mussina because there are tons of outfielders in the Hall of Fame, there are tons of starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame,” said Ryan Fagan of Sporting News. “Defining the context for a DH or for a relief pitcher, that’s more challenging, because there aren’t a lot of guys like that in there.”
Fagan supported Edgar Martinez, a DH, but did not vote for closers Hoffman, Billy Wagner and Lee Smith. None of those four made it in. All but Smith will be on the ballot again in 2018.
Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister