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Who’s heading to the Hall in 2022? Featured

November 23, 2021
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It’s time to talk Cooperstown.

The 2021 ballot has landed, with the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) preparing to cast their votes for the players who will join the immortals of the game with plaques hanging in Cooperstown. The electees from this ballot – plus any added to the roll by the Early Baseball Era and/or the Golden Days Era committees – will have their day in the sun at the Baseball Hall of Fame in July of 2022.

For the first time in recent memory, the writers did not elect anyone; no player received the requisite 75% of the vote. The closest was Curt Schilling, who was less than 4% away. However, this was after a prolific stretch in which the BBWAA voted in 22 players in seven years. Now, with a less crowded ballot, we get to see what happens next, for holdovers and newcomers alike.

Let’s talk about those newcomers, because we have a couple of headliners who may or may not make it on the first ballot, though the lack of surety comes from different places.

First and foremost, we have to talk about Alex Rodriguez. By the numbers, A-Rod is a lock. He’s all over the all-time leaderboards – fourth in homers (696) and RBI (2,086), eighth in runs scored (2,021). He slashed .295/.380/.550 for his career, putting up 3,115 times. He won three MVP awards and finished second twice, making 14 All-Star teams along the way. His career WAR of 117.5 is 12th all time, nestled snugly between Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig. He is one of just four MLB players to put up a 40/40 season, alongside Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds and Alfonso Soriano.

But Rodriguez is also tarred with the PED brush, having served a year-long suspension for his connection to the Biogenesis Clinic in 2014 after testing positive on at least one occasion a decade prior. It’s a long history of steroid allegations with A-Rod, with a lot of smoke and more than a little fire. Will voters look past that and vote him in? Not on the first ballot, I’d wager – particularly now that this is the final year on the ballot for noted PED casualties Bonds and Roger Clemens.

In addition, we’ve got David Ortiz, beloved Boston Red Sox icon. Big Papi was the face of the franchise for over a decade, putting up massive numbers in both the regular season and the playoffs. Slow to develop, Ortiz was already 27 when he arrived in Boston after a couple of OK seasons in Minnesota. In the 14 years that followed, Ortiz would become a legend. His numbers are great – he hit 541 homers and had 2,472 hits, driving in 1,768 runs and scoring 1,419; overall, he slashed .286/.380/.552. He never won a league MVP, but won an ALCS and World Series MVP as he helped the Red Sox break their longstanding championship curse (and win a couple more along the way). Oh, and he may have had one of the greatest mic drop last seasons of all time.

However, Ortiz comes with his own steroid shadows, though admittedly not nearly as deep and thorough as those cast by Rodriguez. At the very least, there’s enough plausible deniability there that if a writer wants to vote for Ortiz, they can justify it. And some will ding Ortiz for playing the vast majority of his career as a DH, viewing him as less than a complete player. Still, I think the combination of persona, postseason success and some great offensive numbers gets him in on the first ballot, though it seems likely it’ll be tight.

From there, the ballot features a surprising number of new entrants who had very good careers and may stick around on the ballot for a while, but ultimately won’t make the cut.

The leaders of that pack are probably first baseman Mark Teixeira and shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Teixeira had over 400 homers, with almost 1,300 RBI and nearly 1,100 runs scored, during his 14-year career. He was a very good player – made three All-Star teams, won five Gold Gloves – but his career ultimately wasn’t quite there. Ditto Rollins, who had his share of impressive accomplishments over the course of his 17 seasons. He hit 231 homers and stole 470 bases, with 2,455 hits and 1,421 runs scored. He won four Gold Gloves and was the 2008 National League MVP. However, he just doesn’t move the needle enough. Expect both of these guys to linger on the ballot, though neither seems like he’ll get a ton of support at the outset.

The newcomers are pretty thin on pitching – there are a couple of starters who had strong-but-short peaks in Tim Lincecum and Jake Peavy. Lincecum won two Cy Youngs and Peavy won one; Peavy’s career was longer but Lincecum’s peak was better. They’re both good not great. Same can be said for the two big closer candidates – Joe Nathan and Jonathan Papelbon. Nathan’s the superior candidate, but it would be a mild upset to see them be much more than one-and-done.

There are a handful of other interesting guys on the ballot – Justin Morneau and Ryan Howard both won MVPs in the mid-00s, just as an example, though neither really reached any of the baseline milestones to push forward their candidacies.

Perhaps most interesting, however, is this ballot’s biggest “what if?” Through his twenties, Prince Fielder was on a possible Hall of Fame trajectory – though nine seasons as one of the league’s most durable players, he had nearly 300 homers and almost 900 RBI, averaging 150 hits and 81 walks a year; he finished in the top-10 of MVP voting five times, three of those in the top five. Recurring neck issues would cut short two of his three remaining seasons, followed by an abrupt retirement due to the severity of those injuries. He might get a smattering of votes, but in a different world, there’s a chance Fielder is still burnishing his case for Cooperstown today.

All that, plus the many holdovers. There’s nothing left to be said regarding Curt Schilling, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens; by the numbers, they belong in the Hall, but their circumstances likely leave them short of the necessary votes in this, their last year on the ballot. The cases have been made on both sides ad nauseum – we’ll see what happens.

Scott Rolen’s case seems to be picking up some steam – the third baseman crossed the 50% vote threshold last year – and there are four other returning players who got at least 40% of last year’s vote: Omar Vizquel (49.1%), Billy Wagner (46.4%), Todd Helton (44.9%) and Gary Sheffield (40.6%). We’ll see if any of these holdovers make big moves.

It’ll be interesting to see how the balloting plays out over the next few years. One way or another, Schilling, Bonds and Clemens are gone after this year – either they make the cut or they fall off the ballot. How that impacts the voting remains to be seen – that’s three more logjam figures out of the picture, so maybe a less-prominent candidate or two gets pushed to the forefront – but at least we won’t have to discuss it anymore.

Predictions: I think Ortiz makes it, but not by a lot. I think Bonds and Clemens don’t. I’m on the fence with Schilling – it could go either way. I think A-Rod proves to be a polarizing candidate and lands somewhere around 50% (although anything from 25% to induction is on the table). Rolen gets to 60 and Vizquel clears 50, with maybe one or two other holdovers hitting that mark as well. Best of the rest as far as newcomers? Probably Teixeira, though Rollins may show out; regardless, none of them look to garner big totals.

Time will tell who among this group – if any – find a place in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.

Last modified on Tuesday, 23 November 2021 09:42

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