by David Moriah
For the past few years, this longtime HOF watcher has attempted to predict the coming year’s class of new inductees in these pages.
Derek Jeter has a lock on his election. The only outstanding question is whether he will follow Mariano Rivera’s lead and become only the second player ever to receive 100% perfection in the balloting. After Jeter, election prospects by a vote of the Baseball Writers Association become murky.
New HOF members come from three distinct groups—holdovers from the previous year’s ballot; those newly eligible after the five-year waiting period following retirement; and old-timers chosen by the latest iteration of what’s commonly known as the Veterans Committee.
In the first group are two very big names: Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Both have undeniable on-field credentials for election, but their candidacies have been dogged by voter distaste for their involvement in the steroid era. Both men came in just shy of 60% in the voting, with 75% necessary for election. This reporter doesn’t see those numbers changing enough to get them over the hill.
Also coming in around 60% this year was Curt Schilling, a credible candidate but not one whose record demands his election. Schilling is hurt by having an often-abrasive personality, including a call for murdering sportswriters, along with a particularly strident and sometimes offensive voice in today’s polarized political climate. Schilling’s vote total may edge up, but again, not enough to be on stage in 2020.
The only other player topping 50% in 2019 was Larry Walker at 54.6%. Walker may eventually make it, but gaining 20 percentage points in one year will be too heavy a lift.
As for the new faces, other than Jeter the cast is woefully weak for “can’t miss” candidates. Players like Bobby Abreu, Rafael Furcal, Jason Giambi, Paul Konerko, Cliff Lee and Alfonso Soriano all had respectable careers and will garner votes, but none will be first-ballot winners and probably none will ever grace the stage at Cooperstown.
The final route for acceptance into the HOF fraternity is by earning a second look through the Veterans Committee, recently reconstituted into several committees focused on different “Eras” or time periods in the game’s 150-year history. Next years focus is “Modern Baseball,” the era covering candidates (players, managers, umpires, and executives) who made their mark between 1970 and 1987.
Winners in this competition are extremely hard to predict, witness the surprise selection of Harold Baines this year. Baines never received higher than 6.1% of the total vote during his eligibility and yet was inexplicably, and controversially, selected by the 16 members of the “Today’s Game Era” electorate.
The last time that era came around Jack Morris and Alan Trammell were selected, with Ted Simmons (68.8%) and Marvin Miller (43.8%) coming in as runners-up. Lesser totals were received for Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker and Luis Tiant.
In addition to taking another look at those candidates, Lou Whitaker’s name emerges with the recent election of his double-play partner Trammel. Whitaker’s case is remarkably similar to Trammel’s. In fact, in baseball-reference.com’s list of Whitaker’s ten most similar comparison players, Trammel comes in second behind Ryne Sandberg, followed by Roberto Alomar, Joe Morgan and Barry Larkin, all of who are in the Hall of Fame. That’s pretty heady company for a guy who washed out in the writers’ voting with only 2.9% in his one and only year of eligibility.
This HOF observer’s prediction: Jeter alone from the writers’ ballot, along with Ted Simmons and Whitaker. Marvin Miller, who arguably had a greater impact on the game than any baseball executive in history, will once again fall short.
You read it here, folks. Next year at this time I will either look like a genius or a chump!