Stark: What kind of Hall of Fame do we want to have? Answering your questions on future votes, Bonds-Clemens and more (2024)

I woke up Wednesday morning, the day after Hall of Fame election day, with a voice in my brain asking the same questions over and over:

In 50 or 150 or 750 years, will people be walking through the plaque gallery in Cooperstown, trying to explain to their kids why the Hall of Fame doesn’t have a plaque for:

• The man who hit more home runs than any player in history (Barry Bonds)?

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• The man who got more hits than any player in history (Pete Rose)?

• The pitcher who won more Cy Young Awards than anyone else in history (Roger Clemens)?

• The only man ever to hit 60-plus homers three times (Sammy Sosa)?

I could go on with this list, but you get my drift. Now that Bonds, Clemens and Sosa have finished their 10-year spin cycle on the writers’ ballot, those of us who vote no longer have a say in their future place in the Hall of Fame. And unless Rose somehow has his lifetime ban lifted, we can at least claim we never had any say in his Hall of Fame fate.

But no matter what happens, I don’t think we should ever stop thinking about the most pivotal question of all:

What kind of Hall of Fame do we want to have?

Should it be a Hall of Fame that just honors the greatest players of all time, no matter how much controversy mucks up their life story? Or do we want a Hall of Purity that erects barricades for every player whose world is shrouded by any sort of dark clouds?

That’s a question I’ll get to in this Hall of Fame mailbag, because not surprisingly, we were flooded with Bonds and Clemens questions from subscribers. But there were two that intrigued me most. I’ll finish up with The Big One, but let’s start with this:

Given the small but incremental increase in votes for Bonds and Clemens over the years, do you think they would have been elected if they had gotten their five additional years on the ballot? — Julius P.

Hey Julius, the short answer is: Yes! I don’t even think there’s much doubt.

In my Tuesday column, on Five Things We Learned from the 2022 Hall of Fame Election, I did my darndest to break down the Bonds/Clemens voting trends over the last five years so incisively, I think Tim Russert would have been proud.

I won’t go through every detail again, but here’s why it seems clear that Bonds and Clemens would have made it someday if the Hall hadn’t changed the rules in the middle of their candidacies, cutting their years on the writers’ ballot from 15 to 10:

Support for each from first-time voters: 86 percent.

Returning voters who changed their votes from no to yes: 11 — in five years!

So I think it’s a myth that their voters were steadily coming around. No, they weren’t. Not if you really look at the data.

Five years ago, they each needed “only” another 100 votes to get elected. Turns out they were never going to convince 100 longtime voters to change their minds. Their only hope was the first-time voters. And guess what? There couldn’t possibly be enough of them, considering that only 11 or 12, on average, were joining this band every election.

So when the 10-year alarm clock went off this week, Bonds and Clemens ran out of time. But what if they had five more years — with another 60 or so new voters entering the process? Of course they’d have scooped up those 40 more votes they needed. I don’t need an MBA from M.I.T. to do that math.

Do you think the Hall saw that coming when it rewrote the rules? I know how I’d answer that. What about you?

What do Manny Ramirez’s chances look like going forward now that David Ortiz got in but Bonds didn’t? — Guillermo P.

Maybe I’m missing some dramatic forthcoming shift in how everyone thinks about this, Guillermo. But I think Manny’s chances are basically none and none.

He has never even received 29 percent of the vote in any election. His voters don’t ever change from year to year (114 this year, 113 last year, 112 the year before that). So essentially, everyone who was going to vote for him has already been there, done that.

Now here’s the big question: How could any new voters find logic in the idea that Barry Bonds (never failed a test) is not a Hall of Famer but Manny Ramirez (suspended twice) somehow is a Hall of Famer. I know Hall voters can get a little out there sometimes, but that’s the most irrational concept ever.

I see Manny and Alex Rodriguez turning into the new Bonds and Clemens. Is that good?

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Scott Rolen gets in next year? — Brian R.

If I had to make a prediction, I’d say he will, Brian. In my Five Things We Learned column, I used a chart showing how closely his year-to-year voting parallels Mike Mussina’s. And once Mussina topped 60 percent, as Rolen finally did this week, he sailed in the next year.

But just because it happened for Mussina doesn’t make it a done deal. The previous two players to reach 60 percent in their fifth year on the ballot were Andre Dawson (2006) and Tony Pérez (1996). It took each of them another four years to get elected.

Now past election history is never a guarantee of future results. But here’s the biggest reason to believe Rolen finds those 50 more votes he’ll need next winter:

I think most Hall of Fame voters want to elect somebody every year. And next year, we’re looking at the thinnest class in maybe 15 years. So as the leading returning vote-getter, Rolen would seem to be in perfect position to be That Guy.

For the next few years, who is likely to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer? Is it likely to be no one in 2023, Adrián Beltré and Joe Mauer in 2024, and Ichiro Suzuki and CC Sabathia in 2025? — Jordan B.

Hey Jordan! I think you answered your own question — which sure saves me a lot of work.

For 2023, you’re dead on. Carlos Beltrán might have had a shot once. But now his Astro-gate ties have changed everything. The good news for baseball writers is that they’ll provide us with a gigantic topic we can kick around for weeks. The tough news for Beltrán is that they also guarantee he won’t make it next year, or maybe ever.

Then 2024? I think Beltré is the only first-timer. Mauer is an easy Hall of Famer for me, but I worry that his later years at first base will obscure, for some voters, what a historically great catcher he was for more than half of his career. Chase Utley will be a compelling candidate, but I can’t see him breezing in right out of the gate.

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And 2025? Ichiro is in. CC, on the other hand, might not be quite as automatic as you think. He has The Look of a Hall of Famer, but delve more closely into his numbers. They’re not as impressive as you’d expect. Did you know he actually has a worse ERA+ (116) than Mark Buehrle (117)? Shocking, isn’t it?

Any hope for Andruw Jones? I was surprised by his jump in the voting (from 33.9 percent in 2021 to 41.1 percent this year). But given where he is in his fifth year (on the ballot), he’s going to be close. Almost a player from another era. He’s a peak versus career guy. — Adam C.

As I wrote in Tuesday’s column, Andruw added more votes this year than any candidate except Rolen. That surprised me, too, Adam.

But he still needs to practically double his support and find another 130 to 140 votes. That’s incredibly hard when the ballot is crowded. It’s more doable when the ballot is so wide open.

As I’ve written, Andruw Jones has turned into my hardest call over the last couple of years. I admire what a spectacular defender he was early in his career. But I’m troubled by his late-career crash and his historically unproductive (by Hall of Fame standards) age-30 to -35 seasons.

I can’t predict if I’ll change my mind, or whether 140 of my fellow writers will change theirs. But I try to be as open-minded as any voter in our business. So get back to me next January.

K-Rod (Francisco Rodríguez) is the most interesting guy on the next ballot to me. He’s more or less Joe Nathan (in terms of ERA/FIP), but with the added wrinkles of a World Series ring and the single-season saves record. Much like with Nathan, it’d be a bummer to me if he’s one and done. How do you believe he will fare? — Knights O.

I wish now that I’d voted for Nathan, just to keep him on the ballot for another year. As I wrote in my ballot column, Nathan had a 10-year run in which he ranked as the best closer in baseball not named Mariano Rivera. Then this week, he came up three votes short of staying on the ballot. Terrible. Just one more reason I hate that 5 percent rule.

I haven’t taken a deep dive on Rodríguez yet. I just know that, as Nathan found out, the bar for relievers is set so high that they have to have some sort of claim to historic dominance to clear it. Billy Wagner can make that claim. In Rodriguez’s case, while he does have that 62-save season to brag on, I’m not sure his peak lasted long enough to gain meaningful Hall of Fame traction. But like you, I’d hate to see him disappear after one year on the ballot.

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What is the lowest vote percentage a player has had before eventually being elected to the Hall of Fame? — Thaddeus K.

It’s amazing how often people hit me with questions like this, just assuming I have an endless supply of trivia in my head. I actually didn’t know this one. But I did know where to find the answer. I’m resourceful like that!

So here it is, courtesy of my friends from STATS Perform. We just have to divide it into different categories because the voting rules have changed a lot.

BEFORE MODERN VOTING RULES: Lou Boudreau got 1 percent of the vote in the 1956 election (before the 5 percent rule) — and still eventually was elected by the writers! It took him until his 12th time on the ballot. But still. What the heck went on in 1956 anyway?

SINCE MODERN VOTING RULES: Annual voting kicked in (finally) in 1966. Bob Lemon got 7.0 percent that year, then gradually kept inching forward until he was elected in 1976. So he’s the “modern” record holder. But wait … I have one more category!

AFTER THE 1985 SECOND-CHANCE ELECTION: In 1985, the Hall handed out a mulligan to a bunch of candidates who had failed to hit 5 percent in earlier elections. So we’re going to leave out that whole group, which was kicked off the ballot and then restored.

After that period, the record-holder is … Larry Walker, who got 10.2 percent in 2014, in his fourth year on the ballot, but then rocketed into the Hall in his 10th year. File that away, because guess what Scott Rolen’s vote percentage was in his first year? Yep. That would be 10.2 percent!

OK, now back to our main event — yeah, You Know Who …

Do you think that Bonds and Clemens will be voted in by an era committee (what was formerly known as the Veterans Committee)? — Anthony A.

Great question, Anthony. It’s so easy to say no. And in the short term, I’d guess it’s more like “no way” than even just “no.” But if you changed the wording of that question to “will ever be voted in,” I’d have a different answer.

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Let’s first look at what you actually asked. If those two wind up on the Today’s Game Era ballot this year — which seems probable, I think — will they get elected? I’d bet my Duane Kuiper home run bobblehead that there’s no shot.

As Andrew Baggarly spelled out in his great piece Wednesday, it isn’t simply about the likely anti-Bonds/Clemens/PED cheaterhood sentiment within the 16-member committee. It’s about how many other great names also figure to be on that ballot:

Fred McGriff … Kenny Lofton … David Cone … Bernie Williams … Mark McGwire … Orel Hershiser … Will Clark … Albert Belle … not to mention …

The managers! Like Bruce Bochy … Lou Piniella … Jim Leyland … Charlie Manuel … and also …

The guys who just got knocked off this ballot! Like Sosa … and Curt Schilling.

So think how hard it will be, purely mathematically speaking, for anyone on that ballot to get 75 percent of the vote — let alone two or three players. We should also be ready for the possibility that Bonds and Clemens won’t make that ballot at all.

But if you’re asking if Bonds and Clemens will “ever” get elected by one of the Hall committees, I have a different answer — because “ever” is a long time. Even longer than a Yankees-Red Sox game.

So just the way new voters have a much different view (and voting pattern) of Bonds and Clemens than older voters, doesn’t it seem likely that the next generation of Hall of Fame players serving on those committees also will have a much different take than the current generation?

I also wonder if one of these centuries, there might actually be agreement on some version of the question I posed at the start of this column:

What kind of Hall of Fame do we want to have?

Just remember that if that answer is going to be “a Hall of Purity,” then don’t we have to start throwing people out? Every baseball scuffer, bat corker, sign stealer and every other form of rapscallion? That seems kind of impractical!

So maybe somebody really will decide someday that we need a Hall just based on historic achievements. Think how easy that would make it for those committees. So who knows? Bonds and Clemens might get 100 percent in one of those elections!

Jayson Stark appeared on Ken Rosenthal’s Hall of Fame Special on Tuesday to discuss the HOF election. The three-hour show also featured interviews with Ken Griffey Jr., Jimmy Rollins, Dustin Pedroia and many other guests. Watch the full special:

(Photo of Barry Bonds: Stephen Dunn / Getty Images)

Stark: What kind of Hall of Fame do we want to have? Answering your questions on future votes, Bonds-Clemens and more (2024)
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