That’s right: this Sunday, the Hall of Fame’s most complicated institution will once again convene and decide if they’ll be sending any players to the Cooperstown stage in 2023 to accompany… still to-be-determined (but probably Scott Rolen and maaaybe some combination of Billy Wagner, Todd Helton, or Carlos Beltran). The ballot is eight players this time, for some reason or other (maybe related to that bizarre rule change from back in April?). The best argument I can muster for that is that a smaller ballot would reduce the competition and might help cut down on the kind of vote splitting that likely kept Dick Allen out in 2022, except that the vote limit was also lowered from four names per voter to just three, so at least some of that benefit is being immediately lost.
As usual, candidates will need 12 out of 16 votes to get elected to Cooperstown, with the voting body actually meeting to discuss things before they vote. We’ll see if they use that to try and match their votes up again (which is almost certainly why their last meeting produced so many inductees). Our eight nominees this time are:
Albert Belle, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Dale Murphy, Rafael Palmeiro, Curt Schilling
I’ve written about all of their cases here over the years (and most of them are even tagged appropriately, in the right-hand column of the site!), and given that none of them has played in a Major League game in the last fifteen years, their stats haven’t really changed. To give a quick summary, though: Belle and Mattingly probably fall a little short, McGriff and Murphy are right around where I tend to see as the Hall’s borderline (with McGriff just over it and Murphy probably just under it, but close enough that I wouldn’t be mad if he made it), and the other four all clearly over the line statistically but here for non-playing reasons (which I generally tend to view as less of a deal-breaker than most voters, although I also acknowledge it’s a complex subject that can vary player-to-player).
The more interesting thing for Hall voting, especially on Veterans Committee ballots, where so many of the players have been so extensively covered, is to try and break down the various forces pushing them towards or away from induction. Momentum may only be as good as next day’s pitcher in-game, but it’s a very real phenomenon when it comes to Hall of Fame voting (among other factors).
And to that end, we also know the sixteen-person voting body for this year, comprised of Hall of Fame players, baseball executives, and a few writers and historians. The 2022-23 electorate will be:
Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux, Jack Morris, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Frank Thomas, Alan Trammell, Paul Beeston, Theo Epstein, Arte Moreno, Kim Ng, Dave St. Peter, Ken Williams, Steve Hirdt, LaVelle Neal, Susan Slusser
So, let’s start with the writers, since we actually know how they’ve voted in the past. Well, two of them, at least; Hirdt has never released his BBWAA ballots publicly, although he does have a vote. Neal and Slusser have voted for Bonds, Clemens, and Schilling before (and they went 5 for 6 in their final appearance last year, with Slusser dropping Schilling and Jeff Kent after 2021 to make room for new arrivals David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez). I couldn’t find any evidence of either of them voting for Mattingly, McGriff, Murphy, or Palmeiro, although their final ballots were exceptionally crowded, so they might have run out of space (and Belle pre-dated the ballot tracker entirely).
While we’re talking about past voting, it’s probably worth mentioning how all of these candidates did on their BBWAA ballots. All of them but Palmeiro and Belle maxed out their years on the ballots. Bonds, Clemens, and Schilling all peaked at over two-thirds of the vote, with Schilling reaching up to 71% at his best. McGriff had the next-best finish, topping the 40% mark, while Murphy and Mattingly peaked in the 20-30% range, and Palmeiro and Belle topping out at 12.6% and 7.7% before eventually dropping below 5%.
Also, Mattingly, Murphy, and Belle actually have prior Veterans Committee results, unlike the other five first-timers. None of the results have been that strong, though; according to Adam Darowski and Graham Womack’s VC Ballot Results Tool, none of them has fallen above the reporting threshold, with Belle falling in the “less than five votes” bucket in 2017 and 2019 and Mattingly and Murphy coming in at “less than seven” and “less than four” in 2018 and 2020, respectively. All of that definitely points to the idea that the momentum is on the side of the newcomers.
Actually, that last factoid is worth another look. Belle is a weird choice, but maybe he has some hidden momentum; on his last ballot, the only candidates who did well enough to have their vote totals reported were Lee Smith, Harold Baines, and Lou Piniella; the former two were inducted, and Piniella has been sent to the new non-players ballot. I’d rather discuss Orel Hershier or Will Clark or Mark McGwire or any number of other players who didn’t make that ballot, since I think Belle is pretty clearly short and the others are just better candidates, but maybe the voters are on a different page and see something that I don’t. I generally doubt it, but it is still a possibility.
But Murphy and Mattingly seem pretty baffling? We know at least six names finished better than them on their previous ballots, and while some of them have been inducted (Ted Simmons, Marvin Miller) or shuffled to other ballots due to the new rules (Dave Parker, Steve Garvey), that wasn’t the case for Dwight Evans and Lou Whitaker. Both debuted on the 2020 ballot after being completely overlooked on the BBWAA ballots (Evans fell off after three years, Whitaker went one-and-done), and they did very well! Evans got eight votes and finished third behind two inductees, while Whitaker got six votes. Those are strong first go-arounds!
But for some reason, neither made it this year. Instead of seeing if these two can build off their first real discussion, we get the third appearance in five years of two guys who sat on the ballot for fifteen years before that, all while never really seeing their support grow. This might have been an especially great year for Whitaker, given his two long-time teammates who are voting this time.
That seems like a good segue to our next question: who else might this voter body benefit? The most obvious answer is Fred McGriff. I’ve long held the opinion that McGriff is the ideal Veterans Committee candidate, the type of resume that would play especially well with their type of voters even if the BBWAA didn’t bite, but the group somehow tilts things to his corner even more.
Just to start, you have the obvious overlap in careers from his time in Atlanta with Chipper Jones and Greg Maddux. McGriff arrived in Atlanta mid-1993, the same season Maddux signed with them and the first time Chipper was called up (albeit briefly). All three were on the championship 1995 squad as well. On top of that, Paul Beeston was a part of the Toronto front office when they acquired McGriff from the Yankees as a prospect. I’m not saying that these connections mean that any of them will fail to remain impartial here as voters (shoot, I don’t even know if they like the guy personally; I don’t know them); it’s just worth noting that personal relations like that have played into VC elections in the past, especially since part of the process is voters discussing and advocating for their choices.
Outside of McGriff, there are a few other connections as well. Beeston also signed Roger Clemens as President of the Blue Jays. Theo Epstein notably brought Curt Schilling to Boston. Slusser is a long-time Bay Area writer, dating back to Bonds’ time in San Francisco. Rafael Palmeiro debuted on the Cubs the same year as Maddux, with Sandberg and Smith already on the roster (although I’ve seen some rumors that his trade to Texas after three seasons was in part due to issues with Sandberg?). I’m mostly working off memory, so I might be missing some (especially less notable connections). Again, nothing is guaranteed for any of these, but it is something to keep in mind.
Another angle to think about is steroids, since it affects a full half of the ballot. Again, it doesn’t seem to bother Slusser or Neal enough to completely scare them off, based on their prior votes for Bonds and Clemens, but I can’t find anything from Hirdt. Sandberg, Thomas, and Morris have all been vocal about steroid users in the past, though, and in a system where ballot spots are tight you can only miss four times… I wouldn’t be shocked if the steroid candidates miss out once again.
One final element that I checked was head-to-head performance against the voting players; maybe they’ll consider voting for a candidate if they struggled badly against them. A lot of the results were rather unremarkable. The things that stood out most were Barry Bonds dominating (especially Greg Maddux, his most frequent foe) as usual, although who knows how much it will help him given the rest of his case; and Fred McGriff doing pretty well against Morris and Maddux. Nothing especially dominant, but given that I think he’ll be pretty close to the line… maybe keep an eye out.
The Veterans Committee really is kind of its own unique beast, and no one can ever know for certain what they’ll do until they do it… but if I had to make a guess, this really seems like Fred McGriff’s year. I’ve said that he looked like a VC-kind of pick anyway, and every other bit of evidence seems to be lining up in his favor. I don’t think any other player on the ballot has as much in their favor, plus the lower vote limit will make it even harder to get more players in, so the two most likely outcomes are probably “Only Fred McGriff” and “No one, with McGriff as the closest miss” (and likely well-positioned to make it his next time around).
If the voters really plan around their tighter limits, I think they could add Curt Schilling or the set of Bonds and Clemens (I’m not really sure how you separate those two), but getting all four of them will be incredibly difficult. And that’s not even getting into how all three of them will have the same issues they ran into on the BBWAA; I still wouldn’t put either scenario over the “Only McGriff” or “No one, McGriff Leading” proposals. In any case, we should know by the end of the weekend. Happy Hall Season, everyone!