What's next for Biggio, Schilling, Bonds, and Clemens?

Jared Wickerham

Yesterday, I "reviewed" some things that Ken Rosenthal and Jon Heyman made on MLB Network last week, in the wake of the BBWAA's Hall of Fame balloting results. Today, it's some other guys' turns. Here's Harold Reynolds, same show but different desk:

Craig Biggio ... stands out to me, because the first ballot was big with Biggio. Larkin had 51.6 his first time, all right? Sandberg was 49.2, and Robbie Alomar was 73.7. That's a high number for Craig Biggio. He's gettin' in next year.

No, he's not. Well, probably not. Yes, in a normal year, Biggio would easily move from his 68 percent this year to 75+ next year. This is not a normal year. Not with all the steroid guys still on the ballot and the introductions of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas (and everybody also mentions Mike Mussina, but he'll be just an afterthought for most of the voters).

I do think Biggio will do well next year. Maybe he'll do better than this year because of the voters who simply won't vote for anybody except IMMORTALS (like Maddux) in their first year of eligibility. But everyone seems to think Maddux will automatically be elected, and that Glavine and Thomas will join him. I think it's just as likely that Maddux makes it, alone. Which would leave Glavine and Thomas and Biggio on the next ballot ... with Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez coming aboard. Plus all the rest of the guys with Hall of Fame numbers.

Later in the show, the subject of Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds came up. Here's Bob Costas, on those megastars' future prospects:

Are there a substantial number of voters who want these guys to twist in the wind for a while, but eventually, recognizing their overwhelming excellence, pre-steroids, will elect them? That's why their 37 or 38 percent is different than the same number for Tim Raines. But we don't know yet how it will play out. I think it will be significant what the difference is between the first and the second; how big is the jump, if any, for Clemens and Bonds between years one and two. Then you might be able to see the possibility of a progression.

It's not like we don't have some guide to the future. When Mark McGwire retired, I think it's fairly safe to say, a majority of Hall of Fame voters considered him an excellent candidate. Six years later, he got 24 percent in his first appearance on the ballot. Were the voters just letting McGwire twist in the wind? One year later, he got 24 percent again. Then it was 22 percent, and 24 percent. That's one hell of a wind-twisting.

Anyway, shortly after he got 24 percent in his fourth try, McGwire went on TV with Bob Costas and admitted, for the very first time, that he'd used anabolic steroids during his career. You might recall that a number of voters said they would reëvaluate McGwire's candidacy if he would just admit that he'd cheated. The voters wanted to forgive McGwire, but first he would have to come clean.

So he talked to Bob Costas, and there were tears. Maybe they were crocodile tears and maybe they weren't; the fact is that McGwire did what so many Hall of Fame voters said he must do. And so the next time around? Twenty percent. McGwire's support has only decreased since Bob Costas made him cry.

Anyway, my point is that while Bonds and Clemens might fare better in the near future, history suggests that they won't, any more than McGwire and Palmeiro have fared better in succeeding elections. We could speculate about why these guys don't gain support, as so many non-Steroid Era players have. But I think that's too much to wrap my brain around, today. I think it's just safe to assume that both Bonds and Clemens will remain on the ballot for many years, but will struggle to clear even 50 percent in the coming elections. I wouldn't rule out the possibility of more, but it certainly won't happen anytime soon. And I think what's most likely is that they have to wait another 20 or more years, for some future manifestation of the Veterans Committee. The voters have made up their minds on this, and enough of them won't be changing 'em.

Next up: the burning subject of Curt Schilling, who despite being a fantastic candidate got just 39 percent on this, his first try. From the desk:

Al Leiter: There's also an issue of how likeable was he? The biased nature of writers, you know, we saw it with others in the past, with Ted Williams and others, where maybe some people left them off because of personality reasons. Not fair, not fair. You view him as what he's done.

--snip--

Harold Reynolds: Personality has something to do with this; it really does. You can argue any way you want, but writers [vote] for people they like. And Schilling's on TV, he's got a chance to show some personality. Bert Blyleven had personality. And people got to know him better after he got through playing, than they did when he played.

There's no reason to think that Schilling's personality hurt him at all. In fact, I would have expected the opposite. Sure, Schilling's taken a public-relations hit lately. But he was generally quite happy to talk to reporters, and that's all they really care about. Personality-wise.

Ted Williams received 282 of 302 possible votes when he first appeared on a Hall of Fame ballot. Some of those 20 non-voters might have been voting against his personality, but I suspect most simply wouldn't vote for anyone on the first ballot. Thirteen years later, 23 idiots didn't vote for Willie Mays. Nobody was nastier to the writers than Steve Carlton; on his first try, he got 96 percent of the vote. Jim Rice bedeviled the Boston writers; all they did was spearhead a campaign that ultimate got him elected, after beginning with support from only 30 percent of the voters.

Say what you like about the BBWAA -- and lordy I've said a lot over the years -- but it's very difficult to detect personal or racial bias in their voting patterns, whether for the Hall of Fame or the annual awards. And that goes back to 1947, when Jackie Robinson was the first Rookie of the Year.

Schilling didn't get elected because he didn't win 300 games or pitch like Sandy Koufax or have a really cool nickname (like "Catfish") and because the ballot was so ridiculously loaded. He did get 39 percent, which is actually pretty good for a first-timer. You might like his chances, except for the bizarreness of this current situation. I do believe that Schilling will be elected some day, but it will take at least 10 years and probably more than 20. Unless the voting rules are changed.

Which some of the voters would like to see. Oh, they don't want to give up any of their power over the process. There have not been, nor will there be, any serious discussions about adding qualified voters or subtracting unqualified voters. But there is some sentiment for allowing the voters to vote for more than 10 candidates. Monday, Nate Silver addressed this possibility in the Times and doesn't seem particularly convinced it would make a difference.

Did the 10-vote limit keep Biggio and Morris out of the Hall of Fame, perhaps along with other players?

Actually, it was almost certainly not responsible all by itself. Of the 24 percent of writers who used all 10 ballot slots, 90 percent did name Biggio, meaning 10 percent did not. At best, therefore, if all writers who exhausted their ballots would also have named Biggio if they had unlimited votes, he would have gotten only 10 percent of the 24 percent, adding only 2.4 percentage points to his overall vote total.

Frankly, you don't need more than 10 slots if you're not going to vote for the steroids dudes. And if you are going to vote for those dudes -- this means you, most of the ESPN crew -- then Job #1 should be convincing your colleagues to get off their high horses and do the same. Elect Bonds and Clemens and Bagwell and Piazza and the other obvious guys (but not Sammy Sosa please!) and there will be room for all of your pets on the ballot, eventually.

What's more interesting to me in Nate's post? He's finally done something I should have done a long time ago: He's quantified the bizarre-to-me jumps in support that so many candidates enjoy. On average, a candidate who begins with 10 percent reaches almost 30 percent in his last year on the ballot. And candidates who begin with 30 percent generally wind up getting elected! How does this happen? I've always thought it must be really complicated, but now I think it's just sorta complicated. Here's Silver again:

There is even something to be said for the so-called "paradox of choice": that when presented with too many options, we may be overwhelmed with information and have trouble making any decisions at all.

Hall of Fame voting is ultimately designed to be a consensus process. One reason that players tend to gain votes over time is because the writers are looking at what their peers are doing and value the endorsements of their colleagues. Moreover, because they have as many as 15 chances to elect a player, many writers tend toward conservatism initially. There is no way to remove a player from the Hall of Fame once he has been elected, but you can change your mind to include him later. When a writer initially votes "no" on a player, it really means "wait and see" in many cases.

Frankly, and I don't mean to pick on particular voters because I don't really know which ones to pick on and most of the really foolish ones don't advertise, but a large percentage of the voters are not conscientious and don't do a great deal of homework and are easily led to slaughter. I mean, there simply isn't any other way to explain the MASSIVE jumps in support over the years for so many candidates.

I don't mean to suggest that only a foolish voter changes his mind. I'm absolutely sure that if I were a voter, very occasionally I would change my mind about a borderline candidate. But just very occasionally, for the simple reason that my initial decision -- remember, this is five years after the player's career has ended -- would have been preceded by a great deal of study, including a great number of facts. I will guess that if your opinion is based largely on facts (say, me and Bert Blyleven) or largely on emotion (say, 62.4 percent of the electorate and Roger Clemens), you're probably not real likely to change your mind. But if you have neither facts nor emotion, then you're highly susceptible to persuasion, logrolling, etc. There really is no other explanation, because Jack Morris's credentials are exactly the same in 2013 as they were in 2000, when he got 22 percent of the vote and finished behind Steve Garvey and Tommy John.

This is why I had to laugh when Jon Heyman suggested that maybe someone should start a Jack Morris for the Hall of Fame campaign; the damned thing's been going for 14 years and it's been incredibly successful. What's funny -- as someone pointed out elsewhere -- is that while The Internet might have helped Bert Blyleven get elected, he's obviously an incredibly deserving candidate. And if the voters hadn't taken 14 years to elect Blyleven, there would have been a little more room for Morris to build his support, and he might well have been elected a year ago.

Or not. These things are tricky. It's hard to criticize a particular voter for his ballot, because it's almost impossible to find a voter whose ballot mirrors yours exactly. What we can and should continue to do is make our cases for and against serious candidates with as many facts as we can muster. Usually the truth, as we see it, will carry the day. Sometimes it won't. That's frustrating as hell, but then why should the Hall of Fame be any different than the rest of the world?

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