Some names jump off the page.
Griffey, Rivera, Jeter — those are the boxes you know you’ll be checking long before that old-school paper ballot envelope arrives in the mail sometime around Thanksgiving.
Most voters don’t spend much time pondering whether candidates like that are worthy of being enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, though there is some satisfaction in being part of the process that officially leads them to Cooperstown. Go beyond the legends, however, and things can get murky quickly.
Although David Ortiz is making things interesting this year, there is a decent chance that the 2022 ballot will become the midterm in a period of at least three years in which no first-year candidates are elected, or maybe even no candidate, period.
The voting bloc, made up of 10-year members of the Baseball Writers Association of America who have had active memberships in the last decade, anointed no one in 2021. Ortiz seems the only chance to make the cut this year by being named on at least 75 percent of the nearly 400 ballots expected to be cast.
As of this writing, more than 83 percent of voters who have publicly disclosed their ballots before Tuesday’s announcement have included Ortiz, according to Ryan Thibodaux Hall of Fame Tracker. In their final year of trial by writers, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have also cleared the threshold between public ballots, but traditionally see a significant drop in support among those who don’t reveal their early votes.
So it’s likely Ortiz or nothing for the class of 2022, and with a borderline candidate in Carlos Beltran topping the rookie list in 2023, we could be in for a bit of a drought before Adrian Beltre leads the 2024 newcomers and presumably first. -Ballot blockade Ichiro Suzuki leads the class of 2025.
Before last year, the most recent Hall of Fame election that produced a whiteout among writers was in 2013, my first year as a voter. After waiting a decade to join the panel, that experience was disappointing to say the least, although I did my part by checking eight boxes.
For five straight years after that, I selected the maximum of 10 candidates allowed and the ballot jam cleared up a bit with multiple established players in each class. I haven’t maxed out since, but my 2022 ballot included nine selections, the most for me since 2018.
2022 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot selections
Ortiz was my only pick among those on the ballot for the first time. His offensive production over more than a decade and his postseason heroism should make him only the second player who played primarily as a designated hitter to find a spot in Cooperstown, after Edgar Martinez.
Beyond Big Papi, I also voted for Bonds, Clemens, Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, Scott Rolen, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, and Billy Wagner.
Of that group, six are holdovers from last year’s ballot: Bonds, Clemens, Helton, Rolen, Schilling and Wagner.
To quickly recap my reasoning about that group: Yes, I’m one of those people who draws the line on PED use as to whether a player served a suspension for violating MLB’s drug policy. So, not Alex Rodriguez or Manny Ramirez for me, but I don’t see any reason to exclude Bonds or Clemens because of what happened before MLB started caring about what players put in their bodies.
This will be my 10th year in a row voting for Schilling and of course my last since he is destined to disappear from the ballot. While I understand and respect the decisions of some voters to remove him from their ballots in recent years due to his increasingly repulsive public statements, this vote is about his baseball career and I don’t need to leave room for others on my ballot, so I stay with him
As for Helton, I never bought Coors Field as a reason to write off Larry Walker’s career, and I feel the same way about his former Rockies teammate. Sure, he was a much better hitter at home, but his .953 OPS is 22nd in baseball history and his .287/.386/.469 road cutoff doesn’t exactly make him a one-man wonder. Park.
I voted for Rolen and Wagner for the first time last year and explained why at that time. Short version: Rolen was an underrated but incredibly productive all-rounder, and Wagner is among the elite closers we’ve seen despite lacking the longevity of a Trevor Hoffman.
As for my newcomers, I voted for Jones in his first eligible year, 2018, hoping he would get the 5 percent needed to stay on the ballot for higher consideration in a less crowded year. I’ve debated his candidacy in recent years, but struggled to get there in part because of that unsightly .254 batting average and less-than-stellar finish to his career.
However, when he was in his prime with Atlanta, Jones was a sight to behold, winning 10 straight Gold Gloves as a key part of a team that reached the postseason in the first 10 years of his career. And unlike Omar Vizquel, Jones was a significant contributor at the plate. While it would have been nice to see him collect a few more hits and get on base more often, he hit 434 home runs and drove in more than 100 runs in a season five times.
However, his defense of another world remains his signature. Jones ranks 22nd all-time in defensive WAR from Baseball Reference, but is the only outfielder in the top 60 on that list. That’s remarkable, especially considering nearly a third of his appearances in the last four seasons of his career were as a designated hitter. I don’t like to talk to players like I have with Jones, but I plan to continue with him in the future.
Sheffield has always been a blind spot for me. He made it to the ballot in 2015, at the height of the recent gridlock, and I never considered him part of that top-tier group of candidates. However, once that started to clear up, I also didn’t go back and re-evaluate it to the extent that it deserves.
Yes, he was a huge defensive risk, but he was truly a force at the plate, a feared hitter for most of a major league career that began when he was 19 and ended when he was 40. He finished in the top 10 of a MVP voted six times, the first when he won a batting title at 23 and the last when he was 36. He hit 509 home runs (and stole 253 bases) and finished with a career .907 OPS even though that number was trailed by his .695 OPS during his first four MLB seasons in Milwaukee.
Yet perhaps most impressive of all, particularly for a man whose swing was so gloriously violent, Sheffield walked 1,475 times with just 1,171 strikeouts in his 22-year career. He struck out in just 10.7 percent of his plate appearances in a slugging era, comparable to Albert Pujols (10.6). But while Pujols has the exact same walk percentage (10.6), Sheffield hit 13.5 percent. All of which is to say that he was an exceptionally dangerous hitter.
While we’ve seen players make rapid jumps in vote percentage in their later years on the ballot, it’s a stretch to imagine Sheffield getting as far as 75 before his time runs out. He was named on 40.6 percent of the ballots last year and will have just two more chances after 2022 before falling on the writers’ ballot.
I wish I’d gone back to him sooner, but after studying more this year, I think he’s worthy and the kind of player who will eventually make it, even if he doesn’t make the cut with the writers by 2024.
The arguments will continue, of course, as they always do. As unpleasant as they can be at times, the ongoing debate is, above all, an indicator of how much the Hall of Fame means to people, for better or worse. I remain grateful to have played a small role in the process.
Marc Lancaster is Senior News Editor at The Sporting News and has been a voter for the Baseball Hall of Fame since the 2013 election.