The 2023 Baseball Writers’ Association of America vote is in — and Scott Rolen is the newest member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. He joins Fred McGriff, who was elected in December via the inaugural contemporary baseball era committee.
ESPN MLB experts Buster Olney, Bradford Doolittle, Alden Gonzalez and Jesse Rogers examine the 2023 vote and what it means, and look ahead to what the future votes hold for this year’s candidates and those to come.
Let’s dive in.
Olney: Todd Helton, whose voting share took a major leap forward. With five years remaining on the ballot, it’s evident that he’ll get in next year, or maybe in 2025, based on his positional dominance in the middle of his career.
Doolittle: Helton, with Billy Wagner not far behind. Helton continues to gain support and is now at a level where it seems certain he’ll get over the threshold eventually. Wagner only has two years left so that’s a little more uncertain, but his percentage continues to grow. Also McGriff — though he’s so modest, he may actually think that makes him the big loser.
Gonzalez: Helton is the obvious choice because he’s nearing 75% and has enough time to get there, but I’ll go with someone else who’s getting close: Andruw Jones, who still has four years of eligibility remaining.
Jones has experienced relatively sizable jumps in four straight years, and that trend should continue for an obvious reason: He is one of the best center fielders of all time. We’re talking about a 10-time Gold Glover who accumulated 434 home runs, and whose peak — nine years, as one of the key members of dominant Atlanta Braves teams — lasted a lot longer than people might think.
Rogers: Carlos Beltran. About half the voters believe he should be in already. A certain portion undoubtedly didn’t vote for him in Year 1 of eligibility because of the aforementioned cheating scandal, but some of them will likely vote for him in the future. And he still has nine years to put distance between his career and that fateful final year in the majors. Meanwhile, he only needs to appear on 25% more ballots, assuming those that voted for him already continue to do so.
Who is the biggest loser from this year’s voting results?
Olney: Torii Hunter, who seems destined to be this year’s version of Jorge Posada — a player who will apparently be dropped off the ballot after inexplicably garnering less than 5% of the vote, with his percentage dipping each of the past two years. To review: nine Gold Gloves, five All-Star appearances, nearly 2,500 hits and more than 350 homers. He’ll be voted in by a special committee someday.
Doolittle: Immanuel Kant. You know, the guy who wrote about the power and limits of reason, because if he were still around and following baseball’s Hall of Fame voting, he might conclude that reason does not in fact exist. Just look at the disparate percentages going to Manny Ramirez and Gary Sheffield, and also Jones and Omar Vizquel. And what about poor Bobby Abreu? Not saying he should get in, but he gets named on about one ballot in five, while Jones is pretty close to getting over the top? And, yeah, Hunter falling off the ballot is just wrong.
Gonzalez: Abreu, once again. I don’t know if he’s a Hall of Famer, but he deserves far more consideration than what his consistently lacking support implies. Abreu did a little bit of everything — stealing bases, playing great defense, hitting for average and displaying power, all while averaging 156 games per season during a 13-year run that encompassed his peak. His accolades — two All-Star Game appearances, one Gold Glove and one Silver Slugger — don’t justify his greatness. Neither does his Hall of Fame support.
Rogers: Can it be anyone other than Jeff Kent? He didn’t come close to getting in despite hitting the most home runs by a second baseman in baseball history. And he’ll no longer be on the ballot, as this was his 10th and final year.
Full disclosure, I voted for him — and I’m OK with him not making it — but only appearing on 46.5% of the ballots? That’s just wrong. And his accomplishments came during the steroid era, which he was never linked to. OK, so he never won a Gold Glove, but if Ryne Sandberg is in, then Kent should be as well. Or at least a lot closer.
What is one trend that stands out to you from this year’s voting totals?
Olney: The voters seem to care less about defense despite the fact that we know more than ever about its impact — and even though they did vote Rolen in. Jones, Omar Vizquel and Hunter are all in the conversation for the best defenders ever at their respective positions.
Doolittle: After we get past the obvious current starting pitcher Hall candidates at some point down the line — Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, et al. — I wonder if we’ll go through a long period of voters trying to figure out what a Hall of Fame starter looks like. I don’t think there were any Hall of Fame starting pitchers on this ballot but it’s still striking how little support they received.
Gonzalez: I’m going to be really curious about Alex Rodriguez’s year-to-year Hall of Fame support. He has clear PED ties, of course, but also the type of resume that might ultimately transcend it. A-Rod — like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens — can make a case for the greatest player ever at his position (in his case, we’ll say shortstop).
It’s a case that comes with a major caveat, but the BBWAA as a whole is slowly becoming more lenient toward PED use both with the passage of time and with the entry of new, younger members. Will A-Rod eventually break through? It’s impossible to know right now. But he has eight more years ahead of him.
Rogers: Really, it’s a continuing trend. Anyone linked to steroids is going to have a really hard time getting in. That’s especially true for those who failed one or more tests. Like Bonds, a case could be made that Rodriguez was a Hall of Fame player before he juiced, but voters don’t seem to care. And any argument over the years for accepting the steroid era as simply part of baseball history, and players still had to perform, has fallen on deaf ears. Voters have said no once again.
Which one player’s vote total is most surprising to you?
Olney: Rodriguez polling close to 40%. Despite his PED suspension, MLB views him as a member in good standing — and the Hall of Fame sees him the same way, putting him on the ballot (unlike Pete Rose, whose name has never appeared on a ballot following his lifetime ban).
It’s only in the eyes of the baseball writers that Rodriguez is persona non grata — in the face of the commonsense reality that the sport’s history post-World War II was saturated with PED use, and that a lot of current Hall of Famers were users. Bizarre. Rodriguez clubbed 696 homers, collected 3,115 hits, scored 2,021 runs and drove in 2,086. He’s one of the best players of all time.
Doolittle: Sheffield. Really surprising that he picked up so much support, not because I don’t think he is qualified for the Hall but just because of the old PED connection and how it has impacted other players. I just don’t really know where voters are drawing the line on this topic. Sheffield has one more try left and I hope he gets in.
Gonzalez: It’s Hunter for me. Similar to Abreu, I just expected more support for someone who was so well-rounded, both as a player — a nine-time Gold Glover who surpassed 20 home runs 11 separate times — but also as someone who was beloved by teammates and media alike. It’s a sad reality about Hall of Fame voting that sometimes it feels as if we don’t truly appreciate certain players simply because they fall short of an exceedingly high bar. Maybe he isn’t a Hall of Famer, but falling off the ballot after one year shouldn’t take away from the fact that Torii Hunter is a great man who put together a great baseball career.
Rogers: Kent. See above. Home runs aren’t the be-all and end-all but only one player at each position around the diamond can be the all-time leader in a category. Kent is it for second baseman. He was a power bat at a position that still doesn’t generate much — even less than shortstops do nowadays. That’s a huge luxury for a team. Great offensive and defensive second basemen don’t grow on trees. He was good enough at second and great in the batter’s box. Voters missed the boat with Kent.
The PED era continues to loom over Hall of Fame voting, what impact do you think it had on this year’s ballot?
Olney: This reflects the growing confusion over what actually qualifies a player for the Hall of Fame. On one hand, you’ve got a handful of candidates busted for PED use who didn’t come close to election — but on the other hand, you almost certainly have a number of current Hall of Famers who share the stage of honor despite using PEDs. Two of the best players in baseball history, Bonds and Clemens, are out of the Hall, based on a once-obsolete character clause written by someone who worked from a position of power to keep the game segregated.
Doolittle: I’m with Buster here. During these years of hand-wringing over PED-connected candidates, among other controversies, voters have lost track of what a Hall of Fame career does or does not look like. It doesn’t help that the Era committees have put in a number of players whose careers reside squarely in the gray zone where there are a lot of overlapping candidates who don’t get in but have cases as strong as those who make it. On top of all that, the game itself has changed and so some of the iconic standards we used to watch for may no longer apply. The whole process could use some kind of reset.
Gonzalez: It feels as if the players who inflated their numbers by cheating have set the Hall of Fame bar unreasonably high despite not gaining entrance because of their cheating. Isn’t that amazing? Last year, we had David Ortiz symbolize ill attempts at deciphering PED ties. This year, another dilemma was embodied by Beltran. We praise A.J. Hinch and Alex Cora as managers, celebrate the 2022 Houston Astros as legitimate World Series champions, and yet Beltran — the eighth-best center fielder in history by Baseball-Reference WAR — didn’t get in largely because of his ties to the sign-stealing scandal. (A scandal, by the way, that did nothing for his own career numbers.)
Rogers: The steroid era has muddied the waters, but it’s a shame the Hall didn’t grow by at least one in 2023. In fact, maybe that should be a rule: At least one BBWAA selection entrant is required every year. The Hall of Fame is supposed to grow despite it still being an exclusive club. Some years there will be more deserving candidates than others. That’s OK. In the end, the large size of the voting group offers legitimacy to the final vote: No one is sneaking in. But when there isn’t an entrant, it shifts the focus to the voters. Nobody wants that.
Based on this year’s results, do you think anyone will get in on next year’s ballot?
Olney: Wagner will get in within a couple of years, and perhaps Helton after that. They’ll join two players who should be first-ballot, can’t-miss selections — Adrian Beltre and Joe Mauer. In fact, I think you could make a case Beltre should be a unanimous selection, after a career of 3,166 hits, 477 homers and five Gold Gloves, as well as 93.5 WAR, which is more than Al Kaline, George Brett, Chipper Jones and Ken Griffey Jr.
Doolittle: I could actually see it being a fairly crowded class. Helton should get in, Wagner has a good shot and I could definitely see Jones joining the group. And based on this year’s change in percentage, I wouldn’t be shocked if Sheffield gets there, though he could end up at that close-but-no-cigar level. And among first-timers, I would think Beltre is probably a lock.
Gonzalez: Beltre will be eligible for the Hall of Fame next year, and he should definitely get in. By then, Helton should have already accumulated enough votes. Perhaps Wagner and Jones can get there too. And if the BBWAA comes to its collective senses, Beltran will be close. I’d expect a crowded field. I’m hopeful for it, at least.
Rogers: Yes. Kent falling off the ballot might garner a vote or two for someone else while we did see a couple of players with remaining eligibility get close. There’s no reason to believe we’re entering some longer-term trend where there will be multiple years with no inductees.