With the Hall of Fame’s announcement this afternoon that David Ortiz was the only player elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America this year, the path to induction via the writers’ ballot has officially closed for four of the most notable players in recent history. Each of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling and Sammy Sosa has exhausted their ten years on the ballot and will no longer be eligible for consideration by the BBWAA.
Bonds and Clemens have two of the greatest statistical resumes in major league history and would’ve been first-ballot Hall of Famers had it not been for their ties to performance-enhancing drugs. Bonds is the all-time leader in career home runs (762). Among position players, he ranks second all-time behind Babe Ruth in FanGraphs measure of Wins Above Replacement. Baseball Reference has Bonds and Ruth tied for first in career position player value (before accounting for Ruth’s contributions as a pitcher). Bonds won seven MVP awards and was a 14-time All-Star.
Clemens, meanwhile, has a strong case as the most accomplished pitcher in the game’s history. An 11-time All-Star and seven-time Cy Young award winner, he appeared in 24 MLB seasons and won seven ERA titles. He ranks third in career strikeouts (4,672), ninth in pitcher wins (354) and is third among pitchers (excluding Ruth) in BRef’s WAR metric.
Each of Bonds and Clemens have a laundry list of accolades, but their non-inductions are obviously not about any flaws in their numbers. Both players, instead, are left outside the Hall because of their ties to performance-enhancing drugs. Both players were named as alleged steroid users in Senator George Mitchell’s 2007 report. Each of Bonds and Clemens were summoned to testify as part of Congressional hearings on PED usage in baseball; Bonds was later convicted on an obstruction of justice charge for giving an evasive answer during his testimony.
Whether to include alleged steroid users in the Hall of Fame has been a subject of (often bitter) debate amongst fans and writers. “Sportsmanship” and “character” are among the factors the Hall includes in its instructed criteria for voters, and those terms have been leveraged to make both moral arguments and questions about the authenticity of those players’ numbers to support steroid users’ exclusions from the Hall. Enough voters remained steadfast in their objection to including those implicated with PED’s to keep either Bonds or Clemens from accruing enough late-ballot momentum to get across the 75% threshold for induction. Both players finished in the 65% – 66% range on their final years on the ballot — a small but obviously insufficient bump relative to last season’s 61% – 62% marks.
Schilling appeared in parts of 20 MLB seasons. A six-time All-Star, he never won a Cy Young but finished as a runner-up on three separate occasions. Schilling “only” won 216 career games, but he owned a 3.46 ERA over 3261 innings. His 3116 strikeouts place 15th on the all-time list. Among the top 14, Clemens is the only player not enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Yet Schilling has seen dwindling support in recent years in the wake of a series of controversial public statements. As it became clear he was unlikely to be elected by the BBWAA, Schilling requested to have his name removed from this year’s ballot. That wasn’t granted, although he did see a 12-point drop in vote share between 2021 and 2022 after his push to be removed from consideration. Schilling appeared on 58.6% of ballots this year.
Sosa, somewhat curiously, never had the same level of support as any of Bonds, Clemens or Schilling. He received just 18.5% of the vote this year and never threatened election during his time on the ballot. Despite being one of just nine players to exceed 600 career home runs, Sosa’s career .273/.344/.534 slash line “only” checked in 24 percentage points above the league average by measure of wRC+. Moreover, he wasn’t a highly-regarded defender. But Sosa was one of the sport’s most famous and productive sluggers at his peak, hitting an astounding 332 home runs between 1998-2003 (more than 55 per season).
No doubt contributing to his dearth of support is that Sosa reportedly failed a 2003 survey test for performance-enhancing drugs. As Jay Jaffe of FanGraphs recently explored, though, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred later cast some doubt about the reliability of those results (which had been intended to remain anonymous). Ortiz also reportedly failed that same survey test, but enough voters looked on those results with skepticism to elect him on the first ballot. Sosa was never suspended for a PED test in his career, although he was hit with an eight-game ban in 2003 for corking his bat.
Each of Bonds, Clemens, Schilling and Sosa will need to rely on one of the Era Committees if they’re now to gain induction. Those committees have tended to be more favorable to candidates than has the BBWAA, although it remains to be seen how they’ll approach this particular group of highly controversial candidates.
As far as returning candidates go (full results available here), Scott Rolen jumped from 52.9% to 63.2% in his fifth year. Todd Helton (4th year) and Billy Wagner (7th year) each eclipsed 50%. Andruw Jones and Gary Sheffield both landed in the low-40% range, while Jeff Kent, Manny Ramirez, Omar Vizquel, Andy Pettitte, Bobby Abreu, Mark Buehrle and Torii Hunter received less than 30% of support. (Vizquel’s vote share was cut nearly in half after separate domestic violence and sexual harassment allegations were levied against him within the past thirteen months).
Among first-time candidates, only Alex Rodriguez (34.3%) and Jimmy Rollins (9.4%) received more than the 5% necessary to remain on the ballot for future consideration. As with Bonds and Clemens, Rodríguez has obvious Hall of Fame statistics but PED ties that’ll hamper his path to induction. Joe Nathan, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Howard, Mark Teixeira, Justin Morneau, Jonathan Papelbon, Prince Fielder, A.J. Pierzynski, Carl Crawford and Jake Peavy fell shy of the 5% threshold and dropped off the ballot, as did second-year candidate Tim Hudson.