Unlike most sports Hall of Fame voting today, the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame voting process has been the subject of much analysis, scrutiny and often ridicule in recent years. There is no other major sport with so much elitism that the all-time greats are not offered immortality through the temple. Regardless, the Hall of Fame class of 2023 was always a consideration weak, and many believed it would take a miracle for anyone to get into Cooperstown after guys like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling were all wiped off the ballot last season. Unfortunately, we have seen one new candidate.
Why Scott Rolen was chosen
Former third baseman of the Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals’ Scott Rolen has become just that 18. third seed to be elected to the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA). That’s the least for any position outside of designated hitter.
Rolen was a seven-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glove winner; he was also part of the St. Louis Cardinals’ 2006 World Series Rolen, in his sixth year on the ballot, has steadily climbed the rankings, from just 10.2 percent of the vote in 2018 to 35.3 percent in 2020 and finally 76.3 percent in 2023.
Elected after six years of voting
But what about this season that finally pushed voters over the edge? Why did Rolen get a job call this year? I think the answer is actually pretty obvious. You see, BBWAA voters are only allowed to vote for a maximum of 10 players each year. While voters are not required to check 10 boxes — many chose to check just one this year — this limit is in place to prevent voters from letting them all in. In recent years, the voting board has been relatively split between players with checkered pasts. In recent voting years, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa each received 260, 257 and 73 votes. While some of those voters may have checked Rolen’s name on their ballots, there’s still a good chance that a few voters were forced to leave Rolen out to make room for these three, who ended up not receiving enough votes for Hall of Fame inductions. Now, in 2023, with such a weak class surrounding him, Rolen was a no-brainer for most of the BBWAA, which is good given the strength of the 2024 class.
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The class of 2024, led by Adrián Beltré, is full
Next year’s Hall of Fame class is fully booked. Want a sure-fire Hall of Famer to be first on the list? BAM! Look no further than Adrián Beltré. He has 3,166 career hits, 477 career home runs and a career batting average of .286 over his 21-year career with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners, Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers. Couple those offensive numbers with solid defense at third base, the third-highest WAR total for a third baseman ever — behind only Mike Schmidt and Eddie Mathews — and zero controversy or scandal attached to his name, and you’ve got a potential first baseman to eclipse 80 percent Hall of Fame votes from Derek Jeter in 2020.
Want former MVPs? There’s former Minnesota Twins backstop Joe Mauer. World Series Champions? There’s Chase Utley and Matt Holliday. Cy Young winners? There is “Big Sexy” Bartolo Colon, although there is PED suspension attached to his name. The reality of the situation is that, aside from Beltré, there are so many newcomers who could justify staying on the ballot for years to come. I never even mentioned Adrián González, José Reyes, José Bautista, Victor Martinez or David Wright. These are all players who will likely never make it to the Hall of Fame, but they will all grate on the nerves of certain voters, taking potential votes away from arguably more deserving players. Had Scott Rolen not entered this year, I would be hesitant to think he would have reached the 75 percent mark in 2024 given that Beltré would be the best third baseman on the ballot. Would Rolen come in later? Probably, but his induction could have been delayed two or three years if 2023 didn’t work out for him.
Jeff Kent not elected, blames “statistics people”
2023 was the last chance for 2000 NL MVP Jeff Kent. Unfortunately, the five-time All-Star garnered only 46.5 percent of the vote, falling short of the required 75 percent. Frankly, it was the highest percentage Kent had ever received. In fact, it was more than ten percent more than he received just one year before 2022 (32.7 percent). Now, if you ask me, I believe Kent boasted Hall of Fame credentials. A strong second baseman is such a rare occurrence, regardless of the era of baseball. Kent is the all-time home run leader with 377, and anyone who eclipses Barry Bonds during the early 2000s deserves a tremendous amount of credit. He was a pretty bad defender, but come on, the man was a .290 hitter with a 123 OPS-plus from second base. To put that into perspective, since Kent retired after the 2008 season, there have only been 41 instances in which a second baseman has compiled a better OPS-plus in a season than Kent’s career mark. Kent’s best career OPS-plus was 162 when he won the MVP award in 2000. Since 2009, absolutely zero seconds of players have reached that mark. José Altuve was close in both 2017 and 2022, reaching 160 both times, but Kent is the best.
Regardless of my opinion of Kent’s Hall of Fame, the BBWAA did not deem Kent worthy of Cooperstown. Did Kent take that disrespect lightly? Not. Kent reverted to the old excuse of blaming “nerds” in baseball. “Voting over the years has been too much of a shame,” Kent said in an op-ed San Francisco Chronicle. “Baseball is losing several generations of great players who were the best of their era because a few disenfranchised people are constantly comparing those players to players they already voted for from past generations and swaying the votes. In my opinion, it’s not fair to the best players of their era and those who have already voted.”
As a self-proclaimed “statesman,” Kent’s concerns are just a little off base in my opinion. Yes, a few voters compare Hall of Fame candidates to players already in the Hall of Fame, but that doesn’t mean they don’t look at each player’s impact in their own era. Statistics such as OPS-plus, weighted on-base average (wOBA), and weighted runs created-plus (wRC+) are designed to determine how offensively influential a player was in his era. While my vote means nothing to players looking to earn their way to Cooperstown, I know these are the basic numbers some “statisticians” look at when determining a player’s Hall of Fame potential. Instead of blaming how advanced baseball statistics have become, maybe Kent should look back at his terrible defense. For all his incredible offensive numbers, Kent still ranks 19th in WAR among all-time second basemen, well below the current Hall of Famer’s average, and is likely a big reason why he was kept out of Cooperstown.
While Kent had plenty to complain about, there were plenty of players with reason to be excited about their chances moving forward, notably Carlos Beltrán and Andruw Jones. I was a big proponent of Jones’ induction. Recently, more and more people are jumping on the train.
Andruw Jones deserves a spot in Cooperstown
With all this attention on Jones’ case, Jones has jumped from 41.4 percent of the vote in 2022 to 58.1 percent of the vote in 2023. Jones has four more years left on the ballot, and at this rate he’ll reach the coveted 75 percent in no time.
I’m slightly less excited about Beltrán, who received 46.5 percent of the vote in just his first year on the ballot. I’m not denying his Hall of Fame credentials, but given the voters’ unwillingness to look beyond that Bonds and Clemens’ history of cheatingI find it troubling that Beltrán earned such a high percentage despite his involvement in the 2017 Astros cheating scandal. If Beltrán does make it to the Hall, his induction will signal to future players that it’s okay to cheat or even win a World Series by those illegal methods as long as it doesn’t involve PEDs. That would be a terrible precedent and a textbook example of hypocrisy. That said, I fully expect Beltrán to be a Hall of Famer by the end of his 10 years on the ballot.
Is that correct? I don’t think so, but it doesn’t matter what I think, it only matters what the voting committee thinks will come this time in 2024. This is a much more consistent future for the Hall of Fame, even if it probably never comes.