Is this the year Curt Schilling makes it into the National Baseball Hall of Fame? Will Schilling be the only player elected to the Hall this year? After all the tumultuous voting activity of the 2010s, has voting for the Hall returned to "normal"?
Only a crystal ball, or the patience to wait until voting results for the 2021 Baseball Hall of Fame are announced on January 26, 2021, can give us the definitive answers, but of course that doesn't stop us from prognosticating before we learn the results.
For now, the short answers are:
2021 BBWAA Hall of Fame Ballot: Executive Summary
And speaking of short answers, or at least short articles . . . I get it. We live in a time of tart tweets, pithy posts, lazy listicles, and related multi-page slideshows with big pictures and little text designed to maximize web-derived revenue with each and every click-through.
Moreover, with podcasts, everyone can be a performance star on YouTube, Zoom, or elsewhere even if that highlights performance deficiencies ("uh, uh, like, um, you know") more than posting text highlights writing deficiencies. Bottom line: No one reads beyond the absolute minimum any longer: "tl; dr": too long; didn't read.
So, with that in mind, I've summarized the takeaways in this article with this snapshot of the major points below.
The ballot logjams of the 2010s appear to be over. The Baseball Hall of Fame, between the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) and the Today's Game and Modern Baseball Era Committees, has elected 27 candidates, both players and non-players, since 2014. This has eased those impacted ballots in previous years although there are still a large number of candidates returning from the 2020 BBWAA ballot who have Hall of Fame cases. However, none of the candidates new to the 2021 BBWAA ballot have Hall of Fame cases.
2021 Returning Candidates
There are 14 candidates returning from the 2020 BBWAA ballot: Bobby Abreu, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, Jeff Kent, Andy Pettitte, Manny Ramirez, Scott Rolen, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa, Omar Vizquel, and Billy Wagner.
All 14 candidates experienced gains in vote totals in 2020. Curt Schilling received 70 percent of the vote last year and is the most likely candidate to be elected to the Hall of Fame on the 2021 BBWAA ballot. However, early polling does not look encouraging for him.
Tougher than a bloody sock. Curt Schilling's path to Cooperstown has been filled with obstacles, some he created for himself--but none that should keep him from election.
2021 First-Time Candidates
There are 11 first-time candidates on the 2021 BBWAA ballot: Mark Buehrle, A.J. Burnett, Michael Cuddyer, Dan Haren, LaTroy Hawkins, Tim Hudson, Torii Hunter, Aramis Ramirez, Nick Swisher, Shane Victorino, and Barry Zito.
None are Hall of Fame-caliber candidates, although Mark Buehrle and Tim Hudson have borderline cases.
My 2021 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot
This is my hypothetical ballot since I am unlikely ever to become a BBWAA voter.
My Obligatory Rant on Performance-Enhancing Drugs (PED)
Performance-enhancing drugs (PED) are not an aberration of, or even a blight on, baseball. They are part of baseball history that is still with us today. Moreover, they are part of how the baseball industry operates, hiring players once they have served their suspensions.
Meanwhile, the baseball industry has produced PED enablers—managers, front-office executives, and the commissioner of baseball—who are now in the Hall of Fame. Furthermore, the BBWAA, which votes on Hall of Fame player candidates, voted awards such as Most Valuable Player and Cy Young to players it is now shunning for the Hall of Fame.
I do not discriminate against candidates suspected, proved, or rumored to have PED associations. They are a part of baseball history. Cheating is also a part of baseball history. The 2017 Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal, which saw the Astros go all the way to win the World Series in 2017, demonstrates that. You evaluate the baseball you have, not the baseball you wish you had.
Returning Candidate Whom I Do Not Think Is a Hall of Famer
Andy Pettitte (third year on ballot).
Hall of Fame-Worthy Returning Candidates I Didn't Vote for on This Ballot
There are 13 candidates, all of them returning candidates, I think are Hall of Famers. But since a voter can vote for a maximum of ten candidates, this puts me into strategic-ballot mode, or voting with contingencies. These include evaluating a candidate's voting history and how many years (of a maximum of ten years) he has before he is off the ballot.
So, although I consider these three candidates Hall-worthy, I would not vote for them on this ballot. Unlike many of the other candidates, they have time left on the ballot and have shown healthy enough voting totals thus far and are not likely to fall below the minimum of five percent needed to return to the 2022 ballot.
13. Omar Vizquel (fourth year on ballot).
12. Andruw Jones (fourth year on ballot).
11. Todd Helton (third year on ballot).
My Ten Votes for the Hall of Fame on This Ballot
10. Sammy Sosa (ninth year on ballot)
9. Manny Ramirez (fifth year on ballot)
8. Gary Sheffield (seventh year on ballot)
7. Bobby Abreu (second year on ballot)
6. Curt Schilling (ninth year on ballot)
5. Roger Clemens (ninth year on ballot)
4. Barry Bonds (ninth year on ballot)
3. Scott Rolen (fourth year on ballot)
2. Billy Wagner (sixth year on ballot)
1. Jeff Kent (eighth year on ballot)
Readers who want to read more about these quick takeaways are encouraged to do so. This article is organized in the following manner:
Page 1 (this page): Executive summary
Page 2: Introduction and returning candidates' assessment
Page 3: First-time candidates' assessment
Page 4: My (hypothetical) 2021 BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot
Page 5: Appendix: Players' statistics by position player, starting pitchers, and relief pitchers