Some names just jump off the page at you.
Griffey, Rivera, Jeter — they’re the boxes you know you’ll check long before that envelope with the old-school paper ballot arrives in the mail sometime around Thanksgiving.
Most voters don’t spend much time pondering whether no-doubt candidates like that are worthy of enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame, though there is some satisfaction in being part of the process that officially lands them in Cooperstown. Move beyond legends, though, and things can get murky in a hurry.
Though David Ortiz is making things interesting this year, there’s a decent chance the 2023 ballot could become the middle installment in a stretch of at least three years in which no first-year candidate is elected — or perhaps even no candidates, period.
MORE: TSN’s Ryan Fagan explains his 2023 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot
The voting bloc, composed of 10-year members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America who have had active memberships within the past decade, did not anoint anyone in 2023. Ortiz appears the only possibility 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 revealed their ballots ahead of Tuesday’s announcement have included Ortiz, according to Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame tracker. In their final year of judgment by the writers, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens also have cleared the threshold among public ballots, but they traditionally see a significant drop-off in support among those who do not reveal their votes in advance.
So it’s likely Ortiz or nothing for the class of 2023, and with a borderline candidate in Carlos Beltran heading the list of first-timers in 2023, we could be in for a bit of a drought before Adrian Beltre leads the 2024 newcomers and presumable first -ballot lock Ichiro Suzuki tops the class of 2025.
Before last year, the most recent Hall of Fame election to produce a shutout among the writers was 2013, my first year as a voter. After waiting a decade to join the panel, that experience was anticlimactic, to say the least, though I did my part by checking eight boxes.
For five consecutive years after that, I selected the maximum 10 candidates allowed and the ballot logjam cleared a bit with multiple players enshrined in each class. I haven’t maxed out since then, but my 2023 ballot included nine selections, the most for me since 2018.
Baseball Hall of Fame 2023 ballot selections
Ortiz was my lone selection among those on the ballot for the first time. His offensive production across more than a decade and postseason heroics should make him the second player who served primarily as a designated hitter to find a place 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 rationale on that group: Yes, I am one of those people who draws the line on PED use at whether a player served a suspension for violating MLB’s drug policy. So, no Alex Rodriguez or Manny Ramirez for me, but I don’t see any reason to exclude Bonds or Clemens for what happened before MLB began to care about what players put in their bodies.
This will be my 10th consecutive year voting for Schilling, and of course the last, as he is set to fall off the ballot. Though I understand and respect some voters’ decisions 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 make room for others on my ballot, so I I’m sticking with him.
As for Helton, I never bought into Coors Field as a reason to discount Larry Walker’s career, and I feel the same about his former Rockies teammate. Of course he was a much better hitter at home, but his .953 OPS is 22nd in baseball history and his road slash line of .287/.386/.469 doesn’t exactly make him a one-park wonder.
I voted for Rolen and Wagner for the first time last year and explained why at the time. Short version: Rolen was an underrated but incredibly productive all-around player, and Wagner is right there among the elite closers we have ever seen despite lacking the longevity of a Trevor Hoffman.
Regarding my newcomers, I voted for Jones in his first eligible year, 2018, in the hopes that he would get the necessary 5 percent to remain on the ballot for further consideration in a less-crowded year. I have debated his candidacy over the past few years but had trouble getting there in part because of that unsightly .254 career batting average and the less-than-stellar back end of his career.
When he was in his prime with Atlanta, though, Jones was a sight to behold, winning 10 consecutive Gold Gloves as a key piece of a team that reached the postseason 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 some more hits and reach base more frequently, he smashed 434 home runs and drove in more than 100 runs in a season five times.
His otherworldly defense remains his signature, though. Jones is 22nd all-time in Baseball Reference defensive WAR, but he is the only outfielder in the top 60 on that list. That’s remarkable, especially considering nearly a third of his appearances in the final four seasons of his career came as a designated hitter. I don’t like waffling on players like I have on Jones, but I plan to stick with him moving forward.
MORE: 34 crazy MLB statistical matches that are almost too unbelievable to be true
Sheffield has always been a bit of a blind spot for me. He arrived on the ballot in 2015, at the peak of the recent logjam, and I never considered him part of that top-level group of candidates. Once that began to clear, though, I also didn’t go back and reevaluate him to the extent that he deserves.
Yes, he was a massive defensive liability, 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 an MVP vote 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 .907 career OPS despite that number being dragged down by his .695 OPS during his first four MLB seasons in Milwaukee.
Perhaps most impressive of all, though — for a man whose swing was so gloriously violent — Sheffield walked 1,475 times with just 1,171 strikeouts over 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 exactly the same walk percentage (10.6), Sheffield came in at 13.5 percent. All of which is to say he was a uniquely dangerous hitter.
Though we have seen players make rapid jumps in voting percentage in their final years on the ballot, it’s a stretch to envision Sheffield making it all the way to 75 before his clock runs out. He was named on 40.6 percent of ballots last year and will have only two more chances after 2023 before falling off the writers’ ballot.
I wish I would have come back around to him sooner, but after further study this year I do believe he is worthy, and the type of player who will make it in eventually even if he doesn’t make the cut with the writers by 2024 .
The arguments will continue, of course, as they always do. Obnoxious as they can be at times, the ongoing debate is above all else an indicator of how much the Hall of Fame means to people, for better or for worse. I remain grateful to have played a small part in the process.
Marc Lancaster is a senior editor for trending news at The Sporting News and has been a Baseball Hall of Fame voter since the 2013 election.