For the first time since 1960, the membership of the National Baseball Hall of Fame will remain frozen.
No player on the Hall’s 2021 Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot reached the 75 percent threshold needed for enshrinement in Cooperstown. The results of the voting were announced by Hall of Fame president Tim Mead on MLB Network on Tuesday night.
The leading vote-getter was controversial pitcher Curt Schilling, who was named on 71.1 percent of the ballots, 16 votes shy of the minimum needed for selection. Schilling was followed by all-time home run leader Barry Bonds (61.8 percent) and 354-game winner Roger Clemens (61.6) in the voting.
All three former All-Stars were in their ninth year of eligibility on the ballot, leaving them one more chance next winter. Players get 10 shots at enshrinement via the writers’ voting before moving on to consideration by one of the Hall’s various era-based veterans committees.
The support for Bonds and Clemens has mostly plateaued in recent years as the writers’ positions on players associated with the steroid era have become largely entrenched at a level leaving them just shy of the threshold. Last year, Clemens was named on 61 percent of the ballots, while Bonds was at 60.7.
Schilling, on the other hand, had seen his vote share climb from 45 percent in 2017 to 70 percent last year. Historically, most players who reach the 70 percent level eventually garner enough support to land in Cooperstown. However, backlash against Schilling’s public and social media comments appears to be limiting his support.
Among Schilling’s more controversial moments were a 2016 tweet, later deleted, in which he appeared to endorse the lynching of journalists. More recently, Schilling expressed support for the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol — though the writers’ ballots had been submitted prior to that date.
The on-the-field cases for Bonds and Clemens are unquestioned, as both players rank among the most productive in baseball history, though their accomplishments have become mired in accusations of PED use that have surrounded them since they were active players. Schilling’s merit-based case isn’t as open and shut, but the recent trajectory of his voting percentage had suggested he was Hall-bound. That all three standouts remain on the outside looking in suggests that the character clause in the criteria the Hall gives to the writers looms larger than ever.
The shutout in the BBWAA voting is only part of the reason the Hall won’t be gaining any new members this year. The Hall’s era-based veterans committees typically meet just prior to each year’s winter meetings to consider candidates whose eligibility on the writers’ ballots has expired. The 2020 winter meetings were held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so the era committees did not meet and will not consider candidates again until the 2021 meetings in December.
Thus, Tuesday’s announcement means that no new players gained Cooperstown entry for the first time since the Kennedy administration. During the period of 1958 to 1960, only Zack Wheat (1959) was selected.
The announcement marked the ninth time that the BBWAA did not select anyone in the balloting process. The last time it happened was 2013, when three players gained entry via a veterans committee.
The news doesn’t mean that the 2021 induction ceremony normally held each summer in Cooperstown will be a quiet one. Because the pandemic forced the postponement of the 2020 ceremony, last year’s quartet of selectees will be honored this July. That group includes players Derek Jeter, Larry Walker and Ted Simmons, along with legendary labor leader Marvin Miller.
Among the biggest gainers in this year’s voting was long-time third baseman Scott Rolen, whose share increased from 35.3 percent to 52.9 percent in his fourth year on the ballot. Among first-time eligibles, the top vote-getter was pitcher Mark Buehrle (11 percent). The only other first-time candidates who reached the 5 percent threshold to remain on the ballot next year were Torii Hunter (9.5 percent) and Tim Hudson (5.2).