Baseball Hall of Fame 2023: Does the System Need to Change?

min read
San Francisco Giants' Barry Bonds watches the flight of a foul ball against the Colorado Rockies in the first inning of a baseball game on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2006, in San Francisco.
(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Rachael Millanta @rachaelmillanta Jan 27, 2023, 9:17 AM
  • Scott Rolen and Fred McGriff have been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
  • Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Curt Schilling were passed over by the Veterans’ Committee.
  • Jeff Kent failed to get the required 75% votes in his final year of BBWAA ballot eligibility.

For many fans and prominent voices across the league, it doesn’t seem to matter who’s in the Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2023. 

Instead, the masses revisit the same conversation they have every year, ignoring the achievements of the elected few and instead focusing solely on who won’t be joining them in Cooperstown.

The results of the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot were announced on Jan. 24, with Scott Rolen, in his sixth year of eligibility, the only player elected. He’ll be inducted in Cooperstown on Jul. 23 alongside Fred McGriff, the only player elected by the Veterans’ Committee ballot in December.

Among the names on the Veterans’ Committee ballot that fell under the required threshold, three stick out — Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Curt Schilling. 

All three failed to get the required 75% of votes to be elected by the BBWAA during their ten-year eligibility periods, leaving the Veterans’ Committee as their only hope of being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Similarly, this year’s ballot marked Jeff Kent’s 10th and final year of eligibility. The 2000 NL MVP received 46.5% of the vote, well below the 75% needed.

So why haven’t these top players been elected? Is there an issue with the process?

How are Players Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame?

There are two main ways players can be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame: Election by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (or BBWAA) or election by the Veterans Committee. 

Five years after retirement from Major League Baseball, any player with 10 years of major league experience who passes a required screening test (to remove lesser qualified players) is eligible to be elected by BBWAA members. Each year, the ballot typically contains between 25 and 40 players to be considered, and BBWAA members can vote for up to 10. A player must be named on 75% or more of the ballots cast to be elected to the Hall of Fame.

Players who receive at least 5% of the votes, but fewer than the 75% required for induction, are reconsidered annually for a maximum of 10 years of eligibility. If they receive less than 5% of the votes, they are not eligible for reconsideration.

If a player fails to be elected by the BBWAA within 10 years of his retirement from active MLB play, he may be selected by the Veterans Committee. This committee is made up of current Hall of Famers and other honorees.

Should Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens Be in the Baseball Hall of Fame?

It’s a controversial question that everyone has a strong opinion about. Because Bonds and Clemens were never banned by MLB, they aren’t excluded from consideration for the Hall of Fame like Pete Rose or “Shoeless Joe” Jackson. Still, their involvement in the steroids scandal — and, in the case of Bonds, subsequent admissions of using performance-enhancing drugs, even supposedly unknowingly — have kept both players firmly away from induction.

In their 10 years of eligibility for BBWAA election, Bonds and Clemens failed to receive the required 75% of votes to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. The ballot in December was the first time the two players had been considered by the Veterans’ Committee, and with 16 members voting, they each received fewer than four nods for induction.

During his 22 seasons in the majors, Bonds batted .298 with 762 home runs. He went yard an incredible 73 times in 2001, which still stands as the record for most home runs in a single season. Bonds was a 14-time All-Star and received seven NL MVP awards, eight Gold Gloves awards, and 12 Silver Slugger awards. 

Clemens played 24 seasons of Major League Baseball, predominantly with the Boston Red Sox, during which he posted 354 wins, an ERA of 3.12, and 4,672 strikeouts. He was an 11-time All-Star and two-time World Series champion. During his career, Clemens won seven Cy Young awards, more than any other pitcher in MLB history. 

The endless lists of accolades prove both Bonds and Clemens had incredible careers in baseball, and nobody is arguing that they didn’t. No one claims they shouldn’t be Hall of Famers because they didn’t achieve enough. Bonds and Clemens have not been inducted into the Hall of Fame because their involvement with performance-enhancing drugs has meant that the legitimacy of every accomplishment on their long lists is now extremely questionable. 

This isn’t a question of separating the art from the artist — Bonds and Clemens allegedly broke the rules to make the art. At the end of the day, how impressive is an accomplishment if it can’t be verified as legitimate?

If the Hall of Fame voting is anything to go by, I’d say not very.

Should Curt Schilling Be in the Baseball Hall of Fame?

This situation is a bit less black and white than that of Bonds or Clemens because Schilling never actually did anything to bring the game of baseball into disrepute. Instead, he just proved himself to be a pretty awful person, which is why he also has less support for induction than Bonds or Clemens.

An outspoken far-right conservative, Schilling has made numerous hateful remarks toward Muslims, transgender people, and reporters. His social media presence has been littered with controversies, from photos of his Nazi memorabilia-filled World War II collection to supporting the Jan. 6 insurrection to seemingly encouraging the lynching of journalists — the list goes on.

Across the board, Schilling’s name is now attached to an awful lot more than just his 3,116 career strikeouts, and support for his induction into the Hall of Fame has dwindled considerably.

Should the Hall of Fame Induction Process Be Changed?

As with any award and honor, there will always be fans who disagree with the results of a ballot. It’s subjective, and one person’s hero can be another’s villain. That doesn’t necessarily mean the entire system needs an overhaul.

After falling off the ballot, Kent spoke out about his disapproval of the process, telling the San Francisco Chronicle, “The voting over the years has been too much of a head-scratching embarrassment. Baseball is losing a couple generations of great players that were the best in their era because a couple non-voting stat folks keep comparing those players to players already voted in from generations past and are influencing the votes. It’s unfair to the best players in their own era and those already voted in, in my opinion.”

Kent’s assessment isn’t necessarily wrong, and one of the main reasons he hasn’t been inducted is probably based on stats.

In his 17-year career, he racked up 2,461 hits, 1,518 RBIs, 377 home runs (the all-time record for a second baseman), and a .290 batting average. He was a five-time All-Star and won four Silver Sluggers. But even though Kent’s career WAR of 55.4 ranks 19th among all-time second basemen, it falls well short of the 69.6 average among the 20 second basemen already inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Is that the sole reason he hasn’t been elected? He seems to think so, and that’s all that will matter to a lot of fans.

Still, I’d disagree with the assertion that baseball is “losing great players.” Nobody is taking away accomplishments or tarnishing memories. It’s a simple fact that not every player is going to be in the Hall of Fame, and there will always be players disappointed with that.

What Happens Now?

Induction into the Hall of Fame is a privilege, not a right. There’s no set threshold for automatic induction, and not adding Bonds, Clemens, or Schilling to the Hall of Fame isn’t wrong or unjustified — it’s just the consequences of their own actions (allegedly, of course).

In an industry where consequences for bad behavior are often unenforced, if they’re even handed out at all (looking at you, 2017 Houston Astros), I’m sure that it can be jarring for some people. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong call.

As for Kent, he was a great player, and no one can take that away from him. Of course, he’d like to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, but who wouldn’t? 

To be clear, Bonds, Clemens, Schilling, and Kent can all still be elected by the Veterans’ Committee in future years, but this is undoubtedly a bad sign for their chances. The Contemporary Era Committee, the section of the Veterans’ Committee that would be assessing these players’ fate, doesn’t meet again until the winter of 2025. 

Maybe they’ll all get their day in Cooperstown, and maybe they won’t. Regardless, all these men made an unquestionable impact on the sport of baseball, and that won’t be lost or forgotten.

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About the Author

Rachael Millanta

Read More @rachaelmillanta

Rachael Millanta is a Web Content Writer for BetMGM focusing on Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League. Her work has been published in SB Nation, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and Slackjaw Humor. Originally from Sydney, Australia, Rachael now resides in Chicago, Illinois.

Rachael Millanta is a Web Content Writer for BetMGM focusing on Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League. Her work has been published in SB Nation, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and Slackjaw Humor. Originally from Sydney, Australia, Rachael now resides in Chicago, Illinois.