If history is any guide, the Hall of Fame class of 2018, which will be unveiled Wednesday night, will include the two top holdovers from last year’s election and at least one slam-dunk first-ballot guy.
So, perhaps premature congratulations are in order for all-time National League saves leader Trevor Hoffman, nine-time All-Star Vladimir Guerrero, 612-home-run-hitter Jim Thome and Atlanta Braves superstar Chipper Jones.
It might stop there because it’s a crowded ballot, but maybe Edgar Martínez will finally make the Hall of Fame safe for full-time designated hitters.
The big question for me is whether Hall of Fame voters continue the march toward moral relativism when it comes to baseball’s steroid era.
I make a lot of predictions and some of them even end up coming true. When performance-enhancing-drug suspects Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens arrived on the ballot in late 2012, there was a chorus of righteous outrage and predictions that they would never soil the sacred walls of the Hall of Fame.
My take back then was that the outrage would gradually cool and time would eventually be on the side of the most accomplished of the potential steroid era Hall of Fame candidates, with Bonds and Clemens obviously at the top of that list.
Didn’t think it would happen quite so fast, but it’s entirely possible that both of them could be elected as soon as next year.
Depending on the number of players who were named this year on 75 percent of the ballots cast by eligible members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, the 2019 ballot might only have one sure bet — all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera.
The likelihood of that might also depend on the percentage of votes Bonds and Clemens receive this year, since the voting for the Hall has become far more complicated than just putting a check mark next to the top 10 names on the ballot.
Even before PEDs were a big issue, the Hall of Fame election wasn’t that simple. Each of the hundreds of voters brings a different philosophy and attitude to the selection process, which is why there are annual debates over who is really a “first-ballot Hall of Famer” and what percentage of the vote the truly elite Hall of Famers should receive.
If that wasn’t the case, Hoffman — in his third year of eligibility — would either be in already or on the way out of consideration for good.
Players stay on the ballot for 10 years so their accomplishments can be viewed in a broader perspective and their prospects for induction aren’t seriously diminished by a random uptick in the level of talent during their early years of consideration.
Clearly, that’s working in favor of Bonds and Clemens, who have crept upward over the past five years to percentages that make them seem like fairly probable Hall of Famers a little more than halfway through their initial eligibility period.
In 2013, the year both became eligible for the first time, Clemens was chosen on 37.6 percent of the ballots and Bonds on 36.2 percent. The following year, they actually slipped a little, but each of the eight players who finished above them either gained entrance into Hall that year or have been inducted since.
The percentage of voters in favor of Clemens and Bonds edged slightly upward in 2015, then jumped into the mid-40s for both in the 2016 election. Last year, they were named on more than half of the ballots – Clemens on 54.1 percent and Bonds on 53.8.
Interestingly — but not surprisingly — only once in five years have their individual percentages differed by more than 1 percent, which means that voters view them as separate from the other steroid suspects but equal in the value of their on-field accomplishments.
The fact that those percentages have steadily increased doesn’t necessarily mean they will continue to go up, but we seem to be living in a world where a bunch of baseball players getting juiced so they can play better (and make more money) no longer ranks so highly on the current scale of societal disapproval.
Quick disclaimer: Though I am an eligible Hall of Fame voter, Baltimore Sun employees are prohibited from voting on major awards related to their coverage areas, so I don’t have a dog in this fight. I should point out, however, that at the start of this debate years ago, I said that I eventually would vote for Bonds and Clemens (though not on an early ballot) because I believed that they were going to be no-doubt Hall of Famers before they are thought to have become part of baseball’s steroid epidemic.