What to watch for in tonight's Hall of Fame announcement

It’s Hall of Fame election day, and while there aren’t any real significant Nationals ties this year – aside from Jayson Werth making the ballot for the first time – it’s still the biggest story around the baseball world for the next 24 hours. So, let’s take this opportunity to look ahead to what may transpire.

The official announcement is scheduled for 6 p.m. Eastern on MLB Network, but the votes have all been in since Dec. 31. There were 28 players on this year’s ballot, 14 of them holdovers who received at least 5 percent support last year, plus 14 newcomers making their ballot debuts.

We already know the Class of 2023 will include Fred McGriff, the lone player elected last month by the Contemporary Era Committee. That committee, made up of 16 Hall of Famers, baseball executives and veteran media members/historians, overwhelmingly voted not to elect Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling (among others), who all had failed to reach the required 75 percent support threshold on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot over a 10-year period.

With those noteworthy, controversial candidates passed off to the Era Committee, this year’s BBWAA ballot felt a little less dramatic than in the past. But don’t worry, it still presented several controversial cases, including one for a brand-new reason that never had to be considered before.

I once again had the privilege of voting, and as always, I’ll publish my full ballot and reasons why I voted for or against everyone on the ballot after the official announcement this evening. Until then, here’s a primer to get you set for the festivities …

Three returning players appeared on this year’s ballot who received at least 50 percent support last year: Scott Rolen (63.2 percent), Todd Helton (52 percent) and Billy Wagner (51 percent). They would appear to be the players most likely to hear their names called tonight, though none is a shoo-in.

All have made some serious headway in recent years, though. Rolen debuted on the 2018 ballot with only 10.2 percent of voters supporting him. He has steadily climbed the ladder since and now could get over the hump on his sixth attempt. Helton is on the ballot for the fifth time and actually started out from a higher position (16.5 percent) than Rolen did. If the pattern continues, he should at least cross the 60 percent mark this year and position himself for induction in 2024, unless he really got a big bump from voters this year. Wagner has less time on his side: He’s on the ballot for the eighth time, and he was stuck in the low teens his first three tries before making bigger gains the last three years.

In a year with no obvious, slam-dunk candidates, there may have been enough motivation for voters to get at least one of these guys into Cooperstown. We’ll see.

We’ve had to confront a number of likely cheaters on the Hall of Fame ballot for decades now, from spitballers like Gaylord Perry to PED users like Bonds and Clemens. But we had a whole new category of cheating to consider this year: electronic sign stealing.

Beltran is the first member of the 2017 Astros to appear on the ballot, and though he won’t be the last, he might present the toughest case of anyone from that roster. That’s because his statistical case is pretty solid, but his role as a ringleader in the sign-stealing scandal is well-known. Does the fact this all happened in his final big league season help his cause? Or does the fact he did it in the first place kill his chances altogether? It will be fascinating to see how the voting pool dealt with this question.

Beltran had the strongest case of any of the 14 newcomers to this year’s ballot, which admittedly is one of the weaker ones in recent history. There’s no reason to believe any of the others has a shot at 75 percent support yet, but all it takes is 5 percent to stay on the ballot for up to 10 years.

So, who might at least reach that all-important number? Francisco Rodriguez might do it, based on his sustained success as an elite closer. Beyond him, though, the pickings are quite slim. John Lackey? Jered Weaver? Jacoby Ellsbury?

Like we said, this felt like a particularly weak ballot.

My 2023 Hall of Fame ballot
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