What to watch for on Hall of Fame election night

The hot stove league may be tepid right now, but at least baseball is providing us something us to get excited about later today: the Hall of Fame election announcement.

Yes, it’s time to find out who’s in the class of 2019 in addition to Lee Smith and Harold Baines (who were elected last month by what used to be called the Veterans’ Committee but now has a confusing and completely unnecessary longer name). The announcement is scheduled for 6 p.m. Eastern time on MLB Network, after which I’ll publish my annual ballot and explainer column. (Start preparing your righteous indignation now, everyone!)

This was a particularly fascinating election, because it could result in a very large class, not to mention something that’s never happened before. It also could result in absolute heartbreak for a couple of guys who appear to be right on the edge of election.

There were 35 players on this year’s ballot, and while I’ll give a full evaluation of all 35 of them in tonight’s column, for now let’s just focus on the important stuff to watch for as you prepare for the big announcement ...

No player has ever been named on all 100 percent of submitted ballots. Ken Griffey Jr. came the closest three years ago when he was included on 437 of 440 ballots (99.32 percent). We’ve always wondered if it’s ever going to happen, a clean sweep. There’s a legitimate chance it may happen tonight for Mariano Rivera. The unquestioned greatest closer of all time is a shoo-in to be elected; there’s no drama there. But as of last night, the Yankees reliever had been listed on all 217 ballots that had been made public so far, according to Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame Tracker. There are still 200 or so ballots that weren’t made public in advance, so there’s plenty of opportunity for one or two to leave Rivera off. But as of this moment, it’s still possible. And if it happens, that would be something, wouldn’t it?

baseballs-in-bin-sidebar.jpgHOW MANY OTHERS JOIN RIVERA IN THIS CLASS?
For those who don’t know or don’t remember, a player must be named on 75 percent of the submitted ballots to be elected. It’s a high standard, and it often leads to some significant drama on announcement day. That could apply to several folks tonight, because outside of Rivera there’s plenty of uncertainty. The late Roy Halladay, on the ballot for the first time, seems like a safe bet to be elected (he was at 92.6 percent as of last night), which would be bittersweet for his family and fans. Edgar Martinez, meanwhile, is in his 10th and final season of eligibility, having come up just short last year at 70.4 percent. This year? Well, he was at an impressive 90.8 percent last night, an awfully encouraging sign for the Mariners DH. Mike Mussina figures to be the guy whose fate is most up in the air tonight. The right-hander, on the ballot for the sixth time, received 63.5 percent of the vote last year. He was at 81.6 percent as of last night. But keep in mind that voters who reveal their ballots in advance almost always support players more than those who don’t reveal their ballots in advance. Mussina’s number is going to go down. It’s just a matter of how much it goes down and whether he can sneak in over the 75 percent threshold. By all indications, it’s going to be close.

We’ve been talking about Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens’ candidacies for seven years now, and frankly it’s a tiresome argument. Either you believe they deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, warts and all, or they don’t because of their connections to performance-enhancing drugs. Here’s the thing, though: They’re slowly inching closer to election. It’s not going to happen yet, but they’re both likely to fall somewhere in the 60s this year. And with more and more new (read: younger) voters joining the fun, it feels like there’s a real chance Bonds and Clemens are going to make it to 75 percent before their final crack at it in 2022. Curt Schilling, meanwhile, faces his own kind of scrutiny, not for anything drug-related but for the things he has said and tweeted in recent years that many find offensive and bigoted. Schilling, who received 51.2 percent support last year, was at 70.5 percent in publicly revealed ballots this year. He’s not going to get elected yet, but like Bonds and Clemens, he has three more years to get there, and he seems to be on track to do it.

Among the returning candidates, Omar Vizquel (37 percent), Larry Walker (34.1 percent) and Fred McGriff (23.2 percent) received the most support last year. It doesn’t seem plausible any of them can make the leap all the way to 75 percent this year, but any or all could see their numbers make a significant jump. In the case of McGriff, who is in his 10th and final year of eligibility, it’s unfortunately now or never. In the cases of Vizquel and Walker, there’s a real opportunity to get into position. Walker has seen his support skyrocket from only 10.2 percent in 2014 to 65.4 percent on publicly revealed ballots this year. He gets one more shot next year, so he’s going to need to get pretty close now to have a real shot at it.

In addition to the 10-year rule, any players who don’t receive at least 5 percent support fall off next year’s ballot. That creates its own set of drama, especially for first-timers who may not be garnering a whole lot of discussion right now but who genuinely deserve a longer look. Among those who could be in trouble tonight are first-timers Lance Berkman, Todd Helton, Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte, plus returning contenders Andruw Jones, Jeff Kent, Scott Rolen, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa and Billy Wagner. With voters restricted to only 10 yes votes per year, some of these guys end up getting lost in the shuffle. It could very well happen to several of them tonight.

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