There are few things more perfect than a Sunday afternoon in Cooperstown, N.Y., as members of the newest class of the Baseball Hall of Fame take turns speaking in front of their fellow Hall of Famers and an enormous crowd of fans, any of whom are free to simply walk up on the day of the event. There is usually plenty of room to spare.
But this year, as in 2013, none of the 25 finalists appeared on the required 75 percent of the ballots of the eligible voters from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. It was the ninth time that not a single player had gained election through the writers’ annual vote, and with the Hall’s eras committees having delayed a vote because of the pandemic, it ensured that no players would be elected at all this year.
No Barry Bonds. No Roger Clemens. No Curt Schilling.
The good news for fans is that the Hall of Fame plans to hold an induction ceremony on July 25 for the class of 2020, which had its ceremony canceled last summer. And the good news for the players who were snubbed on this year’s ballot is that history suggests quite a few of them will eventually become Hall of Famers.
Looking back, the coverage in The New York Times for years in which no players were elected varied quite a bit.
2013: The Protest Vote
Notable first-timers: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa.
There was precedent for the writers’ failing to reach 75 percent on a candidate, but 2013 was different because the choice to snub players like Clemens and Bonds was seen less as a ruling on their merits and more as a protest to punish several players connected to performance-enhancing drugs. In a Twitter post that has since been deleted, Clemens said, “After what has been written and said over the last few years I’m not overly surprised.”
Seven of the top 10 vote-getters in 2013 have already been elected to the Hall of Fame. But Bonds, Clemens and Schilling have just one year of eligibility remaining on the writers’ ballot before their fate is placed in the hands of the eras committees.
Quotable: “It takes time for history to sort itself out,” said Jeff Idelson, the Hall of Fame’s president at the time. “I’m not surprised we had a shutout today. I wish we had an electee, but I’m not surprised given how volatile this era has been.”
1996: ‘Exclusivity of Membership’
Notable first-timers: Keith Hernandez, Fred Lynn, Bob Boone.
It had been more than 20 years since the writers failed to agree on a Hall of Famer when the class of 1996 was met with a shrug. Seven of the 35 players who were considered were eventually elected to the Hall, either by the writers or by a committee. The knuckleballer Phil Niekro, that year’s top vote-getter at 68.3 percent, was not overly concerned. “I’m fine,” he told Claire Smith of The Times. “I don’t really even think about it that much because I don’t know what to think, do you?”
Niekro was elected the next year.
Quotable: “The absence of an electee this year emphasizes the exclusivity of membership in the Baseball Hall of Fame,” said Donald C. Marr, the Hall of Fame’s president at the time. “Of the more than 14,000 who have played the game on a major league level, only 172 are represented in Cooperstown by bronze plaques — a little over 1 percent.”
1971: ‘Sure I’m Disappointed’
Notable first-timers: Yogi Berra, Nellie Fox, Harvey Haddix.
If Yogi Berra were to be placed on the ballot in the current era, his election most likely would be unanimous. A winner of 10 World Series rings and three Most Valuable Player Awards, Berra was also one of the most popular players in the game. But Berra was aware that only four first-time finalists (Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Jackie Robinson and Bob Feller) had been elected to that point, and he also knew that many writers of the day felt it was improper to vote for a player on his first try. “Maybe next year,” Berra said. “Sure, I’m disappointed, even though I didn’t really think I’d make it on the first try.”
Commissioner Bowie Kuhn tried to spin the news, saying: “I have an instinct to be disappointed. But I feel that at least the integrity of the system has been demonstrated.”
Berra’s prediction proved correct. He was elected with 85.6 percent of the vote in 1972.
Quotable: “It’s a shame they didn’t put somebody in,” said Early Wynn, the longtime pitcher for the Cleveland Indians who received 66.7 percent of the vote in his third time on the ballot. “I can’t tell you how I really feel. The language would be too embarrassing.”
1958-1960: Three Years Without an Inductee
Notable first-timers: Carl Mays and Schoolboy Rowe in 1958. Ralph Kiner, Johnny Mize, Dom DiMaggio in 1960.
The writers failed to reach consensus in 1958 and 1960, and did not vote at all in 1959, creating a three-year stretch without a new inductee by the writers. While Warren Spahn’s name sticks out in the list of vote-getters in 1958 — he received one — he was still an active player for the Milwaukee Braves, so he was not eligible for election. Of that year’s absence of inductees, Commissioner Ford Frick said he was “rather pleased no one was elected.” The writers must have been pleased as well, since no player reached even 60 percent in 1960. Of the 134 players considered in 1960, 40 were eventually inducted either by the writers or by a committee.
Quotable: “I think this will give more prestige to those already in the Hall,” Frick said of the 1958 election.
1950: When 1,045 Home Runs Weren’t Enough
Notable first-timers: Ernie Lombardi, Bucky Walters.
Mel Ott of the New York Giants and Jimmie Foxx of the Philadelphia Athletics and Boston Red Sox aren’t just Hall of Famers, they are top-tier Hall of Famers. But the voters in 1950 didn’t think so. Ott received 68.5 percent of the vote in his second time on the ballot, and Foxx received 61.3 percent in his sixth try. This despite the fact that baseball’s 500-homer club at that point was just Babe Ruth with 714, Foxx with 534 and Ott with 511.
Foxx and Ott were elected by the writers in 1951.
1945-1946: A Re-Vote for ‘Baseball’s Sad Lexicon’
Notable first-timers: Carl Hubbell, Bill Dickey and Dizzy Dean in 1945. Paul Waner and John Clarkson in 1946.
Frequently referred to as the Peerless Leader of the Chicago Cubs, Frank Chance fell seven votes short of election in 1945. In 1946, the writers conducted the election in two parts, with Chance receiving 71.3 percent of the nominating vote but just 57 percent in the final tally. He was the top vote-getter on both ballots.
Fortunately for Chance, the old-timers committee met three months later and was far more kind. It elected not only Chance — essentially overruling the writers — but also approved his teammates Joe Tinker and Johnny Evers, honoring the three players from the poem “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon.” The old-timers committee was extremely generous that year even beyond the Cubs. It elected 11 people, including Tommy McCarthy, who is often cited as one of the least accomplished players to gain enshrinement.