MLB Hall of Fame: The Schilling-Bonds-Clemens alliance

Voting suggests that Curt Schilling, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens MLB Hall of Fame candidacies may be feeding off one another

If Curt Schilling is elected to the MLB Hall of Fame, the key votes may come from unlikely allies: supporters of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

Superficially, those sound like opposing camps. Bonds and Clemens are the co-triggers for the debate over the propriety of electing players suspected of having used performance-enhancing drugs. Schilling’s problem is his linkage to a sensitive topic of another type entirely; politically incorrect speech.

Yet the evidence is growing that as support for Schilling’s candidacy grows, it is being fueled by a previously non-existent willingness of Bonds-Clemens voters to throw in for him as well.

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In the latest Hall of Fame tabulation published Jan. 10 by Ryan Thibodaux, @notMrTibbs, Schilling has been named on 72.7 percent of ballots. That’s just under the 75 percent threshold for election. Since percentages tend to decline as votes come in, his final total is likely to come up short.

Still, Schilling appears to be benefiting from an increasing willingness of Hall voters to look past what some view as moral transgressions, a willingness that drives the Bonds and Clemens campaigns. In fact, where just a few years ago few Clemens-Bond voters supported Schilling’s candidacy (and vice versa), today the opposite is true.

An analysis of the trends in support for Schilling vis a vis Bonds and Clemens illustrates the change.

All three first came on the MLB Hall of Fame ballot during the 2013 election. Looking at the 166 ballots made public that year, here’s a breakdown of the vote

                                                                         No.         Pct

  • Voted for Bonds & Clemens           48         29%
  • Voted for none                                   46         25%
  • Voted only for Schilling                    41         25%
  • Voted for all three                             28         18%
  • Other*                                                     3            2%

The thing to keep in mind about these numbers is that 54 percent of publicly released ballots named either Bonds and Clemens or Schilling, but not all three. Beyond that, the camps were closely divided.  Only 37 percent of Bonds-Clemens voters also named Schilling; only 41 percent of Schilling voters also named Bonds and Clemens.

Prior to the 2015 election, a policy change reduced the number of eligible voters and also made all ballots available at the election’s conclusion. That may or may not have been the reason for a dramatic shift in the alliances. Here is a breakdown of the 2017 election:

                                                                         No.         Pct.

  • Voted for all three                           104          34%
  • Voted for Bonds & Clemens            77         25%
  • Voted for none                                    70         23%
  • Voted only for Schilling                     52         17%
  • Other*                                                      5            1%

Note the five percent increase in voters who ceased choosing sides between Bonds/Clemens and Schilling, and opted for all three. Note further that it was accompanied by declines in the percentages who voted for either Schilling or Bonds/Clemens, but not both. Finally, note that the percentage who voted for none of the three held virtually stable. Whether intended or not, an alliance of interests had effectively formed.

That alliance continues to play out thus far on the 2019 ballot. Here is the current breakdown:

                                                                         No.         Pct.

  • Voted for all three                             91         37%
  • Voted for Bonds & Clemens           70         28%
  • Voted for all none                              60         24%
  • Voted only for Schilling                     25        10%
  • Other*                                                      3           1%

At least to the extent we can assume that percentages to date reflect the eventual result, the percentage voting for all three continues to rise, now approaching four in 10. Thus far in 2019, that shift may benefit Bonds and Schilling more than Schilling, since thus far only a corporal’s guard of voters is naming Schilling but not Bonds or Clemens.

Next: HoF voter takes issue with Sosa’s face

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Still, the sense of alliance seems strong. The percentage of voters naming none of the three on their MLB Hall of Fame ballots is a fraction under one in four, almost precisely where it has always been.

*This category encompasses a handful of voters who cast ballots for Bonds – sometimes with Schilling – but not Clemens, or for Clemens — with or without Schilling — but not Bonds.

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