All are polling well below 50 percent, so they won’t get in this year. Candidates can stay on the ballot for 10 years, with some then going to a separate, smaller committee for consideration. Jack Morris and Alan Trammell, the former Detroit Tigers stars, were voted in by that committee in December.
A study of the 10th-spot candidates illustrates the depth of talent on this ballot, and the challenge facing voting members of the writers’ committee. (Several news outlets, including The New York Times, do not allow their writers to vote.) Here are their cases, in brief:
Kent (fifth year on ballot): Kent holds the record for homers by a second baseman, with 377. Only three second basemen — Rogers Hornsby, Charlie Gehringer and Jackie Robinson — had a better on-base plus slugging percentage than his .855. He won a Most Valuable Player award in 2000. Yet Kent has struggled to connect with voters, peaking at 16.7 percent last year.
McGriff (ninth year): When McGriff led his league in homers, in 1989 and 1992, he did so with only 36 and 35. Sluggers tainted by steroid ties would soon post totals that dwarf those figures, and McGriff’s career total, 493, has not stood out in a crowded field. He is a virtual clone, statistically, of the Hall of Famers Willie McCovey and Willie Stargell. Yet McGriff’s highest percentage of the vote was 23.9 in 2012.
Ramirez (second): While Bonds and Clemens were never ruled ineligible to play because of drugs, Ramirez has two suspensions on his record. Yet he is polling at almost 25 percent, about what he received last year. With no ambiguity about Ramirez’s case — Hall of Fame-level production, but multiple offenses in the testing era — his percentage represents the bloc of the electorate that completely discounts the drug issue.
Rolen (first): The Hall of Fame lists only 16 members as third basemen, the fewest for any defensive position. Rolen was a sensational defender, yet in 17 seasons he managed just one finish in the top 13 for Most Valuable Player voting. In fairness, Rolen had strong seasons for also-ran teams in Philadelphia, and then played in Albert Pujols’s shadow in St. Louis. But he seems to fit best on the Graig Nettles/Buddy Bell level of third basemen — outstanding, but just under the borderline.
Sosa (sixth): In the decade after the 1994 strike, Sosa led the majors in homers, runs batted in and total bases; he is an important figure of that era. Yet he’s polled no higher than 12.5 percent despite, like Bonds and Clemens, never having served a suspension for doping. With 609 career homers, Sosa should have a strong case. But it’s hard to shake the notion that his best years seem so inauthentic.
Vizquel (first): Like Rolen, Vizquel was virtually ignored by Most Valuable Player voters; in 24 seasons, he had one 16th-place finish. His hallmarks were defense (11 Gold Gloves) and longevity (a record 2,709 games at shortstop). He was a very different kind of player than the dominant A.L. shortstops of his prime — Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra and Miguel Tejada — but their presence obscured him. Ozzie Smith had no such N.L. rivals in the 1980s, and ranks much higher in defensive metrics than Vizquel.
Wagner (third): No pitcher with as many innings as Wagner (903) can match him in strikeouts per nine innings (11.9). His 2.31 earned run average is closer to Mariano Rivera’s 2.21 than Hoffman’s 2.87. That’s dominance, and that’s what voters want in a Hall of Famer. Then again, every Hall of Fame pitcher has at least 1,000 innings. And in 14 postseason games, Wagner had a 10.03 E.R.A.
Walker (eighth): Of all the 10th choices on these ballots, Walker has gotten by far the most support. Eighteen voters have checked the top nine plus Walker, making that the most common ballot in Thibodaux’s tracker. Walker could do it all, though his struggles to stay healthy made his career totals (383 homers, 2,160 hits) lower than you’d expect from a star who spent his prime in a hitter’s park in an era of extreme offense.
Lastly, we have Sheffield, a fourth-time nominee. It took a while, but on Tuesday morning, I finally found a ballot like the one I would cast, by Tim Kurkjian of ESPN. He voted for the top nine plus Sheffield, who hit 509 homers, rarely struck out, had the same O.P.S. (.907) as Ken Griffey Jr., reached base 1,088 more times than Walker — and won a championship. Sheffield gets docked severely for his defense at third base and in the outfield, but he has more offensive wins above replacement than Martinez, a designated hitter on the cusp of election.
Sheffield’s case is complicated by his ties to performance-enhancing drugs, but the link is somewhat flimsy. He acknowledged using a cream Bonds gave him for his knee when they trained together before the 2002 season, but denied knowing it was a steroid.
Who is the most similar player in baseball history to Sheffield, according to baseball-reference.com? That would be Larry Wayne (Chipper) Jones, the absolute Hall of Fame lock. Like Jones, Sheffield wore No. 10 for some of his best seasons. Alas, unlike Jones, he won’t be making a speech in Cooperstown this summer.
The tracker tells the tale of Sheffield’s slim support. He is polling at just about 10 percent.