For the first time since 1999, the BBWAA voted three new players into the Baseball Hall of Fame this week: Greg Maddux (one of the greatest players in history), Tom Glavine (who won 300 games and 2 Cy Young Awards), and Frank Thomas (521 HR, .974 OPS, 2 MVP Awards). That's a very strong class of inductees, one of the best the BBWAA has ever elected, yet it leaves out a lot of players who also belong in Cooperstown.
All three of those players were new to the ballot this year, which means that elected them really doesn't do much to clear up the crowd of players who were already on the ballot. The only candidates with a real case in 2013 (a year ago) who won't be on the ballot for 2015 (a year from now) are Jack Morris, who was in his 15th and final year of BBWAA eligibility, and Rafael Palmeiro, who falls off for receiving less than 5% of the vote.
Among those returning next year will be Craig Biggio, who missed out on being inducted this year by just two votes, Mike Piazza, who received 62.2% of the vote, and Jeff Bagwell (54.3%). There's also Barry Bonds, one of the 10 best players ever, and Roger Clemens, one of the 10 best pitchers.
Having so many great players on the ballot, being fought about in the way they are, keeps others from getting much attention. Tim Raines, one of the greatest leadoff hitters and base stealers in history, had been slowly gaining support, but his rise has stalled out. Curt Schilling had historically good strikeout and walk rates, and one of the best postseason resumes ever, but can't get anywhere close to even 50% support. Kenny Lofton, one of the 15 best center fielders in baseball history, didn't garner enough attention last year to even stay on the ballot. Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Jeff Kent... Those are interesting candidates, but they're barely even being mentioned, due to the three ring circus voting has become.
Eventually, this will get sorted out, one way or another. I suspect the HOF will put together some sort of "special committee," for the purpose of inducted the many great players the BBWAA has chosen to keep out. 20 years from now Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are going to have a plaque near those of the games other very best players.
In the meantime, things remain a mess, and other deserving players on the ballot aren't going to find their path any clearer next year. Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez both arrive on the ballot, and should coast in two of the very best ever. Pedro doesn't have the career totals of some all-time greats, but his prime was arguably the best ever by a pitcher. John Smoltz will be eligible too, and while he's a step behind Johnson and Martinez, his 213 wins, 154 saves, strong postseason numbers, and Cy Young Award make him a strong candidate. Gary Sheffield's 509 home runs, 1,676 RBI, and .907 OPS give him a strong case, but won't come close to being inducted, because of PED connections. For that same reason though, there will continue to be less focus on all players' on-field performances.
I would guess Johnson, Martinez, and Biggio all get in next year, with Smoltz coming close enough to he can expect to make it within another few years. Sheffield will get something like 15% of the vote, and players like Piazza, Bagwell, and Raines will all see returns very similar to what they saw this week. Three more inductees will allow the BBWAA to feel like they're handling this process well, which will slow the progress of any meaningful change arriving.
What should be one of greatest celebrations in baseball has instead has become the most contentious times of the year, and that's not going to change anytime soon.