What we learned from the Baseball Hall of Fame election: Beltré’s big night, Mauer power and more


COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — There were Adrián Beltré and Joe Mauer. This was their first Hall of Fame election. They won’t need a second. On Tuesday, they became baseball’s newest first-ballot Hall of Famers. And that stamps them as baseball royalty, connected forever to this special stamp of greatness.

Beltré reeled in 95.1 percent of the vote. That’s the same percentage as a guy named Babe Ruth. If he ever needs to impress people at a party over the next 40 years, you think Beltré can get some mileage out of that little tidbit?

Mauer’s margin wasn’t quite that hefty, at 76.1 percent. That would be a landslide in the New Hampshire primary. In this election, he cleared the 75 percent bar by just four votes.

Nevertheless, he and Beltré made this the first election in which two first-year position players got elected in the same year since 2018 (Chipper Jones and Jim Thome) — and only the second time since 2007 (Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr.).

On the other hand, there were Todd Helton and Billy Wagner. All the drama of this election night seemed to swirl around them. They were sure — and we were sure — it was going to be close. We were right about one of them anyway.

For those of us following along on Ryan Thibodaux’s indispensable Hall of Fame vote tracker, Helton went into election day looking as though he could be a coin flip. Instead, he wound up with a higher percentage than Mauer, garnering 79.7 percent. The Rockies have been playing baseball for 31 years. Before Tuesday, there had never been any such thing as a Hall of Famer who had spent his entire career as a Colorado Rockie. Not anymore.

Plus Helton and Mauer become only the fifth duo of one-team players in the past half-century to get elected to the Hall by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in the same election. Maybe you’ve heard of the others: Mariano Rivera (New York Yankees) and Edgar Martinez (Seattle Mariners) in 2019, Gwynn (San Diego Padres) and Ripken (Baltimore Orioles) in 2007, George Brett (Kansas City Royals) and Robin Yount (Milwaukee Brewers) in 1999, Johnny Bench (Cincinnati Reds) and Carl Yastrzemski (Boston Red Sox) in 1989, and Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford (Yankees) in 1974. Cool group.

And then there was Wagner. After nine elections into his time on the ballot, he’s still trying to stagger up this mountain. In his first year on the ballot, in 2016, he barely cleared 10 percent, and 17 players on that ballot got more votes than him. This time around, he was up to 73.8 percent — and only Beltré, Mauer and Helton tallied more votes. But 73.8 percent wasn’t enough to get him to the summit. So he will be back next year to try again.

He might want to know that, just in the past eight elections, we’ve had three players elected in their 10th and final ride on this Hall of Fame roller coaster: Tim Raines in 2017, Martinez in 2019 and Larry Walker in 2020. So even in the heartbreak of missing nine in a row, there is always hope.

But with Wagner missing election by five votes and Mauer making it by four, this became only the third election in which two players were this close to getting elected and only one of them made it. The others: 1947 (Lefty Grove, in by two, and Pie Traynor, out by two) and 2017 (Pudge Rodríguez, in by four, Trevor Hoffman, out by five).

Finally, there was Gary Sheffield. It was his 10th and final season on this ballot. The good news is, he trampolined from 55.0 percent last year to 63.9 percent this year — the second-largest bump of anyone in this field (behind only Carlos Beltrán). The bad news is, he’s out of time with this group of voters, the baseball writers.

It might brighten his mood to know that for the first 85 years of Hall of Fame voting, every player who reached that high a percentage eventually was elected by some version of the Veterans Committee. It might not brighten his mood to know that Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling broke that streak in 2022. Will a future committee view Sheffield similarly to those guys or as a feared masher who pounded 509 home runs? Hey, ya got me.

But either way, every Hall of Fame election offers us lessons in what just happened and what it all means. We now know who will be on that stage July 21 on Induction Day in Cooperstown. So here come Five Things We Learned from the 2024 Hall of Fame election.

Baseball Hall of Fame 2024 voting

Player Votes Percent

Adrián Beltré

366

95.1

Todd Helton

307

79.7

Joe Mauer

293

76.1

Billy Wagner

284

73.8

Gary Sheffield

246

63.9

Andruw Jones

237

61.6

Carlos Beltran

220

57.1

Alex Rodriguez

134

34.8

Manny Ramirez

125

32.5

Chase Utley

111

28.8

Omar Vizquel

68

17.7

Bobby Abreu

57

14.8

Jimmy Rollins

57

14.8

Andy Pettitte

52

13.5

Mark Buehrle

32

8.3

Francisco Rodriguez

30

7.8

Torii Hunter

28

7.3

David Wright

24

6.2

1. Adrián Beltré hits the Brett/Schmidt/Chipper stratosphere

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Adrián Beltré is headed to Cooperstown after receiving more than 95 percent of the vote. (Bob Levey / Getty Images)

Adrián Beltré may not be the answer to the question: Who’s the greatest third baseman in history? But he sure came close to being the answer to the question: Who’s the greatest third baseman in history at collecting Hall of Fame votes?

George Brett has held that record for 25 years. But Beltré gave him a run, winding up with the fourth-best percentage by any third baseman in the history of this election.

VOTE PERCENTAGE PLAYER, YEAR

98.2

George Brett, 1999

97.2

Chipper Jones, 2018

96.5

Mike Schmidt, 1995

95.1

Adrián Beltré, 2024

92.0

Brooks Robinson, 1983

91.9

Wade Boggs, 2005

Beltré appeared on all but two of the ballots that were revealed by voters before election night. He faded among the private voters. But he still wound up only 19 votes away from joining Mariano Rivera in the 100 Percent Club. Back in his day, Brett missed by nine (in a year with about 100 more voters). Chipper missed by 12. Schmidt missed by 16.

For most of Beltré’s career, you would never have expected him to be hanging in that company. But here in 2024, we live in a very different age, with a very different electorate.

First off, would it shock you to hear we’ve never witnessed more groupthink? Yeah, imagine that. But never have more voters stared at the same wins above replacement charts. And (possibly not in this order) never have more voters been wary of social media vote-shaming. So it’s no mystery how it happens.

But beyond that, there’s another important reason: Modern voters are just younger and more connected to the modern game.

You can thank the folks at the Hall for that change. After the ranks of eligible voters began approaching 600 — including dozens who had long since stopped covering baseball — the Hall rewrote the rules for 2016 and lopped more than 100 inactive writers, including many old-school voters (and thinkers), off the list.

So now, if you haven’t covered baseball in the last 10 years, you no longer get a vote. Does anyone miss that crowd that wouldn’t vote for anybody on the first ballot, whether it was Willie Mays or Willie Bloomquist? Thought so!

That’s a huge reason for Beltré’s vote total. But the other reason is obvious: Name any logical reason not to vote for him, unless you’re casting some kind of protest vote.

Then again, what’s a reasonable protest that leaves this guy off your ballot? Did you once vow that you’d never vote for a player unless he let his teammates touch his head? Hey, whatever!

C’mon, man. How many third basemen are walking around our planet with 3,100 hits and five Gold Glove Awards? Precisely one: Adrian Beltré. I’m glad most of us were smart enough to honor that.

2. We underestimated the pull of Mauer power

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Joe Mauer, first-ballot Hall of Famer. Not many Hall watchers would have predicted that before this election cycle. (Brace Hemmelgarn / Minnesota Twins / Getty Images)

Raise your hand if you predicted two months ago that Joe Mauer was going to collect the second-highest first-ballot vote percentage of any catcher ever. Right. Thought so. I’m pretty sure not even the Mauer family would have made that bet.

But when the ballot dust settled, that’s where we were. Here’s the stunning modern-day leaderboard (from the past 55 elections).

PCT  CATCHER YEAR YEARS TO ELECTION

96.4

Johnny Bench

1989 

1

76.1

Joe Mauer 

2024

1

76.0

Pudge Rodriguez

2017

1

67.2

Yogi Berra  

1971

2

66.4

Carlton Fisk

1999

2

57.8

Mike Piazza

2013

4

If you look closely at that list, you’ll detect a few unfathomable subplots lurking inside those vote totals. Such as …

• Could it possibly be true that the great Yogi Berra wasn’t a first-ballot Hall of Famer? Nope, he’s not! Because 1971.

• Is it also possible that only two catchers in history — Bench and Pudge — had been elected on the first ballot before Mauer came along? Yep! If you don’t count DH, a thing that didn’t exist for nearly a century of Major League Baseball, catcher had the fewest of any position … until now.

FEWEST FIRST-BALLOT HALL OF FAMERS

DH — 2
Catcher — 3
First base — 3
Second base — 3
Center field — 5

So there was plenty of voting history to suggest that Mauer wasn’t a lock to cruise into the Hall on the first ballot. He also had a career that gave us reason to wonder how much the back end of that career — five seasons as a non-thumper kind of first baseman who averaged just eight homers a year — would hurt him in Year 1.

Turns out, though, those first-base years were a factor with only one small sliver of this voting population: first-time voters. The amazing Jason Sardell, who breaks down this voting in as precise detail as anyone I know, was the first to point this out to me.

Mauer among first-time voters — 77 percent
Mauer among returning voters — 85 percent

(Source: Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame Tracker)

First-time voters began covering baseball more recently than the rest. So they would also be the voters most likely to have seen only Mauer’s first-base years with their own eyes — as opposed to his 10 seasons as one of the best-hitting catchers of all time. But fortunately for him, those first-time voters represented only about 6.5 percent of all voters who made their ballots public before election day (13 of 201), according to Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame Tracker.

So whaddaya know. Joe Mauer is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. And that’s just one more reminder that “one” has always been his magic number.

No. 1 pick in the draft … one team played for (the Minnesota Twins) in his whole career … one metropolis played in, in his whole baseball-playing life (the Twin Cities) … and now the greatest honor of them all:

One election … one trip to Cooperstown coming right up!

3. Helton’s road to the finish line got a bit rocky

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Todd Helton was elected in his sixth year on the ballot, but his vote patterns this time defied expectations. (Brian Bahr / Allsport)

Hall of Fame voting will always have an element of mystery to it. That’s a beautiful thing for election-night drama fans. It’s not quite that beautiful a thing for the actual humans who have to sweat out that drama.

Todd Helton could tell you all about it. He rolled into this election as the top returning vote-collector, at 72.2 percent last year. All he needed to add was about a dozen votes, and he was in. That’s all!

The history of modern Hall of Fame voting tells us that shouldn’t have been a problem. He shouldn’t have had to sweat out election night thinking he might be lucky to sneak in by just a vote or two.

Over the past 50 elections, 12 previous players had gone into a Hall of Fame election after attracting approximately 72 percent of the vote (or more) the year before. One was Jim Bunning, a polarizing candidate who actually lost votes the next year. But how’d that work out for the other 11? Every one of them got elected. That’s how.

But that’s not all. For almost all of them, it wasn’t even close. On average, their vote totals jumped by 10.5 percentage points in those elections. Only three of them failed to get a bounce of at least 8 percentage points:

 YEAR PLAYER JUMP

1991

Gaylord Perry

5.1%

2003

Gary Carter

5.3%

2018

Trevor Hoffman

5.9%

So when you’re this close, history tells us there’s always an election-time surge coming. But as Helton learned Tuesday night, in Hall of Fame voting, past is not always prologue.

Helton’s “jump” — wound up at 7.5 percentage points. Only Gaylord Perry (plus-22) added fewer votes than Helton in the year he got elected. Helton was only plus-26. Very odd.

Helton’s “margin” — that 4.7 percentage points he made it by was the third-smallest ever among this group. In fact, before Helton, the only members of that club above who didn’t wind up at 80 percent or higher were Perry (77.2 percent) and Carter (78.0). In terms of total votes, Perry was the closest call, clearing the 75 percent bar by just nine votes.

Scott Rolen made it by only five votes last year, but still picked up 48 votes compared with the year before. Helton, meanwhile, got that 26-vote bump. And that felt small considering that only a year ago, he added a whopping 76 votes — which was more than the total number of votes he was getting as recently as 2019 (70). So it’s safe to say that coming into this year, he didn’t have The Look of a guy who was about to stall at the finish line.

But crazy things can happen in these elections. So what happened in his case? Let’s break it down this way:

The ballot got crowded again — Where did Helton’s big gain come from over the previous four elections? That part is no mystery. When he debuted in 2019, he had to compete with eight players who eventually got elected. But once they were out of the way, it cleared space for a couple of hundred voters who just didn’t have room to check Helton’s name in those early years.

So in only four years, he zoomed from 70 votes to 281, and from 16.5 percent to 72.2 percent. But then …

After a three-year run that produced only one first-ballot Hall of Famer (David Ortiz), this year’s ballot gave us Beltré and Mauer, plus Chase Utley and David Wright. So you can guess what happens in years like this: The more crowded the ballot, the less likely it is that “small Hall” voters add a player like Helton after not voting for him in the past – and on the Hall tracker, we’ve even seen some of those voters drop Helton after voting for him last year.

So that’s part of this. But also …

Coors Field is still a thing — How naïve were we to think that once Larry Walker got elected in 2020, it meant that Cooperstown’s Curse of Coors was finally dead? Wrong! Now we know, thanks to the Helton election returns, that The Curse lives on — at least with some voters.

Is it possible that no longtime Rockie will ever make it to 80 percent? Maybe it is. We should remember, first off, that it took Walker until his final year on the ballot to get elected, and even then he only made it by six votes. So 93 of the 397 voters that year were still “no’s” on him.

But here’s another surprise, uncovered by fantastic research from Anthony Calamis, who works with Thibodaux on the Hall tracker. It turns out Helton has had a tough time even drawing votes from writers who did vote for Walker.

Of the first 216 ballots made public this year, 26 were longtime voters who did not vote for Helton — and were also voters in 2020. Stunningly, 42 percent of them (11 of 26) voted for Walker in 2020 but not for Helton this year.

Helton made up some of that shortfall by collecting votes from six of 21 returning voters who were not Walker voters. But does it surprise you that there isn’t nearly total overlap of those Walker/Helton voters? It surprised me — and it’s a big reason Helton’s election night was filled with more drama than we once would have expected.

Once the ballot smoke cleared, though, Todd Helton was a Hall of Famer — forever. And someday, no one will care that he had to sweat out every second of election day.

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4. Billy Wagner is the new Trevor Hoffman

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Next election will be Billy Wagner’s final year on the writers’ ballot. (Mike Fiala / AFP via Getty Images)

It’s a good thing, at times like this, that Billy Wagner spent a decade and a half as a big-league closer — because nobody knows better than him that the last out is always the hardest to get. So it’s only fitting that Wagner’s journey to the Hall of Fame would follow the same script.

He missed election last year by a mere 27 votes. But if he thought that meant the hard part was over, well, ho ho ho. ’Fraid not.

While Beltré, Mauer and Helton celebrated Tuesday night, Wagner was still five votes short. So he’s down to one last shot, in his 10th and final spin on this ballot, to clear that Cooperstown bar.

I’m sure he’s looking for reasons to believe right now. So I’ll helpfully give him one, just by dropping this name:

Trevor Hoffman.

What do they have in common, aside from their late-inning job description? Here goes:

LAST 3 ELECTIONS

Hoffman 

2016 — 67.3 percent (34 votes short)
2017 — 74.0 percent (5 votes short)
2018 — 79.9 percent (elected by 20 votes)

Wagner 

2023 — 68.1 percent (27 votes short)
2024 — 73.8 percent (5 votes short)
2025 — (Elected? Stay tuned!)

I should point out, in the interest of clarity, that those were Hoffman’s first three years on the ballot whereas they would be Wagner’s eighth, ninth and 10th years. But that distracts us from the moral of this story:

There are always going to be voters who are allergic to throwing a vote at any closer not named Mariano Rivera.

So even Hoffman, the first member of the 600 Saves Club, needed more than one election to find those last three dozen votes to get elected. And now Wagner is the one hunting for those last few votes, even though he owns the best career ERA, WHIP and strikeout rate of any left-handed pitcher in the modern era.

Are those votes going to be there next year? You’d think so. But there’s reason to worry because, in other ways, Hoffman and Wagner are not so alike at all. If you dig deep enough, you can find the telling voting trends that blew up Wagner’s plans for a Hall of Fame victory party this year.

It would seem logical — to me at least — that the segment of voters Wagner would have the least trouble with are those who had once voted for other closers not named Mariano. Do we agree on that?

But here’s a shocker: That hasn’t been the case. Adam Dore, who works with Thibodaux on the Hall of Fame tracker, found 55 voters heading into this election who had never voted for Wagner — but had once voted for Hoffman or Lee Smith. And how many of those 55 had flipped and added Wagner to their 2024 ballots at last look? Surprisingly, it was just seven.

As of Tuesday afternoon, more than half of those voters still hadn’t revealed their ballots for this year. So it’s possible that Wagner was added on some of those ballots in the final voting. Plus Wagner had made up some of that ground because, at last look, 20 voters were checking his name who didn’t vote for Hoffman in 2018.

Nevertheless, this helps us understand why even a closer as historically significant as Billy Wagner could have so much trouble winning that scavenger hunt for 30 more votes. If even the Trevor Hoffman/Lee Smith voters aren’t lining up to vote for him, this was always going to be harder than it looked.

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How a broken arm — and an unbroken spirit — took Billy Wagner to the doorstep of the Hall

5. Coming in 2026: Carlos Beltrán’s induction day?

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Carlos Beltrán appears on track to be elected in two years. (Bob Levey / Getty Images)

I know we only arrived in 2024 like 20 minutes ago. But it’s never too early to start dreaming ahead to Induction Weekend 2026.

OK, maybe for you it is. But not around here, because Hall of Fame elections aren’t only interesting at the top of the ballot. It’s down in the next tier that we start getting clues about what’s ahead. And you know what’s almost certainly ahead for Carlos Beltrán, based on his 2024 vote totals?

A Hall of Fame induction speech!

Beltrán debuted on the ballot last year with 46.5 percent, then jumped all the way up to 57.1 percent this year. So of all the top runners-up this year who weren’t Billy Wagner, he emerged from a loaded field better-positioned than anyone else to get elected once the ballot gets less crowded in a couple of years.

What about Andruw Jones, you ask? Yes, he ended up with more votes than Beltrán as he moved up to 61.6 percent. But we’ll circle back to him momentarily.

So why does Beltrán look like a Hall of Fame lock? Because that 10.6 percentage point jump is telling us something. Nobody on the ballot added more votes since last year than him. Isn’t that a sign that a large chunk of voters wanted to wait a year to see how their brethren handled a central figure in the 2017 Astros’ trash-can-lid chorus? Seems like it.

Or maybe those voters opted to withhold a vote for him in Year 1 but then treated him like a “normal” candidate in Year 2. Either way, if you’re not dinging Beltrán for being a nefarious Astro, then his “normal” Hall of Fame credentials are obvious.

One of the greatest center fielders of modern times … one of the greatest switch hitters of the past half-century … one of the greatest postseason difference-makers in the history of his sport. That guy is a Hall of Famer. So why can we safely project that there’s a Cooperstown speech in his future?

Over the past 50 elections, we’ve seen five other players debut on the ballot at 40 percent or higher — and then jump by at least 10 percentage points the next year. Guess what they all have in common?

PLAYER  YEARS JUMP LATER ELECTED?

Jeff Bagwell

2011-12

41.7% to 56.0%

Yes

Ryne Sandberg

2003-04

49.2% to 61.1%

Yes

Barry Larkin

2010-11

51.6% to 62.1%

Yes

Fergie Jenkins

1989-90

52.3% to 66.7%

Yes

Catfish Hunter 

1985-86

53.7% to 68.0%

Yes

Now maybe we’re reading this wrong. Maybe Beltrán will never be fully treated as a “normal” candidate. Maybe there will always be a cap on the number of votes that are out there for a player who makes some of these voters hear trash cans banging in their heads. And maybe that cap sits at somewhere under 75 percent.

But as the above chart shows, this was a big year-over-year jump for a player like him. So, until proven otherwise, let’s assume this one means what all those other jumps meant.

Is it a little too soon to start looking ahead to 2026 when Induction Weekend 2024 is still six months away? Of course it is. First we can look forward to 2025, with Ichiro, CC Sabathia, Félix Hernández, Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, Troy Tulowitzki and more debuting on next year’s ballot. But then comes 2026, which looms as The Year to Watch.

It’s a year with no obvious first-ballot attractions. So that would seem to leave an opening for Beltrán to fill the vacuum. But what about Jones, who would be in his Year 9 cycle then?

His future seems harder to project. Remember that as recently as 2019, he was getting just 32 votes — four fewer than Sammy Sosa. Then came four consecutive years of big gains that took him from under 8 percent to over 58 percent.

But in this election, that Jones Acela train stopped chugging. He inched forward from 58.1 percent last year to 61.6 percent this year. That’s the smallest jump by anyone in the upper tier of this ballot. So it’s fair to wonder whether, after flipping nearly 200 “no” votes to yes in four years, he can now flip those last 62 voters he needs to make it to the plaque gallery.

Sorry, I’m not ready to make that prediction yet. But I’m the same guy who once predicted Bonds and Clemens were going to get elected someday. So how much certainty is there about any of this? About as much as trying to predict who’s going to win the 2026 World Series.

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A look ahead at the 2025 MLB Hall of Fame ballot: Ichiro, Pedroia, Sabathia and more


Hall of Fame ballot columns from The Athletic

• Stark: My 2024 Hall of Fame ballot — how I voted and why

• Rosenthal: Why Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley are both on my Hall ballot

• Kepner: Explaining my Hall ballot — a celebration of greatness

• Nine more The Athletic staffers reveal their Hall ballots


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Weaver: Hall of Famer Adrián Beltré’s journey to joyful abandon felt like magic

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Jim Leyland, Hall of Fame manager: 4 things we learned from the Contemporary Era election

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A distinguished dozen: Saluting the 12 newcomers to the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot

(Top image: John Bradford / The Athletic; Photos: Joe Mauer: Brace Hemmelgarn / Getty Images; Adrián Beltré: Gregory Shamus / Getty Images; Todd Helton: Doug Pensinger / Getty Images)





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