Jay Jaffe at The Hardball Times has updated projections for Wednesday's Hall of Fame announcement, with Bagwell projecting to 35% of the ballots.
Bagwell's the best candidate of the new crowd, but he has no chance to go in this year. Forget steroid gossip. It's just hard to go in the first year period. It's the nature of the process: over 500 people tallying their ballots individually and then mailing them in. The guys who make it in their first year need a special hook. It could be a big, glossy number: 3,000 hits, 300 wins, 500 homers. It could be a special distinction: best defensive shortstop ever, the ultimate closer, but they need some special hook to separate them from the "average" great candidate. You need something so that you could look at the guy for three seconds and decide he belongs.
Bagwell lacks that hook. He's the modern-day Johnny Mize: he could hit, slug, and draw walks, but he missed all the magic markers, and his career was too short. Bagwell's numbers were better because there was no WWII, and so he'll do better than Mize (who got into Cooperstown via the VC), but he lacks that hook.
Bagwell's candidacy reminds me a bit of Ryne Sandberg and Barry Larkin. They're not similar players, but both were clear Hall of Famers who got nowhere near 75 percent in their first go-around. Instead, they each finished at around 50 percent. If it wasn't for steroids, I'd put the over/under for Bagwell this year at 50 percent. Maybe a little higher, but around there. Toss in evidence-free steroid suspicion, and I have to mark him down a bit.
The good news for Bagwell fans: only twice has anyone debuted as well as I'm predicting for Bagwell and not subsequently made it into Cooperstown. One was Lee Smith, who is not only still on the ballot, but as a reliever the BBWAA doesn't know as much how to handle him. The other is Steve Garvey. They are the only ones to debut higher than 31 percent of the vote and not get in. (Next highest is Luis Tiant at 30.9 percent, then Maury Wills at 30.3 percent, and both of them could be eventual VC picks.)
What say you?