Baseball Hall of Fame: Are Todd Helton, Billy Wagner next?

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America elected one man, Scott Rolen, into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday. He’ll join Fred McGriff, a Contemporary Eras Committee inductee, at this summer’s induction ceremony in Cooperstown.

Here are our takeaways from Tuesday’s news.

Voters do right by Rolen, barely

To hear him tell it, Rolen never paid much attention to the Hall of Fame while he played, nor in the first few years after his retirement. 

He was a highly regarded amateur athlete but not a first-round draft pick. He was a top prospect but did not debut until his fourth professional season. He won Rookie of the Year after his fifth pro season but did not earn an All-Star nod until five years later. He won a host of Gold Gloves at third base but never finished in the top three of an MVP race. He made more than $100 million but effectively turned down more money from the Phillies early in his career. 

And, for a Hall of Fame-caliber player, he is notably not famous. Several players up for election Tuesday are considerably more known than Rolen. Perhaps it was for all those reasons that he stayed away from the process while he produced 15 consecutive seasons of above-average performance. It was only in his first year of ballot eligibility, 2018, that he began to learn about election particulars, and only after his son, Finn, expressed an interest in it. 

Finn kept him updated on the 10% of votes he collected that first year, and his increased haul every year since. As he got closer and his son procured a cell phone, he started to receive more frequent updates. And in recent years, some of his former teammates introduced him to professionals who study the Hall of Fame. He heard from them that his chances were increasing every year.

But he never counted on it. He didn’t feel that close. Until Tuesday evening, the closest he came to Cooperstown was a brief drive through it on his way from Indianapolis to Boston to celebrate New Year’s Eve. He was 19 or 20 then, still a ways away from his debut. 

“There was actually never a point in my life where I thought I was gonna be a Hall of Fame baseball player,” Rolen said on a conference call Tuesday.

He is one — barely. He cleared the 75% bar by five votes, one of the smallest margins in Hall of Fame history. But he’s in. 

Larry Walker opened the door for Todd Helton, who is definitely getting in

No one has ever been so close to induction as Helton was this year, with time left, and not eventually earned a spot. He missed out on joining Rolen by 11 votes. He received nearly 40% more votes than he had a year ago. 

It took Walker until his 10th and final year of eligibility to earn election. Helton won’t have to wait that long. The evidence shows he will be in. In all likelihood, his number will come up next year. Until Walker’s candidacy, and really until it was almost over, BBWAA voters demonstrated a hesitancy to elect players who had starred at Coors Field, where the elevation alters offensive statistics, often leading to dramatic home-road splits.

Helton’s splits are among the most extreme ever. But evidently his home dominance will be enough to earn him election. Also, in recent years it has become clearer that the splits might not be only the product of Coors Field’s ease of hitting, but also of the difficulty inherent in hitting elsewhere after a week to 10 days of games at elevation. Rockies hitters tend to suffer in the first games of road trips. Perhaps the splits don’t tell the whole story.

Billy Wagner is almost assuredly getting in, Andruw Jones is probable, and Gary Sheffield has an outside chance

He’s not guaranteed admission next year, but Wagner, the longtime closer, has just about reached the threshold where his election should be expected. If he does not make it next year, the 2025 class will represent his last year on the writers’ ballot. That deadline has, historically, brought out more potential voters.

Among voters who chose to make their ballots public before the results were announced, Wagner almost had enough to be in this year. Here’s betting the rest of the electorate will tilt his way soon.

Jones’ candidacy is also tracking that way. He couldn’t get even 10% of votes in 2018 or 2019, his first two eligible years, but jumped up by more than that, on average, in each of the last four cycles. He’s now on track to win election in 2025.

The more uncertain candidate is Sheffield, who has just one more chance to make it through traditional means. If Sheffield jumps by as many votes as he just did, he’ll be close to election. That’s no guarantee, though. He has stagnated before, including last year when he stayed at exactly the same percentage after another sizable jump from 2020 to 2021.

Pedro Moura is the national baseball writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the Dodgers for The Athletic, the Angels and Dodgers for the Orange County Register and L.A. Times, and his alma mater, USC, for ESPN Los Angeles. He is the author of “How to Beat a Broken Game.” Follow him on Twitter at @pedromoura.

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