Paul Sullivan: Baseball Hall of Fame ballot still complicated by Steroid Era candidates — plus Mark Buehrle still has my vote

CHICAGO — The results of the voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2024 should have few surprises when the announcement comes at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Third baseman Adrián Beltré and catcher Joe Mauer should get in on their first year of eligibility. Beltré was a no-brainer with 3,166 hits and 477 home runs over his 21-year career, while Mauer batted .306 and is the only catcher to win three batting titles.

Two holdovers, first baseman Todd Helton and closer Billy Wagner, have a good shot as well, with each gaining votes in their years on the Hall ballot. With a little more than 50% of the expected votes revealed by Monday night on the Hall of Fame ballot tracker, Beltré could be a near-unanimous choice, while Mauer, Helton and Wagner were all above 78%.

Gary Sheffield, Carlos Beltrán and Andruw Jones could come close, but past voting trends suggest their numbers will drop once the non-public votes are counted, leaving them under the 75% total needed for induction. Beltran and Jones will get another shot if they miss this time, but Sheffield’s chances will be remote if he doesn’t get in.

We know all this because of the popular Hall of Fame ballot tracker, run by baseball fan Ryan Thibodaux, which collects the public votes of members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and keeps a running tab on their totals up until the announcement. It spurs debate, ensures writers are accountable and has become an annual treat for baseball fans.

Manager Jim Leyland was elected last month in the Contemporary Baseball Era Ballot for managers, executives and umpires, and will join whoever is selected Tuesday in the Hall of Fame induction on July 21.

My ballot included Beltré, Mauer, Helton and Wagner, plus Beltran and left-hander Mark Buehrle, the former White Sox ace. True, Buehrle has no shot at being elected, but he gets my vote and the votes of a small but loyal contingent of writers. Sue us.

Voting for the Hall of Fame is an honor bestowed upon writers who’ve spent 10 consecutive years covering baseball for a media outlet accredited by the BBWAA. It’s a privilege, and one no one takes lightly, with the obvious exception of the guy who gave his vote to Deadspin a few years ago because he didn’t like the system.

The caveat is you must be willing to be told repeatedly you’re an idiot, or worse, by trolls on social media who disagree with your picks. It’s a tradeoff most of us gladly accept, though some voters take the easy way out by not revealing their choices to avoid aggravation.

With social media getting uglier by the minute, you can’t really blame them. But it’s now part of the process most of us have learned to live with.

Imagine if the names of the BBWAA voters who left Joe DiMaggio off their ballots in 1953 were revealed to the public. The New York Yankees’ legend received only 44.3% of the votes in his first year of eligibility. That’s a tough crowd.

The electorate has skewed younger since the Hall of Fame changed the rules in the summer of 2015 to get rid of lifetime voting privileges. Starting with the 2016 vote, only those who had covered baseball during the previous 10 years were now eligible, denying many retired writers and others who had left the business.

The Gen Xers seemed to be more lenient than the Baby Boomers in their approaches to the PED-tainted candidates. But enough of the BBWAA voters — still predominantly white and male — rejected the likes of Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Álex Rodríguez, basically denying entrance to the most prominent of the alleged juicers. A-Rod, who enters his third year on the ballot, was polling at 39.2% Monday night on the ballot tracker.

But in contrast to those players, Sheffield, in his 10th and final year of eligibility, was at 74.7% on the tracker Monday, well above his 55% showing from 2023.

Sheffield finished with 509 home runs, which was once a golden ticket to Cooperstown. But if he doesn’t get in this time, he’ll go down with “The Unelectables,” all-time sluggers like Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro who never got into Cooperstown after being suspected of using PEDs.

Unlike some of the others, Sheffield was never suspended for PEDs, and denied he knowingly took steroids after being named in the 2007 Mitchell Report. The recent surge in support has seemingly gotten his attention.

“I don’t think about anything unless somebody asks me,” Sheffield recently told about the Hall voting. “Now that you have asked me, I don’t look forward to any of it to be honest with you, because … I should have been in (the Hall of Fame).”

Watching David Ortiz get in on his first ballot in 2022 must have been annoying to The Unelectables. Ortiz reportedly tested positive in anonymous drug testing by MLB in 2003, and also denied he used PEDs. Voters didn’t seem to hold that story against him, though Ortiz was considered much more media-friendly during his career than Sheffield was, and was celebrated by MLB in his final season.

Like Clemens and Bonds, Sheffield will likely get another chance on the next Contemporary Baseball Era Players Ballot, voted on by a special 16-member committee of writers, Hall of Famers and executives. But remember, neither Clemens nor Bonds came close to getting enough votes on the ’22 ballot, when Fred McGriff became the only player chosen by the committee for the Class of ’23.

If the Hall of Famers don’t want you in their club, chances are you’re not getting in.