Sometimes in life, you go through years of using a seemingly mindless phrase without thinking much about it. What has transpired in the world these past 12 months has hopefully altered that process forever when it comes to something harmless like, "what a difference a year makes."
Remember Larry Walker in his SpongeBob Square Pants racing shirt getting the call he thought might never come?
That was the 2020 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot reveal -- one year ago. The 2021 reveal happened Tuesday. The BBWAA voters threw a shutout (full disclosure, I am in the BBWAA but won't have a Hall of Fame vote until the 2025 class). There are no members of the 2021 class.
In between Walker's special moment -- a day that included the foregone conclusion that Derek Jeter also made the Hall -- and Tuesday's announcement, our world has been turned upside down. We don't need to rehash it. If you're reading this, you know personally just how different the last 12 months have been for you and billions of others on this planet.
The baseball world has also been turned upside down in the last 12 months, and not just because there was a runner on second base in extra innings, or seven-inning doubleheaders or the empty ballparks (in addition to the normally empty Florida ones).
The Hall of Fame situation in 2021 fits right in with the weirdness. And since we're so used to the weirdness, we didn't even blink.
For the first time since 2013 and only the third time since 1971, the eligible Hall of Fame voters of the BBWAA did not collectively check the box of any Hall of Fame candidate at a 75-percent clip. Since there was no veterans committee meeting in December due to the annual Winter Meetings going virtual, this is the first totally empty Hall of Fame class since 1960.
Back in 1960, the ceremony was cancelled because there was no one to celebrate. This time around, there's still Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons and the late Marvin Miller to celebrate from the 2020 class after last year's ceremony was postponed by the pandemic. In 2021.
To recap: There's no 2021 Hall of Fame class, but the 2020 class will be celebrated in July of 2021.
That it doesn't actually even sound that weird is a testament to all we've been through lo these last 12 months, you know?
Even examining the ballot superficially, it's strange. We've got a seven-time MVP who can't crack 62 percent of the vote. Neither can a seven-time Cy Young winner. We know why, of course, but so does Hall of Fame commissioner Bud Selig, just as he ... nudge, nudge, wink, wink ... knew what was happening the in late '90s. It seems that the players during the so-called PED era get to pay for their transgressions -- which weren't punishable at the time -- though the boss who looked the other way while baseball rebounded from his lost World Series gets to join the hallowed Halls.
Of course, the evening was owned by Curt Schilling in a way only he knows how to own it. He would've already been a major part of the story, being the one closest to enshrinement and having a decent shot at getting in next year. He got 71.1 percent of the vote for an honor he says he doesn't feel he deserves and still lashed out at the electorate as a whole.
He wrote a letter to the Hall of Fame "privately and for their eyes only" but shared it on multiple social media accounts and kept sharing it, seemingly so as many people as possible would catch a glimpse of his "private" letter. You know, the ol' "I don't want any attention, so let me keep reminding you how much I don't want attention" move. The funny thing is, had he actually been "private" all these years, he would've been celebrating becoming a Hall of Famer on this night, I'd be willing to wager, and I'd be sitting here saying it was long overdue. Instead, we're discussing his "I'm totally not mad, I'm actually laughing" letter.
Oh, and he asked to be removed from the Hall of Fame ballot before his 10th and final try. He was only 16 votes shy of making it this time around.
For so long, my jaw would've been on the floor even thinking about someone so close to making the Hall publicly asking off the ballot. Now I barely batted an eye.
And of course, there's the general outcry to an empty class. This time around, I don't have a huge problem with it and Cooperstown won't either (they've got the Jeter traffic coming!). Even if some disagree with the specific selections, the process yielded 23 new Hall of Famers in BBWAA votes from 2014-20. Having seen so many worthy candidates become Hall of Famers in that time, a blank class here was perfectly defensible in the big picture.
If we can wade through all the above nonsense, there was actual substance to the vote this year. Scott Rolen, Billy Wagner, Todd Helton and Andruw Jones deservedly made big gains. Mark Buehrle, Tim Hudson and Torii Hunter all survived the five-percent rule and will get their second chance next year, assuming they don't join Schilling and demand off the ballot (kidding!). Bobby Abreu got a bump in his second year.
Substance takes a back seat to theatrics and the residue of 2020-21 will be felt in next year's cycle. Bonds, Clemens, Schilling (unless his request is rectified) and another polarizing figure, Sammy Sosa, will sit on their 10th and final ballot. As if that wasn't enough for the folks tired of all the discourse, Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz come on the ballot for the first time next year. Yep. Brace yourselves in advance, people.
The discussions not only concerning how to judge the players' on-field exploits, but also focusing more and more on the character clause in the Hall of Fame voting rules will only intensify. How to weigh possible off-field indiscretions (Omar Vizquel is under investigation for a domestic violence allegation, and there are others on this ballot who had domestic violence allegations in the past) will also intensify as voters try to be consistent. It's fundamentally impossible to achieve such a thing, but it's also human to strive for it.
What a difference a year makes? I guess. It's been a weird year, but we could also point to another stale and mindless phrase: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Next year at this time, we'll be talking about all the hand-wringing with the ballot, people will be angry about myriad things relating to the Hall of Fame, and I'll be sitting here tracking who made progress toward possible future enshrinement.
Perhaps there will be a new Hall of Famer or two, though, as that is actually what the Baseball Hall of Fame is about -- or at least it should be. Fans don't care to see all the agonizing by writers about how heart-wrenching the decision is, and the process is best when the bile is kept to a minimum.
I'm not expecting that picture to come into focus, but you never know. A lot can happen in 12 months, as all of us can attest.
Let's see what kind of difference the next year makes.