For the first time in recent memory, the 10-player ballot limit for baseball’s Hall of Fame is having an impact.
The ballot is flooded with worthy talent, one of the most distinguished group of players in history, at least as long as I’ve voting since the mid-90s. You have 300-game winners, multiple batting champions, 3000-hitters, all-time home run leaders, and, of course, a slew of the worst kind of cheaters.
What’s causing the backlog is the holdover of steroids era players, Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire. All their career statistics are spectacular. Virtually all are deserving, based on their numbers. All will probably not get in this year and there are the larger questions of when or if they ever will. Even current Hall of Famers don’t want them in. They resent the blatant users.
Last year, some sportswriters voted for them, most did not. It was unchartered waters. This year, some writers have changed and added them to their 2014 ballots. By doing that they force the elimination of other worthy, waiting candidates to get within the ballot’s 10-player limit. I don’t understand the logic. If they were left off last year because of the PED taint, why are they voted in this time around? What changed? Are their transgressions deemed less offensive this year? Is there now evidence that completely exonerates them? Are steroids now on par with vitamins? Or was it self-imposed first-ballot punishment?
It’s either one way or the other. Either they all should have been first-ballot entries a year ago or we need clarification as to what makes them suddenly clean and acceptable this year. Has time healed? Or is it pressure on the voters from various sources?
Maybe I missed it, but for me, nothing has changed. Some of these guys maintain they never failed a drug test or argue no hard evidence has been disclosed. But it’s like Thurgood Marshall once said when the Supreme Court dealt with a case on pornography, “I know it when I see it.”
We all have a good idea who the blatant cheaters were. And make no mistake, their PED use changed their careers, their abilities – and the game – in ways never seen previously. No greenies, no caffeine pills, no corked bats and no scuffed baseballs could ever match the impact of a healthy, juiced-up ballplayer.
If these guys get a pass, then every baseball player in the world, from Japan to Venezuela, from pros to junior high schoolers, should get on the mailing list for BALCO or Biogenesis. What’s stopping them? If those guys were allowed to gain a significant advantage, without repercussions, then every ballplayer should be suing Major League baseball for equal treatment. If it’s OK then just eliminate all steroid restrictions.
Baseball needs to step in and offer guidance before I can cross the divide. Where do these guys stand? Is there are sliding scale for violators, from minor offenders to major users? Should their admittance be the stepping stone for acceptance or are we going to have dark clouds and deep shadows over them forever?
Or, in an acknowledged approach, should their entrance into the Hall be with a tagline on their HOF plaque to the affect: ‘Participated in PED use during at least a portion of his career.” That I can accept. Until we get a direction, I’m holding off voting for these significant offenders.
Further, PEDers not only had an unfair advantage over non-users during their careers but also after their careers. With this current crowded ballot issue, major PED users are being added to the detriment of others. Guys who were on past ballots and striving toward 75 percent approval, now don’t have a chance.
Everyone has 15 years of eligibility. There’s no hurry. The honor lasts forever. If a guy was voted for a year ago, they should be voted for again. His numbers didn’t suddenly diminish.
Time is shorter for the other guys, such as RHP Jack Morris (pictured above). He has been progressively getting closer, 67.7 percent last year. This is his final year on the ballot and he’s a fringe candidate who will be among the first to be dropped off to make way for a newcomer. For other guys in the same situation, such as Edgar Martinez, Lee Smith, Alan Trammell, they likely will lose their momentun and any hope of nomination.
Those guys should remain first in line. This is their time, as some have spent more than a decade building toward support for 75 percent. Let the users cool it.
With that theme in mind, I have returned to the ballot the five players I voted for in the past and have added four more for a career-high nine. Beginning with last year’s nominees, they are:
DH/3B Edgar Martinez: Two-time .300 career average, .418 OBP and .515 career slugging percentage. People are talking about Big Papi (David Ortiz) as a worthy HOF candidate one day, this Papi has better numbers. One of 10 players ever to have at least 300 home runs, 500 doubles, a career .300 average, a career .400-plus OBP and a career .500-plus slugging percentage.
RHP Jack Morris: One of a handful of non-300-win pitchers (254-186) worthy of entrance. Led all the pitchers in the 1980s with 162 victories, 132 complete games, 332 starts and 2,442 innings. He’s one of those guys you had to see – not one to line up a pile of esoteric statistics – to understand his value. He was a bulldog who refused to give in and always seemed to make the right pitch at the right time. He was a winner who likely will depend on the Veteran’s Committee to get in.
2B Craig Biggio: A second baseman with power (292 home runs) and average (3,060 hits) who also won four Gold Gloves. Only player in history with at least 3,000 hits, 600 doubles, 400 stolen bases and 250 home runs. He amassed 68.2 percent last year. Could break through this time around.
C/1B Mike Piazza: Great numbers for a catcher, 427 home runs, 344 doubles, .308 career average, .545 slugging percentage. Won the Sliver Slugger award 10 times, most ever for his position.
1B Jeff Bagwell: Should enter the Hall with teammate Biggio, Bagwell won the Rookie of the Year (1991) and MVP (1994). He drove in 100 or more runs seven times, had 449 home runs and 1,529 RBI with a .540 slugging percentage. He also hit at least .300 six times.
The four first-time players added to my ballot this year:
RHP Greg Maddux: Batters would talk about the ‘heavy’ ball he threw, one hard to hit squarely with power. He won 355 games with a 3.16 career ERA. He won four straight Cy Young Awards (1992-95) . Led the NL in ERA four times, went a record 17 straight seasons with at least 15 wins and one of four pitchers with at least 3,000 strikeouts and fewer than 1,000 walks. He also could field, with 18 Gold Gloves, most at any position. Should be first-ballot guy.
LHP Tom Glavine: Maddux’s Braves teammate for nearly two decades, Glavine also won 300 games (305), and had five 20-win seasons. He finished with a career 3.47 ERA and two Cy Young Awards (1991, 1998). Won the 1995 World Series MVP. He could also hit, with four Silver Slugger awards for his position. With the crowded ballot, may fall just short his first time out.
1B/DH Frank Thomas: Monster numbers from a massive man, one of the most imposing hitters during his era. He hit 521 home runs (18th all-time), 1,704 RBI, had nine 30-home run seasons and five 40-home run seasons. He hit .300 10 times and finished with a career .301 average. He led the league in RBI 11 times. He also won back-to-back MVP (1993-94). Another first-ballot guy.
2B Jeff Kent: He likely won’t get in this year, a guy overwhelmed by the holdovers and the excellence of the new class. Eventually, he will be enshrined. He hit 351 home runs as a second baseman (377 overall), most ever for this position. Had eight seasons with at least 100 RBI and 12 with at least 20 home runs. He also won the 2000 NL MVP.