Getting into Baseball’s Hall of Fame is a narrow, uncertain path. One of the main reasons is the fact that for all the hard statistics, records and milestones, it is still a subjective vote among the baseball writers who annually submit their ballots.
Much like America today, that voting electorate is pretty much split evenly into two camps. And when you need 75 percent of the vote to get in, one camp can invariably deny the favorite of the other camp.
Cybermetricans make up one camp, digital-age mouse-pushers who see nothing more than numbers. Numbers. Numbers. They don’t have to see a player to judge. It’s all there in the numbers. Just compare this guy to that guy, that guy to another guy. If they can meet their statistical standards, let them all in. Clinical. The 10-player limit on the ballot is just not enough. It’s better for the standard to be lowered than the player’s credentials to be raised.
The other camp draws much more into the equation. Those voters exist in the larger world of judgment. They value their eyes, actually seeing the player, the confidence he carries, how he leads the team, how he makes everyone better. They value how he compares to his generation of players. They also value how he honors the game, and that ultimately brings in character – which is part of what the Hall of Fame officials want the voters to consider.
I respect both camps and straddle them. But I have a greater emphasis on the whole candidate, his ability, his leadership, his impact and his character. Of course, the elephant in the room here is PEDs, which, among other things, is a character issue.
I’ve seen so much debate from writers – and readers – on PEDs, on both sides. There’s a lot of passion as well as hypocrisy on both sides – including a measure from me, as I will outline.
One prominent national writer, who didn’t vote for the notorious PEDers in their first years on the ballot, such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens (pictured above), Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, is now voting for some (Bonds, Clemens). And he’s taken to criticizing those writers who don’t.
But if they were undeserving then, enough to leave them completely off the ballot, when did it become OK? Did something change? Have they uncovered more evidence, one way or the other? Or do these writers, once indigent, simply want to ignore that elephant. Are they either tired of defending their once steadfast opinion or simply don’t want to be criticized anymore, preferring to settle into the camp of placid justification.
I didn’t vote for the notorious PED abusers again this year because, like last year, I need a clear sign from those Hall of Fame officials that it is a non-issue, that character issues, cheating, lying, denying etc., don’t matter. Hello, Pete Rose. I’m really in one other camp, alongside current Hall of Famers. The vast majority of them do not want those guys to taint their Hallways.
I don’t expect that I’ll forever deny them the vote. Things are trending in their direction, as Mike Piazza’s election shows and Bonds being hired as a coach. But I don’t think Bonds or Clemens will ever get in – they’re still under 50 percent – over their final six years of eligibility until the Hall accounts, in same way, that these guys played in a banned-substance era.
The problem is, if they don’t make it on the writer’s ballot, those tainted ones won’t get much support from the guys already there. The Hall of Fame, some day, likely will come up with back-door system that will allow their plaques on the wall.
That some day came for me with Piazza. I voted for him with the knowledge that he was a rumored abuser. Much like Edgar Martinez, who I also voted for, his possible use came at a time when those substances were not banned and baseball wasn’t monitoring. Piazza didn’t fit into the category of habitual abuser, a guy who went from one PED to another, using masking agents in a constant effort to stay one step ahead of the laboratories. There are degrees of culpability.
Another one of the votes went to, of course, Ken Griffey Jr., the greatest player I’ve ever covered and a worthy recipient of the record 99.3 percent. We’re pretty sure he didn’t use PED and, in fact, in a selfish way you kind of wish he had at the end of his career when his skills eroded so dramatically. It was sad to see, especially when other guys of his era – some still playing – extended their career through artificial means.
My other votes went to Jeff Bagwell – who will get in next year – and Trevor Hoffman, who also will be in the Hall class next year.
Martinez, who reached 43 percent – the highest he has ever been – may be gaining momentum as he runs out of eligibility.
Looking ahead to next year, you hope that Omar Vizquel will be elected on the first ballot. He’s the greatest fielder I’ve ever seen, at any position. He’s also one of those guys who can draw in both camps, the statistical and the visual. To appreciate his skills and impact on the game, he was one guy you had to watch on a regular basis.