Earlier today, the BBWAA made a strong statement regarding the Steroid Era by choosing not to elect a single member to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In the process, they also rejected 37 candidates for election to the Hall.
You might say that those two statements are one and the same. Well, after doing some thinking about the subject, analyzing several differing articles and opinions online, and drawing my own conclusions (opinions, I realize, but opinions grounded in educated facts), it is my conclusion that the two are unrelated.
Allow me to explain.
While listening to the livestream on mlb.com regarding the voting process, writers and noted national figures such as Bob Costas, Tom Verducci, and Peter Gammons debated the merits of voting on players such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa. One point that repeatedly came up in conversation was the fact that several writers felt somewhat ashamed for allowing this era to essentially pass right under their noses as they glorified the actions of the aforementioned players through their own inaction. This is to assume that a simple act of groundbreaking journalism or stricter reporting in the late 90’s would have led to the halting of the Steroid Era. (Disclaimer: Tom Verducci’s 2002 article in Sports Illustrated did effectively lead to widespread discussion about the use of steroids in MLB.) Now that the prime suspects/righteously accused/unrighteously accused have worked their way onto the ballot, they are being tried in the court of the writer’s opinions. There are widespread thoughts about the validity of these claims, and perhaps it is for the best that these players receive some kind of reaction to their accusations. (Ken Burns goes so far as to say that he wants these “mother-f^&$%rs to suffer”.)
What has actually happened is that nobody has been elected to the Hall of Fame this year. Can we safely say that all of these choices are because of the Steroid Era? I don’t believe so. In no world is Aaron Sele a Hall of Famer. (Although one voter apparently feels otherwise) However, to issue a blanket statement that players such as Edgar Martinez, Jack Morris, Tim Raines, and Craig Biggio are not Hall of Famers is to deny the actual reasoning of what the Hall of Fame actually means. At the same time, what this year’s ballot has done is to illustrate several things that are flawed about the voting process itself. (This particular writer makes a case that he won’t ever vote for Bonds, Clemens, or Sosa. If you’ll scroll down, he also makes it clear that he didn’t vote for Jack Morris because, and I quote directly, he ‘wasn’t feeling it this year’. This is a man who has been trusted to weigh the validity of these players’ careers year in and year out. Needless to say, I doubt that he’ll be winning the Sprink award anytime soon.)
I’ve already covered the candidates for the ballot extensively on the Recorder, though not as extensively as someone like Jay Jaffe. Therefore, I don’t want to get into a full fledged analysis of the ballot. What I would like to do is to state that such an action as this is a full-fledged testament as to what is wrong with the way that players are elected to the Hall of Fame.
To wit: the absence of a single living electee to the Hall of Fame this year will directly lead to a drop in business at this year’s induction ceremony. The ceremony is typically regarded as Cooperstown’s ‘Black Friday’ every year, pumping thousands of dollars into the community of 2,000. Now, it’s not the responsibility of the writers to ensure that the local economy of the Hall of Fame receives its annual boost, but at the same time, there is a direct correlation between their voting and how many visitors flock to upstate New York every year. You can’t say that the BBWAA is terribly concerned about the struggling economy, or so it would seem.
Several voters this year elected to turn in blank ballots as a protest of the appearance of Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa, among others. These are not abstentions, mind you, but full fledged “no” votes on every single player listed on the ballot. When you look into the voting percentages, you see that Craig Biggio missed induction by 39 votes, and Jack Morris by 42. As Jonah Keri points out, I’m sure that the three voting representatives from GolfersWest.com are diligent voters, but let’s be honest: this is the Baseball Hall of Fame. These men do not be needing to vote on the ballot; there are already over 500 eligible voters. Surely shrinking the electorate slightly will not be killing anybody.
I like the idea that Keri puts forth of allowing writers to vote on a player regardless of how many times he has appeared on the ballot. This not only would reduce the urgency behind all or nothing candidates such as Jim Rice, Bert Blyleven, and Morris, but would also somewhat eliminate the overwhelming need to designate a player as a “first-ballot” Hall of Famer. It is a great honor, to be sure, but thanks in no small part to this year’s denial of Bonds and Clemens, one can say that the distinction has lost its luster. (It’s already been used by the writers in recent years to deny Roberto Alomar induction based upon his spitting on an umpire. Again, I’m not sure what the significance is of providing a sort of ‘checks and balances’ system to the writers. Either a player is a Hall of Famer or they aren’t. This, of course, makes the whole idea of not electing a candidate from this ballot seem completely silly and immature…but I digress.)
Not only is the Hall of Fame becoming slightly irrelevant thanks to the growing backlog of candidates stuck outside of the Hall looking in, there is a growing danger of a glutted ballot. Next year, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina, and Jeff Kent will make their appearance on the ballot. Each year, the writers are only allowed to vote for ten players. Assuming that a writer votes for all five of those players, along with holdovers such as Biggio, Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, Jack Morris, and (oh, what the hell) Edgar Martinez, your ten votes are already accounted for. That means that candidates such as Lee Smith, Alan Trammell, Bonds, and Clemens are in danger of falling off the ballot entirely, becoming removed from eligibility on all future ballots. The notion that a player has fifteen years to spend on a ballot provides for some candidates being considered in the future, but again, a player should either be a Hall of Famer or he shouldn’t.
So, what should happen? Keri’s argument puts forth several ideas, which I’ve elaborated on above, and agree completely with. On the other hand, a case can be made for doing nothing, and for letting this ridiculous process continue until either the kinks of the ballot have been worked out, the Hall is rendered completely irrelevant, or somebody comes up with some kind of Veteran’s Committee vote to decide about the players of the Steroid Era once and for all.
For the record, I don’t think a shut-out will happen next year. Maddux should sail in on his first ballot, as should Thomas and (potentially) Glavine, and now that the hype over this year’s ballot has expired, Biggio should make it in on his second try. I’m not sure what to make of Jack Morris, but given his miniscule rise in percentage this year, he may be doomed to the Veteran’s Committee for years to come. What I do think will happen is that this year’s flawed voting will cause several writers to reevaluate how they go about selecting players (stop grandstanding/pull their heads out of their asses/come to their senses/whichever expression works best for you) and elect one of the more magnificent inductee classes in recent memory in the following years to come. Of course, I could be completely wrong, and nothing could change; the writers who vote have taken to quite a bit of grandstanding over how important their vote is and how they’re making a strong statement about how they feel about baseball in the 90’s.
Well, the statement has been made. As Jayson Stark says here, the Hall of Fame is ultimately a museum of baseball history, and the 90’s happened, whether we agree with what it means or not.
A few quick thoughts about the ballot:
1) Somebody voted for Aaron Sele?
2) An unfortunate side result of people not voting/not being able to vote for more than ten players is that someone like Kenny Lofton falls off the ballot before his career can be given a proper examination in the eyes of the voters. He joins Lou Whitaker in this distinction, which is sad. (I mean, how can only 18 people vote for the guy?)
3) I think Rafael Palmeiro, the guy who got caught using steroids after they were definitively made illegal, falls off the ballot next year.
4) Bagwell and Raines are trending in the right direction, and should be looking at induction within the next five years, assuming there are no sudden revelations with regards to Bagwell’s steroids case, or voters ‘don’t feel like’ voting for Raines.
5) Lee Smith is trending in the wrong direction, and should start praying to the Baseball Gods of the Veterans Committee.
6) Again, somebody voted for Aaron Sele? And 16 people voted for Sandy Alomar Jr.? Indians fans must be in short shrift amongst the BBWAA.
7) The overwhelming consensus I’ve gathered is that Clemens and Bonds will eventually get in, but things do not look quite as good for Sosa.
8) Things also don’t look good for Larry Walker or Fred McGriff (my personal favorite).
9) Don Mattingly and Alan Trammell should also start praying to the Baseball Gods of the Veterans Committee.
This concludes my analysis of the (Non-Existent) Class of 2013 of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Wait ‘til next year.