On Sunday, July 22, Barry Larkin and Ron Santo joined the exclusive club that is the Baseball Hall of Fame. And with it, they marked the final year of unquestionable induction.
2013 was supposed to be the most prominent, illustrious class of Hall of Famers. Until the Mitchell Report. And the Steroid Era. And all the speculation that came with it.
On the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in 2013 are names like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa. Also on the ballot are names like Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling and Craig Biggio.
Of those six, Bonds and Clemens are the only ones mentioned in the Mitchell Report. Schilling and Sosa joined Clemens as part of the testimonial hearing on steroids in Washington in 2005. Schilling was present as a member of an advisory board. Clemens and Sosa were among the accused.
We may never know who took steroids and who didn’t. It seems inevitable that a majority of the players did take steroids during the Steroid Era.
But looking at the list, Bonds and Clemens may be the only ones worth noting as steroid users. Sosa doesn’t have anything else to link himself to any speculation other than the hearing in 2005. Piazza, Biggio and Schilling carry no speculation at all.
Perhaps those three are a question of numbers. Piazza is perhaps the greatest hitting catcher in baseball history. Biggio is the most recent member of the 3,000 hit club, joining in 2007. Schilling only reached 216 wins.
Meanwhile, you’re talking about how all three could become Hall of Famers over baseball’s all-time home runs leader and a pitcher with 354 career wins, ninth all-time.
Regardless of who makes it in and who is left out, there will be controversy. But the writers who vote need to think about who they are inducting.
Do I think that Barry Bonds will be a Hall of Famer? Yes. Do I think Roger Clemens will be a Hall of Famer? Yes. But make them wait.
However, I don’t necessarily agree with allowing Bonds and Clemens into the Hall of Fame. Here’s why.
“Voting: Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”
That comes directly from the Baseball Writers Association of America’s rules for election. There are two words of extreme importance to this pending election: integrity and character.
There is no doubt that Bonds and Clemens were talented athletes who made enormous contributions to their teams and the game itself. But, did they do it in a way that is honorable?
If Shoeless Joe Jackson is banned for life as part of the “Black Sox Scandal” for throwing the 1919 World Series and Pete Rose is banned for life for gambling, as violations to the integrity of the game and the character of the player, then why include Bonds and Clemens for the same faults.
Clearly, those two words have already affected Hall hopefuls who were superstars in the Steroid Era. Mark McGwire will enter his seventh year on the ballot in 2013. Rafael Palmeiro will enter his third. McGwire hit 583 home runs in his career and set a single-season record in 1998 with 70 home runs only to have it broken by Bonds in 2001. Palmeiro is a member of the 3,000 hit club and 500 home run club, marks that are almost guarantees to earn you a plaque in Cooperstown.
McGwire has never surpassed 25 percent of the vote. Palmeiro has never passed 12 percent. A required 75 percent is required to be inducted. McGwire has nine years left on the ballot. Palmeiro has 13. For McGwire, the best chance to make it may have already passed. The same goes for Palmeiro.
The chances of a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2013 are slim to none. Look for guys like Jack Morris, who has been on the ballot for 13 years, and Jeff Bagwell to make it instead.
In the three years after 2013, here are some of the names you can expect to get inducted because they don’t carry the same speculation: Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Tom Glavine, Jeff Kent, Ken Griffey Jr., John Smoltz, Trevor Hoffman.
It will be impossible to avoid speculation. It’s inevitable. But, for the guys who have already been called Hall of Famers in their time on the field, just consider where their names have popped up.
For the ones who were making headlines in all the wrong ways, their Hall of Fame dreams are in jeopardy. For those who avoided it, they will likely survive. But the honor of being immortalized in the Hall will likely be a long and controversial wait.