The most anticipated Hall of Fame ballot in baseball was released a few months ago with the task of voting the next wave of Hall of Famers into Cooperstown’s hallowed halls. Today, the Baseball Writers of America Association made their decision. It is certainly not a popular one.
For the first time since 1996, no new faces will be entering the Hall of Fame in 2013. This coming from a ballot featuring the all-time home run king, arguably the best pitcher the game has seen, the greatest hitting catcher of all time, arguable the greatest hitting second baseman of all time and a man with 609 home runs.
First off, I agree with what the writers did this year. And yet I don’t agree with the overreaction there is to their own voting.
About a week ago, I posted what my ballot would look like if I had a vote: Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Jack Morris, Alan Trammell, Dale Murphy, Mike Piazza and Curt Schilling. Again, those were my votes. In all honesty, I though only Morris, Bagwell and Biggio had a real shot of being elected this year.
Here’s why I like what happened.
Baseball has made it clear since the beginning of Hall of Fame voting that the integrity of the game must be upheld, as it is written here:
“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.”
For all the names making their debut on the ballot – Bonds, Sosa, Clemens, etc. – and those making their return – Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmiero – the first ballot wasn’t going to cut it.
According to the Hall of Fame website, 208 players are enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Only 44 of them have been elected on the first ballot. With all the speculation, I refused to recognize Bonds, Clemens and others as first-ballot Hall of Famers.
I have no doubt that Barry Bonds will be a Hall of Famer. I have no doubt Roger Clemens will be a Hall of Famer. You can add in many other big names: Biggio, Bagwell, Piazza, Schilling, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and many more. Their time will come.
But now was not the time. If you want to respect integrity, you make these players pay the penalty.
The term first-ballot Hall of Famer is even more sacred than just being elected a Hall of Famer. What people seem to be forgetting on the short front is that for all the questions surrounding them, Bonds and Clemens did quite well in their first year.
There are difficult standards for being a Hall of Famer. Those players are Hall of Famers for the records, the thrills and the spirit they brought to the game. McGwire and Sosa may both not become Hall of Famers but are responsible for the greatest single-season home run battle in history. And chances are that was tainted by performance-enhancing drugs.
But don’t deny that it happened. Don’t deny that it renewed an excitement about baseball. And even if the players responsible for it are “cheaters,” they deserve credit for that.
The Hall of Fame is does not deny anything that these players did. If you go to the Hall of Fame, you see Clemens acknowledged for his seven Cy Young Awards. You see the baseball Barry Bonds hit out of AT&T Park for home run No. 756.
What is also being overlooked that this is the first year of eligibility for many of these players. It is one vote, one ballot. There has to be a precedence set for players like Bonds and Clemens to go in. As I said last week, Bonds and Clemens would get my vote when I looked at the ballot and saw them as more deserving. This year, there were others more deserving. But what I think the baseball world is waiting for is the first steroid-era player – whether suspected or not – to make his entrance. Perhaps that’s as soon as next year with players like Biggio and Bagwell knocking on the door. Perhaps that’s within the next five years when Piazza gets the call.
What I think most of the writers were afraid of was not voting for these players, but giving these players the first-ballot Hall of Famer title. Maybe now that the title is off the table, 2014 will feature several players inducted.
But the writers did nothing wrong. If anything, they validated that integrity still drives this game, and that to be a Hall of Famer you have to be a Hall-of-Fame person off the field. And for all the numbers in the world, there were no free passes.