Not so long ago, election into the Baseball Hall of Fame had an entirely different feeling and meaning. Candidates would sit by the phone and await the potential call to Cooperstown. The players were the story.
Now, somewhat sadly, Judgment Day is far more about the voters, particularly when, for the first time since 1996, there is a chance that not a single major league player will be elected into the Hall of Fame.
In my case, the names you're looking for this Wednesday are, in alphabetical order, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Edgar Martinez, the only three names I checked on the annual Hall of Fame ballot I submitted last month. That was it. This is the 10th year in which I have had the right to vote for the Hall of Fame, and I have no doubt that my voting history will be called illogical or inconsistent (or both) by any range of people for any assortment of reasons.
In many cases, those critics will make compelling arguments. But let me tell you why I now vote the way I do.
* Before we get to the obvious issues surrounding the Steroids Era, let's begin quickly with Martinez, who is on the ballot for the fourth year and was named on just 36.5 percent of the ballots in 2012. (A player must be named on 75 percent or more of all ballots for induction.) The primary argument against him is that he was a designated hitter, which is obviously to say that Martinez did not field a position.
So why did I vote for Martinez? Precisely for the same reason, at least in part. The DH has been in existence for 40 years now, and yet no true DH has ever been elected to the Hall of Fame or been elected as the Most valuable Player. Let's hope the voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of American (BBWAA) someday call this what it is - discrimination - and I admit that the decision to vote for Martinez is, in part, political.
Here's the other reason: he was a great DH, arguably the best that has ever held the position. As a hitter, he was highly skilled. Martinez had career totals of .312/.418./.515 and he walked more than he struck out. For chunks of his time with the Seattle Mariners, Martinez batted behind both Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey, serving as the No. 4 hitter in a mighty Seattle lineup. He won the Silver Slugger Award five times. He twice finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting, no small feat for a DH on teams with Griffey and Rodriguez.
Can we please stop with the nonsense that DHs are somehow less than whole? The Mariners used Martinez as a DH because they could. There are plenty of players in the Hall of Fame whose defense hurttheir respective teams and who would have better off at DH. Harmon Killebrew. Ted Williams. Willie Stargell. The list goes on.
As for the argument for and against the other players on the ballot, the Steroids Era has triggered a wide range of philosophies about cheating, statistics, voting consistency. All of them have holes. Subscribing to any one of them is simply wrong and short-sighted, and here's at least some attempt to explain why.
* Cheating. Many voters see steroids users as violators of the famed "character" clause, that portion on the Hall of Fame ballot which suggests that a player's integrity is to be weighed when making a decision. On many levels, this is a load of garbage. For starters, voters earn their right to cast ballots based of having watched major league games for a period of 10 consecutive years or longer. This hardly makes people qualified to judge a person's character. Second, there are undoubtedly cheaters (Gaylord Perry), steroids users (your guesses are as good as anyone's) and scoundrels (Ty Cobb) inducted at Cooperstown who hardly pass the character test.
We're talking about baseball players here. Not Papal candidates. Further, there is simply no way to know who used and who didn't during an era when use of performance enhancers was so rampant that the game was corrupted beyond belief.
During the height of the steroids saga, the Major League Baseball Players Association (or the players' union) resisted testing. In the process, the MLBPA protected the guilty. Now, years later, the MLBPA wants us to judge players individually because it better serves them? Sorry. The MLBPA chose its path a long time ago. We have to assume that many (if not most or all) players cheated. Such was the culture at the time. If players lack credibility, that's not our fault and not our problem.
* Statistics. In baseball history, certain numbers and milestones have had obvious value. Three thousand hits. Five hundred home runs. Three hundred wins. None of them mean a darned thing anymore. In 2004, during a season in which he turned 40, Barry Bonds had .362/.609/.812 totals. He walked 232 times and still hit 45 home runs. That is a complete and utter joke. Bonds was at the top of the list of players who made a complete mockery of the game, but that is only because he was the best talent. He was hardly alone.
Can anyone really say that Rafael Palmeiro's 569 home runs put him in the same class as, say, Mickey Mantle (536)? Please. Anyone who saw Palmeiro play knows that he was a very good player, not a great one, rarely the best player on his team. Ditto for Craig Biggio and his 3,060 hits. Sammy Sosa (609 home runs) was a knucklehead who couldn't run the bases or play defense. Mark McGwire (306 was a home run in the last six years of his career) was a better version of Dave Kingman.
So why a yes on Bonds and Clemens? Because they were the best, most complete players at their positions during the era. Bonds ran well, hit for average, hit for power. Clemens threw innings, amassed strikeouts, limited walks. Both were generally quite consistent. Throwing away all numbers are measurements, Clemens and Bonds passed the eyeball test every single time, which is why they should get in.
Of course, neither will.
* Voting consistency. Fans and critics love top look at a voter's history (mine is below) and pick it apart. How could vote for Player A and not vote for Player B? Why did exclude Player C one year and include him later? Many of the criticisms are legitimate. But as it applies to the Steroids Era, voting inconsistencies will get worse.
And if that bothers you, so be it.
Somewhere along the line, there is every chance that Mike Piazza or Jeff Bagwell will get my vote. Right now, I have little choice but to look at them skeptically. (Again, the MLBPA sacrificed the right to be innocent until proven guilty.) Bagwell hit for virtually no power in the minor leagues and finished with career totals similar to those of Juan Gonzalez, who is not in. Piazza was a 62nd round draft pick -- the 62nd round doesn't even exist anymore, for goodness sake -- who turned into one of the greatest power-hitting catchers of all-time.
Do people really expect us to take guys like that at face value now? Sportswriters are dumb. But we're not that dumb. (OK, debatable.) Maybe there will someday be reason to believe that Bagwell and Piazza were clean. But given the damage that players did to their own game during the Steroids Era, they cannot honestly expect us to grant them the benefit of the doubt.
That's why they call it a union, guys. All for one and one for all.
As for some like Curt Schilling, who draws obvious interest in Boston, he is among the toughest of cases. Schilling was a very good pitcher during his career, be never won a single Cy Young Award during a time when many of his contemporaries when several. Clemens won seven Cy Youngs. Greg Maddux won five. Randy Johnson won four and Pedro Martinez won three. Tom Glavine won two. Putting Schilling in Cooperstown with that group seems terribly unfair to the others, who were simply better than he was.
Before anyone points to Schilling's postseason success, which was considerable, he falls into a familiar class. His career wins and postseason totals put him in the same neighborhood as David Cone, David Wells, even Andy Pettitte. The first two aren't in and Pettitte shouldn't be. All were good pitchers. All were clutch in big games. But all are more like Jack Morris than they are Clemens, Maddux, Johnson, Martinez or even Glavine.
The bottom line?
We shouldn't loosen standards on the Hall of Fame because of the Steroids Era.
We should tighten them.
* With all this in mind, here's my Hall of Fame voting history (players who were elected to the Hall that year are in bold):
2004: Andre Dawson, Dennis Eckersley, Paul Molitor, Jim Rice, Ryne Sandberg, Bruce Sutter.
2005: Wade Boggs, Andre Dawson, Jim Rice, Ryne Sandberg, Bruce Sutter.
2006: Andre Dawson, Jim Rice, Bruce Sutter
2007: Andre Dawson, Tony Gwynn, Jim Rice, Cal Ripken
2008: Andre Dawson, Rich Gossage, Jim Rice.
2009: Andre Dawson, Rickey Henderson, Jim Rice
2010: Roberto Alomar, Andre Dawson, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez
2011: Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez
2012: Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez
2013: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Edgar Martinez
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