Friday, December 28, 2012

My 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot has asterisk

This past summer, with end of the world looming, I took my two teenage sons to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. for the first and, I presumed, possibly last time.

We walked through the regal Hall of Fame wing one plaque at a time, me, as an honorary member of the Baseball Writers Association of America, telling them stories of how these great players arrived in this hallowed spot. From Cap Anson to Carl Yastrzemski.

It is not easy to get to Cooperstown, quite literally and figuratively. There is no direct path or highway. There are no short cuts. It can be as complicated as the country roads that lead there.
 As a complicated as voting for the Hall of Fame Class of 2013.

My Hall of Fame ballot comes each year with the same directions: 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’s it. There is no easy step-by-step instruction manual on how to pick Hall of Famers.

Obviously baseball is a numbers game and induction into its Hall of Fame is driven by statistics. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and even Sammy Sosa (who once was caught using a corked bat) have Hall of Fame worthy numbers and trophies to support that. There is no question about that.
The dispute lies with how they achieved them.

Our federal government, relying on two star witnesses (one a silent ally, the other a creepy rat) spent many months and millions of dollars and couldn’t prove much of anything.  If these players used steroids or some other performance-enhancing drugs, they were not banned nor detected under baseball rules that existed when they played unless they were “anonymous.” So therefore where is the irrefutable evidence to suggest that they should not be admitted to the Hall of Fame?

Yet three out of every four baseball fans you talk to wouldn’t vote for them to be in the Hall of Fame if they had a vote.

I have a vote. I have a say. I have a guess. 

My best guess is they cheated. But I don’t like guessing.

We could argue around the horn about this. We could argue that these players were merely caught up in a culture that existed in baseball and everyone – owners, players, management, agents, the Players Association and the media – looked the other way as if it was an accepted practice to compete in that era. It was part of the game. We could argue that so many players – pitchers and hitters – were suspected of steroid/PED use that, statistically, it’s all a wash anyhow because no one gained a clear advantage. Or we could argue that Bonds and Clemens had Hall of Fame numbers before all this mess and confusion.

I don’t know when the Steroid/PED Era began or if it will ever end and I don’t know how much or how little it affected the numbers that help guide voters to determining who gets in or stays out of the Hall of Fame. It is hard enough for me figuring out why I vote for Jeff Bagwell but not for Jack Morris and Tim Raines.

By the way, Bagwell’s name did not appear in the Mitchell Report, which is the most comprehensive investigation into PED use.  In his career, he hit 449 home runs with 1,529 RBI, 1,517 runs scored and an OPS of .948. He hit the same number of home runs at age 26 as he did at 35 and he is the only first baseman in baseball history to record a 30-30 season, and he did it twice.

He, Mike Piazza (a horrible catcher but with Hall of Fame numbers for any position and no connection to Mitchell Report despite rumors) and Craig Biggio (only player in baseball history with at least 3,000 hits, 600 doubles, 400 stolen bases  and 250 home runs) are the only players I am voting for on this ballot and this is why:  I never have done this before in my 15 years voting for the Hall of Fame and I hate to do it but I feel obligated to baseball fans everywhere – and my sons -- to use my vote to make some sort of statement to players on this ballot roundly suspected and criticized for using some sort of performance-enhancing drug to compete in a game I so much love and respect.

In short I would say to them: You brought this upon yourself and you shamed the game so you don’t deserve to be given the honor and privilege of being a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee. Those votes are special, one-of-a-kind, slam-dunk, no-brainer votes and, though your statistics and awards leave no doubt that you belong in the Hall of Fame, there is too much angst about how you achieved them and that troubles me and the people who revere baseball.  Those strong accusations and your arrogance are too great to ignore.
I might change my mind someday. I have before. Time has a way of revealing the truth and shedding light on right and wrong and the reasons between the two.

But ultimately I want to cast my vote with some conviction, not suspicion. This is not easy. Getting to Cooperstown is a coronation, a celebration of a job well done. Bonds is the greatest player I’ve ever seen and Clemens is the best pitcher I’ve watched in my generation.  And perhaps they belong in the Hall of Fame.

Not this year.


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