Sign in to comment!

Menu
Home

Baseball

A Hall of a big controversy

The Baseball Writers Association of America elected no one to the 2013 Hall of Fame class last week, but never have the results of their voting received more scrutiny.

Baseball fans for years have enjoyed spirited debates with one another, arguing whether various players are truly deserving of enshrinement in Cooperstown.

Never has there been as much controversy about a Hall of Fame vote as there was last week, when baseball fans brought into question the entire selection process.

Let's make a few observations after the historic 2013 vote:

Most Hall of Fame hopefuls from the "steroid era" - even those who do not have concrete evidence against them - will be affected in future voting.

It's not at all surprising that Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens failed to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in their first year on the ballot. After all, Bonds was in 2011 convicted of obstruction of justice for lying to a grand jury about using steroids and human growth hormone.

Sosa tested positive in 2003, according to the Mitchell Report - the result of former U.S. Senator George J. Mitchell's 21-month investigation into the use of anabolic steroids and human growth hormone in Major League Baseball.

Although Clemens was acquitted of charges of lying to Congress, former teammate Andy Pettitte initially testified the seven-time Cy Young Award winner once told him that he used human growth hormone. Pettitte changed his story when questioned by a federal grand jury last year, deeming it only 50-50 that Clemens admitted to him that he had used performance-enhancing drugs.

It was a bit more surprising that first-time eligibles Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza failed to gain at least 75 percent of the vote. Biggio has never been accused of using PEDs. There have long been whispers that Piazza used PEDs, but his name was absent from the Mitchell Report.

Perhaps Curt Schilling, who received 38.8 percent of the vote in this, his first year of eligibility, has it right. Now an ESPN baseball analyst, Schilling said last Wednesday, "Perception in our world is absolute reality. Everybody is linked to it. You're either a suspected user or you didn't do anything to actively stop it. I fall into the category of being one of the players who didn't do anything to stop it. This is part of the price that we're paying."

Voters are taking a stance to focus on morality, but what's going to happen if an elected player subsequently admits he took steroids? Furthermore, how was Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry's use of the spitball less of a cheating tactic than players using performance-enhancing drugs?

Likely, the fear of having a Hall of Fame player being found guilty of using PEDs after his induction is affecting the voting. Piazza and Jeff Bagwell, minus steroid rumors, might have gotten into the Hall this year.

Perhaps there's a fear among the voters that should one of those players be found guilty of cheating after his induction, it would leave egg on the voters' faces. So it's likely they are going to take a wait-and-see approach on certain players for now.

After all, players like Piazza and Bagwell will still most likely have plenty of remaining years on the ballot. If evidence of those players cheating is one day uncovered, then the voters will be vindicated. If no evidence is uncovered, the support of Piazza and Bagwell will probably increase each year, and they would eventually both get to Cooperstown.

If the likes of Bonds and Clemens are being kept out of the Hall because they "cheated," why was Perry inducted in 1991? He admitted in his 1974 autobiography, "Me and the Spitter," that he started using the spitball on May 31, 1964. In the two-plus major-league years he pitched prior to that, it would be generous to describe Perry as mediocre.

While Perry was not ejected from a game for throwing a spitter until 1982, he admitted in his book that he threw the illegal pitch in major-league games. And the book was released 17 years before his Hall of Fame induction, so it wasn't like the voters had no knowledge of the cheating.

The 1991 voters eventually warmed up to the idea of inducting an admitted "cheater." Since there is a precedent, will future voters eventually warm up to the idea of enshrining Bonds, Clemens, etc.?

Aside from the candidates most frequently accused of using performance- enhancing drugs, there really were no slam-dunk Hall of Fame selections this year.

Biggio probably had the best credentials, with 3,000 career hits, seven All- Star Game appearances and four Gold Gloves at second base, despite coming up to the majors as a catcher. He twice led the National League in runs scored, three times led the NL in doubles and once led the league in stolen bases.

Detractors, though, would point out that he was just a compiler late in his career, hanging around perhaps a little longer than he should have in order to get to the 3,000-hit milestone. He also was never considered to ever be one of the top five overall players in baseball at any time. He never finished higher than fourth in MVP voting and was a top-10 MVP selection only three times.

Jack Morris won 254 games and was stellar in postseason play, but his 3.90 career ERA is higher than any pitcher already in the Hall of Fame.

Bagwell has an MVP award, but he only led the NL in RBIs once and never was the league's home run champion. He also batted just .226 in the postseason.

Piazza was probably the greatest offensive catcher in the history of the game, but he was poor defensively.

Tim Raines had 808 stolen bases and an 84.7 percent stolen base success rate. He had a career .385 on-base percentage, yet he only led his league once in that category. Also, he was generally a singles hitter who finished well short of 3,000 career hits (2,605). Players with his skills also have been fairly underappreciated; Raines never finished higher than fifth in MVP voting.

Lee Smith had 478 career saves, third in MLB history. However, he was not viewed as being as dominant as the pitchers with more saves. His career ERA was 3.03, compared to Mariano Rivera's 2.21 and Trevor Hoffman's 2.87 numbers.

Schilling passed the eye test as a dominant ace pitcher, and he was money during the postseason. However, his 216 career wins and 3.46 ERA wouldn't stack up to the majority of Hall of Fame pitchers.

Edgar Martinez was an elite offensive force, but as a career designated hitter, he contributed nothing defensively and was essentially a two-tool player.

Voters leaving first-time candidates off their ballots because they believe those players don't deserve to be first-ballot Hall of Famers is plain silly.

Basically, you're either a Hall of Famer or you're not. If Morris gets elected next year, there won't be a mention on his plaque that it took him until the 15th ballot to be enshrined. So why make a distinction between first-ballot Hall of Famers and 15th-ballot Hall of Famers?

To carry it a step further, if you're a voter and you decided this year that Morris should not be inducted, what is going to change from now until next January to make you change your mind? It's not like his resume is going to improve in the next 12 months.

One more annoying thing: Voters who leave an obviously deserving candidate off their ballot because there has never been a player elected unanimously. Their thinking is that if, say, Babe Ruth didn't get 100 percent of the vote, then no one should.

The highest percentage of the vote any player ever received was Tom Seaver's 98.84 percent. In 1992, he got 425 of a possible 430 votes. That's the most support any player ever received, but the only question worth asking was this: What the heck were the other five voters thinking?

Perhaps some changes need to be made in the Hall of Fame election process.

Being a Hall of Fame voter is a privilege that comes with a responsibility. The fate of former players' quests for immortality is in the voters' hands, and many baseball fans were left thinking last Wednesday that some of those voters have no idea what they're doing.

While voting for obvious non-deserving candidates (Aaron Sele, Shawn Green, Steve Finley and Sandy Alomar Jr. come to mind) is essentially harmless in the end because there's no danger that they'll be enshrined, it still leaves fans with feelings that voters aren't taking their responsibility seriously.

Maybe the answer is to make it more difficult for a player to be put onto the ballot. Perhaps Sele, Green, Finley and Alomar Jr. should have never been on the ballot to begin with. They were all fine players, but anyone thinking objectively would agree that they were not Hall of Famers.

Jeff Saukaitis is a former Sports Network writer/editor who has been a professional sportswriter since 1985.