Baseball balks on guidance for Hall voters
Posted January 9, 2013
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
Officially, that is the name of the Baseball Hall of Fame and so many forget those last two words "and Museum."
On Wednesday afternoon, we'll learn the results from the last year of Hall of Fame balloting and find out how many, if any, of the former stars of the game will see their careers enshrined. Unfortunately, over the last decade we've come across a problem that has no easy answer and the museum has left it up to each individual voter to determine its meaning.
We have no idea when the steroid era began. Most people assume that players became acutely aware of anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing agents in the early-to-mid 1990s. But, if the East German women's swimming team was all using steroids in the 1970s, why couldn't we also have seen some in baseball begin using around the same time? There's just no feasible way of telling when the steroid age began, especially when you consider that the league, the players, the players' union and the media who is charged with covering the game ignored what had grown obvious to most people for years.
Since the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum hasn't drawn up any criteria to deal with steroids and how to consider those implicated or detected, it's up to each voter to decide for himself what impact they may have had on each player's career.
Even within the issue of performance-enhancers there's a divide. Are they disqualified because they cheated or is it a case of simply not buying into the inflated statistics?
For five seasons, Sammy Sosa was one of the most feared hitters in the game – totaling 292 home runs between 1998-2002. That's an AVERAGE of 58.4 home runs per year.
But wait a minute, until 2005, steroids and other anabolic agents weren't against the rules. Well, that's not entirely true. Steroids have always been against the rules, there was even a 1993 letter from then-commissioner Fay Vincent to each individual team reminding them that steroids were against the law and thus against the rules of the game. However, since the league was unable to administer drug tests – random or otherwise – there was no way to detect users and there were no punishment guidelines on the off chance that a player would ultimately be caught.
As the great shortstop Phil Rizzuto, himself a member of the hall, might say, "HOLY COW!"
We've only begun to scratch the surface of the quandary facing the nearly 600 members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) who are eligible to fill out a ballot.
Some won't consider anyone from the steroid era – implicated or not. Some, either through what they saw or some advanced statistical formula, will try and make an educated guess as to the impact steroids had on each player's credentials. Others will ignore the steroid issue altogether. And, while it seems odd to essentially excuse cheating of that kind, you could make a logical case that every player is judged against every other player against whom they competed on a yearly basis. If the best of every era have found their way into the Hall why can't the best of the so-called "steroid age" as well.
It's now that we return to the "museum" portion of the story. Museums are supposed to tell the entire history of their subject matter. The good, the bad, the failures, the successes and even the embarrassing episodes in the timeline of its existence. To ignore the last two decades does the game a complete disservice. To single players out because we know, or we think we know, or we heard whispers from those who claim to know, and let others slide is arbitrary. On top of that, while most of us believe that performance-enhancing agents have a positive impact – why take them otherwise – there is simply no credible scientific study that tells us exactly what that impact is. I mean, did steroids make Barry Bonds 5 percent, 15 percent, or 50 percent better? Did Roger Clemens extend his career by 5 years, 8 years or did it have no impact at all? And, in the case of these two players, weren't they Hall of Fame-caliber players before it's widely believed that they started enhancing?
Gray enough for you yet?
Finally, there's also the little matter of those players who might have used yet managed to escape detection. Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza are both on this year's ballot and both have never been mentioned in an official document accusing them of using anything to inflate their own performance. But, that doesn't mean they didn't. What if we find out five years from now, after both Bagwell and Piazza have delivered their acceptance speeches and had fans file past their plaques, that both did inject, swallow or rub-in something that kept them in the sport, at the top of the league leaders, for a few additional years? What happens then?
It's time. It's time for the game to own up to its entire history. It's time for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum to charge its voting members with simply electing the best players historically with consideration given to the era in which they competed. Just using career statistical data is not only unfair but outdated as well. Ballparks are different today than they were 25 years ago. Baseballs are different today than they were 35 years ago. The rules of the game are different than they were 45 years ago (before then, pitching mounds were not limited to being 12 inches high, which gave pitchers a tremendous advantage – go look it up).
How we consider those good enough to be in the Hall of Fame needs to evolve with the times as well. Sure, we should pay close attention to baseball's history. Sure, it's fair to measure the career performance of today's stars against the likes of Henry Aaron or Willie Mays. And yes, we even need to adjust our thinking to include the age of specialization. Ace relievers and designated hitters have been in the game for four decades, it's time to stop excluding them based on their given role. Consider their total impact. Take "points" away for the things they didn't do. Use whatever intangibles you like. But, don't exclude because, as a DH, he wasn't a real "player."
I will draw the line on specialization at situational left-handed relievers. I don't care if you haven't allowed a home run to a left-handed batter in your 18-year career. You get one out a game, maybe three a week, go collect your paycheck and let others bask in the fullness of their contributions.
Here are the questions I would ask myself were I privileged to be a BBWAA voter:
Was the player, at any point in his career, considered to be the best, or among the best, at his position? If so, for how long?
How did his performance stack up against his peers and those at his position, historically?
What was his impact in the postseason? Granted, not every player had the chance to perform in those situations, so this really is more of an extra credit part of the questionnaire, but there are some who deserve that extra consideration. I suppose that John Smoltz, when he shows up on the ballot in a few years, will be one who will benefit from his playoff success.
Now that we've asked and answered those questions about everyone on the ballot, lets make sure that we don't leave out any of the story. If you were found to have taken steroids, Alex Rodriguez, let's make sure it's mentioned on your plaque. Put up all the statistics. List the home runs, the Most Valuable Player awards, how your agent announced you were opting out of your contract while the rival Red Sox were wrapping up a World Series sweep – as in during the game. Then we can also read about how, during those loosey-goosey times, you and your cousin took to the streets of the Dominican Republic and you were introduced to steroids. Personally, I'd leave off the men's magazine photo shoot in which you appeared to be kissing yourself in the mirror, but if there's room on the wall I wouldn't be against inclusion. It's all part of your history.
If you wished to place all the players from the steroid era in the same part of the museum, that would be fine as well. Then we could do the same for the all-white era. Forgot about that, did you? Not allowing a collection of superb ballplayers to compete in Major League Baseball based on the color of their skin certainly could have been a performance-enhancer for some prior to 1947. Just sayin'.
So, before we're done, here's my ballot if I had one.
1-Barry Bonds. Hate him or despise him, he was the best player in the game before he ever got to San Francisco and he was still that before the time it is generally thought he started creaming and clearing – allegedly. A seven-time MVP, 14-time All Star and a winner of eight Gold Gloves, he ranks first all-time in home runs and walks, is third in runs scored and fourth in runs batted in.
2-Roger Clemens. Hate him or misremember him, he was the best pitcher in the game before former Boston, and current Baltimore General Manager Dan Duquette declared that he was "on the downside of his career." 354 wins, 4,672 strikeouts, seven Cy Young Awards and an MVP should be enough.
3-Mike Piazza. The greatest-hitting catcher of all time. He was obviously not a stellar defensive player, but 90 percent of the hitters in the Hall weren't either. 427 career home runs, 396 of which came as a catcher, plus a 12-time All Star and a rookie of the year.
4-Curt Schilling. Even if you don't believe the bloody sock story, Schilling is deserving of being in the Hall of Fame. 216 career wins in a 20-year career. He was a six-time All Star, three-time 20-game winner and three times he struck out more than 300 batters in a single season. Schilling is also one of the greatest postseason performers of all time – 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 postseason starts, 4-1 with a 2.03 in the World Series, and both the 1993 NLCS and 2001 World Series MVP.
5-Tim Raines. For a decade, the National League's version of Rickey Henderson. Simply the best lead-off hitter in the senior circuit while with Montreal. His 808 career stolen bases are the fifth highest total of all time. He played before the offensive explosion took place, yet still scored 100 or more runs six times and during an era which placed far more value on the stolen base, he swiped 453 in his first six full seasons in the big leagues – at least 70 each year.
6-Rafael Palmeiro. Don't wag your finger at me. He was as productive a hitter as the game had over a 15-year period. Four times an All Star, three times a Gold Glove winner and he ranks in the top 25 all-time in hits (3,020), home runs (569), RBIs (1,835) and doubles (585). He also had a stretch in which he drove in at least 100 runs in 10 consecutive (non-strike) seasons.
7-Sammy Sosa. In spite of his convenient inability to understand English when spoken by members of Congress, Sosa's 609 career home runs are the eighth best total of all time. He had nine straight seasons of at least 100 runs batted in and over a five year span of his career (1998-2002) he hit 292 home runs, an average of 59.4 per year. He won the MVP in 1998 and was named to seven All-Star teams.
That's my list. You may have yours. You might have fallen asleep while reading.