Thursday, January 10, 2013
A Flat Tire on the Road to the Hall of Fame
Somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout. But there is no joy in Cooperstown - every candidate has struck out.
For just the eighth time since 1945, there are no players entering into baseball's Hall of Fame. A seven-time MVP*, a seven-time Cy Young winner* and 3,000-hit player are all on the outside looking in after their first year of eligibility. What's that? Oh, the asterisks? Well, that's just how things go when it comes to baseball's legacy these days.
Twenty-six former Major League Baseball players received votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA), yet no one passed the 75 percent threshold required for immortality. Five voting members submitted entirely blank ballots, and one member voted for starting pitcher Aaron Sele, who had a career .569 winning percentage.
Baseball has come a long way since it was known as the National Association of Base Ball Players in 1857. It has gone through the Dead Ball Era of the early 1900s, racial integration in the 1940s and 50s, the Marketing Era of the 80s, a few lockouts and even "Disco Demolition" and "10 cent beer night." But since the 1990s, baseball has been gridlocked in the Steroid Era.
A shadow has been cast over the past 20 years of the sport, making it all but impossible to disseminate cheaters from those who followed the rules. Curt Schilling, a starting pitcher who received 221 votes (38.8 percent) in his first year of eligibility, made an interesting point saying, "Everyone was guilty, you either used [performance-enhancing drugs], or you did nothing to stop their use." And he's right.
BALCO, the Mitchell Report, Greg Anderson and Victor Conte became household names, just like Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa. Because of all the controversy, those three players only received a combined 38.2 percent of votes from the BBWAA. Palmeiro still garnered 50 votes even after he was the first major player to be banned for PEDs in 2005.
But what matters now is not whether these players are guilty or not. What truly matters is how many times they can get a check mark next to their name on the 569 ballots submitted by writers. Craig Biggio topped the list this year with 388 votes, just 39 shy of entering the Hall. Barry Bonds, current career home run king finished with 206 votes, and Roger Clemens, with 354 wins and 4,672 strikeouts (third all time) earned just slightly higher with 214. Baseball is destined to go spinning around in circles for years to come, possibly even all 15 years of players' eligibility for some if they do not come up with a solution.
"With 53 percent you can get to the White House, but you can't get to Cooperstown," BBWAA secretary-treasurer Jack O'Connell said. "It's the 75 percent that makes it difficult."
There's problem number one. It is understood that this is baseball immortality we're talking about here, but three-quarters of writers from all over the country having to agree on even one or two players seems a little ridiculous, doesn't it? They're writers, there is going to be some bias whether they admit it or not.
Personally, I hate Bonds. I think Jason Giambi crying to the media never actually mentioning the word "steroids" was the most embarrassing thing I've ever seen an athlete do. I think Palmeiro was, and probably still is a terrible liar. But I'd be lying through my teeth if I said as a kid, watching the home run race in 1998 wasn't the best summer of my eight-year-old life. I had a McGwire poster next to my bed, a Sosa book sitting on my desk that I would show friends when they came over my house, and whenever I'd play wiffleball, you better believe I spun my hat around backwards like Ken Griffey Jr in the Home Run Derbies.
Its time to face the facts: what players in the Steroid Era did for baseball was incredible, and it was a completely new look the sport had never seen before. Having the debate over the voting system or over whether or not certain players cheated could rage on for hours. You can't please all the people all the time, which is why I'd like to see some compromises put in place.
So Bonds, you want to be in the Hall of Fame? Then throw an asterisk next to the number 754, not 762, and give Hank Aaron his crown back. Clemens, how about you? Then keep your stats and give back your Cy Young's, and we'll have your face cast in bronze. McGwire, you fancy a trip to Cooperstown? Admit that you used a substance that was legal at the time... Oh, wait a minute.
In the waning years of the Steroid Era, Cooperstown is feeling the effects more than any, and it looks like the small upstate New York town of 2,000 won't be getting any new citizens this year. The bottom line is, if baseball wants to keep up this steroids witch hunt, it would be like fighting fire with fire and we might be seeing as many shutouts in January as we do in April.