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Baseball Hall of Fame 2013: Angry? You Should be!
Mad? You should be. I know I am.
I’ve been watching and reading about this year’s Hall of Fame class and I have to say I am greatly disappointed that nobody was elected. Nobody? This ballot contains probably 10-12 great players and nobody was inducted by a large group of writers that, despite some opinions to the contrary, just don’t seem to get it right all that often anymore.
Now everyone has an opinion and they are entitled to it. Many of the writers think they did a splendid job inducting nobody. I can’t, for the life of me, understand why anyone would think that’s a good thing, but they do. They don’t want to hear the whining (as one NY columnist put it). But there are just too many conflicted arguments involved and too many unanswered questions too. Let’s take a look at the unusual situation we found ourselves in.
1. The current base of writers who vote (those writers in the BBWAA for more than 10 years) make their money writing about these players and in 1998 made LOTS of MONEY writing about how fantastic these players were. Baseball owners and everyone associated to the financial aspects of baseball also made lots of money on these players. But only the writers get to now cast votes against them for the Hall. Mike Lupica, an extremely well respected NY writer, wrote a book about the summer of 98 – now he votes against McGwire and Sosa? I don’t know what his ballot looked like but if he even gets to CHOOSE, then he’s completely conflicted – as are many other writers.
2. Milestones don’t seem to matter anymore?? Craig Biggio has 3,060 hits and is one of ONLY 27 players to ever reach the milestone. Why did he get snubbed? He has other great numbers as well marking him as a great all-around player. Why in the world is there even a question about him? What else could this guy have done? He even won gold gloves at two different positions – if there was ever a complete and great player, Craig Biggio is it.
3. Players in the 80’s and early 90’s are still being held to the high numbers supposedly produced by the steroid era players. For many years this kept other first-ballot types out for a few years. Guys who we all knew were first ballot HoFers like Sandberg and Carter had to wait a few years. Within their timeframe I guess it made a small amount of sense but why now? Tim Raines and Jack Morris are two of the best players of the 80’s and early 90’s and they were snubbed too.
4. The Integrity/Sportsmanship clause was invoked by many writers but it’s use really opens up two issues: 1 - The Hall is already full of racists, bigots, spit-ballers, alcoholics and, well, you get the picture here, and 2 – it doesn’t work both ways for a player like Dale Murphy who is well regarded by writers and ballplayers alike for his high ideals, integrity and sportsmanship. It wasn’t really used before and it really hasn’t been used – until now.
5. Suspected steroid users are still innocent! Players you may think may have done steroids are still innocent as far as I’m concerned. I don’t know if there is any major push to identify anyone else at this time. Players like Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza should not be penalized as they were never identified as users and never tested positive for anything. Where is the fairness (or integrity from the writers, by the way) in assuming an innocent person is guilty by association?
6. And then there is the steroids issue. Notice I didn’t put it first – I put it last. It’s the least of the issues with this year’s ballot. Yes there are a number of players we know who used steroids on the ballot and the writers have varied opinions about how to handle Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, McGwire and Palmeiro. Can we call them cheaters? Steroids weren’t illegal in baseball and neither were precursors to steroids like Androstendione which we know McGwire took. Many would say that’s a technicality since steroids, at least, are illegal everywhere – not just sports. That much is true, but it isn’t true about Andro – you could buy that in your local nutrition store until they banned it years later. And McGwire didn’t hide it either, everyone knew he was on it since it was in his locker. Everyone involved – writers, management and fans – kept applauding anyway.
The next statement is that these players knew they were doing something wrong. Even if that’s the case, you could easily say the same for all of the players throughout the 60’s and 70’s who took amphetamines or “greenies”. They were doing something illegal as well and they knew the effects of the little green pills when they took them. Nobody felt outraged enough to keep all of those players out of the Hall of Fame.
We then have several small elephants in the room about steroid use. First of all, IF you believe that 90% of the players were on steroids then the field WASN’T unbalanced (except for the remaining 10%). I don’t know if I believe that number but it’s quoted too many times to ignore. If you look at the Mitchell report and other sources for a full list of steroid connected players, you can easily determine two things: pitchers took them just as much as hitters (thus again balancing the playing field) and there isn’t a star born of the steroid-era. Look at the list of players. There isn’t one player who had a long-lasting career built on steroids. Not one. Many fringe players exist here and they did benefit from hitting a few more home runs and such but David Segui and Mark Carreon didn’t all of a sudden become Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle. There are some career years involved for these players but not a Hall-of-Fame career for any of them. The ONLY players we even think about are the Bonds and Clemens –type players who didn’t need the help in the first place.
McGwire hit the major leagues as a skinny freckle-faced kid and hit 49 home runs as a rookie. Palmeiro was a great hitter from the moment he hit the major leagues. Barry Bonds was the best player on the planet not named Griffey and Clemens was awesome from the very first strikeout. If you had stopped time in 1998 you may not have listed McGwire as hall-worthy yet but Bonds, Clemens and Palmeiro were.
The real issue here is understanding that baseball is a skill sport, not a strength sport. Giving a bad hitter more strength will not make him a better hitter. Sorry, it just doesn’t happen. If you don’t have superior hand-eye coordination you just can’t hit and no amount of steroids will help you out (never mind the fact that hitting home runs is even more difficult). The key to throwing 95 mph isn’t benching 400 pounds either. It’s about mechanics and your shoulder, not your biceps. Could a .250 hitter become a .270 hitter on steroids? Yes. Will that get you a better contract? Probably, yes. Does it make you a Hall-of-Famer? Never.
Baseball is an incredibly difficult sport to be really good at. For those of you who played even in Little League, you probably remember how difficult it is to hit a baseball. Do you really believe football players, who are widely regarded as the strongest team sport athletes we have, could be given a baseball bat and start hitting home runs? The best basketball player on the planet tried to become a baseball player and wasn’t all that good either. If we gave these guys steroids and made them all even stronger, do you think that would make them better hitters? I know if you made me stronger and faster with steroids, I’d still suck as a hitter (I was an elite defender throughout my youth but not much of a hitter), I just didn’t have the hand-eye coordination or strike-zone awareness to be able to hit well. No amount of extra strength would fix that.
So in the end, did steroids help these baseball players all that much? I don’t think we’ll ever really know but from the names of players we have, we can see that steroids didn’t really do much for these players. Like I said, they may have become marginally better numbers-wise and certainly that affected the pay scale in baseball but for most, the steroids didn’t do much if anything for them. In fact, I don’t think people could even argue the point that watered-down pitching and smaller ballparks was as much a contributor to better home run numbers as the steroid use was. Steroids are called PEDs, performance-enhancing drugs. The bottom line though is that you still have to perform. The cream of the crop always did perform because they always could perform. The players that couldn’t, didn’t get the boost they were looking for from steroids.
The Hall of Fame is very important to baseball and baseball fans. The fact that the voters couldn’t think clearly enough about the guys who aren’t steroid-connected is a huge problem. It must leave everyone wondering how they will handle next year when all of these players are still on the ballot and they will be joined by a host of other great players. Voting for 10 won’t be enough to handle the overflow and it will only get worse the next few years.
So while the writers are applauding their own shutout, they have made themselves look foolish and confused while also making their choices even more difficult and suspect for the next few years.
Yeah, job well done….