This year’s ballot for the baseball Hall of Fame had Barry Bonds, baseball’s home run champ, Roger Clemens, winner of 354 games and 7 Cy Youngs, Mike Piazza, the undisputed best offensive catcher ever, and Sammy Sosa, the only player to ever hit sixty home runs in three different seasons.
None of them got in, and the reason is obvious: steroids.
In fact, no one was voted in this year, making it the first time since 1996 that that has happened. By my count, there are 11 clearly deserving players and a few more on the cusp: Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Alal Trammell, Edgar Martinez, Larry Walker, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling and Craig Biggio (who got the closest to the 75% vote threshold with 68%) all deserve entry, with Kenny Lofton, Rafael Palmeiro, Fred McGriff and Dale Murphy all maybes. Take away all positive tests, admissions and suspicions and Bonds, Clemens, Piazza and probably McGwire and Palmeiro are all shoo-ins for the Hall of Fame, their numbers are phenomenal, even in an inflated offensive era.
But yeah, about that inflated offensive era…
We now know that the 90s and early 2000s were rampant with steroids and amphetamines. Stories abound of players magically inflating over the offseason, of guys that needed to take downers to go to sleep because they were too hopped up on “greenies,” of traded players entering a new locker room for the first time and asking where the “special jar” was kept. And that’s the thing: this wasn’t a few bad actors, this was a large percentage of the sport. So how, and how much do we punish those seeking enshrinement in baseball’s Hall of Fame?
Part of that question was answered today: if you look even a little steroidy, no first ballot for you. Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell have never been directly linked to any performance enhancing drugs, but they are clearly being punished for their suspicious bulk. The first ballot, usually a silly privilege that some voters, inexplicably to me, don’t give to anyone, has become a useful tool in this confusing era. What Hall of Fame voters seem to want to say is: you were great, and you are getting in eventually, but first you have to sit in the corner and think about what you did.
Not ideal, but hey, no one knows what to do here. While it seems silly to punish ten people out of hundreds, it also seems wrong to ignore their actions entirely. Many writers have been calling for more options than “yes” or “no” (and more than ten votes) because while they may want to let the supposed users (and a few tested or admitted users, namely McGwire and Palmeiro) stew for a while, but they don’t want to let them fall off the ballot. ESPN’s Jayson Stark voted for Sammy Sosa over other candidates he finds more deserving in the hopes of keeping Sosa on the ballot (at least 5% of the vote is needed for this) long enough to facilitate a discussion.
Hopefully next year, the logjam will clear as enough voters decide that Bonds et al have served their time. For now, baseball’s Hall of Fame vote reminds us that while the steroid era is over (at least it seems to be), its ripples are still being felt.