It’s an honor to be a voter for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, even though half the population will call you an idiot no matter what is decided when the 2014 class is announced Wednesday.
Such is life in the steroid age, when it’s left to baseball writers to exact retroactive justice on bulked-up ballers who mostly weren’t punished by baseball in the first place. I’m sorry, but I won’t play that game. Using traditional baseball statistics and advanced sabermetrics as a guide, I chose these nine players on my HOF ballot: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Edgar Martinez, Mike Piazza and Frank Thomas.
Some of these players are linked to performance-enhancing drugs, and others are deemed clean – even though all may have used PEDs, for all we know. Some will be voted into Cooperstown, and some will be denied – even though we may never know.
Therein lies the rub.
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You can call Hank Aaron the home run king all you want, but baseball records show the all-time home run king is Barry Lamar Bonds.
None of Clemens’ 354 career wins or his record seven Cy Young Awards have been voided, either. In fact, a federal jury acquitted Clemens on all charges in a lengthy trial for allegedly lying to Congress about never having taken performance-enhancing drugs.
But I’m supposed to disregard this because I know better? Come on.
It’s time to end this PED madness with simple common sense. Baseball writers have always not only judged players for induction, but judged players within different eras. The fatal flaw of trying to cherry-pick candidates within the Steroid Era is making judgments in the absence of facts.
For example, behemoth slugger Thomas has reached the threshold of Cooperstown without the taint of steroids, even though no one knows if he was any cleaner than others convicted in the court of public opinion.
I’m not suggesting that Thomas took steroids, nor do I have proof he did. But I don’t have proof that Bagwell and Piazza did, either. Yet last year, Bagwell and Piazza fell short of induction because enough voters seemed to “suspect” they used PEDs.
This slippery method of Hall of Fame selection puts baseball writers in a game we can never win.
I’m not suggesting writers should be blind to PED use. There are now tests and, for players who are popped for PED use, fines and suspensions. Rafael Palmeiro, though he has more than 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, flunked a PED test. There’s at least a consistent rationale for keeping him out of the Hall because of this, though years and perspective may open the door later.
It may seem to unfair to vote for Bonds and Clemens while excluding Palmeiro. Why punish the longtime Texas Rangers star simply because his timing was worse than Bonds and Clemens?
That’s just it – I’m not.
What’s lost in this age of instant analysis is that the election process allows players to be candidates for 15 years, giving time for reflection. I’m not voting to exclude Palmeiro; I’m simply not voting for him now.
Also being lost in all the PED hyperbole is that advanced sabermetrics – the math-based drilling down on baseball statistics – makes a case for why Bonds and Clemens deserve to go in now and why Palmeiro can wait.
The sabermetrics movement, led by Bill James and carried on by writers such as Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated, calls for comparing players against others at their positions – and allowing for fluctuations in offense and pitching over different eras.
By these standards, Bonds and Clemens rocket to the top – their negative personalities notwithstanding. A sabermetrics case also can be made for my others picks ahead of Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Jeff Kent, Curt Schilling and others.
Ultimately, I made a final judgment on only one candidate, Jack Morris, the 1980s ace in his 15th and final year of eligibility. I didn’t vote for him because sabermetrics show he ranked poorly in preventing runs. In traditional stats, his 3.90 career ERA would be the highest of any pitcher at Cooperstown.
All the other candidates on a crowded ballot of 36 can be assessed again next year, unless some start falling off for lack of votes because voters are trapped within the PED muddle – a sad outcome that can be avoided.
Let the writers decide the worth of players for actions on the field and within the context of an era. Let the current Hall of Famers and the public decide how and whether they accept new inductees. Let a higher power judge the 2014 class as human beings.
Let the Hall of Fame be what it is – a historical shrine where history is documented and not selectively edited by shaky methods.