Marcos Bretón

Opinion: Why Bonds, Schilling get my Hall of Fame vote

Barry Bonds can be faulted for deeply regrettable behavior, but he posted Hall of Fame numbers – with or without performance-enhancing drugs.
Barry Bonds can be faulted for deeply regrettable behavior, but he posted Hall of Fame numbers – with or without performance-enhancing drugs. AP

When the Baseball Hall of Fame class of 2015 is announced Tuesday, I wish the national discussion would be about the great players elected and not those who weren’t.

I wish members of the Baseball Writers Association of America would stop trashing voters with opposing views.

I wish sports show hosts and Twitter trolls would drop the lie that some other voting body besides the BBWAA could pick a slate of winners that wouldn’t be controversial.

Until there is consensus over what to do about Hall of Fame candidates linked to performing-enhancing drugs, the vote will be an annual food fight that gets sillier by the year.

On my ballot, I’m trying to eliminate emotion as much as possible.

No Northern California columnist was more critical of Barry Bonds, but he gets my Hall of Fame vote. I collaborated with Sammy Sosa on his autobiography, but he doesn’t.

Curt Schilling is a loudmouth, but he gets my vote. John Smoltz is a class act, but he doesn’t – not this year anyway.

The ultimate criteria are numbers amassed by players during their careers. I compared those numbers to current Hall of Famers at the same positions while considering traditional metrics (home runs, hits, wins, ERA) and advanced metrics such as wins above replacement.

I took into account that current Hall of Fame candidates played most of their careers before baseball introduced rules to combat PEDs in 2005.

That’s not to excuse “cheating.” The point is that this era in baseball really happened even though we try to disavow it in our memories and with our Hall of Fame votes.

I feel uncomfortable using my ballot to retroactively punish those whose numbers and records still stand and who remain Hall of Fame candidates in good standing. It’s a slippery slope to cherry-pick candidates based on PED suspicions when we might already have elected players who used PEDs and got away with it.

The most hawkish voters argue that traditional baseball numbers were inflated by PED use, therefore PED users lack the authenticity required for enshrinement.

This hard stance creates the twin dilemmas of Mark McGwire and Sosa, heroes in 1998 for destroying the season home run record – villains in the steroid aftermath.

In years past, 500 career home runs meant a quick ticket into the Hall of Fame, and McGwire has 583 – 10th all-time. But everyone remembers McGwire’s infamous testimony before Congress in 2005 when he said repeatedly, “I’m not here to talk about the past.” He later admitted using PEDs. What to do?

Advanced baseball metrics solve the dilemma by making a case that McGwire is a marginal Hall of Fame candidate – PEDs or no.

For example, a player’s wins above replacement – or WAR – judges how many estimated wins he can deliver for his team over the average player at his position. Mike Trout just won the American League MVP with a WAR of 7.9 – the amount of estimated extra wins he delivered for the Los Angeles Angels with his hitting, defense and baserunning.

Even in 1998, when McGwire hit 70 home runs, his WAR was 7.5 – third best in the National League that year – and it was the only time in his career he cracked the top five.

Despite more than 600 career home runs, Sosa also falls short on advanced metrics. “His career WAR total of 58.4 is nearly 15 wins short of the average among the 24 (Hall of Fame) right fielders,” wrote Jay Jaffe in Sports Illustrated.

Some traditionalists scoff, but advanced metrics have changed the voting patterns for baseball’s annual awards. They have de-emphasized wins for pitchers vying for Cy Young awards and raised the value of complete players like Trout.

These metrics take into account historical spikes in offense and differences in new ballparks.

Hopefully, they will begin to move Hall of Fame voters past the conflicts over PEDs because they present a different picture of McGwire and Sosa that delves deeper than their bloated power numbers. We will never know how much of an advantage PEDs were for players like McGwire and Sosa.

But we know Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell have Hall of Fame numbers, according to advanced and traditional metrics. That’s why I voted for all four for the third year in a row while passing on McGwire and Sosa.

The federal PED investigations of Bonds and Clemens were ugly and unearthed some seedy details. Both men can be faulted for deeply regrettable behavior. But the numbers say both were all-time great players – PEDs or not.

If Bonds and Clemens aren’t worthy of the Hall of Fame, neither is any player of their era.

Bagwell and Piazza have been denied even though they have Hall of Fame numbers and were not prosecuted or formally accused of PED use. If my fellow voters know something about these two that I don’t, I wish they would share it.

Whisper campaigns go against principles of fairness, and they are exacerbating a hopeless backlog of Hall of Fame candidates.

For the first time in three years as a voter, I selected the maximum 10 candidates.

I again voted for Craig Biggio, who just missed last year and should get in Tuesday. I chose Edgar Martinez, the great designated hitter for the Seattle Mariners who posted hitting numbers worthy of the Hall of Fame.

I cast votes for Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez, both on the ballot for the first time. Both defined greatness and were elite pitchers during an era when power numbers for hitters exploded.

Finally, I voted for Tim Raines and Schilling.

Raines didn’t reach 3,000 career hits, but he was a dynamic hitter, base stealer and outfielder. An advanced metric – OPS, or on-base plus slugging percentage – ranks him among the elite players of his era. Schilling was not only one of the great postseason pitchers, his WAR puts him among the best of his generation.

That’s it. There was no room to consider Mike Mussina, Jeff Kent, Smoltz or Gary Sheffield this year.

Some will call that a disgrace, but those players likely will be around next year – when we crank it up again for the next Hall of Fame food fight.

Call The Bee’s Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096.


What: Class of 2015 announcement

When: Tuesday, 11 a.m.

TV: MLB Network, program begins 8 a.m.