For just the eighth time since its inception in 1936 and the first time since 1996, the National Baseball Writers Association of America did not elect a new member to the Baseball Hall of Fame. In fact, five writers even voted for nobody and submitted blank ballots.
One can trace the origins of this day all the way back to the days when Jose Canseco’s book “Juiced” was released, players were called to testify before Congress and the Mitchell Report on steroid use was issued. This Hall of Fame vote has finally brought the battle of baseball’s integrity over the steroid era out of the sports bars and into the public arena for everyone to see. Had steroids never been an issue, this class would undoubtedly be one of the greatest ever. Roger Clemons, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and others would all be unanimous first ballot Hall of Famers.
Unfortunately, the steroid era did happen and we have no real assurance as to who used them, when they used them and what impact it had on their careers. What is sad to see is that this steroid issue has not only cast a shadow over the big names that I mentioned before, but it has dragged down guys like Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza, who have not been implicated in steroid use. Biggio, who was the leading vote getter with 68.2 percent of the vote, only a few votes away from therequired 75 percent, is No. 20 on the all time hit list with 3,060 hits. Piazza is by any measure the greatest hitting catcher of all time, but only received 57.8 percent of the votes. Both of these guys should be and will probably be elected next year, but there is no certainty.
Only time will tell how this issue will be resolved and if these players will ever be exonerated with an induction into the Hall. What makes it so tough is everyone has a different view and a different system they use for voting. Some voters have publicly stated that they will never vote for the players heavily involved with steroids and some voters voted for all of them.
Idonothaveasystemorsetofcriteria;ifIhadavoteI would use the eye test and base my decision off of how I feel about that player. I know that is not very official or soundly logical, but it’s baseball, not a math problem. If I had a vote, my ballot would include Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza and Roger Clemens. Bonds is the only player to win seven MVP’s and holds both the single season and career home run records. He had the best eye at the plate and was the greatest hitter that I have ever seen in my lifetime. Plus, he would have been a hall of famer before he took steroids. McGwire took the stand at the Congressional hearings and admitted his use with dignity and took it like a man. Roger
Clemens is the only player to win seven Cy Young awards, is ninth all time in wins, third all time in strikeouts, won an MVP award, won his perjury case and is the greatest pitcher that I have ever seen in my lifetime. Sammy Sosa was defensive and scared at the Congressional meetings and was caught using a corked bat in a game. Rafael Palmeiro, who is one of only four players in history with 500 home runs and 3,000 hits, blatantly lied to Congress and tested positive for steroid use. There is no way that they should be in the Hall.
There is no right answer to this problem. The passion with which we love this great game has clouded our judgment and distorted our perception of reality. It is impossible to judge without bias these players we grew up watching and who made us love baseball. Do we simply reward all of these players for cheating or do we draw the line? While I would vote for guys like McGwire and Bonds, I would also find it very hard to look someone in the eye who didn’t cheat. In conclusion, we know that this debate will rage on for another 14 years, because players will continue to appear on the ballot for 15 years as long as they receive five percent of the vote each year. We know that after this there will never be another steroid debate thanks to Bud Selig’s steroid policy, and we also know that baseball will go on and will always be the great game that we know and love.
A version of this article appeared on page 10 of January 10, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.