(Photo by Associated Press)
Hope everyone had a great holiday. Now the countdown to spring training starts — it’s down to 41 days until Mariners’ pitchers and catchers report believe it or not.
I tweeted it last week, but here’s the Hall of Fame ballot I submitted:
That’s 10 votes, the maximum allowed. But the way I look at it, I’m really voting for just two this year — Bagwell and Walker, who were among the 19 new names on the ballot. Everyone else is a holdover from previous years. For the most part, if I vote for someone once, I’m going to keep voting for them. That doesn’t mean I can’t be swayed by a particularly convincing argument into dropping someone I had been voting for, or adding someone I hadn’t. A few years ago, for instnce, I became convinced that Lee Smith, while a great reliever, was not Hall of Fame worthy, and stopped voting for him. Same with Jack Morris. On the other hand, I didn’t initially vote for Alan Trammell, but now I do.
One thing voters have in abundance these days that they didn’t have when I started voting for the Hall of Fame 15 years ago is access to a multitude of opinions on each and every serious candidate — many of them extremely well reasoned and well researched. Each December, when the ballot arrives, I try to do as much research as I can, read as many analyses as I can, and come to my own conclusion.
This year, I faced (along with every other voter) a major dilemma when it came to Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. Jeff Bagwell, too, for that matter. As you might suspect, the issue is steroids, the specter of which is threatening to make Hall of Fame voting a hopelessly complicated and thankless proposition — as if deciding on candidates by their on-field achievements alone is not vexing enough.
I’ve written in the past that I’ve taken the position it is not my job to be the “steroids police.” It’s the way baseball was allowed to be played in that era, and we don’t really know, definitively, who used and who didn’t use. The statistics from the so-called steroids era still count. I adamantly refuse to withhold a vote simply based on suspicions that someone might have juiced up, as seems to be happening, to some extent, with Bagwell. In my book, that’s just patently unfair, and so I didn’t hesitate to cast my vote for Bagwell, whose production was definitely Hall worthy.
McGwire and Palmeiro are much tougher cases. I know that some people claim they weren’t Hall of Fame worthy, even without considering steroids. I don’t buy that. McGwire hit 583 home runs and was one of the most prodigious sluggers in MLB history. His .588 slugging percentage ranks eighth all time. He hit 70 homers in one season, and 65 homers in another. That’s compelling stuff. Palmeiro reached two milestones that by themselves have always been slam-dunk Hall of Fame benchmarks — 500 homers and 3,000 hits. Only three other players have reached both — Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray. Pretty exclusive company. If neither had been connected to steroids, I believe McGwire and Palmeiro would have been first-ballot selections.
Since the last Hall of Fame vote, we’ve had McGwire admit to using steroids. And now we have Palmeiro, with his failed drug test in 2005, on the ballot for the first time. After much deliberation, I finally determined where I would draw my steroids line, at least on this ballot: I draw it with Palmeiro, who failed his test after MLB had finally come out of its hazy netherworld of tacit allowance of the steroids culture. By 2005, an anti-steroids policy had been codified in the Basic Agreement, and the penalties were spelled out. Every player knew the consequences. And still Palmeiro — after wagging his finger at Congress — tested positive for a steroid. He has adamantly denied using steroids intentionally, but I think we’ve all become wary over the years of steroids denials by those who failed tests.
I’m not saying that’s a perfection solution, but it’s my solution. And it’s subject to change, with even dicier cases hitting the ballot in upcoming years — Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez et al. It’s obvious Palmeiro and McGwire won’t come close to reaching the 75 percent threshhold for induction into Cooperstown this year, and probably ever. Unless voters soften their stance, we’re facing a Hall of Fame that doesn’t include the all-time hits leader (Pete Rose), the home run king (Bonds), the player who might surpass him in home runs (A-Rod), the first two players to beat Roger Maris’s single-season home run record (McGwire and Sosa), and the pitcher who has won the most Cy Youngs in history (Clemens). It’s not pretty.
I’d much rather debate whether Edgar Martinez’s use as a DH diminishes his Hall of Fame credentials (not enough to keep him out, but we’ll discuss Edgar tomorrow).