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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

January 4, 2013 at 2:37 PM

The Hall of Fame voting conundrum of 2013

Here is the ballot I submitted last month for the Hall of Fame, the results of which will be revealed on Wednesday: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Edgar Martinez, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Alan Trammell and Larry Walker.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if no one receives the 75 percent vote needed for election, because the voting apparatus has careened off the tracks this year. And this a train wreck that everyone saw coming for years. These folks have been monitoring every voter who has revealed his vote, an exercise they conducted with considerable accuracy last year. Right now, Biggio leads with 68.1 percent of the 119 ballots that have been made public. It’s obviously not scientific, because more than 500 ballots will be cast. My completely unscientific theory is that those players with the least connection to steroids will out-perform this poll because the older, more conservative voters are the least likely to reveal their ballot via social media. But I could be completely wrong about that. Where’s Nate Silver when you need him?

Five of my votes were repeats from previous years: Bagwell, Martinez, Raines, Trammell and Walker. The other five were first-timers on the ballot, and in fact they knocked off some players I’ve voted for in the past. By Hall of Fame rules, you get to vote for no more than 10, which in the 16 years I’ve been voting (you get that privilege after 10 years as a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America) has never been an issue. This year, however, I had to knock off Fred McGriff and Mark McGwire, whom I’ve voted for in the past. And I had to exclude first timers Sammy Sosa and Kenny Lofton, who warranted strong consideration. That doesn’t even include the borderline guys like Jack Morris, Dale Murphy and Lee Smith, whom I haven’t voted for in the past, and the unique case that is Rafael Palmeiro.

There’s a ballot overflow crisis developing when it comes to Hall of Fame voting, and it’s only going to get worse. Much, much worse. Next year, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas and Mike Mussina — strong candidates, all — hop aboard. In 2015, it will be Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Gary Sheffield. In 2016, Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman. In 2017, Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Vlad Guerrero.

When you have all the PED-tainted superstars being held over from ballot to ballot, joined by this never-ending influx of new players, well, you’ve got a problem. To localize it, I’m increasingly uncertain of what lies ahead for Edgar Martinez, whom I continue to strongly support for election. However, I fear he will get lost in the shuffle. This will be Edgar’s fourth year on the ballot. He’s gone from 36.2 percent to 32.9 to 36.5 percent, and the aforementioned survey has him at 38.7 percent. So he’s holding steady, but in this over-crowded environment, it’s going to be awfully tough to make that big leap necessary to reach 75 percent.

What is the solution? I honestly don’t know, because the steroids element has turned the voting process into, well, not chaos, but let’s say confusion. Everyone, myself included, has developed their own rules and standards when it come to dealing with the varied challenges presented by this crop of candidates from the steroids era. In the absence of consensus, it appears that no one wins; put another way, everyone loses. It was already hard enough for people like Martinez and Raines — those who aren’t slam-dunk candidates like, say, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays — to make what often is a slow, gradual rise to the necessary 75 percent, a path taken by the likes of Bert Blyleven and Jim Rice. But now we have a situation where people are already having to drop off people they’ve voted for in the past, or omitting people they want to vote for, because the ballot is getting too crowded.

I’ve been very clear about my policy in the past: I’m not going to let steroids association keep me from voting for a candidate. I know it is very unpopular in some circles. I get more hate mail about my Hall of Fame votes than anything else I post, and I’m sure there will be more backlash from this ballot. Heck, my own father gets upset with me every year. That’s OK — I understand the passion that goes with this topic. But I think this year’s ballot just clinches what an impossibly tangled web you weave when you deign to be the steroids police.

Naturally, it starts with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Remove steroids, and they are as automatic as Mays and Aaron. We’re talking about the greatest hitter of his generation, and maybe No. 2 all-time behind Babe Ruth; and the greatest pitcher of his generation, and one of the top five all time. Both have been linked circumstancially to steroids; in Bonds’ case, he admitted, in court, to doing the “cream” and the “clear”, but unknowingly. In a very long, costly and visible federal court case aimed to prove that Bonds lied under oath, he was convicted only of obstruction of justice. On the three counts of perjury, the heart of the government’s seven-year investigation of Bonds, it was a hung jury. Clemens was acquitted on all six counts that he obstructed justice and lied to Congress when he denied using performance-enhancing drugs. Yes, I understand “not guilty” is not the same as innocent. It’s also not the same as guilty. So basically, the nuts-and-bolts case against Clemens is reduced to something Andy Pettitte said Clemens told him, and the word of his strength coach, Brian McNamee, whom even the Clemens prosecution called “a flawed man.”

I’m not an idiot. I think it’s highly likely Clemens used performance-enhancing drugs — and Bonds even more so. But you know what? I think it’s likely that many players on this ballot used PEDs. Do you vote against Mike Piazza based on his back acne, or Jeff Bagwell based on his chiseled body and lots of innuendo? What about this? How about Sammy Sosa, who most people regard as a likely steroids guy?But all we know for sure, besides his changing body over the years, is that the New York Times reported that he failed a drug test in 2003, when there were no penalties.That was the year that the MLBPA agreed to drug testing on a conditional basis, on the proviso that if enough players tested positive, the drug-testing program, with penalties, would kick in the following year. That indeed occurred, with 104 players testing positive, but one condition of the MLBPA agreeing to this exercise was that the results were to remain anonymous. For a variety of reasons, that didn’t happen. Some, but not all, of the names have been leaked, stigmatizing not only Sosa but Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and A-Rod. They’ll pay the price for those leaks eventually when they come onto the ballot.

There’s not only player from the so-called steroids era (roughly, the late 1980s to the mid-2000s) whom I would categorically declare clean. Anyone who does so is fooling themselves. No one except the player himself knows for sure, and I don’t think it’s fair, or plausible, to ask sportswriters to examine career spikes and changes in body types and rumors to discern who used and who didn’t use. Some, like Bonds, have more evidence against them than others, but I don’t care to start making judgments on who used and who didn’t.

Not when major-league baseball gave tacit approval to PEDs for so many years. Not when the statistics from the steroids era are still in the record books. McGwire finally admitted to using steroids (an admission that didn’t result in him being banned from the sport, like Pete Rose; in fact, it was instrumental in allowing him back in as the Cardinals’ hitting coach).

I’ve mentioned this many times before, but amphetimines are now categorized as performance-enhancing drugs by MLB. Yet the Hall of Fame is filled with players from the 1960s and 1970s (and maybe earlier) who used “greenies” to help them get through the dog days of the baseball season. I daresay some of our most beloved legends are on this list. You might say that greenies aren’t the same as steroids. Well, last month I did this story when two Seahawks players were busted for Aderall, an amphetamine (Richard Sherman won his appeal because of testing improprieties). Here’s what Dr. Gary Wadler, a past chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Prohibited List Committee and one of America’s ranking experts on PEDs told me:

“It masks fatigue, masks pain, increases arousal — like being in The Zone,” begins Wadler, currently an associate professor of medicine at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine, in a phone interview.

“It increases alertness, aggressiveness, attention and concentration. It improves reaction time, especially when fatigued. Some think it enhances hand-eye coordination. Some believe it increases the mental aspects of performance.”

That’s not to mention possible increases in acceleration, speed, strength and power that accrue to Adderall users. It’s no wonder that Wadler calls Adderall “one of the quintessential performance-enhancing drugs. There’s no question it’s a performance-enhancing drug.”

This is an amphetamine, mind you, not a steroid. So tell me again how the players who popped pep pills were clean?

I’ve voted for McGwire in the past, but this year, I felt there were new candidates who were better. Same with Sosa, whom I will consider on his own merits in the future. As for Palmeiro, one of three players in history with 3,000 hits and 500 homers (the others being Mays, Aaron and Eddie Murray), here’s what I wrote two years ago, which still stands:

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.

It’s not a decision I feel great about. None of these are. But ultimately, I have decided to vote for the best players in the context of their times, the ones I felt were good enough to join the other scoundrels and cheaters (Gaylord Perry comes to mind) in the Hall of Fame — which, ultimately, is a historical museum. Performance-enhancing drugs was part of the history of an era, and unless you want to keep them all out, I think it’s the only prudent way to go.

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