When it came time to announce the voting for the Hall of Fame, no news was bad news.
For the eighth time ever, the first time since 1996 and second time since 1971, the veteran members of the Baseball Writers Association of America failed to elect a retired player into the Hall of Fame.
It’s a shame. There was a backlash to the first-time eligibility of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who have Hall of Fame resumes but carry reputations tainted by allegations of performance-enhancing drug usage. The magnitude of the feeling was evident in the numbers, as Clemens was named on 37.6 percent of the ballots cast, and Bonds just 36.2 percent. Players must get votes on 75 percent of ballots cast in order to win induction, and this year 569 ballots were turned in.
Bottom line, though, is Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner, and Bonds, a seven-time MVP, are eventually going to get elected. They have 14 more shots. Now that the segment of voters who wanted to make a statement of disappointment have had their say, there will be a steady influx of voters listing those two on the ballot in the next couple of years.
They got slapped in the face the first year of eligibility, but they won’t have the door slammed shut.
Craig Biggio, the top vote-getter this year at 68.2 percent, also is in good shape. This was his first year of eligibility, and never has a player received that much support in the first year of eligibility and not eventually been enshrined. To compare him to other middle infielders enshrined in recent years, Roberto Alomar received support from 73.7 percent of the voters his first year, Barry Larkin 51.6 percent, and Ryne Sandberg 49.2 percent.
In the final analysis, Biggio was just nine votes shy of election. He is not going to lose votes in the next year or two, and he should add a vote or two.
Seventy-nine percent of the players enshrined in Cooperstown were not elected in their first year on the ballot. And it should be pointed out that of those first-timers on the ballot in 1996, the last time no one was voted in, three eventually were elected to the Hall of Fame: Phil Niekro in 1997, Tony Perez in 1998 and Don Sutton in 2000. The only other years of no inductees were 1945, 1946, 1950, 1958, 1960 and 1971.
The more interesting case for next year will be Jack Morris. For him the news isn’t as promising. This was his 14th year on the ballot and he finished second behind Biggio with 67.7 percent, just a one percent hike from a year ago. He has one year left on the ballot, and while he has shown an increase in support in 11 of his last 12 years on the ballot, next year isn’t going to be a slam dunk for him. And that’s too bad.
This year’s ballot already had a mother lode of qualified candidates, and they’ll all be considered again next year, including the likes of Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Lee Smith, Curt Schilling and Alan Trammell in addition to Bonds, Clemens, Morris and Biggio.
And there’s an impressive list of first-year candidates for 2014, starting with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina, Frank Thomas and Jeff Kent, all of whom have received Hall of Fame attention since their retirement as active players.
Morris could get lost in the shuffle, which is why this year’s election was so vital for him. It is sad that Morris has been caught in the morass of the PED controversy, even though he has never had his character questioned on any grounds.
He’s not a Bert Blyleven type, who will suddenly get a surge of support from numbers crunchers. Quite the opposite. Morris has become the whipping boy for those who lean more on numbers, who refuse to acknowledge that as vital as stats are in examining a Hall of Famer, there also is a value to the so-called “wow factor” the player created among his peers during his playing days.
With Morris it wasn’t wow. It was WOW.
With so many strong candidates, consider that since the five inductees were honored in 1936, only twice have more than three players been elected in a single year. In 1955, the BBWAA elected Joe DiMaggio, Gabby Harnett, Ted Lyons and Dazzy Vance, and in 1947 the writers voted to enshrine Mickey Cochrane, Frankie Frisch, Lefty Grove and Carl Hubbell.
But then, never before has there ever been such a controversy as the one over the suspected PED use by the prime first-year candidates this time.
Steroids have become such a lightning rod for members of the media. Could it be, in part, because there is a guilty feeling on the part of so many of the writers for ignoring the impact of steroid usage at the time, and then having the problem exposed publicly, including in Congressional hearings?
Think about it. For all the complaints about steroids, the BBWAA voters never seemed to have any concerns about segregation. They elected players who have been arrested on drug charges and some who were implicated in the cocaine scandal of 30 years ago. They didn’t bat an eye about supporting pitchers who doctored baseballs.
With steroids, however, the masses seem to have suddenly found religion.
The fact that Clemens and Bonds did receive support from more than a third of the voters bodes well for them long-term, and it underscores that voters are more willing to recognize their accomplishments than others also stained by steroids.
Sammy Sosa, also a first-time candidate, was on only 12.5 percent of the ballots. Mark McGwire was on 16.9 percent of the ballots, his weakest support in his seven years on the ballot, and Rafael Palmeiro only 8.8 percent, his lowest total in three years on the ballot.
The question that only time will answer is whether those who wanted to make a statement about suspected steroid users this year will ease their stance over time, and eventually reward the likes of Clemens and Bonds for what they accomplished on the field.