Nobody Wins With An Empty Hall Of Fame Class

DENVER—The statement has been made.

Now it's time for the Hall of Fame voters to move on.

ringolsby250110For the first time since 1965, the annual Hall of Fame ceremony was held in July without a living player being honored.

The veteran members of the Baseball Writers Association of America made a statement last winter, failing to elect anyone in a reaction to the growing disgust over the steroid use.

The Hall of Fame used the ceremony to formally recognize the 12 members who were never given a formal induction. Eleven were the victims of travel restrictions during World War II, and the 12th was Lou Gehrig, elected by special acclamation in December 1939 after his death.

Returning Hall of Famers read the plaques of the 12, including Cal Ripken Jr., who broke Gehrig's record of consecutive games played, reading Gehrig's plaque.

The Pre-Integration Era Committee did recognize umpire Hank O'Day, catcher Deacon White, and Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert, each of whom died in the 1930s, and each of whom was represented at the ceremony by a descendant.

White was one of the first catchers to move his defensive position under the batter, instead of taking a pitch on the hop, and compiled a .312 average in a 20-year career. He was the first batter in the first professional game on May 4, 1871, and promptly doubled.

O'Day worked 10 World Series, taking a break in umpiring to manage (Cincinnati in 1912 and the Chicago Cubs in 1914). He was proclaimed upon his death by former NL president John Heydler one of the greatest umpires ever in terms of knowledge of the rules, fairness, and courage to make the right call, underscored by his making the famed Merkle call.

Ruppert was the Yankees owner who orchestrated the purchase of Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox. The Yankees won 10 AL pennants and seven World Series during his ownership term.

And on the day before the induction ceremony, the Hall of Fame recognized Frank Jobe, who pioneered Tommy John surgery; Thomas Tull, producer of the movie "42"; Paul Hagen, recipient of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for writing; and the late Tom Cheek, who received the Ford. C. Frick award for broadcasting.

Message Received

For all the activity, the ceremony wasn't the same.

That was as apparent as an estimated crowd of 2,500 was well below the normal turnout.

It was due to a statement from the voters about the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Five players were named on more than 50 percent of the ballots cast, but it takes support from 75 percent of the voters to enshrine a player, a level of support that helps underscore the worthiness of any inductee.

There has been outrage about the influence of steroids ever since Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire assaulted Roger Maris' home run record.

In the aftermath of that, baseball does now have the strongest drug policy in professional sports, in large part because the players themselves were tired of guilt by association and pushed for it. But it's time for voters and fans to pull their heads out of the sand.

Performance enhancers are not new to the game. Whether it's red juice or amphetamines or whatever, players have always looked for any edge they can find, and if they were successful without getting caught they were rewarded. Whether it was scuffing baseball or doctoring bats, or watering down infields, or ingesting the latest chemical advancement, it has always been a part of the game.

Voters never balked before, even with full knowledge of the activities, but in recent years there has been a rush of indignation.

The price was paid in this year's ceremonies. Craig Biggio came the closest to election, getting named on 68.2 percent of the ballots cast in his first year of eligibility. At least he has 14 more years for the voters to right that wrong.

Jack Morris, however, had 67.7 percent support in his 14th year, giving him one more shot. No player has ever come that close and not been elected, but no player has faced the challenge that Morris will face.

After the hard line taken this year, next year's ballot is overflowing with intriguing candidates.

Start with the list of first-timers, which includes the likes of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas and Mike Mussina.

The holdovers from last year include three other players who had more than 50 percent support: Jeff Bagwell (59.6 percent), Mike Piazza (57.8 percent) and Tim Raines (52.2 percent). Then there are two of the poster boys of the steroid witch hunt, Roger Clemens (37.6 percent) and Barry Bonds (36.2 percent).

There's also legitimate debate over the likes of Lee Smith, Curt Schilling, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker, Fred McGriff, Don Mattingly and Edgar Martinez.

For the sake of the Hall of Fame, we can hope the debate this time around will return to on-field accomplishments.