Posted November 28, 2012

New Hall of Fame ballot weighty in talent and controversy

Barry Bonds, Hall of Fame, Roger Clemens

Roger Clemens’ statistics are clearly Hall-worthy but his connection to the Mitchell Report may keep him from being elected. (AP)

The Baseball Writers Association of America unveiled its 2013 Hall of Fame ballot on Wednesday, kicking off what’s sure to be a contentious six weeks of debate before the results are announced on Jan. 9. The 37-player ballot (listed below) adds 24 newcomers to 13 holdovers and is the deepest in recent memory in terms of high-quality candidates. It is also the one most fraught with controversy, as the top newcomers — Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza — have connections to performance-enhancing drugs to one degree or another.

Debate over the propriety of holding their alleged transgressions against them in this context will suck up much of the available oxygen, deflecting attention away from other impressive first-timers such as Craig Biggio, Curt Schilling and Kenny Lofton. Meanwhile, a trio of holdovers (Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell and Lee Smith) have crossed the 50 percent threshold, suggesting they’re on their way to eventual enshrinement, while others such as Tim Raines, Alan Trammell and Edgar Martinez are still trying to get similar attention from the voters. The pool of more than 600 eligible voters will list anywhere from zero to 10 names on their ballots, with candidates needing to receive at least 75 percent of the vote to gain entry. Last year, only Barry Larkin went over the threshold.

As you’re aware if you’ve been reading this space, my own arguments about Hall-worthiness tend to rely heavily on advanced metrics such as WAR(P), True Average and the various defensive metrics. Aided by my JAWS system — now available on virtually every player card at Baseball-Reference.com — I’ll be digging deep into each and every one of those candidacies in detail in the coming weeks in this space. For the moment, however, I think it’s worth appreciating this ballot’s sheer heft as well as the weighty issues that voters will confront.

Particularly with this crop of candidates, PEDs are the 800-pound gorilla. Voters have already been confronted with the issue with the candidacies of Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez and others, and their judgment thus far has been harsh. McGwire, who broke the single-season home run record with 70 in 1998 and finished with 583 in his career, hasn’t received more than 23.6 percent in six years on the ballot, and has dropped below 20.0 percent in the past two years after explicitly admitting to PED usage. Palmeiro, one of just four hitters to reach both the 3,000 hit and 500 home run plateaus (Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray are the others), received just 12.6 percent last year; clearly, voters are still holding his 2005 positive test — revealed shortly after he joined the 3,000 club — against him despite his protestations. Gonzalez, a two-time American League MVP, dropped off the ballot after receiving just 4.0 percent of the vote in his second year.

For some voters, there’s no forgiveness for any kind of PED transgression, or even the hint of one. Anyone named in the Mitchell Report or outed as being on the 2003 survey list is a cheater cheater pumpkin eater who knowingly tried to gain an advantage on his opponents, and anyone who seemed to bulk up in mid-career is subject to speculation. Such voters will point to the Hall of Fame’s character clause, which states that “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played,” conveniently ignoring the fact that the Hall is a rogues’ gallery not only of sign-stealers and spitballers but also those with worse sins of character, racists and Ku Klux Klan members, Prohibition-era alcoholics, cocaine users, amphetamine users, spousal abusers and sex addicts. Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the commissioner who wrote the clause in question, spent the entirety of his 24-year tenure upholding the color barrier. So much for moral clarity.

For other voters, actual proof of the infraction and its timing matters. Steroids and precursors such as androstenedione were used for decades before Major League Baseball began testing and penalizing players, with the first suspensions beginning in 2005. When a bottle of androstenedione, which metabolizes into testosterone after being ingested, was discovered in McGwire’s locker in the summer of 1998 — creating front-page news and kicking off a soapbox derby that continues to this day — the drug was still legal under U.S. law. Not until mid-2004 was it added to baseball’s list of banned substances. By this reasoning, the andro-usage admissions of both Piazza and Bagwell which long predated the ban shouldn’t be held against them, and likewise for the BALCO-tainted Barry Bonds, but the positive test of Palmeiro is fair game, and the twice-positive Manny Ramirez (who won’t become eligible until at least the 2017 ballot) can probably kiss his chance at Cooperstown goodbye.

Still others are content to skirt the entire issue, viewing the so-called Steroid Era as a less-than-flattering part of baseball history just as segregation was. To gain the vote, a writer has to have been part of the BBWAA for at least 10 years, which means that virtually all of those with a ballot were working at a time when PED usage was at its zenith. Some have actually admitted their own complicity in looking the other way or underreporting what they saw taking place, others simply understand the era’s place in the shadow of a decades-long labor war in which the owners were so focused on breaking the players’ union — a war that led to the 1994-1995 strike — that the two sides could never agree on any kind of testing regimen, and concerns over making money, particularly after the strike, trumped those of a level playing field. Others quite reasonably don’t want the BBWAA to become a law enforcement agency.

Many nuanced positions exist along that spectrum, some of them tougher to justify than others. A voter may believe that McGwire wouldn’t have been a Hall of Fame-caliber player without the drugs, but that Bonds or Clemens had already done enough by the time they allegedly began using. In the absence of scientific proof as to the benefits of PED use, or information about when players used, it’s all a guessing game, and those claiming otherwise are relying more on a belief system than evidence. At another extreme is the small handful of voters who take the trouble to mail back blank ballots on the theory that the entire era is tainted by rampant PED usage, and thus nobody should go in; since those votes count among the total number of ballots and thus those needed for election, they make it that much harder even for older candidates to gain entry.

Beyond the PED issue is the propriety of using round-numbered milestones as guaranteed markers of entry. With the exception of Palmeiro and all-time hits leader Pete Rose, who was banned for life after admitting to gambling on baseball, every hitter with at least 3,000 hits is in, which by that logic should mean that Biggio is worthy of automatic entry while Raines, who finished with 2,605, is a questionable case. One counterpoint is that many players who reach those milestones often do so to the detriment of their teams; Biggio hit just .251/.285/.381 while collecting 130 hits in his final season, and was actually 2.3 wins below replacement level.

Another is that such milestones are unequally distributed across eras; the recent one saw home runs flying out of the ballpark at record rates for reasons that almost certainly go beyond steroids — expansion, new ballparks, high altitude and even the composition of the ball itself are culprits (a topic I delve into in the Baseball Prospectus group book Extra Innings, released earlier this year and excerpted here). Prior to the 1993 wave of expansion that kicked off the high-scoring era, just 14 players had reached 500 homers, and just three had topped 600. Now 25 players have reached the 500 level and eight the 600 one, including Sosa (609) and all-time home run king Bonds (762) as well as McGwire (586) and Palmeiro (569); given context, neither number is automatic anymore.

Meanwhile, Bert Blyleven’s 2011 election broke a 19-year streak in which no starting pitcher with fewer than 300 wins had been elected since Ferguson Jenkins in 1991. Schilling, who won “only” 216 games, is the vanguard of a wave of outstanding pitchers who racked up a ton of strikeouts but pitched in an era where starting every fifth day and yielding to increasingly specialized bullpens in the sixth, seventh or eighth inning was the norm, and the pitcher win itself came to be understood in the context of offensive and defensive support. While 300-winners such as Clemens, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson will be on the ballot in the coming years, the candidacies of Schilling, John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez and Mike Mussina — all of whom fell shy of 300, with Mussina’s 270 topping them all — will also deserve play.

Schilling’s candidacy also raises the question of how much to weigh postseason considerations in considering a player’s total case. The expansion of the playoffs in the wild-card era has created new opportunities to shine when the spotlight is the brightest, and he did so with distinction, going 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 starts while helping his teams to four pennants and three world championships. Of the 10 players with the most postseason innings pitched, eight — all but Whitey Ford (sixth) and Dave Stewart (10th) — hail from the post-1993 era. Schilling ranks ninth, while Andy Pettitte’s 276 2/3 leads the pack and represents more than a full season of work by today’s standards.

As for hitters, how much should Biggio’s relative failures in October (.234/.295/.323 in 185 plate appearances as part of six postseason teams) or ballot holdover Bernie Williams’s successes (.275/.371/.480 with 22 homers in 545 PA as part of six pennant winners and four world champions) count?

Virtually everyone with a blog, a column or a Twitter account will be debating such matters in the coming weeks, some more logically than others. The decibel level will rise and tempers will flare, because to some of us, matters of baseball history are important. Few easy answers will emerge, and the chance of consensus on any of the issues is slim, just as it was when the BBWAA handed out the hardware for the 2012 MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year awards. We’ll all need a vacation from the topic when it’s done. But in the meantime, we should have some fun in figuring out how to recognize greatness. For as seriously as we take this multibillion dollar industry, it’s still a game.

The complete list of candidates:

Player MLB seasons Yrs on BBWAA ballot
Julio Franco 1982-2007 1st
Roger Clemens 1984-2007 1st
Barry Bonds 1986-2007 1st
David Wells 1987-2007 1st
Jose Mesa 1987-2007 1st
Sammy Sosa 1988-2007 1st
Sandy Alomar Jr. 1988-2007 1st
Curt Schilling 1988-2007 1st
Steve Finley 1989-2007 1st
Mike Stanton 1989-2007 1st
Roberto Hernandez 1991-2007 1st
Kenny Lofton 1991-2007 1st
Reggie Sanders 1991-2007 1st
Ryan Klesko 1992-2007 1st
Mike Piazza 1992-2007 1st
Shawn Green 1993-2007 1st
Aaron Sele 1993-2007 1st
Woody Williams 1993-2007 1st
Jeff Cirillo 1994-2007 1st
Todd Walker 1996-2007 1st
Rondell White 1996-2007 1st
Craig Biggio 1988-2007 1st
Jeff Conine 1990-2007 1st
Royce Clayton 1991-2007 1st
Bernie Williams 1991-2006 2nd
Jeff Bagwell 1991-2005 3rd
Rafael Palmeiro 1986-2005 3rd
Larry Walker 1989-2005 3rd
Fred McGriff 1986-2004 4th
Edgar Martinez 1987-2004 4th
Tim Raines 1979-2002 6th
Mark McGwire 1986-2001 7th
Lee Smith 1980-1997 11th
Alan Trammell 1977-1996 12th
Don Mattingly 1982-1995 13th
Jack Morris 1977-1994 14th
Dale Murphy 1976-1993 15th
21 comments
baj99
baj99

Bonds was a total jerk as a person, regularly ignoring kids who wanted nothing more than an autograph.  He treated teammates, coaches, support staff, and...basically everyone like crap.  As far as Bonds the player...he juiced up and cheated.  He is a mockery to all the greats that came before him, and to the game itself.  Good bye Bonds and good riddance. They may vote you into the Hall of Fame someday, but that won't change who you are.  A big jerk.

CrazyTatum
CrazyTatum

What thoughts does anyone have about Dale Murphy? This is his 15th and last year on the ballot. He was a back to back MVP in '82-'83...how do you not vote this guy in? Because he fell 2 HR short of the fabled 400 mark? He was the most dominant player at his position in the 80's, especially the early 80's....this lifetime Braves fan will never understand why..

BernardMcGrath
BernardMcGrath

Book en Dano! No room for cheaters in the HOF. They are a disgrace to the game. If they ever get in make sure it is after they leave this world and that the are inducted in a garage down the street where all users can gather and celebrate. If this group gets in now the HOF should revisit the Black Sox scandal and if I recall correctly they were never found guilty in the courts. If I am wrong erxcuse me.

tillzen
tillzen

Baseball itself was devalued by the PED users. This said, MLB players have cheated by any means necessary throughout the history of the game in order to get paid for playing a kid's game. By electing a known cheat, it devalues the Hall of Fame but compared to what? Cobb or Cap Anson or John McGraw were TERRIBLE people who succeeded at the game and the game survived them. I will tell my grand-kids "Barry Bonds was once the greatest player in the game but then he saw others improving by taking drugs and he stupidly ruined his legacy by joining them and becoming even greater."  

AndrewM1
AndrewM1

We still have the double standard - we excuse or ignore PED use when we like the person, we call for their heads if we think they are arrogant jerks.

 

Bonds supposedly only started after everyone gushed over the inferior players Sosa and McGwire because of the HR numbers they put up.  He was a first ballot shoo-in before the time when he was supposed to have started using.  Players who are "nice" are excused and allowed to return to work.  Roger Clemmons gets dragged into court.

 

Let's be honest.  The league actually caught Ryan Braun using during his MVP season.  He got off on a complete technicality, when someone took actions that actually enhanced the chain of custody and preservation of his sample.  No one is going to hold it against him because the sports writers like him.

torukmakto
torukmakto

Arguments are made that cheating was rampant and everyone was doing it, so it should not matter. I have also heard about the Hall being a repository for baseball history and all that has happened should be included in the Hall, tainted or not. 

 

First, for comparison's sake, not all criminals are in jail, except those who get caught. By the logic of "everyone was doing it so we should not judge the guilty because we do not know all who were involved", we should empty all jails since we have not caught all the criminals. I believe if you get caught, you pay the price, which may be not being voted in by the "self-righteous" BBWAA. They may get in eventually, but I'm fine with them being held out for now, if forever.

 

Also, as for the Hall keeping an historical record of ALL that has happened in baseball - I believe it can do that. Let them have a section that refers to this "era" and speaks to the issue. But it is a Hall of FAME, not a Hall of History. It is an honor to be individually voted in, so if you do something tainted that prevents that from happening, you have only yourself to blame. Hopefully these guys get in someday, even if it's only mentioned as a footnote during this "era".

 

Allowing cheaters a free pass with no judgement sends a message that it does not matter and gives permission to all future players that it's ok to cheat. That is not the type of fame that should be celebrated here.

doublejtrain68
doublejtrain68

I think these guys would have a better chance of getting in if they would just admit what they did and apologize for it. But their egos won't allow it, and none of them will get in anytime soon. Sad thing is, they were first-ballot locks before the PEDs. My question is, "Why?"

lionoah
lionoah

Everyone is self-righteous today about outed PED users, but the fact is WE KNEW. The ball was juiced, folks were roiding, and the FANS and the PRESS kept on pretending. Once we saw the full implications (that is when the record books started changing dramatically), the FANS and PRESS wanted to tear down these heroes they built. Hypocrites, every one of you who bought a ticket or watched a game back then and now want to punish the abusers.

 

You spent your money and supported these cheaters is like telling your child to steal and doing nothing about it. If anyone would have had the gumption to make the players feel it in their pockets, things would have changed absolutely. If reporters had just ignored those players, they would have not gotten as much publicity and thus (some) others may not have started using. Nobody was duped. There was talk about juiced balls and training regimens (wink) and supplements (wink wink) but we just didn't care. So what do we have? A ruined record book and a bad conscience and someone has to pay. Lets give it to the millionaire's WE exalted, right? Well they aren't where they had we NOT paid any attention to their acting out.

 

We all share complicity in the crime. Writers, fans, players. There are different degrees of course, but why dont we all pay our own price. Fans cannot go to or watch games, reporters cannot report on the sport anymore, and players are banned from baseball for life. Sounds fair to me...

Curt3
Curt3

Any one from the ped's era should be voted on...posthumosly.

JohnSpray
JohnSpray

As long as Pete Rose is kept out, the H.O.F. will remain a joke.  

WillWillis1
WillWillis1

Leaving alone the PED issue for now, I think it's important to consider the player's place within his era in addition to raw numbers. For example, at any point in his career was Rafael Palmeiro considered top 3 at his position? I can appreciate the numbers he accumulated over a long career, but as a serious baseball fan I never saw Palmeiro as an elite player. Even in his prime, some years he was only the 4th/5th best first basemen in the AL, and one year he was gifted a gold glove despite being a nearly full-time DH. Anyway, I'm a proponent of advanced metrics, but I think as the author notes, stats need to be considered in the proper context.

HOFPufnstuf
HOFPufnstuf

Some dumb points, the dumbest being that since the Hall already has Klansmen and cokeheads, why not let a few more morally retrograde people in? Here's the difference between letting in a landis, who was a rAcist, vs Bonds, who was a cheater. Landis was a racist at a time, when racial discrimination was the majority viewpoint. In fact, discrimination was legal, thanks to Jim Crow. landis was no more racist than most americans. Therefore, based on the morality of the 30s, he gets in. Bonds cheated, knew he was cheating, and cheated anyway. He and all his big, buff buddies should stay out.

kyyled55
kyyled55

Travesty that Trammell is not in the hall.

Sean McGraw
Sean McGraw

The BBWAA votes for the MPV and Cy Young and gave Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens seven each.  But now the BBWAA wants to say "NO"?  Hypocrisy at its finest!

Curt G
Curt G

@torukmakto And for those that belong to a section that refers to this era of PEDs, they should be admitted posthumously.

 

lionoah
lionoah

 @doublejtrain68 Because we kept going to the games, and their names took up more space in the papers, and they sold more authentic jersey's and...they made more money - the question is not why they DID, but why wouldn't they...

Curt G
Curt G

 @lionoah

 I did not go to a game for 9 years after the World Series was canceled in 1994 and only then because my son grew up and I wanted him to experience a major league game.  I was disgusted with it all when it was happening. I was in 9th grade when Hank Aaron broke Babe's record. It was meaningful and worthy of the appluse it received. Home run records set today mean nothing and that saddens me.

tillzen
tillzen

 @JohnSpray The real joke IS Pete Rose. Thankfully he will rot in the ground before getting into the Hall where he will become just the latest cautionary tale of why gambling, cheating, lying and drug use are no legacy to have.

HOFPufnstuf
HOFPufnstuf

@WillWillis1 Very sensible approach. I like your Top 3 argument re Palmeiro. I think that Palmeiro's twin peaks of 500 HR and 3000 hits would have made him a lock had he come by them honestly. Palmeiro and that Texas 90s era teams were some of the most aggregious offenders and i include 46 years old but throwig 96 mph Nolan Ryan in that group. Why he gets a pass i will never know. But there are some compelling "clean" candidates on the list. I say "clean" because who knows anymore, but Schilling will stir some debate. Biggio seems a lock. Wonder how the bbwaa will treat Piazza. A fairly obvious juicer who was never implicated except by virtue of his super human strength and heat vision. He was a guy right smack in the middle of that Kurt Radmonski era Mets team.

Jason17
Jason17

 @HOFPufnstuf

 Your logic actually disproves your own point, Landis can be in because he was a racist at a time when being a racist was acceptable, Bonds, Clemens, et. al should not be admitted because they were cheating when the culture of cheating was accepted.  Note, none of the stuff these guys were using were banned substances in the league until 2005, and the only one that is on this list that got caught cheating is Palmero.  The rest of them did not get caught cheating, after the culture of cheating was no longer accepted.  No offense, if it wasn't breaking the rules when they were doing it, then you can't hold it against them later.  They were not caught after it was a banned substance, so you need to assume their innocence, until proven otherwise.