What is a Hall of Famer?
Two days ago, former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin was announced as the lone electee by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
He’ll join the late Ron Santo as this year’s inductees in July. Santo was elected via a veteran’s committee.
I’ve read quite a bit on this in the past few days and chatted with a couple of people too. It’s a familiar conversation as it seems to happen each year. The main topic? What makes somebody a Hall of Famer?
People have and will debate about Larkin. This year, the ballot was a down year, which gave someone like Larkin the opportunity to get in. There’s likely enough ammo on each side of the coin to make a compelling argument either way. Players like Tim Raines, Jack Morris, Fred McGriff and Jeff Bagwell remained on the outside looking in — and on a down year. For them, it could become an event longer uphill climb.
The fun starts next year, when players from the “Steroid Era” will start appearing on the ballot on a regular basis. Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro are already on the ballot. Players linked to the use of performance enhancing drugs, such as Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds are soon to be on that ballot.
What happens with them?
This is where it will get interesting for the voters because it comes down to personal opinion. And that’s where the issue is and will be. Some voters have already said that they will not vote for anyone suspected of or involved in the use of PEDs. So if someone’s name has been mentioned, but no proof, still no vote. As far as I know and as I’ve researched, the BBWAA hasn’t set a criteria for voting on players in the Steroid Era. So, it’s up to individual writers to voice how they feel via the vote.
That’s a problem.
One main issue is the National Baseball Hall of Fame has not taken a stand when it comes to the steroid issue. And, being that the Hall is independent of Major League Baseball, I think it’s time they make the stand. What does the Hall officially think? Should Bonds be in the Hall? McGwire? Clemens?
I say yes, but I’m not the Hall.
Let me tell you why I think these players should be in the Hall and why I also think the Hall should make the stand about these players, too.
First, the Steroid Era is part of baseball history. That block of years happened and there’s nothing that can be done to erase it. It can also be argued that steroids helped save the game.
After the strike in 1994, which wiped out the World Series (and, I think, may have doomed Montreal as a baseball city), baseball lost a lot of popularity. But that magical season of McGwire and Sammy Sosa going for the home run record, oh did that do wonders. People flocked to games. It was something to grasp. And baseball was back. People loved seeing the long ball. Sosa, who hit more than 600 homers during his career, will appear on the ballot starting next year.
I also don’t buy that baseball bigwigs had no idea what was going on. Come on.
Money poured in and the game was back.
Then it all came crashing down. Just like that. A house of cards that got bumped into. Done.
Now don’t get me wrong, I like that the game is cleaning up. I think it should be. I love a well-pitched game just as much as a homer. But I like seeing people crush an 0-2 hanging curve ball naturally, not because they are juiced up.
That still doesn’t take away from why I think the steroid users or suspects should be in the Hall. The reality is, they were the greatest players of that generation, with or without the PEDs. You can’t just not vote for people because you suspected them. And that’s the problem. We don’t know everyone who has done steroids. Or tried them.
Let me explain that one.
Years ago, while still at the one paper I worked for, I was doing a local reaction piece on Alex Rodriguez admitting he used steroids. At that point, there was still a minor league team in town and it was my beat. So I called the manager, Andy Barkett, whose professional career spanned 11 minor league seasons and a cup of coffee with 17 games in the majors in 2001 with Pittsburgh. He was always great to deal with and up front.
It still gave me a shock when he noted he used steroids.
Go back to my original point — it was the era. Barkett basically said the same thing to me at the time.
“It was the era and a lot of people made a lot of money during that era and not all of them were players,” Barkett said. “It benefited a lot of people at the time. … It got out of control and people looked the other way. It’s the only way it became that bad. Nobody said anything. It was obvious and everybody knew.”
Back to the voting…
So where does it stop? There has to be a way to decide the criteria for the Hall of Fame. Once personal feelings get involved with sports writers, it becomes deeper than looking at numbers or steroids. Look at Jim Rice. How did it take him 15 years to get in? He was one of the most feared hitters of his generation.
I realize that as people stay on the ballot, writers will look at things differently. Toss aside feelings and look deeper into a career. Not everyone is first-ballot, I get that.
But McGwire has more than 500 homers.
Palmeiro has more than 3,000 hits and more than 500 homers.
Those are numbers that used to mean you were a lock for the Hall of Fame. These two haven’t sniffed the door since getting on the ballot.
That’s why the Hall of Fame has to make a stand. They are a museum that tells the history of baseball. The top of its website — and something the Hall often touts — is that it preserves history, honors excellence, and connects generations.
While it could be argued that honoring some of these people isn’t honoring excellence, it is preserving history and connecting generations. And it tells the story of the game. Something that the Hall of Fame does better than anyone or anything out there.
So it needs to make an official stand.
My stand is this — if I was a voter, I’d have voted each year for McGwire and Palmeiro. And I’d vote for Bonds. And Clemens. And A-Rod. Are they pieces of crap for what they used or are suspected of using? Sure. But not everyone in the game is clean. Look at Hall of Famers that are considered among the best to ever play. There are boozers, gamblers, cheats, racists, and who knows what else in there. But they are the greatest to play the game. Ty Cobb was by far not a saint — on or off the field. But he’s a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest to play the game.
Now, I do this with a caveat. I truly believe, however, that if someone was suspected of, admitted or convicted of steroid or PED use, it should be noted on their plaque. It has to be. That’s part of the era, too. And if, in the future, one is found guilty of it, it should be added to the plaque.
Great players of the 70s weren’t held out of the Hall for being addicted to greenies, were they?
This brings me to my final thought on all of this — the voting process. Currently, the only two ways of being elected to the Hall are by the BBWAA (you can remain on the ballot for up to 15 years) or via a veteran’s committee. To be able to vote in the main election, one must have be an acrive member of the BBWAA for 10 consecutive years, according to the association’s website. Once a writer receives a Hall vote, he is eligible to keep doing it even after he no longer an active member of the organization. As for being a member of the BBWAA? It’s website says “Essentially, you must be a beat writer, backup writer, columnist or sports editor from a newspaper or wire service that covers Major League Baseball on a regular basis. Membership has been expanded to include web sites on a case-by-case basis.”
But a player’s Hall of Fame worthiness is decided by a bunch of writers. Many of these writers are highly educated on the game, but it’s all up to them.
Now, as a sports writer, I have no issues with the BBWAA having part in the voting process. These people cover the players day in and day out. They have a good feel of things. But they don’t see everything. They don’t know everything. But I wouldn’t want the voting to be in the hands of just former players/managers or a committee, either. I think some of them might put people in that just don’t belong.
So how to fix the process?
I don’t know — but I think it needs to be numbers based. Baseball is a game of statistics. There needs to be certain levels where people say — he’s a Hall of Famer.
Right now, it’s too personal. I’ve read columns and stories about how somebody doesn’t vote for a player because they were a prick. Sorry, but this is a Baseball Hall of Fame. While I won’t disagree that character should play a role, it shouldn’t be a deciding factor. It’s about what they did on the field. And if the era is that of steroids, then you must consider it as a whole.
It’s a tough call on which direction to go.
But that doesn’t take away from this year. I’ve always thought Barry Larkin was a Hall of Famer. His numbers are strong. He was a dominant player at a very skilled position. He’s someone I would have voted for in the beginning.
At the same time, he wouldn’t have been the only one I voted for. I don’t have a vote, however.
It’s time for those who do have a vote to realize that the game’s history needs to be told, which means those who used steroids during this era are part of the history. They were the greats of the generation, no matter how it was achieved. Their names stand in record books, so they should stand in eternity in the Hall.
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