No HOF Admission without an admission …

January 3, 2013
By admin

I cannot recall another year in my lifetime when the balloting for a specific Hall of Fame class posed the kind of Hobson’s choice (not Butch) that this one does in 2013. That’s not exactly news to anyone who tracks the annual voting for baseball’s ticket to immortality, but it does mean that the results – to be announced early next week – are likely to be the most interesting and illuminating that we’ve ever witnessed.

While the thorny problem of what to do about Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) tainted candidates is the obvious culprit to point to, the sheer volume of candidates adds another element of confusion to the process this time. It used to be a whole lot of fun trying to guess who would get the needed 75 percent in a given year – and the process was seemingly stable and rational enough that a serious HOF follower could guess correctly a good deal of the time – but now it seems almost impossible to do so. There are just way too many wild cards in the deck, and when you shuffle them all up it’s truly difficult to try to imagine what the results will be when the vote is announced.

One thing is certain: the Hall of Fame and by extension its legions of fans and supporters are going to have to come up with a reasonably fair and consistent way of dealing with the PED problem. There are simply way too many ballplayers now already on the ballot and more arriving on the ballot for the first time this year who have been touched to varying degrees by this noxious and troublesome question. Simply muttering, “No Hall of Fame for users,” can’t possibly be the solution. It feels good and it feels equitable at first blush, but the reality is there are just too many variables for such a broad brush to be wielded in this instance.

Trying to sort it out between those who admitted to PED use, those who almost certainly succumbed to the temptation but were never officially implicated and those merely tainted by having played HOF-caliber baseball during a period when so many contemporaries were guilty of using PEDS would challenge even the wisdom of Solomon. I’ve got one potential solution to at least a significant element of this problem. It’s not perfect, but trying to find a perfect solution to this particular God-awful mess would seem like an exercise in futility.

But what if we found some consensus – with the HOF, the BBWAA and the fans – that nobody gets a serious look by the voters until they’ve come clean publically about their usage? That would fit neatly into our national affinity for forgiveness, which of course demands that those being forgiven make a clean breast of it about their transgressions. There could simply be a widely understood mandate that there be no HOF Admission without an admission about their PED usage. Seems fairly simple and straightforward.

Once a player has made his confession, so to speak, and polished it off with as sincere an apology as he could muster, fans and voters could then simply consider their HOF candidacy based on the traditional statistical yardsticks. We’re not out of the woods at this point, but we would be a good deal further along to finding some daylight to an otherwise intractable dilemma.

The biggest shortcoming would be for the player who has truly been unjustly tainted with the hideously broad PED brush. Thus if Roger Clemens were somehow truly innocent of any manner of PED use and insistent on going to his grave while professing that innocence, my “No HOF Admission without an admission” format breaks down a bit. But that unfairness would have existed even without the policy being put into place, so it should hardly be scrapped because of it.

And we would have the added bonus of being able to add yet another legendary baseball figure to our annual HOF balloting debate. Pete Rose already provided his admission – admittedly grudgingly – and so could finally be thrown into the mix and hopefully ultimately invited to join his fellow greats in Cooperstown. Even if you’re somehow still mad at Pete and don’t want to cut him a break, it’s a fairly difficult case to make to suggest that he hasn’t already been adequately flogged for his transgression. Banned from the game he loves for nearly a quarter century, he has likely forfeited perhaps as much as $100 million in earnings that might have come his way over that span. I was as mad as anybody about his looking us in the eye and insisting he had never bet on baseball for so many years, but once he fessed up, I got over it. The Hall of Fame should too (In fairness to the HOF, it’s not the reason Pete’s on the outside looking in. MLB must reinstate him before he can even be considered for a HOF vote).

As for the numbers problem that the current ballot represents, I’m not sure how we work our way out of that one. I could make a pretty good argument that there are more than a dozen guys on this year’s ballot who are worthy of a HOF nod, and I don’t believe that’s ever been the case in my lifetime. With no PED questions to wrangle with – hypothetically – I know I could easily write down 10 names of players I felt all deserved to have a plaque.

It will be fascinating to see what impact plopping down five ostensibly strong candidates – several even first-ballot shoe-ins – onto a ballot that included near-miss holdovers like Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell and Lee Smith. Other years I wouldn’t have even hesitated about making a prediction about who would get voted in, even if I never felt giddy enough to prognosticate about the actual order of voting preference from the BBWAA, but now it’s just downright scary.
So I do this with enormous trepidation. It’s hard not to figure that enough voters will decide to punish Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza and Sammy Sosa for PED transgressions real or imagined that they don’t make it this time; Craig Biggio and Curt Schilling (in the artwork below) may get to Cooperstown someday, but they wouldn’t typically be considered first-ballot nods. So that leaves Jack Morris to possibly tack on enough additional votes from his 67 percent showing last year to nudge his way onto a plaque. Jeff Bagwell, Lee Smith and Tim Raines would appear to be out of range of making such enormous strides in a single ballot.

The nightmare scenario is, of course, that somehow Morris doesn’t jump up enough to get to 75 percent, which would leave the HOF without anyone with a pulse to parade in front of the vast crowd on induction day this summer.
- T.S. O’Connell


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *