Today Major League Baseball will announce its 2012 Hall of Fame Class. After Ron Santo was selected posthumously by the Veteran’s Committee, many expect that the only candidate that will receive enough votes to join Santo will be former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin. Larkin received 62% of the vote in his second year on the ballot, falling just short of the 75% required for election. No player since Roy Campanella in 1966-67 has received that large of a percentage of votes in their first or second year eligible and not been elected the following year. While I think that Larkin is a fine choice, and deserves the honor, I have a hard time believing he is the only worthy candidate to be inducted this year. Not in a year when the candidates also include the best leadoff hitter of all time not named Rickey Henderson (Tim Raines), the player with the 10th most home runs of all time (Mark McGwire), perhaps the best player to ever play his position (Edgar Martinez), and one of the most prolific sluggers of the last 20 years (Jeff Bagwell). There are arguments against all these players for entrance to the Hall, and that’s part of the fun of discussing these things – debating the merits or worthiness of one player versus another is a sports staple. My problem is that several of these players are not being written on ballots for the wrong reasons, and being denied entrance based on preconceived notions that have nothing to do with the numbers on their baseball cards (they still make them right?).
I’ll ignore the elephant in the room for a moment to briefly discuss the candidacy of players such as Edgar Martinez, who spent most of his career compiling his impressive hitting resume as a DH for the Seattle Mariners. I have no issue with those that argue that Martinez doesn’t deserve election because he didn’t compile gaudy enough offensive numbers (though I disagree). My issue is with the voters penalizing Martinez for being a DH for the bulk of his career. Their argument that Martinez’ offensive numbers need to be even higher to justify electing him since he didn’t play the field is absurd. DH is an official position right? As a National League baseball fan, I’m not a fan of the designated hitter. But whether I like it or not, the DH is as much a part of baseball as any of the other eight positions on an American League lineup card. If we don’t think the DH is a legitimate enough position to vote for come Hall of Fame time, then we need to just abolish the rule period. Why are we voting in relievers then? They don’t hit at all and don’t even pitch in half the games. While we’re at it, let’s eliminate starters from consideration too, since at best they only play in 20% of a team’s games. If the DH is a part of baseball, it needs to be a part of the Hall of Fame too. It reminds me of the difficulty that kickers and punters face entering the NFL Hall of Fame. Last time I checked, you needed kickers and punters to not only play, but win football games. If an athlete is the best at what he does, he deserves to be honored amongst the best. Edgar Martinez is the best DH of all time – leaving him out because he played a position the sport created is ridiculous.
Now that I’m finished dismissing one silly argument, let’s move on to the biggest issue facing the Hall of Fame voters – the Steroid Era. While I clearly don’t approve of players taking substances to help them post the absurd numbers that went up during the late 90s, I don’t understand how we can just pretend a whole generation of baseball didn’t exist. Because if the voters continue to take the stance that they won’t vote in players that have been associated with steroids or performance enhancing drugs, then the Hall will have a huge hole in it in the coming years. Other than McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, the names Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa are coming up for election very shortly, not to mention Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez and others. I just listed at least three of the best hitters of the last 30 years (and all time) and the best right-handed pitcher of his generation. In 50-100 years, if the Mayans were wrong, when kids are walking through the Hall of Fame, what are we going to tell them? “Well, Johnny there just really weren’t that many good players during that period in baseball.” Just because you don’t like what happened in the past, doesn’t mean you have the option to erase it from the history books.
Nevermind the fact, that during much of the Steroid Era, many of the performance enhancing drugs being used WERE NOT ILLEGAL. Baseball didn’t change its drug policy until well after many of the suspected users were breaking records. So I’m not sure why the writers have decided it’s ok to take it upon themselves to morally judge the alleged violators retroactively, when the sport itself didn’t deem the issue a problem until it was called on the carpet by the U.S. government. Players have used any and everything they could to get an edge throughout history and many of those “helpers” are no longer allowed by MLB. While we’re acting irrationally in hindsight, maybe we should remove any player that we think might’ve used something that is now banned by MLB. What’s that? We don’t know who was actually using what? Sounds familiar.
That leads us to the biggest tragedy of the moral stance being taken by the Hall voters – players being omitted on ballots despite never testing positive for anything, or even being associated with performace enhancers. Jeff Bagwell would normally be a shoo-in Hall of Famer. The argument for Bagwell is a no brainer, as he compiled numbers that no other players in baseball history did at his position. Yet somehow, despite never testing positive or even being mentioned in the Mitchell Report of 2003, Bagwell is facing the same resistance as players like McGwire and Palmeiro. Voters are actually looking at Bagwell’s body type and increased numbers in an era in which it seemed like everyone else was juicing, and simply assuming he was using as well. There really could be no other reason that a player like Bagwell received a paltry 41.7% of the votes in his first year on the ballot. Since no one truly knows who was using performance enhancers during the Steroid Era, I’m not sure how the writers can arbitrarily decide who gets admission to the Hall of Fame. Vote on the resume. Leave the moral judments for the masses to decide for themselves.
The only other explanation for the low vote total in Bagwell’s first year could be the classic reluctance to elect players in their first year on the ballot. I’ve always been annoyed by this – it’s as if writers enjoy being able to use the expression “first ballot Hall of Famer” so much, that they’re preserving it by refusing to vote for guys whom they don’t believe deserve their treasured euphemism. If a player is a Hall of Famer, he’s a Hall of Famer- period. Not voting for a guy who is clearly a Hall of Fame caliber player is criminal in my mind. We are not asking you to superficially decide which players were “more elite” than the rest of the greats in the Hall. Look what happened to Ron Santo, the Cubs great who is finally being enshrined this year. Santo had to wait so long to be inducted, that he tragically won’t be able to enjoy the honor after passing away in December. Some year in the future, we are going to lose a Hall of Fame caliber player prematurely in some type of accident, or to an unfortunate sudden death. Wonder how the writers will feel if they waited too long to give him the biggest honor of his life simply because the player didn’t endure their predetermined waiting period.
My ballot this year: Larkin, Raines, McGwire, Bagwell, Martinez