Baseball Writers Assoc. got Steroids Era vote right
The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) delivered a body blow to the so-called Steroids Era when Hall of Fame voters elected no one to the Hall this year, for the first time since 1996 and only the second time in 42 years.
Despite the ballot being crowded with legitimate candidates, not one player received the required 75 percent of the vote needed and those first-timers whose careers have been clouded by steroid allegations - Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa - have joined Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire as players who have been sent a message by the voters that no matter how much they achieved cleanly, their decision to enhance their careers artificially will forever haunt them.
Predictably, their supporters didn't take long to cry foul.
"It is unimaginable that the best player to ever play the game would not be a unanimous first-ballot selection," said Jeff Borris of the Beverly Hills Sports Council, Bonds' longtime agent.
As if Borris didn't have a vested interest. He would do well to remember why Bonds started juicing to begin with. He saw the numbers that McGwire and Sosa, not to mention the real best player of the era, Ken Griffey Jr., were putting up, and began to worry about his legacy.
Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, McGwire and Palmeiro all have statistics that, taken on their own, demand election to the Hall. Bonds is baseball's career and single season home run leader, Clemens is a seven-time Cy Young Award winner, Sosa and McGwire combined for almost 1,200 career home runs and had their amazing chase at Roger Maris' single season homer record in 1998. Palmeiro had more than 3,000 hits and 500 home runs.
But their achievements have basically made baseball's record book a farce. Maris' record stood for 37 years and was broken by two men in one season, only to be broken again (shattered, actually) by Bonds three years later, when Bonds was 36 years old. Bonds hit 24 more home runs that season than he had ever hit in a season before. In 2004, Bonds walked in almost 40 percent of his plate appearances and more than half of those were intentional. If that's not a farce, what is?
I used to marvel that in order for someone to break Hank Aaron's career home run record, they would have to average 35 home runs a season for 22 seasons. Bonds averaged almost 52 home runs a season between the ages of 35 and 39, when almost all players' careers should have been in decline.
Clemens won four of his Cy Young Awards between the ages of 34 and 41, after he had four previous seasons (1993-96) with a combined record of 40-39. Farce.
Sosa, a good but not great player who hit 207 home runs in his first nine seasons, averaged 58.4 home runs per season for the next five seasons. Farce.
What the steroids era did was make the record book meaningless. When Cecil Fielder hit 51 homers in 1990, it was the 18th time it had been done in 71 years. It has been done 24 times in the 18 years since 1995 and even the guys who did it within the rules are under suspicion. Because of the bloated numbers, a career like Fred McGriff's (493 homers in 18 seasons and not a hint of cheating) is deemed average. McGriff, in his fourth year on the ballot, received just 20.7 percent of the vote on Wednesday. Dale Murphy, a two-time MVP who was absolutely one of the two best players in the National League along with Mike Schmidt for much of the 1980s, got 18.6 percent of the vote in his 15th year on the ballot, and will now have to wait for the Veterans Committee to elect him.
Perhaps the most telling statements came from guys who are already in the Hall of Fame. Those who voiced opinions were almost uniformly happy about the shutout. Maybe former Detroit Tigers great Al Kaline said it best.
"What really gets me is seeing how some of these players associated with drugs have jumped over many of the greats in our game," Kaline said. "Numbers mean a lot in baseball, maybe more so than in any other sport. And going back to Babe Ruth, and players like Harmon Killebrew and Frank Robinson and Willie Mays, seeing people jump over them with 600, 700 home runs, I don't like to see that.
"I don't know how great some of these players up for election would've been without drugs. But to me, it's cheating,"
On the other hand, we're not talking national security here, just election to a baseball museum. Some of the voters have taken it upon themselves to be judges of who "deserves" to be in the Hall of Fame. They should remember it's called the Hall of Fame, and not the Hall of Unbelievable Integrity.
Perhaps the voting rules should be juggled, and a committee of former players, Hall of Famers and others should join the writers in selecting candidates. Maybe the Hall should be more inclusive, not less. Players like Alan Trammel, McGriff Murphy, Don Mattingly, Kenny Lofton and Julio Franco, all of whom finished way down on the ballot, are viable candidates.
What's saddest is that, pre-steroids, players like Bonds and Clemens were, too.