Heeter column: Hall of Fame induction bar set way too high

jheeter@macon.comJanuary 4, 2014 

SPORTS BBO-HALL-HERZOG 4 SL

CHRIS LEE/ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCHFormer St. Louis Cardinals manager and 2010 Hall of Fame inductee Whitey Herzog, left, and former major league umpire Bruce Froemming walk into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum at the end of the Parade of Legends in Cooperstown, N.Y. during the 2010 induction weekend.

CHRIS LEE — MCT

The ballots start appearing in papers and on the internet around this time of year.

Some members of the Baseball Writers Association of America post their Hall of Fame ballots ahead of the announcement from the Baseball Hall of Fame -- the announcement will come Wednesday -- of the candidates who appeared on the 75 percent of ballots necessary to gain induction into Cooperstown.

No one at The Telegraph has a vote -- you must be a member of the BBWAA for 10 years before gaining the chance to vote. That’s fine and good, because I can’t think of a more broken system in sports than the Baseball Hall of Fame vote.

The voting is headache-inducing for someone like me who grew up loving the game so much and spent more time than my parents probably liked learning about the titans of the sport who played before I was born. It’s now a mess of old guard sportswriters who don’t want to -- and in some cases actively fight -- new-age statistics and writers who refuse to vote for anyone listed on the ballot for the first time to those who take a giant eraser to the entire swath of baseball now known as the steroids era.

No one was elected off the 2012 ballot, which was widely seen as a statement against the steroids era and the first appearance on the ballot by Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

Who got swept up in either the steroids era protest or not-voting-for-a-guy-on-his-first-ballot school of thought? Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza.

I can’t see this process as anything but broken when Biggio -- one of the most versatile players in recent memory with the Cooperstown golden ticket 3,000 hits -- and Piazza -- the greatest hitting catcher in history -- aren’t inducted.

We all want to see things in black or white. But how can one look at the issue of PEDs in baseball and not see anything but shades of gray?

Who took what?

Mark McGwire is the only one of the ballot to publicly admit the use of PEDs. We have the Mitchell Report and grand jury testimonies and Jose Canseco. But do we have a clear view of that era? How do you separate the use of PEDs with this generation with the use of amphetamines (or greenies) from previous ­generations? Or versus a player like Gaylord Perry, who performed surgery on baseballs on the mound to gain a competitive advantage?

People tend to hear the word steroids or the term PED, and a guttural reaction follows. We’ve gone as far as one columnist from the Boston Globe stating he wouldn’t vote for Piazza and Jeff Bagwell because “They just don’t look right.” What? So much for innocent until proven guilty.

Players can only be judged against others from their own era. We love numbers and statistics in baseball. You can look at Hack Wilson’s 191 RBI in 1930 or Ty Cobb’s record of 54 steals of home and compare them to those playing now. But the game is different and the comparison must be made among contemporaries. One could make an assumption that a large number of players were using PEDs from the late 1980s to the early 2000s, and the resulting statistics must be compared against the guys who played in that era.

The persecution of the steroids era -- which conveniently didn’t come during the actual period when sportswriters of that era didn’t seem to notice that players “don’t look right” -- has resulted in an awful bottleneck on the ballot. Voters can only select 10 players, and an already loaded ballot added Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas and Jeff Kent this year. Next year, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez, Carlos Delgado and Gary Sheffield join the ballot -- and all of those players are worth discussing. These follow: 2016 (Ken Griffey Jr., Trevor Hoffman), 2017 (Vladimir Guerrero, Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez), 2018 (Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Jim Thome, Scott Rolen).

If either the voters don’t start putting players in at an accelerated clip or the BBWA doesn’t change the rule of limiting votes to 10 players, a number of truly great players either won’t get voted in or they will fall off the ballot because they won’t receive the requisite 5 percent to stay on.

I think there are 15 worthy candidates on the ballot this year and another five or six that could be debated about intelligently, making this the most loaded ballot in history. If I had a vote, these are the 10 I feel are most deserving:

Greg Maddux: A once-in-a-lifetime pitcher who would be revered in any era, but he dominated in the height of the live-ball, steroids era when ballparks were being built smaller.

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens: No one is going to defend Bonds’ or Clemens’ attitude or PED use. Cooperstown doesn’t discriminate between sinners and saints, and it shouldn’t. If you consider their numbers prior to potential PED use -- Bonds before 1999 and Clemens in Boston -- both are Hall of Famers.

Frank Thomas: One of the best right-handed hitters in history, although he undeservedly gets knocked for playing designated hitter. He won two MVPs and was an absolute terror from 1991-97.

Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza: Bagwell and Piazza get lumped into the steroids controversy because they looked the part. Is it possible they used PEDs? Sure, but it’s possible that hundreds of players did. I don’t know how we’ve come to persecuting people who might have committed a “crime,” but the only evidence is bigger muscles. Bagwell was a monster in the pitcher-friendly Astrodome, and Piazza, as I mentioned before, is the greatest hitting catcher ever.

Tom Glavine: Glavine didn’t have the sexy strikeout numbers, but he got people out and became quite the battler on the mound. He won 300 games and was an integral part of the greatest cadre of starting pitchers in modern history.

Curt Schilling: The bloody sock gets the attention now, but Schilling is perhaps the greatest postseason pitcher in history. He won three World Series, posting a sub-2.00 ERA in those three appearances. He has the second-best strikeout-to-walk ratio in baseball history.

Craig Biggio: Biggio played multiple positions and was a Gold Glove winner at second. He pounded doubles -- ranking fifth all-time -- and had 3,000 hits. He made seven All-Star teams and didn’t hit into a double play in 1997, his best season.

Alan Trammell: I don’t understand why Trammell doesn’t receive more consideration. His overall numbers are very comparable to Barry Larkin, who easily got in the Hall of Fame. He probably got undervalued because he played in the same era as players like Ozzie Smith, Cal Ripken and Robin Yount. He won a World Series MVP and four Gold Gloves and played in six All-Star Games.

Now, this 10-vote limit would prevent me from voting for Tim Raines, Mike Mussina, Edgar Martinez, Jack Morris and Mark McGwire. You could make solid arguments for Sammy Sosa, Fred McGriff, Lee Smith, Jeff Kent and Rafael Palmeiro.

But it doesn’t matter because many voters won’t vote for the maximum 10, and we will all look at a similar backlog. And the headaches will start once again this time next year.

Contact Jonathan Heeter at 744-4400 or jheeter@macon.com.

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