Steroid era shows its muscle over Hall of Fame voters
BY WADE MCMILLIN & BRANDON J. SMITH, Couchsideshow.com bloggers
When the Baseball Writer’s Association received a chance to throw a shutout against this year’s Hall of Fame candidates, the pencil pushers couldn’t pass up the chance.
For just the second time in the past 40 years, a player won’t be enshrined at Cooperstown. At first reaction, Major League Baseball fans probably scratched their heads at the rare occasion. After all, many of them probably don’t remember the last time the MLB didn’t have an annual Hall of Fame Induction. It’s been more than a decade since Hall of Fame voters didn’t grant a player’s golden ticket to walk through the pearly gates of Cooperstown. So why this year? Why now? Well it seems like the baseball’s steroid era is carrying some serious weight on the prestine voters of the MLB’s highest honer.
Instead of thinking that a guy just deserves his day in the sun, voters now have to second guess themselves about whether or not that particular player used performance enhancing drugs. It looks like there won’t be any free passes or thoughts that a player’s stats and skills are simply good enough. Instead, the foreseeable future of MLB Hall of Fame voting will have a dark cloud lingering, filled with creams, needles and lies. However, there’s no doubt that some players deserving of the honor, never once though about gaining that edge. Those are the baseball players who should get their shot. It’s sad to think that some won’t just because their name is listed alongside the likes of Barry Bonds, Rodger Clemens and Sammy Sosa.
As disheartening and backwards as the situation seems, it will most likely be the way Hall of Fame voters look at each player new to the ballot. Plenty of players deserved their shot this year, but were denied the chance undoubtedly because of some of the other tarnished names on the ballot. This is just the beginning baseball fans. In the future, expect crowded ballots and these old, tired voters to leave your guy off their list. Here’s a look at some of this year’s snubs and a clear case of why they either should’ve made it into the Hall of Fame on Wednesday or why they should soon.
Pre-steroid era (Brandon J. Smith)
• Jack Morris, Detroit Tigers: I’m not a Jack Morris supporter, and it has nothing to do with feelings or emotions concerning his candidacy, but rather the factual results that don’t put him in an elite category of pitching. No matter how you slice it, a 3.90 ERA with a 1.78 strikeout-to-walk ratio just doesn’t do it for me. If he gets elected however it won’t bother me personally, just the writers who have to twist and bend history to make a case for him will. That being said, where does Morris go from here? He up from 66% to 67% of the vote this year and has one chance left before he’s off the ballot. Will there be a final surge from the voters to get a sympathy vote when Maddux, Glavine, and Frank Thomas join the fray next year, or will he get pushed back with all the others? I think he’ll get pushed back, although it would be hilarious to have him inducted on the same day as Greg freaking Maddux.
• Alan Trammel, Detroit Tigers: In his 12th year of eligibility, the former Tiger shortstop received just 33.6% of the vote. It’s unfortunate that people are now just starting to recognize how good Trammell truly was in comparison to the great shortstops of all time. He wasn’t the hitter Cal Ripken was and he along with everyone else on the planet wasn’t the defender that Ozzie Smith was, but being second best in that era in both categories is not too shabby. On his baseball reference page, his statistical profile compares favorably to fellow Hall of Famers Barry Larkin and Ryne Sandberg. A career .285 hitter who played spectacular defense during a 20-year career would be praised today in a deflated offensive era, but the ‘90s seemingly washed that undervalued skill set away, it’s too bad.
• Tim Raines, Montreal Expos: ‘Rock’ Raines is climbing up the ladder to baseball heaven at a modest pace. He received 52.2% of the ballot in his 6th year of eligibility, which is pretty good. Raines is considered by most the second best leadoff hitter of all time behind an obvious Rickey. You might be surprised to learn that he’s the most efficient base stealer in the history of the game. Yes, he didn’t have Rickey’s stolen base record, but what he had was an eye-popping 808 steals and 146 caught stealing, which is easily the best ratio of all time. Having 2,600 hits and a career .385 on-base percentage has finally broken through the haze of internet statistics and made old and new school types agree that his greatness deserves to be enshrined in Cooperstown. It’ll take him a few more years to get there, but he has the momentum and enough years to still get his due.
Steroid era (Wade McMillin)
• Craig Biggio, Houston Astros: I have been debating with friends, colleagues and others almost all day about who was the biggest snub. For me, I have to believe it was Biggio. The 20-year-pro is the model candidate for the Hall of Fame. He played for just the Astros, ended his career with 3,000 hits and was a seven time All-Star. His defense also wasn’t shabby, earning four Golden Glove awards. And during his long career, Biggio started out as a catcher. He then was moved to centerfield before becoming the second baseman we all grew to love. Voters did show Biggio a little bit of love by giving him the largest percentage of the vote by any player, 68.2 percent. The only problem is that he needed 75 percent to get in. This was Biggio’s first year on the ballot and I know he will eventually get in. But here’s a sickening fact, Biggio is just the second player in MLB history to reach the 3,000-hit milestone who wasn’t named a first ballot Hall of Famer. The other 3,000-hit snub, Rafael Palmeiro, shouldn’t be considered a snub at all because he used steroids to get his hits and home runs. I know getting into the Hall of Fame can be a waiting game, but come on!
• Fred McGriff, Atlanta Braves: I really didn’t want to consider McGriff a snub, but my FaceBook friends made me reconsider. The Crime Dog was a five-time All-Star, World Series champion and really just a class act. He wouldn’t excite you with upper deck shots or multi-home run game, but he definitely was someone you wanted on your team and someone the opposition didn’t want to see in the lineup. Of the players receiving Hall of Fame votes who didn’t use steroids, McGriff has the more home runs. Furthermore, the first baseman trails just Jeff Bagwell (who could’ve easily used steroids) for the most RBI and slugging percentage of the realistic candidates. So while I think that McGriff might not exactly be a snub, he definitely deserved more respect than 20.7 percent of the votes. To put it in perspective, Larry Walker, Mike Piazza, Edgar Martinez and Barry Bonds were some of the names ahead of him.
We Hardly Knew Ye (BJS)
• Bernie Williams (3.3%) – His case to me falls under the Dale Murphy track record of “not good enough for long enough,” and that’s what I think most voters saw with Bernie Williams. Defensively he was never the best, and retroactive stats have him rated pretty poorly, he never was a big threat on the base paths, but he was a good hitter who played on multiple Yankee championship teams. A lifetime .297/.381/.477 line is nothing to scoff at, but in the context of the era he played in, he was never elite in any one area, never received a top 5 MVP vote, and the only time he led the AL in any category was a 1998 batting championship. I don’t think he should have fallen off the ballot so soon, not when he had a decent case, but maybe it was inevitable with the coming crop of better and more notable names to come.
• Kenny Lofton (3.2%) – Consider Lofton to be Tim Raines-light. He did everything Raines did, just not quite at ‘Rock’s’ level. Lofton’s 622-190 stolen base-caught stealing ratio is excellent, and amassed 2,428 hits with a career slash line of .299/.371/.423. He was a mainstay on those successful Indians teams of the ‘90s, won two gold gloves, had six consecutive All-Star appearances from ’94-’99, then nearly won a World Series ring with the 2002 Giants. He and Raines both came very close with advanced statistics like WAR (wins above replacement) with Lofton at 64.9 and Raines with 66.2. I don’t know if Kenny Lofton was a surefire Hall of Famer, but I think he deserved at least a few more years of consideration. You will be missed.
No love for the enormous (WM)
• Barry Bonds: If the sultan of steroids would’ve made the Hall of Fame this year, I would lose a lot of respect for baseball. Ever since I read that Barry Bonds’ head was growing in his late 30s, I had him pegged as a cheater. It might not be fair, but a court did accuse him of lying to a grand jury. The evidence against Bonds is also staggering. Many might make their case for Bonds because they believe it takes talent to hit all of those home runs. I would agree with them. But 40 extra pounds of muscle never hurt anyone trying to put the ball out of the yard. I sincerely hope Bonds never makes the Hall of Fame. And if he does, the likes of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez and Rodger Clemens better get in, too. What’s really funny to me is that Bonds likely would’ve been in Cooperstown anyway. He just wanted to break records instead of winning games and being a consistent 30-30 guy. There’s just no pleasing the bald headed giant.
• Sammy Sosa: I was pretty surprised Sosa didn’t get more votes than his 12.5 percent. And if you haven’t already been able to tell, I don’t think any steroid user should be allowed into the Hall of Fame, so I’m saying hell no for Sosa’s bid to get in. Besides, would you really want to see his Michael Jacksonesque face on the podium anyways?
• Roger Clemens: If any of the “accused” steroid users should’ve gotten in, it should’ve been Clemens. The 50-year-old was never found guilty of lying to a grand jury and according to the books, he never used steroids. Although we all know that probably isn’t true, this country believes that that anyone is assumed innocent until proven guilty. And until Clemens is found guilty, it’s tough to keep him out. Sort of like Mark McGwire, another player who I think should get in because he wasn’t caught. It might seem backwards, but hey, this is America!
Next Year’s Class/Hypothetical 2013 ballots
• No chance of a repeat?: With next year’s Hall of Fame Class, headlined by Greg Maddux, Mike Mussina, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Jeff Kent and Luis Gonzales, Brandon and I agreed that at least one first time ballot selection will get in. Without much argument, we both agreed that would be Maddux. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Glavine also got the call for that special, feel good moment.
• Brandon’s love for Bonds: In order, here is how Brandon ranked this year’s class: 1. Barry Bonds; 2. Roger Clemens; 3. Craig Biggio; 4. Edgar Martinez;; 5. Jeff Bagwell; 6. Mike Piazza; 7. Tim Raines; 8. Alan Trammell; 9. Mark McGwire; 10. Curt Schilling
• Big time Biggio: If you’ve been reading along, there’s probably no surprise how Wade’s top 10 shook down: 1. Craig Biggio; 2. Tim Raines; 3. Fred McGriff; 4. Lee Smith; 5. Mike Piazza; 6. Curt Schilling; 7. Alan Trammel; 8. Jeff Bagwell; 9. Curt Schilling; 10. Mark McGwire