(This piece, while lighter on Blue Jays content than most my other posts, will deal with several issues that the National Baseball Hall of Fame will be forced to address due to the results of the 2013 BBWAA ballot [which included former Blue Jays players]. It involves my opinions on steroid usage that may not reflect the views of other writers here at Jays Journal. I encourage you to keep an open mind about the issue of steroids in baseball’s history, as I encourage you to share any and all differences or agreements of opinion in the comments section of this article. Thank you.)
On Wednesday January 9, 2013, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America decided not to elect any new players into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. To put it into perspective for Blue Jays fans, none of the team’s 7 former players entered the Hall of Fame, with only 3 members eligible to return to the ballot next year. Here are the results:
Jack Morris: 385 votes (67.7% votes, down 1.1% from 2012), 14th year
Roger Clemens: 214 votes (37.6% votes), 1st year
Fred McGriff: 118 votes (20.7% votes, down 3.2% from 2012), 4th year
David Wells: 5 votes (0.9% votes) OFF FUTURE BALLOTS
Shawn Green: 2 votes (0.4% votes) OFF FUTURE BALLOTS
Royce Clayton: 0 votes OFF FUTURE BALLOTS
Woody Williams: 0 votes OFF FUTURE BALLOTS
The entire BBWAA ballot can be viewed here.
The biggest thing to take away from this year’s HoF ballot results is how hard the Writers’ Association stuck to their guns voting for players linked in any way to steroids. The greatest players of the past generation in former Blue Jays pitcher Roger Clemens and Pirates/Giants slugger Barry Bonds received only close to 37% of the votes from the writers, while players that don’t seem to be implicated in steroids, like Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell received 68.2% and 59.6% of the votes, respectively. To get into the HoF, your name has to be written in on 75% of the ballots on any given year of eligibility (and must retain at least 5% of the votes each year for a maximum of 15 years of eligibility), but by setting this precedent in 2013 the National Baseball Hall of Fame has painted themselves into a corner.
You Don’t Know Jack!
On the 2014 ballot Jack Morris will be in his 15th and final year of eligibility to get into the Hall of Fame. In his short time with the Blue Jays he helped lead the team to their only two World Series Championships, although provided better starts back in 1992. He has a career record of 254-186, 3.90 ERA, 2,478 strikeouts and 4 World Series rings over a lengthy 18 year career. His many team-based accolades and leading the 80′s in wins and innings pitched has overshadowed his downfalls, including never finishing higher than 3rd for a Cy Young, never having a single season ERA below 3.00 and owning a career WHIP of 1.30. To take him down to the lowest peg, his ERA+ (which adjusts ballpark ERA and compares it to the league average of 100) is 105, the equivalent of current Blue Jays pitcher Ricky Romero.
However, the BBWAA over the last half decade have taken more and more a liking to Jack Morris because of the safety of not accidentally electing a steroid user after the fact, paired with his pitching stability and his memorable playoff pitching performances. There are even talks among baseball writers to include the top 9 guys and Jack Morris next year to try to get him into the HoF. Not to knock the great career of Jack Morris, but the recent turnaround in support coupled with the increase of steroid-era-eligible players mounting by the year has the Writers supporting him for all the wrong reasons. The fact that Roger Clemens (who boasts a 354-184 record, career 3.12 ERA, 4,672 strikeouts, 7-time Cy Young Award winner, an AL MVP award, cracked a sub 3.00 ERA 12 times and a sub 2.00 ERA twice during his career), at any time receives roughly 30% less of the vote than Jack Morris besmirches the idea of a Hall that pays tribute to the very elite baseball players throughout history, and may leave a more deserving candidate off future ballots.
The “Eye Test”
There has been only a small amount of players that have been revealed to have used steroids, through personal admission or through positive tests. Therefore, theoretically, there could be hundreds or thousands of current and former athletes that took performance enhancing drugs. Or, absolutely zero. The fact that nobody knows definitively how many baseball players have used steroids should absolve guesswork from the Writers’ criteria for electing players, but what some have observed is effectively an “eye test”. Any players who went from middling or simply “good” success to elite status over a short period of time, who grew bigger bodies over the course of a year or two or were on a team that had known steroid users may have an implicit relation with performance enhancing drugs, thus should not receive 75% of the votes.
This kind of witch hunt based on little to no evidence has already hurt the chances of Sammy Sosa, who with 12.5% of the vote in his first year of eligibility might fall off the ballot completely, despite hitting 609 HR’s, 2,408 hits, 1,667 RBI, hitting 60 HR’s or more in three different seasons and having no conclusive evidence of any steroid usage. Mike Piazza was undeservedly not elected in his first ballot despite not being implicated in steroids at all and being one of the best catchers of all time. Whether these players will enter the Hall of Fame one day remains to be seen, however the “eye test” narrative that comes out of it is creating a detrimental effect on baseball.
It creates a toxic view of players that have breakout seasons and being to turn their career around. Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista, once a career journeyman, has lead the majors in HR’s and is top 3 in slugging and wOBA over the past 3 years. Despite a well documented change in his batting stance, in no small part due to the help of Dwayne Murphy, Bautista still has to answer questions about steroid usage. Now with impending changes to the MLB drug program that will include testing for HGH starting in 2013 (suspiciously, closely announced after the voting results), there will be a lot more scrutinized players for decades to come. The ability to catch cheaters at a much better rate is a benefit, but will inevitably lead to more questions in regard to HoF voting.
Future and Present HoF Ballots At Risk
By not electing any new players into the HoF, but essentially spreading the votes around to allow an excess amount of players to remain on the ballot, the quantity of eligible players in the next few years is stocked full. While Morris only has one year left of eligibility, former Blue Jays Clemens and McGriff at least 11 more tries to get on the ballot. Unfortunately, even over the next 5 years there is an influx of talent that will make ensuring the deserving elections of these players difficult to gauge.
2014′s potential ballot includes these players deserving of a first ballot induction: former Blue Jays DH Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. Other worthy newcomers would be Mike Mussina, Luis Gonzalez and former Blue Jays 2nd Baseman Jeff Kent. 2015′s potential surefire 1st ballot players include Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, in addition to great players like Gary Sheffield, Nomar Garciaparra and future Blue Jays Level Of Excellence inductee Carlos Delgado. 2016′s potential ballot would find it difficult to not induct Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman their first time around. That year’s eligible players might also find Billy Wagner eventually getting into the Hall. 2017 and 2018 are hard to gauge so far away, but should include some greats the likes of Vladimir Guerrero, Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Chipper Jones and Omar Vizquel. When you accumulate all those players over the next 5 years, keeping the current HoF candidates in mind and remembering that a current ballot permits a maximum of 10 players only, the chance that very worthy players might not receive enough votes to remain on the ballot is a very real possibility.
Silent Then, Righteous Now
When elite players are free of steroid implications while playing baseball, it comes to a financial benefit to the owners, the players themselves and the writers who love to praise the greatness of these athletes by gracing them on the covers of print media. The 90′s were the height of steroid usage, although some of the PED’s used then were legal while now they are not. Androstenedione, commonly known as Andro and a legal drug (at the time) was discovered to be the drug of choice that Mark McGwire used during his 1998 season when he hit 70 HR’s, a single season record at the time. While the writers have kept McGwire out of the Hall for 7 years and a recent 16.9% voting result due to subsequent admission to steroid usage, back when he was in the hunt for breaking a storied record the media were defending McGwire essentially for the greater good of the game of baseball.
Get this straight: McGwire’s use of androstenedione, which he may not have advertised but didn’t try to hide, should not taint his achievement if he breaks the Roger Maris record. . . . if baseball were to ban andro, then he could be faulted if he kept on using it. To hold McGwire to a higher standard than his sport does is unfair.
-Jack McCallum, Sports Illustrated
In today’s Globe, a doctor claims that andro is part of McGwire’s success. This makes it sound as if the substance is adding 40 feet to McGwire’s long fly balls. This is ridiculous. Andro might help McGwire stay healthy and aid his recovery time from injuries, but the same could be said about aspirin, or any other pain reliever.
-Dan Shaughnessy, Boston Globe
My favourite quote comes from CBS’ Jon Heyman, who recently discussed his ballot and voting for non-tainted players.
When andro was the hot topic, McGwire said he was tired of all the talk about “nothing.” Obviously, if he really thought the supplement androstenedione was nothing, he would not have used it. Then again, it wasn’t everything, either. If everyone took andro, McGwire still would be the only one with 62 home runs. He hit 49 as a much skinnier rookie, and his best attribute then, as now, was his timing.
-Jon Heyman, Newsday
Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa would eventually be names Sports Illustrated’s Sportsmen of the Year. Both are currently at less than 17% of the vote, McGwire’s percentage has dropped from mid 20′s% and Sammy Sosa, at such a small percentage to start, may never get into the Hall.
Possible Ways To Improve Hall Of Fame Voting
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to fix the Hall of Fame voting to make it completely fair and perfect going forward. Some have suggested removing the power of induction from the BBWAA completely and give the vote for former players and managers. Unfortunately, seeing as those players and managers had working relationships with HoF-eligible players, it would be a lot more difficult for them to see an objective analysis, rather through subjective experiences.
Here are some changes I would love to see take place:
-Only active BBWAA writers are eligible to vote. The current BBWAA eligibility for Hall of Fame voting allows for any active member who has been covering baseball for 10 consecutive years or any former voter who has received lifetime honorary membership. This means former columnists who haven’t even written about baseball for actual decades are still eligible to vote. It’s a rule change that needs immediate implementation.
-Make all BBWAA ballots available to the public. This one is a no-brainer. With full transparency, the writers will be held accountable for their choices, especially the one writer who seriously used one of their votes on Aaron Sele or who sent back a blank ballot. If you are an individual who decides who is enshrined in a museum to be seen by millions of people for centuries to come, you should be at least be allowed to be scrutinized, as well.
-Start allowing MLB.com BBWAA writers to be eligible beyond a case-by-case basis. It’s the 21st century. These writers cover the game all year round, not just during baseball season. If they would fit Hall of Fame voting if they were a paper columnist, they should be allowed as someone who writes in a medium that people actually read, on a much bigger scale.
This year was mostly a bad year for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but not all is lost. Former Blue Jays radio play-by-play announcer Tom Cheek will be posthumously honored with the Ford C. Frick award during the induction weekend. If you can, try to make it across the border. Cooperstown businesses will be more than grateful.