Inside the Phillies: Controversy is part of baseball Hall of Fame voting

Posted: January 10, 2013

This summer the Baseball Hall of Fame will induct three members, all of whom have been dead since 1939. It will be hailed as a national travesty, the product of a divided voter base's inability to recognize steroids' place in the game.

There will be demands for reformation of the election process and cries for sanity. The passion is remarkable, if misplaced. Ultimately, baseball will continue to be played no matter whose plaque hangs in an Upstate New York museum.

That, after all, is the point here. This is about a  museum. Will Cooperstown, N.Y., businesses suffer come July? Absolutely. Were deserving players wrongfully denied inclusion? Sure. Is this the end of all rationality and reasoning? Please.

The Baseball Writers' Association of America did not elect a single member Wednesday to baseball's hallowed Hall for the first time since 1996. For the first time since 1965, no living member will be inducted. The shadow of the Steroid Era cast doubt on some candidates, and many writers moved to invoke the Hall of Fame's anachronistic character clause, which is included in letters to all voters.

A lack of direction from the Hall of Fame and the commissioner's office affected this election, rightly or wrongly. The closest to election was Craig Biggio, who received 68 percent of the vote with 75 percent required for induction.

There are signs writers are softening their stance against everything steroids. Barry Bonds (36.2 percent) and Roger Clemens (37.6 percent) performed better than anyone five years ago could have imagined.

Mark McGwire received 23.5 percent of the vote in 2007, his first year. (He has since dropped annually.) McGwire, of course, is not the player Bonds and Clemens were statistically. But many voters have treated known steroid users the same way, regardless of numbers.

Jeff Bagwell increased 3.6 points from a year ago to 59.6 percent. Mike Piazza (57.8 percent) is primed for eventual election. Curt Schilling, the former Phillies ace, ranked seventh in voting with 38.8 percent.

Many writers view themselves as the moral police, charged with protecting the hallowed halls that already include the likes of Ty Cobb and Tom Yawkey. The logic is unsustainable, because the Baseball Hall of Fame is a  museum. It should treat the Steroid Era like the Dead Ball Era. History, whether good or bad, is best not ignored. Drug use was a part of baseball.

(For the record, I do not have a vote. And after the noise from arrogant Internet bullies chastising anyone who resists their groupthink during this year's election, I wonder why any writer would ever willingly choose to exercise said right.)

Voters have always overvalued a player's first appearance on the ballot. No player has ever been unanimously elected. None. Jackie Robinson was elected by a five-vote margin in 1962, his first ballot year. Nine writers did not vote for Henry Aaron in 1982.

Since 1966, all 16 players who received at least 50 percent of the vote on their first ballot were eventually elected, according to research by sportswriter Joe Posnanski. That bodes well for Biggio, Piazza, and Bagwell. All three are deserving, and none has openly admitted or been proven to use steroids. Tim Raines, in his sixth year on the ballot, is finally gaining momentum with 52.2 percent.

If Bonds and Clemens are one day elected, their plaques can reflect the charges against them. Simple.

This vote can prompt some change. For one, the BBWAA should immediately eliminate the arbitrary cap of 10 players per ballot. That should help prevent a backlog of worthy candidates and another split vote like 2013. The organization's leaders should reevaluate its voter base and make it smaller.

Next year, Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina, Tom Glavine, and Jeff Kent will appear on their first ballots. That could leave as many as 20 viable candidates for election in 2014.

"In Hall of Fame voting, a snapshot in time is 15 years," Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson told the San Francisco Chronicle. "To pass judgment on a single election doesn't make a lot of sense."

It may take some time for admission. The system can be improved, but it is not broken so long as the trends displayed Wednesday persist.


Contact Matt Gelb at  mgelb@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @magelb.

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