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Future HOF voting will get complicated
The Hall of Fame balloting and bean-counting are over for another year, and congrats to the freshly elected Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven, who both stand as worthy (and in Blyleven's case, woefully belated) additions to Cooperstown.
Now, the focus shifts to the complications posed by the coming eligibility of so many players from the so-called "steroid era."
Simply, put, voters must decide whether the Hall of Fame is a lesser place with (suspected) performance-enhancing drug users in it or whether it's a lesser place with some of the greatest players in history not in it.
As for that immediate future, it's going to be a compelling and perhaps clarifying time. In part, that's because the 2012 and 2013 Hall of Fame classes will occupy different ends of the continuum.
The 2012 class is one of the weakest in memory (Bernie Williams is what passes for the signature candidate, and then comes ... Javy Lopez?), while the 2013 class will be larded with worthies — Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio, Curt Schilling and Sammy Sosa — and stands as one of the strongest in history.
Despite the differences in quality, both ballot groups will have serious implications insofar as the future and legitimacy of the Hall of Fame are concerned.
The next round of voting will be provide a good chance for some holdover candidates. As mentioned, it's a deliriously weak field, and no first-timer will be elected. That means fixtures on the ballot like Tim Raines (worthy), Barry Larkin (worthy), Jack Morris (not worthy), and Lee Smith (not worthy) could benefit.
Of course, it's also possible that, for the first time since 1996, no one will reach the 75% threshold. While Raines, Larkin, Morris and Smith may all eventually make it, only Larkin is close enough to being named on three-fourths of the ballots to envision election next year.
On the Veterans-Committee front, Ron Santo's long-neglected case will once again be reevaluated and, in the wake of his passing, perhaps he'll finally get the plaque he deserves.
And that brings us to 2013 and, in particular, four candidates who indubitably have the numbers, but whose cases are encumbered by PED suspicions.
In most cases, the writers have no idea who used what, and in all cases, the writers have no idea how PED use affected the numbers.
As well, there's the curious lack of outrage directed toward players of previous generations who used amphetamines, which speed up reaction times and reduce fatigue.
The fact is, PED users are already in the Hall of Fame and have been for years. Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Reggie Jackson (among many others) used amphetamines. Author Zev Chafets, in his book Cooperstown Confidential, reports that Mickey Mantle received a steroid and amphetamine injection down the stretch in '61. And Hall of Famer Pud Galvin injected himself with testosterone taken from monkey testicles way back in 1889.
Those who trot out the legal argument with regard to steroids should recall that the endless line of great players who drank alcohol during Prohibition starts with Babe Ruth.
On yet another level, every player who toiled before widespread integration benefited from an artificially compromised talent pool. And a number of those players (Hall of Famer Cap Anson, to cite but one example) were complicit in baseball's discriminatory structure.
And all of this is to say nothing of, for example, spitballers like Gaylord Perry ("soft cheaters," if you will) who are already enshrined.
In other words, those who declare that steroid users have no place in the Hall are either tacitly ignoring the misdeeds of past greats or making distinctions that are difficult to justify.
But if you're into making such distinctions, then the 2013 ballot will provide you with ample chance.
Barry Bonds is one of the greatest hitters in history. Roger Clemens is one of the greatest pitchers in history. Lengthy tomes have been written that were largely about each player's (alleged) use of PEDs.
Mike Piazza is the greatest-hitting catcher ever. The same book that details Clemens' history of PED indulgences also implicates Piazza (plus, Murray Chass says he had "backne"!).
Sammy Sosa is seventh on the all-time home run list. Lawyers illegally leaked news of his testing positive for steroids in 2003.
Based on the numbers — based on anything having anything to do with winning baseball — all four players are worthy of election without a moment's debate.
What voters must decide is whether their objections to the excesses of the era are enough to outweigh the obvious merits of Bonds, Clemens, Piazza and Sosa.
There's also the chance that all four players are "penalized" by being denied first-ballot status, only to be admitted in 2014 or later. If that's the case, then, once again, the upward-trending ballot holdovers may stand to benefit.
Specifically, this thicket of considerations may help Jack Morris. Morris doesn't deserve to be in the Hall, but he's presently over 50 percent, and 2013 will be his 14th (and next-to-last) year on the BBWAA ballot. That's another two years to increase his vote total, and that's a second consecutive class that may not yield a first-ballot inductee.
This is all flying without instruments, though. To state the baldly obvious, we won't know what happens until it happens.
We won't know until 2014 whether a "first ballot" penalty was indeed in effect with regard to Bonds, Clemens, Piazza and Sosa, and we won't know whether members of the "(supposedly) Flawed Four" will be treated as individuals or as a scorned collective.
What we do know is that the debates are about to become more intense, and the positions are going to become more entrenched.
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