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Save me your furor if nobody gets in
I already can hear it, the outcry if no player gets elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“The Hall is in trouble.”
“The writers are fools.”
“SOMETHING MUST BE DONE.”
Wrong, wrong and wrong again.
Yes, there is a chance — a good chance, perhaps — that no candidate received the required 75 percent of the vote from the voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
The ballots were due on New Year’s Eve. The results will be announced Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET on MLB Network. But if the voters indeed pitched a shutout, it almost certainly will be a one-year aberration, not a reflection of any larger truths.
My complete ballot
Jeff Bagwell: Don’t tell me that Bagwell flunks the “eye test” — suspicion alone is not enough to justify a “no” vote. Bagwell’s career .408 on-base percentage, .540 slugging percentage, defense at first base, baserunning and leadership are more than enough to justify a “yes.”
Edgar Martinez: I know, he was mostly a DH. But what a DH (maybe the best ever) and one of the best right-handed hitters of his era, period. Since World War II only Barry Bonds, Mickey Mantle and Frank Thomas have finished their careers with OBPs higher than Martinez’s .418.
Fred McGriff: Seven more home runs would have elevated McGriff to 500, making him more of an obvious call. Voters need to look closer: McGriff’s career OPS-plus was higher than that of Hall of Fame first baseman Eddie Murray.
Tim Raines: Closer to Rickey Henderson than many people realize. Henderson had the higher OBP (.401 to .385), but Raines had the higher SLG (.425 to .419). Raines also had the highest stolen-base percentage in history among players with 500 or more steals.
Lee Smith: Closers are people, too. Smith retired as the all-time major league leader in saves. Yes, the stat is dubious, but Smith’s dominance was undeniable. He also was durable, as evidenced by his streak of 60 or more appearances in 12 consecutive seasons.
Alan Trammell: It bothers me greatly that he does not receive more support. Trammell was the American League version of Barry Larkin, overshadowed by a more celebrated shortstop (Cal Ripken Jr. in Trammell’s case, Ozzie Smith in Larkin’s), but worthy of Cooperstown in his own right.
I recognize that snark is the preferred mode of communication in a breathless social-media environment full of knee-jerk reactions and instant expertise. But all those preparing to get lathered up, take a deep breath and calm down.
Oh, I’m not downplaying the significance of what might occur. The Hall, as an institution, surely would prefer that Induction Weekend features, well, an actual inductee. Even in 1996, the last time that the BBWAA failed to elect a player, the Veterans Committee delivered Jim Bunning, Earl Weaver and two posthumous honorees, Bill Foster and Ned Hanlon.
This year, the third of the VC’s new rotating eras format, produced three pre-integration era inductees — umpire Hank O’Day, former Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert and 19th-century catcher/third baseman Deacon White. All have been dead since at least 1939.
More than 40 living Hall of Famers are expected to attend the induction ceremony, but the attendance at Cooperstown could fall below 10,000, the approximate number who attended the ’96 ceremony. It certainly won’t approach the record 75,000 that saw Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. inducted in 2007.
The Hall would not sugarcoat such an outcome and pretend it’s good for business. But Hall officials will tell you that they prefer a true election, whatever the outcome. They also will tell you that with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas coming onto the ballot next year, they’re confident that the podium will not be empty in 2014.
Heck, it’s not even a foregone conclusion that the podium will be empty this year, not when Jack Morris received 66.7 percent of the vote a year ago and Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza are first-time candidates with no known connections to performance-enhancing drugs.
If no player is elected, it will be due to the large number of intriguing first-time eligible candidates — voters can select no more than 10 players — and more significantly, the consternation over the candidates linked to PEDs.
But that consternation — the intense debate over what to do with Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and others — is not a bad thing for the Hall. If anything, it underscores the special place that Cooperstown holds in every fan’s heart.
The voters are easy to criticize. Some baseball writers who are not voters take particular delight in crushing those of us who are (a writer gets to vote after serving 10 consecutive years in the BBWAA, and full-time writers from websites are now eligible to become members.)
No problem — we’re all fair game. But the truth is, I’ve read and heard some remarkably intelligent discourses from my colleagues over the past several weeks — even ones who I strongly disagree with. The high level of debate has made me proud to be a member of the BBWAA.
My most difficult snubs (Non-Steroid Division)
Jack Morris: I do not dismiss that Morris was the winningest pitcher of the 1980s, but I can’t get past his 3.90 ERA, which would be the highest of any pitcher in the Hall. His supporters say he “pitched to the score,” but sorry, that doesn’t fully explain why his career ERA-plus barely rates above league average.
Dale Murphy: Another case in which I fear electing a player who would lower the Hall’s standards. Virtually all of Murphy’s career offensive numbers are light, and his peak was too short. I give him points for his exemplary character, but even in his 15th and final year on the ballot, I can’t bring myself to give him my vote.
One non-voter referred to those of us who struggled with our votes as “drama queens,” which I found rather amusing. Would it be better if we approached our ballots frivolously, without thought? Sorry, most of us feel a strong sense of responsibility to the process. The public hand-wringing is largely an attempt by many writers to be transparent to their readers.
Baseball is a talking sport, a sport that produces arguments like none other. The Hall arguments are especially passionate. You may agree with some, disagree with others. But the debate over the PED users, while occasionally maddening, is not a bad thing for the Hall, or for baseball. We’re talking, after all, about the game’s soul.
I fully expect the Twitter version of a banshee howl if no player is elected, but no change will need to be made to the voting procedures, particularly when we likely are looking at a one-time result. If the same thing happened in 2014 and ’15, that would be something different, an unacceptable outcome. At that point, the Hall would need to adjust.
I’m not saying the BBWAA voters are perfect — we have made mistakes, and we undoubtedly will make more. But for the most part, we’ve gotten it right over the years, and I’m confident we’ll eventually get to the right place on the PED users — whatever that place may be.
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