2013 Hall of Fame vote an aberration
I’m sorry, it’s not a calamity. Not even close.
Many fans were stunned Wednesday by the announcement that the voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America did not elect anyone to the Hall of Fame — not a single player from the most star-studded ballot in recent memory.
I sensed this might happen, which is why I wrote a column Monday warning against an overreaction. This is a one-year aberration, largely attributable to the ambivalence of many voters, including myself, about candidates who were linked to steroids. But next year, there will be so many inductees, I fully expect to hear complaints that too many are entering the Hall.
Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas are strong first-ballot candidates for the Class of 2014. Former managers Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa will be eligible for induction by the Veterans Committee. And Craig Biggio (68.2 percent) and Jack Morris (67.7) could pick up the 40 or so votes they need to pass the 75 percent threshold.
Biggio passed the 3,000 hits milestone, but let’s not get too worked up about him falling short — Roberto Alomar, the other preeminent second baseman of his era — and arguably a better player — also failed to make it on his first try. So did two other prominent middle infielders, Barry Larkin and Ryne Sandberg.
Don’t forget: A player can remain on the ballot 15 years, as long as he continues to receive a minimum 5 percent of the vote. Biggio will be elected, probably next year. Jeff Bagwell (59.6 percent) and Mike Piazza (57.8 percent) eventually will be enshrined, too. There is no formal evidence that any of them used PEDs. It’s just that this year at least, the steroid era was a cloud over the entire ballot.
As for Roger Clemens (37.6 percent) and Barry Bonds (36.2), yes, their totals were lower than expected. But did anyone seriously expect them to waltz into Cooperstown, considering their alleged connections to PED use and the intense debate over their candidacies?
Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, speaking on MLB Network, referred to the day’s outcome as a “deferral,” and that’s exactly how I see it. Many of us are so conflicted, we’re unable to say — definitively, right now — that many of these players belong in the Hall. But is it possible we could change our minds later? Of course.
Such shifts in voting patterns drive many fans nuts, but the 15-year grace period gives us time to form new and broader perspectives. The arguments of sabermetricians, for example, helped persuade me that Bert Blyleven was a Hall of Famer. I’d rather be adaptable than inflexible, as long as I ultimately get it right.
No doubt, Clemens and Bonds face an uphill battle. I expect that their totals will rise next year; some voters surely did not want to elect them on the first ballot. Yet, it’s also possible that many voters who oppose Clemens and Bonds will never waver, keeping them far below 75 percent.
One thing that concerns me is that our “deferral” will create more overcrowded ballots, harming deserving candidates. Morris, whom I do not vote for, could be the first victim; he gained only 1 percent from 2012 to ‘13, and next year is his last year of eligibility. Four players I do vote for — Tim Raines (52.2 percent), Lee Smith (47.8), Alan Trammell (33.6) and Fred McGriff (20.7) — all lost support this time.
It will only get more difficult for such players. Not only is the 2014 ballot stacked, but Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz will be first-time candidates in ’15, Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman in ’16, Vlad Guerrero, Jorge Posada, Manny Ramirez and Pudge Rodriguez in ’17.
My colleague Jon Paul Morosi wrote this week that the Hall of Fame and BBWAA should lift the prohibition of voting for more than 10 players. I’m not ready to go that far — the Veterans Committee exists to rectify any perceived oversights by the BBWAA, and I’m not sure the gridlock will be as damaging as some fear. But should we discuss the idea? Absolutely.
One thing we definitely need to clean up — as suggested by Tyler Kepner of the New York Times — is the composition of the voting bloc. The voting should be restricted only to writers who cover the sport regularly. Sports editors and general assignment reporters do not fit that description; nor do writers who have been retired for a certain length of time — say, 10 years.
Kepner argued that broadcasters, statistical analysts, historians, scouts and executives also should merit a say in the process, but I am certain that the BBWAA would oppose any dilution of its voting rights. Well, if we’re going to be territorial, we owe the fans, the Hall and the sport the most qualified voting body possible.
Beyond that? I still think the process works. Many reacted Wednesday by asking, “How could the writers not elect anyone?” Fair question, but while the outcome was unusual — especially given the quality of the players on this year’s ballot — it was not unprecedented. The BBWAA had thrown such a shutout seven times previously, most recently in 1996.
As Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson said, a single election is merely a “snapshot in time.” A worthy candidate receives up to 15 chances, long enough for voters to carefully weigh his career, put it in the proper focus. For many of us, that focus this year was elusive.
Doesn’t mean it will be next year. Doesn’t mean it will be forever.