Some are calling this a dark day for the Baseball Hall of Fame, or moreso perhaps for the Baseball Writers Association of America. Some are livid over the overwhelming rejection of Bonds&Clemens for induction this summer, in their first year of eligibility. Others are upset over the rejection of Bigio, Bagwell, Piazza and Schilling, all of whom have HOF credentials, none of whom are linked to steroids, and none of whom got in.
The HOF vote is hardly a perfect process, and never has been. How else to explain the fact that Willie Mays and Hank Aaron were not unanimous picks in their first year of eligibility?
But I don't think today is a dark day in the process at all. Am I pleased that for the first time since the 1960s, no living person will be inducted in Cooperstown this summer? No, I think it's highly unfortunate. Do I think Bigio, Bagwell, Piazza and Schilling should have been voted in? Yes, and I'll go a step further. I firmly believe that Fred McGriff should have been voted in.
The baseball writers--more than 550 of them--cast their votes, and in the process, sparked a nationwide conversation about who should be in the HOF, who shouldn't be, why, and what can be done to improve the process in the future. And I think that's a good thing. Schilling himself, in fact, told ESPN shortly after the vote was announced that what the writers did was send a resounding message to all concerned that they were disgusted by the entire steroid era, so disgusted that they rejected everyone on the ballot. As Schilling put it, they rejected those directly linked to steroid use, and they rejected all the players who were clean for not doing enough to clean up the game. The writers made a statement, and at least one player heard it loudly and clearly. Schilling took the high road, and I give him credit for it. He could have easily bemoaned the fact that he got just 37.6 percent of the vote, nowhere near the minimum 75 percent necessary for induction. Keep in mind, Schilling is one of three pitchers in baseball history with three 300-strikeout seasons; he's got the best strikeout-to-walk ratio among starting pitchers in baseball history; he went 11-2 in the post-season with a 2.2ERA, including 10-1 in the three years he led his teams to World Series championships. And he, as much as any player over the last 20 years, did speak out often against the use of PEDs in baseball. But he got the message from the baseball writers, and he's OK with it, because it's sparking a national debate.
I have little doubt that Biggio (68%), Bagwell (59.6%) and Piazza (57.8) will eventually get inducted. I am guardedly optimistic that Schilling (38.8) will. And I am pessimistic, but hopeful, that McGriff (20.7) will. Fred McGriff. Crime Dog. His numbers would stand out more if they weren't inevitably compared with the ridiculous drug-laced numbers turned in by Bonds, Sosa and McGwire: a five-time all-star, 493 homers, a .284 average, seven .300 seasons, ten 100 RBI seasons, .303 in the post-season with 10 HRs in 188 at-bats. McGriff's numbers compare very favorably with those of McCovey, Stargell and Billy Williams, they're all in the Hall, and McGriff should be as well.
I would not have voted for Bonds. Sixty-four percent of the voters didn't either. Yes, he was headed for the HOF 14 years into his 22-year major league career. And then he became the biggest and most sophisticated steroid user the game has even seen over his final eight seasons. His numbers went through the roof, from age 36 and up. Four of his seven MVPs came while he was juiced. He became a cartoon character, both in appearance, and in his production. It was a farce, just as it was when McGwire and Sosa combined for 136 homers in the 1998 season. Bonds disgraced the game, disgraced the Giants and disgraced himself. I would never vote for him.
Oh, I've heard all the sycophantic arguments for putting Bonds into the HOF:
1. He was a HOFer before he began using steroids.
2. Everyone was on steroids.
3. Steroids were legal.
4. He was never convicted of using steroids.
5. What about the thousands of players who were on amphetamines?
6. The Hall is full of other cheaters, like Gaylord Perry.
1. Character, integrity and sportsmanship are part of what all HOF voters are asked to consider before casting their ballots. He failed miserably on all three counts. He cheated, plain and simple. And he cheated willfully, flagrantly and defiantly for many, many years. He would have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer today if he hadn't decided to become a drug-infested cheat. He deserves the widespread scorn he is now experiencing, both as a cheat, and as a convicted felon.
2. Pleeeeeeez stop. There is no way of knowing how many players tried steroids, but to suggest that everyone was doing it is tantamount to saying everyone cheats on their taxes, and therefore it's OK. It's not OK. Furthermore, I think the overwhelming majority of players who dabbled in steroids did just that--they dabbled, some very briefly, like Gary Sheffield (read Game of Shadows). Bonds could write a book on PEDs. But he doesn't need to, since Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams already did.
3. Anabolic steroids were never legal. Even baseball banned them in 1991.
4. This isn't a court of law. He IS a convicted felon. And the same jury that convicted him of obstruction of justice voted 11-1 to convict him of perjury, i.e., lying about the use of steroids.
5. Get serious. Amphetamines allowed players to stay more alert.
6. Get serious (again). On the one hand, we're talking about a player who took a wide myriad of illegal drugs to artificially build his body, so he could hit balls further and harder, after having seen the pitches better. And on the other hand, we're talking about greasing up the baseball.
One question that comes up often from those who support Bonds&Clemens is this: What happens if a player already inducted into the HOF is later found to have been a steroid user?Good question. In other happens, once you let the cat out of the bag, how can you put him back in? It could happen. One thought would be to add an asterisk, with a brief explanation, on or beside his plaque. Another would be to create a separate wing of plaques for such cases.
For those who ask how we can have a Hall of Fame without Bonds and Clemens inside, I point out that both are inside. Go to Cooperstown, and see for yourself. Both have their uniforms on display, balls, gloves, bats, etc., for their achievements. The HOF is much more than simply induction plaques.
I know that writers such as Susan Slusser, John Shea, Mark Purdy, Jon Heyman, Tom Verducci and Ken Rosenthal all take their HOF voting responsibilities very, very seriously. They all voted against Bonds and Clemens. I also know that other writers such as Bruce Jenkins, Monte Poole, Carl Steward, Peter Gammons, Tim Kurkjian and Jayson Stark all take the same responsibilities just as seriously. They voted for Bonds and Clemens. Intelligent people can agree to disagree on this, and engage in a civilized debate, which is always a healthy thing.
One final point: Greg Papa expressed outrage this week (on 95.7FM) the fact that Bonds was unlikely to get enough votes for the HOF, and one of his points was that the living members of the HOF want him inducted. Greg might want to check again on that. In fact, countless current HOFers (last year's inductee Barry Larkin is the latest) have said they do not believe Bonds (or other steroid users) deserve to be enshrined in Cooperstown, and some have gone so far as to say they would boycott the induction ceremony were Bonds to get elected.