The hall of fame, drugs, and baseball

The question being asked by many as we wait for the votes to be announced tomorrow is will any one be elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame this year?  I am of two minds about the whole performance enhancing drug business.  Should we be looking at records before and after and, if the before record is Hall worthy go ahead and elect them?  Or should drug use be a total disqualifier?  And what of people we suspect but have never been caught?

I have seen detailed analyses of the records of Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens.  I think they were so caught up in the idea of being ball players they did what they thought they had to to prolong their careers – at least that is true of Roger.  Should they not get into the Hall because they were stupid and lacked character?  The first person elected was Ty Cobb with his reputation for dirty play and racism.

Back in December, Bob Ryan wrote in the Boston Globe

I am in possession of the toxic ballot.

It is the Hall of Fame ballot voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) have dreaded for the last five years. Our feet are finally being held to the bonfire. How will we as a body judge the candidacy of the all-time home run leader, the only man to win seven Cy Young Awards, and a man with 609 career home runs who is the only person to homer 60 times or more in three seasons?

Absent, shall we say, a complicating factor, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa would be ultra-mortal locks. Based on the numbers, there wouldn’t be the slightest hesitation in checking the box next to their names.

For years I have been saying, publicly and privately, that some day I may wake up and decide that all this agonizing over how to judge admitted or strongly suspected PED users is fruitless, that there was a period of time in baseball’s recent history when juiced pitchers threw to juiced batters and we will never know how many PED-aided home runs would have landed on the warning track or how many fewer strikeouts someone would have had if the people in question had been clean. I might acknowledge that it is an impossible task to act as judge and jury, that I should simply let them all in and not worry about the ethical question posed by the use of PEDs in athletic competition.

I, for one, just can’t do it. Some day, maybe. Or maybe not. I’ve got 15 years to decide what to do with the Toxic Trio.

I know this much: They’re not getting in, at least not this year. Steroid-tinged Mark McGwire­ has had six chances and he’s actually going backward, peaking with 23.7 percent of the vote (75 percent is needed for election) in 2010. Last year, he slipped to 19.5. Admitted user Rafael Palmeiro, he of the 3,020 hits and 569 home runs, got 11 percent of the vote two years ago and 12.6 last year. There will be no need for either to prepare an acceptance speech.

But we’re all curious to see what the vote will be. I’m betting that Bonds and Clemens will come up with something between 40 and 50 percent of the vote, while Sosa will be lucky to crack double figures.

Ryan believes that no one will be elected this year, a opinion echoed by Tyler Kepner of the New York Times.  Kepner points out that a player needs 75% of the ballots which even in year untainted by PED’s is hard.

Historically, this has not been easy. In 1971, when Yogi Berra made his debut on the ballot, he collected only two-thirds of the vote. That’s right — 118 of 360 writers did not vote for Berra as soon as they had the chance. Fifteen players on that 1971 ballot eventually made it to Cooperstown, but that year, the voters could not reach a three-quarters consensus on any of them.

Since then, only one other writers’ ballot has produced no new inductees. That was in 1996, when Phil Niekro, Tony Perez and Don Sutton got more than 60 percent but less than 75. They and three others from that ballot — Ron Santo, Jim Rice and Bruce Sutter — eventually elbowed through the crowd and into the Hall.

So who else is on the ballot?  One of my all time favorites, Dale Murphy.  I first saw him play for the Richmond Braves when he was a catcher.  Bob Ryan writes

This is it for Murphy, Year 15. His son, Chad, has created a petition and has bombarded voters with e-mails. Murphy is a rare back-to-back MVP (1982-83) with 398 career homers. He made an admirable transition from catcher to five-time Gold Glove center fielder. But he has never passed the Hall of Fame I-know-one-when-I-see-one Smell Test, his vote percentage ranging from a low of 8.5 in Year 6 to last year’s high of 14.5. It’s not going to happen.

Curt Shilling is also on there.  When I can put aside my distaste for his politics and for his hypocrisy – belief in smaller government while seeking lots of government economic development money from Massachusetts and then getting it from Rhode Island – he could pitch and if I had a vote would check him off.

But it is likely that no one will break th 75% barrier and the plaque will look like this.

We will find out tomorrow.

Illustration by Sam Manchester/The New York Times

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