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

James Edward Rice at the Hall of Fame

Sometimes pictures tell the story.  Pictures from the Boston Globe.

A picture of the plaque, honoring Jim Rice, that will be displayed in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Jim Rice with his placque.

Rice posed with his Hall of Fame plaque.

Jim and Rickey Henderson.


Rickey Henderson (left) and Jim Rice posed with their Hall of Fame plaques.

From his speech

You always feel that after every great once-in-a-lifetime moment, there could not be anything else to top it. You find your life-long partner, that one true love. You have your first child and you spend hours wondering at the perfection of tiny little fingers and toes. You rejoice and cry through pre-elementary, middle and high school and, if you’re lucky, college graduation. You marvel at how sanity endures. Right when you thought it couldn’t get any better, you have grandchildren and a new astonishing love blossoms.

And then after 15 years, you get a phone call that you thought you’d never get. Your aspiration’s realized. Your tears overflow. Because you know now that the highest honor of your career means so much more than you ever thought it would mean before. Because what it feels like most is being welcomed at home plate and after hitting a walk off home run. You find yourself repeating the same phrases over and over:

“We made it, we made it. We made it.”

Just think about it.  Jim Rice spent his entire career with the Sox.  Is there anyone playing right now you will be able to say that about 10 or 15 years from now?  Jon Lester?  Dustin Pedroia?  Hard to say and probably not. 

I look forward to the retirement of his number 14 at Fenway and to his return to the pregame show.

And by the way the John Smoltz experiment needs to end now.  It was a good try – didn’t work.

Jim Rice makes the Hall

Jim Rice was finally elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  He is the first African American player who spent his career in Boston playing for the Red Sox to be elected.  He played here for 16 years.  I never really saw him play being a National League Atlanta Braves fan during much of his career and i was not living in Boston.  But I often watch him on pre-game shows now and have learned that he does more than repeat cliches.

Tony Massarotti writes in his Boston Globe blog

Now Rice is in the Hall of Fame, after 16 years of playing, five years of waiting, and 15 years of voting. During that time, only Ralph Nader may have run a longer campaign. Rice finally will walk into the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown Sunday, July 26, and maybe it is only fitting that he will do so offering nary a glimpse into a soul that has been tortured for more than a decade.

I’m not going to get into whether he really deserves to be a Hall of Famer or not as that debate is over.  But I will comment that I think Rice’s character have been maligned over the years.  Massarotti again

So just who is the real Jim Rice? That is a difficult question to answer. On the one hand, Rice was a longtime terror in the batter’s box; on the other, his career ended too early and abruptly. He was the kind of man who literally would rip the shirt off a reporter’s back and then buy him a new one — he did this to onetime Globe beat reporter Steve Fainaru — and he was the kind who would carry a fallen teammate (Jerry Remy) off the field following a serious injury. Once, when a small child was hit by a line drive behind the Red Sox dugout, Rice hoisted the boy out of the seats and carried him down the dugout runway, where the child could most quickly receive medical assistance.

Jim Rice and Rickey Henderson are the two electees this year.  I did see Rickey play once on my only visit to Yankee Stadium.  I was in a field level box and got a glimpse of Henderson and Reggie Jackson chatting.  I’m not sure who was doing the most talking but I’m sure that Rickey will out talk Rice on July 26.  And so does Jim Rice.

Rice mused today that his induction speech would be short and sweet, that he would leave all of the talking to Henderson. As many laughs as the comment drew, it also happened to be true.

Congratulations, Jim Rice.