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Baseball’s Hall of Omissions

The selection process for election into the National Baseball Hall of Fame is simple: a player, five-years removed from last wearing a uniform, is elected once his name appears on at least 75 percent of the ballots turned in by the voting members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

The player remains on the ballot for 15 years, assuming he never receives less than five percent of the votes in any given year, at which point he would be removed.

Yes, the election process is simple, straight forward, cut and dry. 

How the electors fill out their ballots, however, is not. 

This year, for the first time since 1996 and only the eighth time in history, the BBWAA failed to elect any player into the Hall.  In a normal year, this wouldn’t create much of a revolt through the streets of Cooperstown.  But this was no normal year, because this was no normal ballot.  Apparently, of the 569 voters who participated, more than 25 percent did not view Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio or Jeff Bagwell as Hall-of-Famers

Now this column isn’t oblivious to the reasons why.  Palmeiro tested positive for steroids, and Bonds, Clemens and Sosa all have overwhelming evidence against them.  But since it can’t be proven beyond a doubt which players used PEDs, the BBWAA chose to block entrance to everyone from the “Steroid Era,” punishing all for the sins of some and taking attention away from the diamond and placing it on the voters and their narrative. 

The voting members of the BBWAA have not only designated themselves judge and jury to those they believed used PEDs, but they’ve taken it upon themselves to be the protectors of America’s moral compass.  By not voting in anyone from the era, regardless of whether or not they were credibly linked to PED usage, the voters made a political statement that they believe the pure waters of America’s Past-Time have been muddied. 

In reality, it’s the agendas of the electors who have turned a shrine to baseball’s greatest into a mockery that is now more infamous for those who have been omitted. 

Funny, there weren’t many writers complaining about PEDs while home run totals soared, and as a direct result so did public interest and their readership.  There also weren’t many front office personnel rushing to stop the “epidemic,” nor did they stop handing out large, multi-year contracts to the bulked-up power hitters who boosted the middle of their lineups.

But now that the money has been made, moral judgment is being handed down.  The writers have commenced a witch-hunt and former players and front office executives continue to wag their fingers in disgust at those who allegedly cheated.

Jeff Bagwell has the resume of a sure-thing Hall-of-Famer (449 career homeruns; .408 career OBP), but is being punished because he had the audacity to have big arms and put up big numbers at the wrong time. Photo credit: eschipul

Mike Piazza defied the odds as a 62nd-round draft pick to become one of the greatest offensive catchers in the history of the game (427 career homeruns); but to his detriment, he also thrived during the peak of the era in question. 

And then there is Craig Biggio, one of only 28 members of baseball’s 3,000-hit club.  Biggio scored the most runs and collected the most doubles, second most hits and third most homeruns of any second baseman in history.  He was the only player, regardless of position, to amass 3,000 hits, 600 doubles, 400 stolen bases and 250 homeruns for his career.

Only three retired members of the elusive 3,000-hit club are not currently enshrined in the Hall, Pete Rose (banned for life, therefore ineligible) being one.  The other two are the only members since 1962 to not be elected on their first ballot – Rafael Palmeiro (who tested positive for steroids) and now Biggio (being punished for alleged actions of his colleagues). 

The perceived actions of Bonds, Clemens and Palmeiro will only block players like Bagwell, Piazza and Biggio from the Hall for so long.  Voters will eventually cave, their agendas will eventually wash away, and at least SOME of the deserved will be elected.  But the moral judgment that has been handed down has also become a catalyst for borderline candidates to become the punching bags for everything that is currently wrong with the Hall and its process. 

Case-in-point, Jack Morris, who won 254 games and had one of the most memorable pitching performances in playoff history, throwing 10 shutout innings in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.  He won at least 15 games 12 times in his career, and had more wins (162) than any pitcher in the 1980s. 

Was he a good player?  Absolutely.  Did he have a Hall-of-Fame career?  Many would argue not.  So instead of concentrating on his great accomplishments, the discussion now focuses on everything he wasn’t, mocking his career in the process.  When Morris’ name is mentioned, no one thinks of his 175 complete games or his 1984 no-hitter.  No, instead they think of his 3.90 career ERA (which would be the highest in the Hall), or the fact that during the 1980s he also gave up the most hits, allowed the most earned runs and surrendered the most homeruns of any pitcher.

Morris is just one example of what will soon be many players broken down to their faults, their accomplishments forgotten as we try to explain why they weren’t quite as good as the group of players being omitted. 

Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesAs he enters his final year of eligibility next year, Morris, through no fault of his own, has become a microcosm of what the Baseball Hall of Fame now stands for.  He will likely be voted in by default, because many electors can’t bring themselves to write in the likes of Bonds, Clemens, and Palmeiro.

The BBWAA believes this upholds the sanctity and character of the Hall of Fame.

Just what you always wanted to see next to a name in Cooperstown: Hall-of-Famer, “by default.”

How is that any different than an asterisk?

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