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There is a real possibility that despite a ballot loaded with candidates armed with truly deserving statistics, there could be no inductees voted in when Hall president Jeff Idelson makes the announcement for the class of 2013 at 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday.
The popular thinking had been that Jack Morris’s time has come, that after 13 years of waiting, acknowledged as one of the greatest big-game pitchers of his generation, Morris’s 66.7 per cent of the ballots cast a year ago would climb to the needed 75 per cent and he will finally gain induction.
But not so fast. Unlike Bert Blyleven, two years ago, who was swept to immortality on the evidence of new-wave analyses, supported by a younger generation of eligible baseball writers, Morris is supported only by fading, old-school pitching stats, like wins. He is supported by those that saw him pitch in situations like Game 7 of the 1991 World Series vs. the Braves. It may not be enough.
If Morris does not gain entry — and I have not seen enough new support to take him over the top — then that leaves the strong list of steroid era candidates as the most qualified. However, the popular sentiment among many voters is not necessarily that they will never get in, but to make them uncomfortable, make them wait. Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds will receive votes, but not enough.
That list of suspected performance-enhancing drug users on the ballot, aside from Bonds, Clemens and Sammy Sosa, also includes players like Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza. The evidence is all circumstantial, but in the court of public opinion, they are all guilty.
If there are going to be any graduates from this Hall of Fame class, other than Morris, the most likely winners will come from among Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Tim Raines. First-year candidate Curt Schilling is also a longshot. But the fact is there may indeed be a shutout for the first time since 1996.
Before proceeding on to what ails the Hall of Fame voting process and what the next step should be, here, in the interest of full disclosure, is the list of nine players that are on my 2013 ballot, submitted on December 28. I voted for Bagwell, Biggio, Bonds, Clemens, Morris, Piazza, Raines, Schilling and Larry Walker. It is not a privilege that BBWAA voters take lightly.
There are other star players that will receive significant support, guys like the untainted Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Dale Murphy, Lee Smith, Sosa and Alan Trammell. Sure, there are solid arguments to be heard from their supporters but there is no right or wrong. It’s all about opinion and consensus. There is a maximum of 10 players per ballot. The number of ballots counted will be around 600, which means that a successful candidate must be included on 450 of those.
Maybe a shutout for the Hall of Fame in 2013 will bring on the much needed changes to the relationship between the BBWAA and the immortals that are already in. But a more important moment would be whenever it is that the first of the Mitchell Report stars inevitably makes the grade.
Problem No. 1: Think about any top-notch country club that has ever rejected you as a member. It’s the members themselves that voted you in or out. But in the case of the Hall-of-Fame, continuing on with the country-club analogy, the 64 living baseball HoF members are already in, enjoying all the benefits and privileges, but the membership committee is not them, it’s the BBWAA, the equivalent of the guys raking the bunkers, cutting the greens, the guys in the caddy shack. That is a huge difference.
Problem No. 2: There is a page of rules that arrives in the mail, accompanying your ballot. There are nine rules. Rule 5 states: Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.
That paragraph lends itself to as much interpretation and debate as does the word “valuable” in the MVP Award. No, there is nothing wrong with healthy debate when it comes to something as truly unimportant as sports and its self-generated awards, but the rancour that the steroid era candidates’ eligibility engenders among fans, voters and living members of the Hall is not healthy for the sport.
The next step: Until the first steroid era star with a documented history of performance-enhancing drug use (prior to 2004 when testing became mandatory) is voted to Cooperstown, MLB, the Hall of Fame and its voted-in members can hide behind the BBWAA, passing the controversy, the blame for this mess on to those given the voting responsibility, avoiding a problem that is real.
The next step forward in coming to grips with the steroid era’s place in history can only take place when the writers finally vote in one of those scarlet-letter stars. At that point, the search for a solution will return to MLB. Canadian Ferguson Jenkins is one Hall of Famer who has suggested that when that happens, he will not return for the weekend of celebration. That becomes a huge problem for the Hall and the commissioner.
From celebration to controversy is not what the Hall-of-Fame is looking for. Baseball needs to take a stand, pro or con, but as long as MLB and Cooperstown continue to list the steroid era candidates on the ballot in good standing, with no asterisk, then the BBWAA will continue to consider them and vote for them. The biggest adjustment I have made in my considerations is that the gold-standard statistics, especially in terms of power numbers, have had to be adjusted.