Thursday, January 10, 2013

Hole of Fame

Apparently, the Baseball Writers Association of America believed that, of the players who are currently eligible for the Hall of Fame under their jurisdiction -- players who appeared in an MLB game in at least 10 seasons, as far back as 1993 and as recently, but no more so, than 2007 -- none were deserving of election.

This year, we have a Hole of Fame.

A player needed to gain 75 percent of the vote to get in.  Here was the voting, with the players' names, most familiar positions, and most familiar teams:

Craig Biggio, 2nd base, Houston Astros: 68.2 percent
Jack Morris, pitcher, Detroit Tigers: 67.7
Jeff Bagwell, 1st base, Houston Astros: 59.6
Mike Piazza, catcher, New York Mets: 57.8
Tim Raines, left field, Montreal Expos: 52.2
Lee Smith, pitcher, Chicago Cubs: 47.8
Curt Schilling, pitcher, Boston Red Sox: 38.8
Roger Clemens, pitcher, New York Yankees: 37.6
Barry Bonds, left field, San Francisco Giants: 36.2
Edgar Martinez, designated hitter, Seattle Mariners: 35.9
Alan Trammell, shortstop, Detroit Tigers: 33.6
Larry Walker, right field, Colorado Rockies: 21.6
Fred McGriff, 1st base, Atlanta Braves: 20.7
Dale Murphy, center field, Atlanta Braves: 18.6.
Mark McGwire, 1st base, St. Louis Cardinals: 16.9
Don Mattingly, 1st base, New York Yankees: 13.2
Sammy Sosa, right field, Chicago Cubs: 12.5
Rafael Palmeiro, 1st base, Baltimore Orioles: 8.8
Bernie Williams, center field, New York Yankees: 3.3
Kenny Lofton, center field, Cleveland Indians: 3.2
Sandy Alomar Jr., catcher, Cleveland Indians: 2.8
Julio Franco, 2nd base, Cleveland Indians: 1.1 (6 votes)
David Wells, pitcher, New York Yankees: 0.9 (5 votes)
Steve Finley, center field, Arizona Diamondbacks: 0.7 (4 votes)
Shawn Green, right field, Los Angeles Dodgers: 0.4 (2 votes)
Aaron Sele, pitcher, Seattle Mariners: 0.2 (1 vote)
Jeff Cirillo, 3rd base, Milwaukee Brewers: no votes
Royce Clayton, shortstop, San Francisco Giants: no votes
Jeff Conine, 1st base, Florida Marlins: no votes
Roberto Hernández, pitcher, Chicago White Sox: no votes
Ryan Klesko, left field, Atlanta Braves: no votes
José Mesa, pitcher, Cleveland Indians: no votes
Reggie Sanders, right field, Cincinnati Reds: no votes
Mike Stanton, pitcher, New York Yankees: no votes
Todd Walker, 2nd base, Minnesota Twins: no votes
Rondell White, left field, Montreal Expos: no votes
Woody Williams, pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals: no votes

Biggio, Piazza, Schilling, Clemens, Bonds, Sosa, Lofton, Alomar, Franco, Wells, Finley, Green, Sele, Cirillo, Clayton, Conine, Hernandez, Klesko, Mesa, Sanders, Stanton, Walker, White and Williams each last appeared in 2007, and thus were eligible for the first time.

Bernie, Lofton, Alomar, Franco, Wells, Finley, Green, Sele, Cirillo, Clayton, Conine, Hernandez, Klesko, Mesa, Sanders, Stanton, Walker, White and Williams each got less than 5 percent of the vote, and thus are removed from future eligibility via the BBWAA.

Murphy was in his last year of eligibility by the BBWAA.  He now has to wait until he becomes eligible through the Hall of Fame's Committee on Veterans.

Aaron Sele.  Decent pitcher.  Lasted 15 years in the majors.  Won 148 games against 112 losses.  But career ERA 4.61, ERA+ an even 100 (meaning he was at exactly the average for a pitcher of his era), WHIP 1.491.  No way he should be in the Hall of Fame.

And yet, he got 1 vote.

Or, you could look at it the other way: In spite of winning only 2 fewer games than Dizzy Dean, and only 17 fewer games than Sandy Koufax -- truly great pitchers, icons of their respective generations, with injury-shortened careers -- he only got 1 more vote for the Hall of Fame than I did.

Mike Stanton.  Not a great relief pitcher, although he did notch 84 saves.  And he had the oddity of reaching the postseason in every single available season that he was in the major leagues, from 1991 to 2002, until he ended up with the Mets and thus ended his chances.  He reached the postseason with the Braves in 1991, '92 and '93 -- remember, there was no postseason in '94 -- with the Red Sox in '95, with the Texas Rangers in '96, and with the Yankees in '97, '98, '99, 2000, '01 and '02.  His postseason ERA was 2.10, his postseason WHIP 1.150.  He won Pennants with the Braves in '91 and '92, and with the Yankees in '98, '99, '00 and '01.  He won rings with the Yankees in '98, '99 and '00.  One of those guys about whom it can be said, "It's funny how these winning teams keep following him around." But he's far from a Hall-of-Famer.

And yet, he got exactly as many Hall of Fame votes as I did.  And I never even played in Little League!

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If we didn't know of the existence of performance-enhancing drugs -- even if these players did -- which of the eligible players would have gotten my vote?

Biggio, Morris, Bagwell, Piazza, Raines, Schilling, Clemens, Bonds, McGriff, McGwire, Sosa and Palmeiro. Possibly Smith, Martinez, Trammell and Alomar.  (Sorry, Donnie.  Sorry, Bernie.)

But we do know about the existence of PEDs.  Based on what we know about who took them, and when, who would have gotten my vote?

Biggio, Morris, Bagwell, Piazza, Raines, Schilling, Clemens, and McGriff.

Yes, I know, we all "know" that Clemens used them.  But he went through due process, and there was no admissible evidence presented.  "Not Guilty" was the correct verdict.  So, without proof, we should not keep Clemens out.

Bagwell was accused of using them.  So was Piazza.  No evidence has ever been shown.  (Someone commented yesterday that plenty of people have accused Piazza, including some who say he admitted it, but, for the moment, it's all hearsay.) And I'd still like to see the alleged blood on Schilling's "Bloody Sock" tested.

Biggio, Morris, Raines and McGriff have never been publicly accused.  While Raines used cocaine, so did Orlando Cepeda and Ferguson Jenkins, and they're in -- and rightfully so.

To elect nobody is a disgrace.  And if any of these guys get in later, well, what the hell?

I know there are voters who will not vote for a player in his first year of eligibility, no matter what, so that they can concentrate on players who have, in their opinion, been thus far unfairly denied.

Well, it doesn't work that way.  If a player was eligible for election last year, and was worthy but you didn't vote for him, why not? Did he suddenly, over the course of one year, become more worthy? He didn't play another game, didn't get another hit, didn't retire another batter, didn't make another great defensive play.  He's the same guy, just one year older.  If he was eligible in 2012, and he was good enough for you to vote for him in 2013, why didn't you vote for him in 2012 when he was exactly as good as he is now?

The Pro Football Hall of Fame annually lists 15 finalists, and elects a maximum of 7 from that list.  Baseball's Hall has no limit.  Theoretically, they could elect none, or a dozen.

This time, they elected none.  Why?

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The apparently untainted got shafted.  We talk about baseball as being like a religion, and ballparks as "cathedrals." Well, baseball is not a religion.  No one should have to suffer for someone else's sins.

I'm a Yankee Fan. I hate the Mets. I found Piazza to be overrated, and annoying as hell. But, based on performance (if not on personality), he deserves election to the Hall of Fame.

Morris. Winningest pitcher of the 1980s. Helped 3 different teams win a World Series. How is he not in the Hall of Fame?

Raines. More stolen bases than any human, living or dead, except for 4. And a contributor to 2 Yankee rings. Why is he not in the Hall?

Biggio: 3,000 hits.  Bagwell: 449 home runs.  True, they did this while playing the second half of their careers in Minute Maid Park, formerly Enron Field, a.k.a. Ten Run Field.  But they played the first half of their careers in the freakin' Astrodome, which, unlike most domed stadiums, heavily favored pitchers.  How are they not Hall-of-Famers? Are they being punished for playing in Houston -- not a major media center like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or Boston?

*

Jayson Stark of ESPN had an interesting take on it this no-vote vote:


A man who hit 762 home runs wasn't elected to the Hall of Fame.
A pitcher who won seven Cy Young Awards wasn't elected to the Hall of Fame.
A man who hit 609 home runs only got 12.5 percent of the vote.
A catcher who made 12 All-Star teams missed election by 98 votes.
Even a guy who got 3,060 hits found out Wednesday he didn't do enough to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
It boggles the mind. Doesn't it? We were just presented the most star-studded Hall of Fame ballot in maybe 75 years. And NOBODY got elected?

Imagine that there is a Science Fiction Hall of Fame.  Now imagine that William Shatner didn't get enough votes to qualify, because of his appearance in Airplane II.  Ridiculous!

It's like writing a script for Hawaii Five-O, and not having Steve McGarrett say, "Book 'em, Danno."

It's like refereeing a soccer game at Old Trafford, and not awarding Manchester United a bogus penalty.

Stark continues:


In the wake of this stunning election, it's time for all of us to ponder that question. What is the Hall of Fame? What should it be? What is it supposed to be?
Do we really want to look up, 10 or 20 years from now, and find we've constructed a Hall of Fame that doesn't include:
• The all-time home-run leader (Barry Bonds)?
• The pitcher who won the most Cy Youngs in history (Roger Clemens)?
• The man who broke Roger Maris' storied home-run record (Mark McGwire)?
• The hitter who had more 60-homer seasons than any player ever (Sammy Sosa)?
• The greatest hitting catcher in history (Mike Piazza)?
• One of four hitters with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs (Rafael Palmeiro)?
• And -- aw, what the heck, might as well throw him in there -- the all-time hit king (Peter Edward Rose)?
Let me ask you: What kind of Hall of Fame is that?
Do we really want a Hall of Fame that basically tries to pretend that none of those men ever played baseball? That none of that happened? Or that none of that should have happened?
Hey, here's a bulletin for you: It happened.  The '90s happened. The first few years of the 21st century happened. I saw it with my very own eyeballs. So did you...
And how did it happen? The sport let it happen. That's how.  Bud Selig let it happen. The union let it happen. The owners let it happen. The managers let it happen. The agents let it happen. The media let it happen. Front offices across the continent let it happen. And the players never stepped up to stop it from happening.  It... all... happened. And no one in baseball has ever done anything, even after all these years, to make it un-happen, if you know what I mean.
No records have been stripped. No championships have been stricken from anyone's permanent record. No numbers have been changed. No asterisks have been stamped in any record book.  It all happened.
So we need to have a long, serious national conversation, starting right now, about where those events fit into the contours of the Hall of Fame. I'm ready if you are.

Stark is right, but incomplete. There's one more group who "let it happen." Us.

That's right: If we place the blame everywhere that it belongs, our last stop, and perhaps our longest stop, should be in the mirror.  We, the fans, chose to accept it, because we "dig the long ball." We chose to accept that it was good, and that if there was cheating going on, we were fine with it.  We chose to look the other way.

When did that change? When did it stop being okay for a player to use performance-enhancing drugs? Were the 70 homers that McGwire hit in 1998, and the 66 that Sosa hit the same season, okay; but the 73 that Bonds hit in 2001 not okay? Is it because we found Big Mac and Slammin' Sammy to be likeable, and Barry to be unlikeable?

When they held the first Hall of Fame vote in 1936, 5 men got the necessary 75 percent of the vote.  Four were considered to be wonderful human beings, liked by nearly everybody: Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson.  But the player who got the most votes? Ty Cobb, who, as great as he was on the field, was a miserable human being, a man with a violent streak, a proud racist, a womanizer, a man who drove away 2 wives, and who, when he died, had few friends.  (He'd also had 2 sons predecease him, leaving a son and 2 daughters, one of whom apparently wanted little to do with him.) At his funeral, there were about 150 people, but only 3 former players, none of them teammates: Mickey Cochrane, Ray Schalk and Nap Rucker.

If Cobb belongs in the Hall of Fame despite all of his Tycobbness, surely Bonds belongs despite all of his Barrybondsness.

"But Mike," you say, "Cobb never took an unfair advantage." What do you call sharpening his spikes to cut the legs of opposing fielders, thus reducing their effectiveness?

Whitey Ford, Don Drysdale and Don Sutton scuffed baseballs.  Gaylord Perry admitting putting foreign substances on baseballs.  Lots of players used amphetamines, or "greenies" in baseball parlance; Mike Schmidt has admitted it, and he got in the Hall of Fame on the first try, and he's generally considered the greatest 3rd baseman ever and a good guy.

Lots of ballplayers were alcoholics.  Cobb, King Kelly, Hack Wilson, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle.  Alcohol is a drug.  Though hardly performance-enhancing.  And those guys are in the Hall.

Lots of ballplayers were womanizers.  Cobb, Kelly, Ruth, Mantle, Ted Williams.  And they're in the Hall.

Or maybe... Maybe the standard for what's "okay" changed when the Boston Red Sox started winning World Series by cheating.  You'll notice that the Yankees bore the brunt of the accusations, while David Ortiz and (at least for a while) Manny Ramirez got excused.  And so did several other suspected Sox players, including Schilling.

As in, Red Sox fans, including those in the media, such as (N)ESPN, fell victim to Maxwell Smart Syndrome: "We'll allowed to lie, cheat, steal and kill.  We're the Good Guys!"

The Sox were "the good guys," so it was okay for Papi and Manny, and whoever else, to use PEDs.  The Yankees were "the Evil Empire," so it was not only wrong for them to cheat, but expected.  The Sox should be allowed to keep their 2004 and '07 titles, but the Yankees should be stripped of the ones they won in 1996, '98, '99 and 2000.

Spare me.  I've been over this: No team was more hurt by steroids than the Yankees.  If their achievements need to be stricken from the record books, then so do those most of the teams that beat them.  Those Red Sox.  The 2003 Marlins and 2006 Tigers of Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez.  The 2001 Diamondbacks of Luis Gonzalez (who is not yet eligible) and Matt Williams (who dropped off the eligibility list by getting less than 5 percent of the vote).  The 1997 Indians of Manny.  The 1995 Mariners of Jay Buhner.  (As far as I know, the 2002 and '05 Angels, and the '07 Indians, were clean.  The 1996-99 Rangers, with Pudge and Juan Gonzalez, were dirty as hell, but never beat the Yankees.)

If it's not okay for the 1996-2007 Yankees (2007 being the cutoff date, because that's when the Mitchell Report came out), then it's not okay for the 2003-07 Red Sox.

Of course, the reverse is true: It's not okay for the Yankees.  But what we know about those Yankees pales in comparison to what we know about those Red Sox.  Clemens? No proof.  Andy Pettitte? Briefly in a year the Yankees didn't win.  Alex Rodriguez? Not while he was a Yankee.  Anybody else? Effects minimal compared to Ortiz and Ramirez.

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Stark again:


We'll also need to contemplate another powerful question: What happens if we elect a player one of these years and later find out that he, too, was a performance-enhancing drug user?
Or here's a tougher question: What if we've already elected somebody like that?
I bet we have, to be honest. I know I'm not alone in believing that. When I had this conversation with one baseball official recently, he told me, with no hesitation, he thinks we probably have. Think what kind of mess it would cause if we ever find out who that is. Think of the ramifications.
If we decide, after our national conversation, we want the Hall to be a sanctuary, we would have no choice but to expel a player like that. Right? It's either holy or it's not. So if this is the route we settle upon, zero tolerance would be the only way to go.
On the other hand, if we decide this is a museum we're talking about, we could just rewrite his plaque. And let the truth do the talking.

Remember the episode of Seinfeld where Jerry dated a seriously stacked woman named Sidra, played by Teri Hatcher? Who, shortly thereafter, got the role of Lois Lane on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman? Fitting, considering that Jerry had a Superman fixation and dated one woman (played by Paula Marshall) because he reminded her of Lois, and another (played by soap opera actress Renee Props) because her name was Lois.  Well, Elaine told Jerry, "They're fake." Jerry said, "You don't tell a guy something like that! It's like finding out Mickey Mantle corked his bat!"

(At the end of the episode, Sidra, having denied Jerry the right to ever touch them, said, "By the way: They're real, and they're spectacular." Teri is now 48, and she's still spectacular.)

No one has ever actually suggested that Mantle corked his bat -- although Norm Cash admitted it, and Graig Nettles got caught.  Cash hit 377 home runs, Nettles 390 -- and neither is in the Hall, or is ever likely to be.

Jose Canseco, whose declarations and guesses about who used (including himself) have mostly been proven to be correct, has said that there is a player already in the Hall who used.  He hasn't said who it is.  I've heard whispers about Cal Ripken.  I have no evidence; the closest I come is pointing out what happened to his hair.

So what happens if, and when, it is revealed that a player already in the Hall was a user? What, then, do we say to Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Palmeiro, Clemens, and anyone else we know, or suspect, to have used?

Maybe then, it will be time to say -- maybe, it is even time to say it now, after each has already been denied election at least once -- "Okay, we denied you cheating bastards the first time around, and in some case more times.  It's over.  We've punished you enough.  We'll let you in.  We'll put notations on your plaques, or maybe we'll stick your plaques all together in a corner of the gallery and say, 'These were the guys who got in her by less than totally honest means.' But you've done your time."

Maybe that is the most just thing to do.

But it will make for an awfully awkward induction ceremony.  Can you imagine the speeches? Especially Bonds'?

Maybe denying them the right to make an acceptance speech should be the final punishment.  Such a restriction on free speech borders on the unconstitutional, but it would be a fitting closing of the book.

Maybe it is time to write that closing, and close the book.

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