Sports Commentary 1/9/13

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INDICTMENT OF AN ERA

The results of the Baseball Hall of Fame balloting will be released later today and a there’s a lot of smart money being bet on a shutout. Many voters are predicting no immortals will emerge this year for induction into the Cooperstown shrine this summer. This ballot lines up as more of a referendum on an era than an evaluation of Hall of Fame credentials. Credentials several of this year’s hopefuls have. No one would look at the records and say Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds don’t have numbers that deserve first ballot status, but the voters aren’t likely to grant that status to either. Bonds is Major League Baseball’s all time home run leader and a seven time MVP, Clemens accumulated seven Cy Young Awards with over 350 career wins and 4,600 strikeouts. There’s no arguing with the numbers, they all scream “First ballot!” While neither player ever tested positive for using performance enhancing drugs and both vehemently denied using them, to the point of going to court and earning acquittals on related counts, there’s too much circumstantial evidence in the form of changes in body style and mass and uncharacteristic late career rejuvination to satisfy the Baseball Writers of America, who view both as tainted talents. Because both had already written impressive Hall of Fame resumes before the suspicions arose, both are expected to become Hall of Famers, but not this year, and probably not next. There are some other compelling first timers on the ballot, but the amount of discussion and disagreement over the first ballot worthiness of Curt Schilling and Mike Piazza, who are viewed as eventual Hall of Famers, indicate first ballot status isn’t likely. Arguments are also being made for several players to finally be included after earlier misses, Jack Morris, Edgar Martinez, Craig Biggio, though that status is still considered borderline at best. Perhaps one name more than any other is indicative of the referendum status of this year’s ballot, the fact that some players own status will be effected by the era in which they played. That player would be former University of Hartford star and former New Britain Red Sox star Jeff Bagwell, who put up Rookie of the Year and MVP seasons with the Houston Astros while ringing up Hall of Fame worthy career statistics. Bagwell never tested positive for P-E-D’s. His name didn’t show up on the infamous list of a hundred and ten. His body mass was never such that it couldn’t be explained by extensive work in the weight room, for which he was notorious. If there is any circumstantial evidence in the Bagwell case, it is in his favor. Rarely have players had careers in which their statistics were as consistent as Bagwell’s. A primary reason for suspicion of steroid use has been major spikes in production numbers, something that never occurred during his career. Yet, in his two previous appearances on the ballot, Bagwell has failed to get within 30 points of the 75% of the vote needed for induction, an indication that suspicions surrounding him are more a comment on the era in which he played than on the player himself. This ballot, more than any other in the past, due to the presence of Bonds and Clemens, will be a referendum on that era, and that alone is likely to keep Jeff Bagwell out of the Hall of Fame once again. With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.

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