THE SACRED TRUST
I don’t go along with the idea of a post Hall of Fame ballot “witch hunt”, the process of hunting down writers who left player “X”, “Y” or “Z” off their ballot to question their reasons for the omissions. All I ask is that they be consistent with their standards. If a writer has a standard for first ballot entry he doesn’t believe a player meets, it’s his or her right to maintain that standard, even if every other voter disagrees. No player has ever been a unanimous selection, first ballot or otherwise. Some writers set a personal standard that draws a line over the use of performance enhancing drugs, that they will never vote for a player who was proven to have used them while holding back votes for players who were strongly suspected. I understand that concern.
Three players were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame yesterday, Greg Maddux, showing up on over 97% of the ballots, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas, a first ballot entry and the first player chosen after spending the bulk of his career as a designated hitter. All three were players who, throughout their careers, clearly stayed above and away from the steroid scandal. On his election Thomas spoke out about drug users, saying, “There shouldn’t be cheaters allowed to get into the Hall of Fame.”
It’s for players like Thomas that the voters must deal with their own consciences in maintaining the sanctity of the institution. The biggest losers among the proven users were Rafael Palmiero, who also lied before congress and failed to earn enough votes to stay on the ballot, Mark McGwire, who refused to testify before congress, and Sammy Sosa, who suddenly couldn’t speak English in the congressional hearing room. McGwire and Sosa saw their already meager vote percentages drop further.
The two biggest names among the suspected drug users, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, also saw their percentages go down, but far from enough to jeopardize their positions on the ballot, an indication induction may still be in their futures. Perhaps the two most unjust omissions by writers who vote their consciences on suspected drug users are former Met Mike Piazza, arguably the best offensive catcher ever, and former Houston Astro and University of Hartford star Jeff Bagwell, arguably the most consistent player of his era. The wait goes on for both, seemingly over nothing greater than idle suspcions. In at least Bagwell’s case there is more evidence that he did not use steroids than he did. But if the writers are consistent in voting their consciences they should be respected for that.
I know several voting writers and I understand the importance they put on their vote. We don’t know some things they know when they cast their ballots, we weren’t as close to the players and the circumstances as they were. If I had a vote, for instance, based on my personal experiences with candidates, there was a personal incident concerning Roger Clemens that, to me, spoke volumes about his character, but did not impact his performance as a player. It was a reason not to like him, not a reason to keep him off the ballot. I also know of an incident involving Pete Rose that, in my mind, casts a great shadow over his tenure as manager of the Cincinnati Reds while he was known to be an active gambler, an incident over which I would keep him off the ballot.
For the baseball writers the annual Hall of Fame ballot is a sacred trust and most, if not all, of them treat it as such. It is not up to us to question their motives if we don’t agree with their selections. The average fan deals with less information and much less objectivity.
With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.