So the 2014 class of the Baseball Hall of Fame have been announced. Three of the greatest players of the past 25 years will head to Cooperstown in July. Greg Maddux, who had over 300 wins and a gaudy 3.16 ERA, although that was inflated towards the end of his career, was a shoo-in. During his run with the Braves from 1993-2003 his ERA barely touched three runs a game per year, and in some years under two runs. He may have only won one World Title but that certainly wasn’t his fault. Nor was it the other Braves stud pitcher who went in this week. Tom Glavine lost 19 games in 1990, but after that he was one of the steadiest left-handers in baseball. Glavine won 305 games – including 164 in the 1990’s – the second most in history. His ERA is slightly higher than Maddux (3.54) but for that era of power lineups it’s pretty impressive. Speaking of power, not many had more than our third inductee. Frank Thomas, otherwise known as “The Big Hurt”, was a fantasy baseball owner’s dream in the 1990’s. Thomas finished his 18-year career with over 500 home runs and back-to-back MVP awards in 1993-94. It’s evident that all three of these men belong in Cooperstown but once again, we have another year where opinions are varied, sportswriters are arrogant and the Hall of Fame itself needs to get out of the Dark Ages.
I want to preface by saying I love going to Cooperstown. It’s my second favorite vacation spot (next to a cruise) and the Hall of Fame is a magnificent place to see the legends of the game. The problem? The Hall of Fame wants to think that they have a very high moral fiber when thinking about who they want in their hallowed hall. The emergence of the “Steroid Five” has heightened the HOF’s sense of what they consider “cheaters” and those who they think ruined the integrity of the game. What makes me laugh is throughout the history of the Hall of Fame (the first class was in 1933), there have been a handful of players who may have been exceptional talents and teammates but definitely have had sordid lives outside of baseball. That to me is just as much of an indictment of their moral fiber as there is of PED’s or gambling (we’ll get to Pete Rose in a second).
The 1933 Hall of Fame class was a who’s who of the early stars of the day, including Yankees legend Babe Ruth. Now other than some questionable diet issues (bad eating and drinking), Ruth never did anything illegal in his life nor did he do anything to hurt the game of baseball. Was he the #1 vote getter that year? Nope, it was Ty Cobb. Cobb also has some of the gaudiest numbers in major league history. However it was well documented that he was a committed racist and started fights with teammates, umpires and in some cases fans. There was also a questionable incident in 1912 where he may have killed a man. Yet he received 222 of 226 votes in 1933. That’s a guy we want representing the integrity of the Hall of Fame? But because being a racist in the 30’s was still “acceptable” he was allowed in without any problems.
Another example of a great player with questionable character off the field was pitcher Ferguson Jenkins. “Fergie” was one of baseball’s best pitchers from 1965-1983. He was a 3-time All-Star and won the NL Cy Young award in 1971. However in 1980 he was caught on the Canadian border with cocaine, hashish and marijuana. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended Jenkins indefinitely but that was commuted to two weeks by an arbiter. He would get inducted into the HOF in 1991. So we have a racist/alleged murderer (Cobb) and a drug dealer (Jenkins) yet both of them were inducted without any problems.
Now Pete Rose is a unique situation. Many consider gambling on baseball “sacrilege”. So when Rose was accused and then banned for life from baseball in 1989 everyone thought it was a fitting punishment. Now Rose accepted the ban, which was pretty stupid. After denying the gambling accusations for years he finally admitted in 2004 that he bet on baseball (and his team the Reds whom he was managing). I think eventually Rose could have applied for reinstatement and maybe he would have gotten in. But when Bart Giamatti died in 1989, that all ended. Neither Fay Vincent, nor Bud Selig now will ever step on his grave by reversing the ban. Besides the fact that Rose is an arrogant prick who was never really liked when he played baseball, no one feels sympathy for him. But the Hall of Fame is about baseball attributes and the only fact that matters there is that Rose has 4,192 career hits and no one else will ever come close to that.
That brings us to the “Juiced Five” or whatever nickname they have. That’s Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro and Roger Clemens. They are the ones who will apparently “stain” the Hall of Fame ballot. One of them is out of the picture, as Palmeiro got under 5% of the votes last week so he’s out of the main vote. I highly doubt the Veterans committee will put him in either. Clemens has maybe the greatest statistics of any Major League right hander ever. His PED issues are very vague, but again his arrogance has clouded many people’s judgment. Remember I’m a Mets fan and I still get rankled when I think of the 2000 World Series. He received 35% of the vote, which means some voters don’t work in the “abstract” and work in fact. If he was never caught, as far as they are concerned he is clean. Bonds is a slightly different story as unlike Clemens, his physical frame changed drastically from when he arrived in San Francisco in 1993 to when he broke the single season home run record in 2001. His physique grew beyond the levels of simple “working out” and his head (like Kurt Angle’s) got huge. That apparently happens taking HGH but I can’t confirm that. Bonds received 34.7% of the vote, so again many writers feel until he admits guilt or a court says he did anything, he is clean. McGwire admitted his PED use although he still got 11% of votes this year. Sosa (who isn’t a hall of famer in my opinion regardless of PED’s) is teetering on falling off the ballot. He received barely 7% of the vote and that will likely drop over time. The ones that will linger for years to come will be Clemens and Bonds. As long as they are still getting votes in the 30-40% range, they will always be discusses as “maybes”.
Sadly, the “steroid era” stretches to those who clearly weren’t taking anything. Ken Burdick of MLB.com didn’t vote for anybody this year because he won’t give votes to anyone during “the era” and that included Maddux and Glavine. He should have his ballot taken away because that is a ludicrous way of thinking. If anything Maddux and Glavine should be rewarded for their numbers facing these supposed “suspect” hitters.
So the point here is that drug dealing, racism and suspected murder don’t fall under “moral fiber”, but taking steroids (legal at the time) and gambling does?
Next year another pair of awesome pitchers joins the ballot for the first time: Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez. “The Big Unit” is a shoo-in. Pedro should be, but again, his unusual personality as a player may rub writers the wrong way. Of course that’s the whole point of my rant: Sportswriters have different criteria for different guys. No one has ever gone in the Hall of Fame with a perfect 100% vote. Not even Willie Mays, Hank Aaron or Mickey Mantle. Hell even Ted Williams didn’t get in at 100%. Of course Yankees fans feel in five years Mariano Rivera will be in unanimously. We know how sportswriters feel about closers so cross your fingers.
Applaud this year’s HOF class because all three inductees certainly deserve it. However the voters and the Hall of Fame need to get off their Ivory Tower and understand reality.