Is the Hall of Fame Still Magical?
The Hall of Fame 2015 Ballots were released on Monday. On it included several former Padres like Gary Sheffield and Brian Giles, joining several other former Padres on the ballot from previous years like Mike Piazza and Fred McGriff. Of course none of those players is really remembered for their years on the Padres, save maybe Fred McGriff for lighting a literal fire in the Atlanta Fulton County Stadium pressbox when he was traded to the Braves from the Padres in the firesale of 1993. Sheffield of course has over 500 home runs and represented the Padres in the All Star Game in 1992 and 1993. Mike Pizza of course is considered the best hitting catcher of all-time and hit 22 homers in his single season as a Padre in 2006 at age 37.
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Yet if recent history is any indication, neither one of these players will be voted into the Hall of Fame because they are strongly linked to PED use. Sheffield pretty explicitly by being included in the Mitchell Report, Piazza indirectly through a slew of rumors and amazement that a career catcher could still hit 22 homers at age 37. Jeff Bagwell suffers the same fate.
So as baseball fans, what do we do with this? Can we accept the fact that the career hits leader (Pete Rose), career home run leader (Barry Bonds), and one of the greatest hitting catchers in history (Mike Piazza) are not in the Hall of Fame? Baseball holds its records dearly. It’s one of the things that keeps baseball history an important topic – as opposed say to football records which change as rules are changed based on TV ratings and throwing 300 yards today is expected, not the exception.
The accomplishments and feats that steroid and PED use allowed players to accomplish watered down those records dramatically, not only in the force at which the records fell but the longevity players had to break them. Writers have spoken pretty clearly as these steroid users have taken to the Hall vote, categorically omitting proven cheaters like Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire and very low votes for unproven but highly suspected users like Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, and Roger Clemens.
What writers can’t seem to figure out is how to counter-balance the era with the players that weren’t suspected. Sure, there are some obvious choices. When Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and Frank Thomas went to the vote last year, it was pretty easy. On this year’s ballot, Randy Johnson is a shoe-in, with John Smoltz and Pedro Martinez not suspected of PED use in the least and likely inductees as well. Why Craig Biggio didn’t get in last year has more likely to do with the strength of the other candidates than any suspected PED use and I expect him to get in as well.
However, what do you do with Fred McGriff? He has never been suspected of steroid use, a man who just quietly ground out a long career with a sweet left-handed swing and ended up with 493 home runs. Seven short of the once-magical 500 home runs. Now? He’s barely getting a shot.
It used to be the argument was that you had to dominate your era, so that maybe numbers didn’t matter as much. The other side is that numbers are the only thing that matter, which as given renewed life to guys like Don Sutton and Bert Blyleven in recent years. Now? What “The Crime Dog” did during his time made him an average power hitter and it was nice he could play a decent first base to boot. Dominate the era when you are hitting 25 home runs and Jose Canseco is smashing 40 routinely and moonshots at that? When Roger Maris‘ single season home run record would be broken yearly from 1998 to 2001?
My question is – how does baseball come to grips with this whole thing? Do we exclude Roger Clemens, who certainly was one of the best pitchers of all time – because of unproven rumors? The man was never convicted. Not that that kept Shoeless Joe Jackson out of the Hall for the 1919 betting scandal, but can’t we learn from our mistakes this time?
Do we look at the steroid era and remove the suspected users and find ourselves with renewed respect for guys like McGriff, or do they get tossed to the side? Or has the steroid scandal forced us to re-evaluate what it means to be in the Hall of Fame? Is it supposed to be based on morality -because if that is the case what the hell is Ty Cobb still doing in there?
In my opinion, I think all should be done to keep the Hall of Fame as pure as possible. By this token McGwire would not be in the Hall of Fame, because he has admitted steroid use. Barry Bonds is a tough one – because the evidence appears to be there but is blocked in the courts by his spineless trainer refusing to testify against him.. As opposed to Pete Rose, who is not even allowed to be voted on – I think the voters should be allowed to determine the fate of Clemens and Bonds, and they have spoken so far – but it allows for a change in the future. What I also think is that Bud Selig should dissolve acknowledgement of Bonds as the all-time home run leader. I also think alleged steroid witch hunts need to be watched for, and my feeling is that some of these guys will never be inducted until they reach a Veteran’s Era Committee induction.
I’m really just asking these guys be given a fair chance where they are due one. Palmeiro failed a drug test and deserves to be scratched away, despite being only one of 4 players with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. That is pure baseball defamation, as he would join Willie Mays, Eddie Murray, and Hank Aaron. I found this article written at the time he got his 3,000th hit, before he would be undone in the aforementioned Jose Canseco of all people’s book as a cheater. It’s actually a little sad, knowing how disgraced he would be in just a few months.
The Hall of Fame vote this year will be interesting, and generate some great debate as usual. The Hall of Fame has high standards, but it should also be fair standards. I think as time clears and more information comes out or more players simply come clean in good conscience, more will become clear. Baseball can protect it’s Hall of Fame, it’s records, and still make sure the players that did do things the right way in a corrupt time are honored appropriately.