This is Part 1 of a two part installment. Check back tomorrow to catch Part 2, where I discuss the lack of support for the “Steroid Guys”, the 10-vote limit and the overcrowding of ballots, the Dan Le Betard/Deadspin saga, the purpose of the Hall of Fame and what makes a player a Hall of Famer.
If there has ever been a Hall of Fame vote that has been the center of so many different story lines and controversies than this year’s, I’d be extremely surprised. I challenge you to come up with one. Go ahead…try.
There has been an explosion of opinion, criticism and debate on the heels of Wednesday’s announcement of the voting results.
I wanted to take a day to digest all that we’ve seen, heard and read about this year’s Hall of Fame balloting, that way my reaction would not be influenced by heat-of-the-moment passions.
First, big congratulations to Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas for their election into the Hall.
If you read my December 31 post featuring my own hypothetical Hall of Fame ballot, I noted that these first-year guys were slam dunk, automatic votes for me. There is no question in my mind that they were among the most dominant and important players of their time, so I’m glad that there has been absolutely zero controversy surrounding their getting in this year. Before I start diving into the rest of the HOF ugliness, I tip my cap to this trio.
Now I’d like to share a few of my thoughts on some of the other controversies that have emerged. I’ve tried to list all of them below, but there’s a great likelihood that I’ve missed a couple. If you can think of any other story lines I’ve omitted, just leave a post in the comments section and I’ll let you know what I think.
1. Ken Gurnick’s Ballot
Most of us had never heard of Ken Gurnick before this week. But the MLB.com Dodgers beat reporter became infamous when he voted for Jack Morris – and only Jack Morris – this year. His rationale for refusing to vote for anyone else, including Maddux, Glavine or Thomas: “As for those [players] who played during the period of PED use, I won’t vote for any of them,” Gurnick stated.
When his ballot was released, it outraged a huge bloc of the Baseball Writers of America, and I understand why. Gurnick’s rationale is both illogical and ignorant. It’s obvious he has no grasp on what the actual period of PED use was. Morris’ career spanned through the 1994 season, and overlapped nine of Greg Maddux’s seasons. So if Maddux played during the period of PED use, doesn’t that mean Morris did as well?
The truth is, none of us, not even Gurnick, knows for sure when the “period of PED use” began. Who can say for certain when the first player took steroids? And aren’t amphetamines a form a performance enhancing substances? They’re a part of the banned PEDs list that’s a part of the rules today. There was widespread use of amphetamines in baseball dating back to the late 1960s (and surely non-widespread use going back even further). So in truth, if Gurnick wanted to abstain from voting from any player who played during the period of PED use, he would at least need to hold back from voting for any player who played after the 1950s. Instead, he makes an arbitrary and illogical distinction between Jack Morris and the rest of the players on this year’s ballot.
Gurnick is a shining example of why fans have become so frustrated with the Hall of Fame voting process. Rogue writers impose their own moral criteria for who should and should not get in, regardless of actual contribution to the game. And a lot of the times their reasoning makes absolutely no sense.
2. Craig Biggio’s Near Miss
Missed it by thaaaaaat much…
You can argue that Craig Biggio is the greatest player in Houston Astros history. The catcher turned second baseman was the face of the franchise for nearly two decades in the Big Leagues. But we will have to wait at least one more year before we see his face on a plaque in Cooperstown.
Biggio fell just two votes shy of the 75 percent needed for induction into the Hall, tying Nellie Fox in 1985 and Pie Traynor in 1947 for the smallest margin in balloting history.
Obviously, Biggio and a lot of fans are disappointed. But I, for one, am not going to wring any hands, shake any fists or shed any tears over his omission. There has been a lot of outrage, not because Biggio missed out on election this year, but that he missed out by just two votes.
But this was not a snub. It is a part of the process. As far as voting goes, Biggio continues to trend upward. And the fact that he missed by so narrow a margin will re-energized discussion surrounding his Hall of Fame credentials.
This was just Biggio’s second year on the ballot, meaning he still has 13 years left. Sure, he is going to have to wait another year, but I doubt he has to wait any longer. When balloting time rolls around at the end of 2014, Biggio will be a central topic of fodder for the Baseball Writers of America. Some writers who didn’t vote for him previously will be persuaded by a fresh look at his numbers, by the next round of stories and debate.
Biggio only needs two minds to change and he’s in. At this point, he’s virtually a lock for next year.
3. Palmeiro Falls Off the Ballot – Forever
What has caused me hand-wringing is the fact that Rafael Palmeiro will no longer be appearing on future BBWAA Hall of Fame ballots. He was the most surprising casualty of this year’s Hall of Fame season. The former Oriole slugger received just 4.4 percent of the vote this year, falling short of the 5 percent required to remain on the ballot.
Palmeiro’s case for the Hall of Fame was always an interesting one. He is one of only four players in Major League history with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. But he was ever considered one of the best players of his generation; just a very good one. The debate had already begun while Palmeiro was still playing: what should win the day, his career numbers or the narrative surrounding his career?
Then came 2005, when Palmeiro failed a performance-enhancing-drug test just weeks after waving his finger in Congress’ face while denying PED use to a congressional committee.
To this day, Palmeiro maintains that the positive test was the result of teammate Miguel Tejada injecting him with a tainted liquid B-12 supplement, and that he did not purposeful use steroids. Many still don’t believe him. That’s evident from the almost vindictive lack of voting support he’s had since first appearing on the Hall of Fame ballot.
Palmeiro cannot appear on any future ballots, and he cannot be considered by the Hall of Fame’s veteran committee until at least 2026. There will be no further discussion about the man’s career for another 12 years, and to me that’s a tragedy. We will never really know if the failed drug test was an unknowing accident. This righteous attitude that many baseball writers harbor about suspected PED use will wane in the coming years. But now Palmeiro will never have the chance to be considered in that future landscape.
4. Jack Morris Falls Short in His Final Chance
I think the case of Jack Morris furthers that point. Morris received just 61.5 percent of the vote in this his 15th and final year on the BBWAA ballot, and now drops off the ballot. His case was a hotly debated one for all 15 years.
In his first year, Morris received just 22.2 percent of the vote, but saw his support grow to an apex of 67.7 percent last year after a decade-plus of consideration. Like Palmeiro, Morris is one of those guys who was seemingly right on the edge of belonging. And again the debate pits statistics against the story of a man’s career.
Unlike Palmeiro, Morris had narrative in his favor. He did one thing extremely well during his playing career – win. He was the winningest pitcher of the 1980s and finished with a career 254-186 record. He had a knack for saving his best performances for big games, going 7-4 in the postseason and winning three World Series Championships (note: Maddux and Glavine, who were elected with an overwhelming number of votes, both had losing postseason records). But the numbers were against Morris. He had a career ERA of 3.90. If elected, he would have had a higher ERA than any other pitcher currently in the Hall of Fame. He also never won a Cy Young Award, and never led the league in ERA or strikeouts.
The debate on Morris was fierce and continuous, and over time support for his case grew; just not enough to get him over the 75 percent. I’m OK with his omission, because the key with Morris is that each year, for 15 years, we got to analyze his career, discuss his credentials and make a new decision on whether he should be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.