The biggest news around baseball since the owners locked out the players has come from the Hall of Fame. Ballots are starting to come in for the recently retired players and the Early Days Committee finally righted the wrong that was Buck O’Neil not being already enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Additionally, that committee sent Bud Fowler to the Hall, which was also a long, long time coming. The Golden Days Era Committee elected Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Miñoso and Tony Oliva. Great for all of them, but the Buck one was especially special.
O’Neil is, of course, forever tied to Kansas City. He played for the Monarchs from 1938 to 1948 and then eventually was a Royals scout before becoming a fixture in the stands in his legendary seat behind home plate that is now memorialized as the only red seat in the house. His contributions went so far beyond what was on the field that when he didn’t get elected in 2006 when he was on the ballot with many of his Negro League companions, it was crushing to everyone.
He took it with grace, like he did everything else, but passed away after speaking on behalf of those who did make it in. The fact that he wasn’t elected is, in my opinion, one of the biggest oversights in Hall of Fame history. This is a man who helped to found the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in 1990 and was one of the preeminent speakers on the Negro Leagues, starting with his inclusion in “Baseball,” the Ken Burns documentary that featured him heavily and made him well known to the world. If you haven’t read Joe Posnanski’s book, “The Soul of Baseball,” I implore you to stop whatever you’re doing, buy it somewhere and read it the second it comes in.
So the fact that he’s now going to be in the Hall of Fame, even though it’s years too late, is fantastic news. I don’t have especially strong feelings one way or another about the rest, but all who are headed there from the above certainly have their merits.
Let’s move on to this year’s ballot. If you’re interested in Hall of Fame voting or anything, you absolutely have to follow Ryan Thibodaux on Twitter. This is the ballot from his Twitter:
Those are some big names. In order to get on a Hall of Fame ballot, a player must have played in at least 10 big league seasons and must have been retired for five years. All players who match that criteria are then voted on by a screening committee of six members with two members needing to nominate in order for the player to reach the ballot. Additionally, anyone on previous ballots who received at least 5 percent of the vote the year prior will be on there. To get elected, a player must receive at least 75 percent of the vote. Players remain on the ballot for 10 years and then fall off the ballot if they never get voted in during that time.
Now where it gets weird is that the majority of the current candidates played during the so-called PED era. We’ve seen players like Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and more fall off the ballot in spite of having undisputed Hall of Fame numbers. The Baseball Writers Association of America website says the following:
“Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”
Pretty clearly, the integrity and character part are being exercised by the voters in the cases of many of those who are connected with steroid use from the past. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have been on the ballot together since the start and their vote totals generally mirror one another, though I can’t fathom voting for one and not the other. Both are among the best to ever play the game statistically while both have a cloud over them due to their suspected use of steroids, even though neither was actually caught during their big league career.
I have some thoughts on this that probably won’t be popular with some, but that’s okay. The Hall of Fame in Cooperstown is a museum, and while it shouldn’t only be a shrine to statistics, it’s crazy to me that the all-time hits leader, all-time home run leader and many more at the top of all-time leaderboards are not enshrined in the museum that tells the history of the game. The reality is that, for players like Bonds and Clemens, they were never caught. We might be as sure as possible that they did something that went against the rules, but without any punishment during their time in the game, is it fair to make that judgment as a voter?
It’s not that I want steroid users in the Hall of Fame. It’s that I don’t know how anyone can judge who was and wasn’t using without any punishment during their careers. Manny Ramirez, for example, was suspended twice. Alex Rodriguez lost an entire season to suspension. They were caught and punished. Bonds and Clemens were not. Gary Sheffield was not. Sammy Sosa was not. And it’s not that I don’t think they all were on steroids at some point in their careers; it’s that it gets us into some weird territory with guessing.
How many pitchers were using steroids and weren’t even suspected? How many batters did they get out in that time? I hate to drag a name through the mud, but I need an example, so let’s look at Scott Rolen, who is on the fringe of getting elected. He faced Ben Sheets the fifth most of any pitcher throughout his career and hit .188/.264/.250 against him.
What if Sheets was using and was able to get Rolen out all those times because of it? Maybe without the steroids (and again, I have no way of knowing if Sheets did or didn’t, but neither do you and neither do the voters), Rolen would have gotten 10 more hits and added two doubles and three homers. That alone doesn’t change his candidacy, but do that with a few other pitchers he struggled against and maybe he gets to 540 doubles instead of 517 and 330 homers instead of 316. Maybe he’s a .286 hitter instead of .281. Maybe he bumps his slugging percentage 10 points to get to .500. Again, we have no way of knowing, but nobody does. So how are you able to keep players out who we know had Hall of Fame resumes?
To me, it just gets into a slippery slope and one that is tough for me to travel down because of all that.
The other issue with voting is that I believe it should be a binary decision, but instead voters are limited to voting for 10 candidates. The logjam we’ve seen in recent years has cleared, but that was a problem for awhile. If voters could simply say yes or no, I think it would be a much more inclusive Hall of Fame. Not all years require more than 10 votes, but it would have helped a few years back. I also believe all ballots should be public, which the HOF said no to even though the voters voted for that a few years back.
Anyway, here’s my ballot if I had one:
I’m so on the fence about Curt Schilling. I think he had a HOF career, but he specifically asked to be taken off the ballot. Personal thoughts aside, the player himself has said he doesn’t want to be elected. So if I had a vote, I’d probably grant him that wish, at least to the best of my abilities. I think Rolen was an outstanding defender and a better offensive player than people remember, plus third base is underrepresented in the Hall. Wagner was one of the best closers of all time and then there’s Sheffield and Sosa. Sheffield was a force until the very end and Sosa was a monster, though his case is based more on counting stats and I’m not as sold on him as I am Sheffield.
Andruw Jones is someone I’d consider very hard to add if I was actually voting and not just writing something to share my thoughts. Jones, at his peak, was a marvel in center field and had some great offensive seasons, but also hit just .214/.314/.420 from age-30 on and his peak just wasn’t quite enough for me. And then there’s Ramirez and Rodriguez. They were both caught cheating. That’s enough in my book to give a no vote if I had a no vote to give. That said, I’d actually consider both if I could get a clear indication of when their use started to determine if their careers were Hall-worthy before.
Give me how you’d vote in the comments and if you have any Buck stories to share, I always love reading those too!