A Tricky, Icky Choice: Who Has Earned a 2013 Hall Vote?

Amid the sleepless nights and the spit-up covered laundry that threatens to swallow me – or trip me down the stairs — as I tote around our new three-week-old infant, I have found the time and energy to be obsessed over the baseball Hall of Fame voting.

Results will be announced tomorrow.

Among the new names on the ballot this year are some doozies: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa.

Remaining on the ballot, among many others, are Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. (Full list of all names are at the end of this post.)

Some interesting guys to consider and debate their worthiness of the Hall are, in my view, Alan Trammell, Tim Raines, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio, Curt Schilling, and Edgar Martinez.

A baseball columnist I’ve always liked personally and admired professionally – Bob Klapisch of New Jersey’s Bergen Record– wrote this whopper of a column a few weeks ago which I’ve been chewing on for a while.

Do I agree? Not sure. Do you agree? Please let me know.

Here’s his opening:

I’ve always felt that major-leaguers who used steroids were like NBA stars playing on a 9-foot basket – the game isn’t supposed to be that easy. Or, imagine their cheating through another prism:

Two race cars line up, one uses regular fuel, the other loads up with an illegal, supercharged potion. Guess which one wins? Not only does the law breaker finish first, it sets a world record. Who would call that a legitimate feat?

That’s the easiest way to frame the steroids debate. Now comes the more complicated task of punishing those who (we think) juiced – specifically, keeping them out of the Hall of Fame. Any discerning fan would put Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens on that list. They’re the tip of the spear of a generation of players who tried to pull a fast one on what Americans used to call The Beautiful Game.

But while it’s easy to assume Bonds and Clemens were part of the brotherhood of the syringe, proving it is another matter. That’s what makes this ballot problematic, deciding the guilt or innocence of two men who were exonerated by the legal system.

I urge you to read Klapisch to the end. He admits he’s changed his mind on the steroid situation himself. I follow his thought process, but I’m not sure I agree. This is where I stopped short:

We all fell for the futuristic leap, until we realized it was fake. Peel away the layers of steroid magic and what’s underneath is a con. That’s why an admitted user such as Mark McGwire won’t get my vote. Nor will Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Rafael Palmeiro, ever. Still, it’s not up to the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to police the rest of the field; that’s Bud Selig’s job.

Refusing a vote to someone who was honest (McGwire), but giving it to someone who seems, so clearly, to be lying (Clemens/Bonds)?

I tend to see Clemens, especially, as a sort of Bill Clinton-esque character who lied straight up, and kept lying, forcefully, in our faces, until we decided to give up on it, exhausted by the nonsense, and move on with our lives, essentially absolving him. I feel like he may have inspired Lance Armstrong’s similar approach. But maybe I’m wrong! Maybe these are the choir boys of sports! And I’m well-rested, well-dressed, and well-tressed!

But Klapisch’s point is that there are few guidelines to follow to enable a voter to be consistent. I get that. A difficult choice for the writers, no doubt.

Another entertaining, thought-provoking read is by Joe Posnanski, the former Sports Illustrated columnist who writes this for the site Sports on Earth.

Here’s his take on Bonds, in particular:

Would Ty Cobb have used steroids? I want you to think about that question for a minute. Would Ty Cobb have used steroids? While you think, take a look at a handful of Cobb quotes:

“Baseball is a red-blooded sport for red-blooded men. It’s no pink tea, and mollycoddles had better stay out. It’s a struggle for supremacy, a survival of the fittest.”

“I may have been fierce, but never low or underhand.”

“Baseball was 100 percent of my life.”

“Many a writer has said that I was ‘unfair.’ Well, that’s not my understanding of the word. When my toes were stepped on, I stepped right back.”

“I regret to this day that I never went to college. I should have been a doctor.”

“In legend, I am a sadistic, slashing, swashbuckling despot who waged war in the guise of sport.”

So what do you think? Would Cobb, who famously needed to win but who held himself to principles that few others really understood, have used steroids?

Answer: We have no bleeping idea.

See, that’s the trap of this whole PED Hall of Fame discussion — it’s tempting to start thinking you know more than you know, understand more than you understand and can get inside the heart of someone else.

What we do know is that Ty Cobb was obviously a rough player, disliked by many, involved in too many controversial incidents to count here, including a well-publicized gambling accusation and numerous violent encounters. And what we do know is that on the first Hall of Fame ballot — with the so-called character clause already in place — Ty Cobb received more votes than anyone else, including Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson and Honus Wagner.

Why? He was widely viewed by the sportswriters as the best player of all time. In the end, character clause or not, the writers understood their mission was to honor the best who ever played the game. I think that’s still our mission. I don’t think it’s right to pretend that the steroid and PED stuff never happened — it absolutely did happen and should be part of the evaluation of a baseball player’s career. But I don’t see how steroid use in an era when there was no testing, no policing and (I believe) tacit encouragement to use PEDs can or should be, on its own, a Hall of Fame disqualifier.

Barry Bonds is the greatest player I ever saw. How much of it was unnatural? I don’t know — some of it. How much of it was a taint on the game? I don’t know — some of it. I don’t take his career numbers at face value, especially the home run numbers. But I do believe he’s one of the best to ever play the game.

I am quite convinced by most, if not all, of Posnanski’s arguments on a lot of the on-the-fence-type guys. Read him all the way through. You won’t be disappointed.

Still torn on the steroid-y stuff.


* * *

Returning on the ballot: Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell, Lee Smith, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Edgar Martínez, Fred McGriff, Larry Walker, Mark McGwire, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Rafael Palmeiro, Bernie Williams

First-timers: Sandy Alomar, Jr., Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Jeff Cirillo, Royce Clayton, Roger Clemens, Jeff Conine, Steve Finley, Julio Franco, Shawn Green, Roberto Hernández, Ryan Klesko, Kenny Lofton, José Mesa, Mike Piazza, Reggie Sanders, Curt Schilling, Aaron Sele, Sammy Sosa, Mike Stanton, Todd Walker, David Wells, Rondell White, Woody Williams

*Clemens photo by AP/Charles Dharapak