Editor's note: Joe chatted live right after the HOF announcements. Click here for the recap.
Let's start with this: Nobody is getting into the Hall of Fame through the Baseball Writers door this year. I mean, yes, it's possible -- POSSIBLE -- that Craig Biggio will slip into the Hall by a few votes. But I don't think so. Not this year. Not on this crazy ballot. I'm guessing Biggio will end up around 70% -- five percent shy of election -- and his longtime teammate Jeff Bagwell, along with long-suffering Hall of Fame balloteer Jack Morris, will be in the 60s. Tim Raines might be in the 60s too. I hope I'm wrong and someone does get elected. But I'm pretty sure the 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame celebration in Cooperstown is gonna seem mighty quiet.
We all know much of this has to do with steroids and the ferocious reaction that the baseball writers have toward them. We can argue about all that forever -- and probably will -- but it isn't just PED emotion that will make this year's ballot a blank slate. No, there's something else involved, something that has been a part of every Hall of Fame ballot since 1936, something powerful that makes the Baseball Hall of Fame different.
I'm talking, of course, about nostalgia.
The oddness of this 37-man Hall of Fame ballot -- which will provide zero Hall of Famers despite having at least 15 and as many as 20 feasible Hall of Fame candidates (by the standards of who is ACTUALLY IN the Hall of Fame) -- is something that could only happen in baseball. Sure. Baseball is the only sport that could have gotten away with the James Earl Jones scene in "Field of Dreams." Baseball is the only sport that could actually make a successful movie with a name like Field of Dreams.*
*As opposed to "Days of Thunder" and "Black Sunday" and "The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh."
Yes, baseball is the only sport going where people honestly believe (and desperately want to believe) that good players today might not match up to good players 75 of 100 years ago, that numbers when the game was all white and all-American are every bit as viable (if not more viable) as numbers after Jackie Robinson and the world joined in.
Baseball is the only sport where anyone would say, with a straight face, that the best player of all time stopped playing during the Great Depression and the best pitcher of all time retired before the Great Stock Market Crash.
You can say this is one of the great charms of baseball, maybe its greatest charm. The game lives in its history. For so many of us, baseball's ability to bend time -- to connect Justin Verlander to Nolan Ryan to Sandy Koufax to Bob Feller -- might be the most important reason why it's hugely popular many years after other sports like boxing, track and field, and horse racing were packed away in the American shoebox and put in the back of the closet.
But with this history, I think, comes this illusion that time winds backward, that yesterday will always be better than tomorrow, and that no player will ever be quite as exceptional as the ones who crackle on black and white film and in old books. This sort of nostalgia is as much a part of the Baseball Hall of Fame as the city of Cooperstown. It has always been a huge part of the BBWAA vote.
You might already know this: From 1958 to 1964, the Baseball Writers of America cast four Hall of Fame ballots -- in 1958, 1960, 1962 and 1964. They used to vote every two years. Do you know how many future Hall of Famers were on those four ballots? Fifty. Yes: Fifty.
Do you know how many of those 50 got 75% of the writers' votes in those four elections?
That's right. Two. None in 1958. None in 1960. Two in 1962. None in 1964.
The two players who got 75%, in case you are wondering, were Bob Feller and Jackie Robinson. Feller breezed in, as you would hope and expect. Jackie Robinson made it by just five votes. That would be Jackie Robinson.
In 1966, one player made it. Ted Williams. Twenty writers did not vote for Ted Williams.
In 1969, Stan Musial was elected. Twenty-three writers did not vote for Stan Musial.
In 1971, Yogi Berra came on the ballot. He was not elected that year.
In 1972, Sandy Koufax came on the ballot. Fifty-two writers did not vote for Sandy Koufax.
In 1973, Warren Spahn came on the ballot. Sixty-four writers did not vote for Warren Spahn.
Well, you know this. Nobody has ever been voted in unanimously by the BBWAA. But the numbers are still staggering. Mickey Mantle? Forty-three writers didn't vote for him. Ernie Banks? Sixty-two no votes. Twenty-three didn't vote for Willie Mays. Sixty-four didn't vote for Bob Gibson. Nine somehow did not vote for Hank Aaron.
Whew. Those guys were so protective of the Hall of Fame, they kept sentries on 24-hour patrol. As I've written before, this sort of "the Hall of Fame should only be for the true immortals" passion sounds good, but it often leads to unexpected consequences. While the BBWAA was guarding the front door, the veterans committee was letting friends and second cousins in the back. From 1960 to 1965, the veterans committee put in 14 players, many of whom -- Red Faber, Pud Galvin, Tim Keefe, Monte Ward, Burleigh Grimes, Heinie Manush, Elmer Flick, Sam Rice, Eppa Rixey, John Clarkson, Edd Roush -- even fairly knowledgeable baseball fans have never heard of. Well, this is the deal … they had to populate the museum somehow. The veterans committee would run roughshod over the BBWAA, putting in dozens of players that the BBWAA had not only passed on but had never even seriously considered.
This sort of thing will happen again this year. Craig Biggio with 3,000 hits, and Jeff Bagwell with a higher WAR than any first baseman not named Gehrig, Foxx or Pujols, and Curt Schilling with the best strikeout-to-walk ratio for any pitcher under modern rules, and Mike Piazza who hit better than any catcher before or since, and Tim Raines, who was probably the best pure base stealer in the game's history … none of them will make it. But Deacon White, Jacob Ruppert and Hank O'Day -- a player, an owner and an umpire who have been dead for 75-plus years -- are going into the Hall of Fame this year through the veteran's committee's velvet ropes.
A second consequence: The Hall was so sick of having nobody ever get elected that finally they created this goofy run-off vote in 1964 where the Top 20 vote-getters were put on another ballot, with the top vote-getter on THAT ballot getting into the Hall of Fame (this was how Luke Appling finally got into the Hall of Fame in 1964 and how Red Ruffing got into the Hall in 1967).
Third, they changed the voting procedure. They had the BBWAA vote every year, rather than every two years. They gradually started reworking the ballot so that it was more streamlined. They started booting off players who did not get 5% of the vote. And so on.
I don't know if this year's ballot blackout will cause similar kinds of administrative changes -- looking ahead, I sort of doubt it. As weird as this year is, it's really something of a one-year aberration. Three newcomers unquestionably will be voted into the Hall of Fame first-ballot next year (Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas and Tom Glavine), and at least two more newcomers will go in the following year (Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez, for sure, with John Smoltz likely to get really close or get in) and another first-ballot Hall of Famer will go the following year (Ken Griffey Jr.), and the year after that we add Pudge Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez to the mix.
So it's not like the Hall of Fame will lack for big events over the next four or five years. It's just that there will be a traffic jam of L.A. proportions on the ballot. I think if any rule will be tinkered with, it will be the player-vote limit. As of right now, voters cannot check more than 10 names on any one ballot. In years past, that really hasn't been a problem because there haven't been 10 great candidates on the ballot. But with the logjam happening now, even a small-Hall guy like Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci, who is adamant about never voting for a steroid user, admits that he will run out of room on next year's ballot if they don't expand the limit. I wouldn't be surprised if it went up to 15 for next year's ballot.
As for the rest … I don't think there will be Hall of Fame voting changes. I think, instead, players who are better than at least half of the players in the Hall of Fame will keep getting overlooked and underappreciated and measured against an impossible and imaginary standard. I think outstanding players on this year's ballot will be in limbo for a long time -- in a way the best thing that can happen to Dale Murphy is to age off the ballot and take his chances with the veterans committee.
I think once again of old Buck O'Neil. People used to ask him all the time how fast was Cool Papa Bell, the great Negro leagues player who, it was said, once bunted down the third base line and was tagged out sliding into third.
"How fast was he, Buck?" they would ask.
"Faster than that," Buck would say.
Well, you can't be faster than that, can you? And for many outstanding players on the ballot, I think that will be the same quandary. They will keep falling short of 75%. Why? Some will call it the eye test (you know a Hall of Famer when you see one) and some will call it the gut test (If you have to argue about someone, he's not a Hall of Famer) and some will just continue to be nostalgic about the past in a way that's fun but not true to life. How good do you have to be to be a Hall of Famer? There's no great answer to that except, as Buck might say, "Better than that."
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Sports on Earth on the Hall of Fame
Joe Posnanski ran through his 2013 Hall of Fame ballot earlier this week. How would SoE's other writers vote?
I don’t have a ballot and am glad that I don’t. This whole thing is a mess. The idea that Craig Biggio or Curt Schilling might go into the Hall of Fame but Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens won’t is ridiculous. If results on the field don’t matter, then this becomes a beauty contest, backroom politics, a vote for prom king and queen supervised by the faculty to make sure that the right candidates succeed.
Today is only the beginning. The process is going to become harder and harder as science moves stem cells around and creates synthesized genetic athletes in the future. (OK, what do we do about this Jason Bourne?) What should be legal? What shouldn’t? If I have laser surgery, say, to give me the same eyesight as Ted Williams, am I cheating? The BBWAA and the Hall have to look for a way to accommodate its history and this future and dole out asterisks or italicized comments where necessary. Something has to change.
If I had a vote, I think I would cast my ballot in protest for Pete Rose -- and only Pete Rose -- every year until that change was made in the criteria for selection.
BALLOT: Pete Rose.
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Football writer here! What’s that? You say some of these players took performance-enhancing substances? Well, all of those suspensions they received for violating league policy should show up as blemishes on their record.
What’s that? You say there were no suspensions, no tests, and for most of these players’ careers, baseball’s so-called “policy” was a series of memos which treated steroids no differently than a bag of weed, and included no specified guidelines or procedures? Well, you should have had a better policy, even an imperfect one like the NFL’s. The temptation to use performance-enhancing drugs is an unfortunate, inescapable by-product of big-time professional athletics, and a measured system of deterrents and punishments appropriate to the infraction is a must. At least you are sure that these are the only players who used them.
What’s that? You say that untold hundreds of players at all levels of minor and major league competition may have used them? Well, gosh, that figures, since there was no real policy, and some players would start taking them just to remain competitive with other abusers. But at least there has been a comprehensive investigation and we now know for certain that the accomplishments of these players, some of the biggest stars in sports history, should be discounted.
What’s that? You say that even after congressional hearings and long circus trials, no one is entirely sure who did what when, and when one of these players admitted to using steroids, you assumed he was lying because he did not admit to doing them as often or as maliciously as you think he did? Well, I suppose if you want to write off an entire period of your sport’s history as The Steroid Era, cast a pall of suspicion and disgust over a decade’s worth of sports memories, and basically say that everything exciting and delightful that happened in baseball from about 1988 to 2002 was squirted from a syringe into the bloodstream of some villainous cad, you can keep a generation’s worth of all-time greats out of the Hall of Fame for being maybe-slightly guiltier than everyone else of a crime no one bothered to accurately define or enforce.
What’s that? You say that’s what many voters are perfectly willing to do? O-kay. Well, let me just concentrate on the Pro Football Hall of Fame and cast all my votes for Cris Carter.
BALLOT: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa.
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I went with the steroid guys, the circumstantially convicted and the strongly suspected. I didn’t check Sammy Sosa since I don’t think he’s a first-ballot player but I will next year because nobody stumbles into 600-plus homers; maybe someday I’ll come around on Mark McGwire.
Yes, I went with the steroid guys because they’re baseball’s problem, not mine. Let ‘em in and let baseball figure out a way to explain their legacy. Baseball created this situation by years of lax testing and now baseball wants me to play judge and jury? Nope. Baseball can decide what to inscribe on the plaques. Or what not to.
I was asked to choose the players worthy of admission. These players made the ballot, so therefore they’re eligible. End of argument and debate and head-scratching.
Bonds and Clemens were the best I’ve ever seen at what they do, and have the MVPs and Cy Youngs to prove it. Morris was a big-gamer; I could care less how he pitched in May. Piazza crushed pitches like no catcher ever. Bagwell played first base like few others have, and anyway, how could you resist that batting stance? Biggio has 3,000 hits and who cares if it took him 100,000 games; besides, he was terrific at two very distinct positions, catcher and second base.
The Hall is for players who were special and stood out on the field, and until Pete Rose gets in, that place will always be incomplete.
BALLOT: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Jack Morris, Mike Piazza.
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For what it's worth, if you were allowed to vote for 11 -- and even in this hypothetical, we must play by the rules! -- I would include Sammy Sosa. As you can surely tell from my list, I don't think anybody has the moral authority to "punish" someone for something that wasn't just not banned by baseball, but in fact tacitly encouraged. Never mind that the notion that this was all "big muscles homers growwwwl" is willfully ignoring evidence; this has never been about evidence, ever, not from the very get-go.
So once I got rid of that, the ballot's not difficult, except for space. Three obvious first-ballot all-timers; a blowhard, self-aggrandizing pitcher who's underrated nonetheless; one of the best first basemen of all time; his so-scrappy-you-didn't-realize-he-was-also-great teammate; two 500-homer guys who were always considered among the most likable in the game until suddenly, out of nowhere, they were the exact opposite; and two stars of my youth who have been bizarrely overlooked. If one takes off their moralist, my-emotional-evolution-with-baseball-stopped-when-I-was-nine goggles, this doesn't seem all that hard.
Also, please never give me the vote. I do not want the vote. I have no idea why anyone would.
BALLOT: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell.
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Miguel Cairo. That’s it. Miguel Cairo. “But he’s a utility player with a career OPS+ of 77,” you say. “And he’s not even retired.” EXACTLY. I’m making a statement.
OK, no, I would not write in Miguel Cairo. But there’ve been a few ballots out there this year that are hardly more logical.
Like most of my Sports on Earth colleagues, I’m sick of debating steroids, unprepared to sit in moral judgment, and unimpressed by the prospect of a Hall without the best hitter and pitcher of their generation. I do understand not wanting to vote for people you feel cheated -- and I do feel for players who were clean and whose careers suffered for it. But we’ll never know entirely who’s who, we don’t even know exactly how much of an impact steroids have, and we’d twist the process and ourselves into knots trying to figure it out. I would prefer not to.
I love visiting Cooperstown, but the Hall is not sacred, and never has been. Neither has baseball. That’s okay. Sports are messy, just like anything else.
I don’t have an actual vote, which is probably for the best, as I would not be able to resist voting for people for silly reasons. Sal Fasano? Hall of Fame mustache. IN. Boof Bonser? Great name, I want to see it etched on a very serious-looking plaque. IN.
This year, I probably would not have been able to resist voting for Julio Franco. Oldest player to ever homer -- he kept breaking his own record, hitting his last at 48 -- he ate 20 egg whites for breakfast, and even in his final seasons he looked like he could’ve crushed most of his younger teammates into dust with his bare hands. Julio Franco was a badass.
BALLOT: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Edgar Martinez, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Alan Trammell … and Julio Franco … if only I wouldn’t feel guilty when Mark McGwire or Larry Walker or Kenny Lofton or someone else really good dropped off the ballot. Okay, okay, FINE: McGwire. Dammit.
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Most of these are self-explanatory. It’s a very similar ballot to the one Joe Posnanski submitted, because Joe has the right of it on the vast majority of these guys -- I’m more fervent about Bonds than he is and less so about Alan Trammell, but that’s about it -- but I would leave Edgar Martinez off my theoretical ballot and put Kenny Lofton on instead. Not because I don’t think Martinez should go to the Hall; he absolutely should. But I’ve been paying attention to how the voting’s been going publically, and unless he gets a lot of help from secret ballot folks Lofton is in danger of falling off after just one year. I mean, come on. Nothing against Fred McGriff but if the Crime Dog gets more votes than Lofton and Larry Walker put together there’s something seriously wrong here.
I blame Jack Morris.
BALLOT: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Kenny Lofton, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker.