It's not ideal, but it'll do under the circumstances.
Today we learned that the Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2014 will contain three players -- Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas. We also learned that the Class of 2015 will likely feature Craig Biggio, who missed enshrinement by 0.2 percent of the vote, or roughly two votes, and that Jack Morris will not make it into Hall of Fame courtesy of the writers, with his support dropping from 67.7 percent to 61.8 percent (if the trend holds, he'll be one of the few candidates in Hall of Fame history to breach the 60 percent threshold with more than a year of eligibility left and not get inducted). Of the steroid-tainted hitters with otherwise unimpeachable cases for enshrinement, only one will fall off completely by appearing on fewer than five percent of ballots cast: Rafael Palmeiro. He'll be the first -- but likely not the last -- 500 home run hitter that this has happened to. Mike Piazza cleared the 60 percent threshold in his second season of eligibility as well, and while he's not as clear a lock for next year's class as Biggio is, chances are good he'll making his way into the Hall within the next two to five years.
That's all good news, but it's pretty much all of the good news -- inducting three candidates out of a viable 12 to 15 is the bare minimum the writers could have done, especially considering what's going to happen in the years to come. Most of the trends remain concerning: Mike Mussina received only 20.3 percent support his first year on the ballot, which makes the question of his eventual enshrinement too close to call by historical trends. Meanwhile, Curt Schilling, Tim Raines, Larry Walker, Edgar Martinez, Alan Trammell and Jeff Bagwell all backslid. While it was expected that two or maybe three of them would lose support with a ballot this crowded, the fact that all of them went backwards isn't encouraging.
Which brings us to the real troubling bit of this year's ballot: Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds won 15 combined MVPs and Cy Young Awards over the course of their careers, yet wouldn't have reached the 75 percent threshold for induction this year if you added their vote totals together. This was the pair's second year on the ballot, and one of the major subplots of the voting was whether their insultingly low totals last season was indicative of most writers just sending a message in their first year of eligibility or if they actually intended to keep two players who are among the ten greatest to ever play the game at any position out of the Hall of Fame. We'd have to go with the latter, considering that Bonds and Clemens not only failed to gain major support, but backslid like so many others -- Bonds going from 36.2 percent last year to 34.7 percent and Clemens from 37.6 percent to 35.4 percent.
The fact that Bonds and Clemens lost votes over the past year is more lunatic than some of the other more gratuitously weird things that show up in this year's results -- Armando Benitez might be the strangest choice for a lifetime achievement downballot nod in recent memory, while somehow J.T. Snow got two votes -- and indicate potential disaster for both their candidacies. The first two or three seasons of eligibility are crucial in building a baseline of support. The closer a candidate starts to 75 percent of votes, of course, the more likely he is to someday get enshrined, while getting 50 percent or higher on your first year has traditionally guaranteed eventual induction. You might think it's nonsensical that players whose achievements and statistics remain static have to build momentum from year to year, and it'd be hard to say you're wrong, but that's how it works.
And Bonds and Clemens are losing momentum. Time should be on their side as far as the composition of the voting bloc goes; as more contemporary BBWAA members pass the 10-year threshold and older voters stop voting for any number of reasons, the sheer demographics should keep their candidacies afloat. It's also worth noting that a few voters like Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal left the pair off of their ballots because they knew they'd be there in the future, and chose to give other, more endangered candidates their votes this year instead due to the size of the ballot. That sort of tactical voting is exceedingly rare in practice, however, and the number of voters who omitted Bonds and Clemens with two or more open spaces remaining at the bottom of their ballots far exceeds the number of guys who had to leave them off due to the 10-name limit.
Which means that despite the fact that Cooperstown will be far more lively this year than last, and despite the generally positive outcomes of this year's voting, we're left with the same conclusion we were left with last year, and one we'll be stuck with for the foreseeable future: what good is a Hall of Fame that's unwilling to induct its sport's best players?