By Tom DiSalvo
Some say that numbers never lie, and last week, zero was the most relevant number Major League Baseball. No player was elected into the Hall of Fame for the class of 2013. None of the thirty six names on the ballot were good enough for clearance by the Baseball Writers Association of America. No players was nominated. Zero.
This shutout was caused by the daunting “steroid era” of baseball, a part of the game that will forever leave a stain on its otherwise rich history. This rough patch of baseball’s past is glaringly obvious due to the increase in individual statistics within the game and an exceedingly prolific performance of the sports’ superstars. A couple months ago, four of the most notorious steroid users were up for induction into the Hall of Fame, being granted a placement on the annual ballot. Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Roger Clemens were the four names the public recognized as cheaters. This was not McGwire’s first time on the ballot. Although McGwire is the only admitted user, and no legal evidence has been found for the remaining three players, it is all but official that these players cheated their way to success.
It is up to about 570 baseball writers to determine if these players belong in the Hall of Fame, a place to remember the great ones that graced the Major League diamonds. If the Hall is meant to represent integrity of the sport, it is hard to include the likes of Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, and Clemens. Their form of cheating by using Performance Enhancing Drugs is unlike any other. There are players who have cheated the game in the past such as the infamous Joe Jackson and Pete Rose, and have been banned as a consequence; however, their dishonesty towards the game did not improve their chances of success. The steroid users of this era put all non-steroid users at a disadvantage, and tainted the game of baseball. The writers who will vote for their election for the next fifteen years of eligibility must ask themselves as fans of the sport, “do I want these men to be considered all-time greats knowing that they were cheaters?”
Some writers have a hard time voting for McGwire or Sosa regardless of their drug use. Some say their numbers were clearly inflated due to steroids, and that without them they would not have statistics worthy of Hall of Fame mention. The most impressive statistic for both players is their home run total, which is reflective of drug use during their careers. Some writers want to include these players because they feel they competed in an era where a majority of players were actually using steroids, thus meaning that the use of drugs in the sport created an even playing field.
As if McGwire and Sosa were not enough of a headache to deal with for these valiant 570 voters, Bonds and Clemens present more of a problem. Their statistics alone undoubtedly signify Hall of Fame honors, but their suspected use of PEDs causes major voting discrepancies among the committee. Both of these players were great before the time suspicions arose. Nonetheless, it is what they accomplished after the suspected period of drug use that allows them to leap from borderline Hall of Famers to top ten players at their respective positions all-time. Bonds racked up seven MVP awards and an intimidating twelve Silver Slugger awards. Clemens received an MVP himself and recorded seven Cy Young awards. These accolades are tremendously impressive. No player has acquired more MVPs than Bonds or Cy Youngs than Clemens. To neglect these two players from the Hall of Fame seems outlandish on paper, but to take their suspected PED use into account chronicles a fear that they cheated their way to the top.
So all in all, should Bonds and Clemens get inducted? No. They probably would have been Hall of Famers without PEDs, but their use elevated them to unfathomable numbers and tarnished the game’s history. They should not be praised with a plaque. Will Bonds and Clemens get in? This depends on the percentage trends for voting in the next couple of years, but it does not look positive. They need 75% of the popular vote to be inducted and neither of them cracked 40%. Writers will have to decide whether they want to honor those that cheated or banish them from the Hall of Fame in order to preserve its meaning.
The writers that vote for steroid users are doing so because they do not want to stick their heads in the sand and forget about an entire era of baseball. They claim that we cannot forget about what happened. I respectfully disagree with this approach to voting. There were athletes who were clean during that era, and to vote in superstars that used PEDs would not only discredit the clean players, but also the hundreds of players already enshrined in Cooperstown. To honor those that cheated the game would be a disgrace to the many players that played the game with integrity.
The real issue here lies within another tier of players; these are the players that have less suspicion of drug use than notorious stars such as McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, or Clemens. A prime example is Mike Piazza. Here is a player who is arguably the best hitting catcher of all time and deserves a spot in the Hall by any measure. Jeff Bagwell is another slugger linked with potential drug use, but with only a cloud of speculation. But where is the proof they never used PEDs? This is a question lingering in the back of every BBWAA member’s mind. No one is innocent playing in this era because it is just too difficult to read between the lines and determine who cheated and who was a straight laced superstar.
Craig Biggio received 68% of the popular vote, and is another Hall of Famer by any measure. Are the writers and the fans supposed to wave him a pass because he was smaller, scrappy type player who does not look like he gained muscle on the juice? Since no one can prove their innocence entirely in this tainted era, speculation evolves. The problem here is that no player is any less guilty than any other or any more innocent than any other. The speculation for players such as Bonds and Clemens is insurmountable, while the speculation for Piazza is there but not as relevant, and the speculation for Biggio hardly exists. However, when you take a step back and lay it all out, speculation cannot be measured. It is not a number.
The BBWAA members are allowed to vote for up to ten players each year. Six members on the committee chose to enter an empty ballot with no names bubbled in. This action can be seen as a protest or a truthful acknowledgement that this era is too tainted to take a chance for. Here are some standout players that seem Hall of Fame worthy statistically, but missed the ride: Craig Biggio, Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Time Raines, Lee Smith, Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Edgar Martinez, and Alan Trammell. Now, someone tell me why none of these baseball heroes were elected in 2013.
If players like Biggio and Morris wound up ahead of Bonds and Clemens in the polls, one can only think that votes were stolen from the leaders that were given to Bonds or Clemens. Without the assumption that Bonds or Clemens used PEDs, they are the clear favorites for Hall of Fame candidacy. If they are to be excluded from the Hall of Fame, it’s a shame that other players on the ballot have to suffer because of that.
With more notable names joining the ballot next year, it only creates more controversy for BBWAA voters. With ten votes to spare, the fate of Bonds and Clemens will be decided in years to come. Once voters realize they have more viable options to pencil in on their ballot in the upcoming years, my guess is that the voters who elected Bonds or Clemens the first time around will provide their vote elsewhere. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will pair up to be the most dominant offensive player and pitcher to not make the Hall of Fame. Baseball is a numbers game, but there is only room in Cooperstown for the elite.