A Sad Day in Mudville
As I sit at my computer and hammer out my inaugural column for Low n’ Away, I feel the need to provide a certain degree of context: It is shortly after 4:00 on the afternoon of January 9th, 2013; a date significant for the fact that, for the first time in 17 years, the Baseball Writers Association of America failed to elect a single player to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
My hope is that today acts as catalyst for change to the Hall of Fame’s selection process. The Hall’s current procedure (and that which has been used since the museum’s inception), stipulates that no voter may cast his or her ballot for more than 10 players in any given year. Setting aside the discussion on Performance Enhancing Drugs for the moment (there will be plenty of time to get into that argument later), this year’s ballot was populated by no less than 16 players with a legitimate case for inclusion into Baseball’s Hall – and that’s before you consider Aaron Sele’s sterling candidacy. Without making some badly-needed amendments to the selection process, it seems inevitable that many of the players we grew up idolizing will begin to fall off the ballot, without ever sniffing inclusion to the most famous establishment Cooperstown, New York has to offer.
The 2013 ballot was highlighted, for the first time, by baseball demigods who answer to the names of Clemens, Sosa, and Bonds. They were joined by a player who played three premium defensive positions and who amassed 3060 hits and collected the most doubles by a right-handed hitter in the history of the sport. They were joined by one of four players to ever slug 500 home runs and deliver 3000 hits. They were joined by a man who sits 10th all-time in Home Runs, and who put the sport on his shoulders and carried it from the brink of irrelevancy with a home run binge for the ages during the magical summer of 1998, just four short years after the game’s devastating strike. They were joined by the greatest offensive catcher in baseball history. They were joined by one of the five best first basemen of the live-ball era, a man with a collection of awards so prolific that he must surely use his silver sluggers as paperweights. They were joined by one of the great workhorse pitchers of all time. A man to whom three different organizations gave the ball in game one of the World Series, and who delivered the most memorable pitching performance I have ever seen, with 10 innings of shutout ball in game seven of the 1991 World Series. They were joined by an outfielder with three batting titles, a first baseman with as many home runs as Gehrig, a designated hitter with a slash line to make George Brett blush, and the man with the best strikeout to walk ratio of the modern era and arguably the best postseason performer of all time.
The voting members of the BBWAA perused this list of inimitable performers – men who filled the summers of my childhood with indelible, awe-inspiring feats of baseball heroism – and collectively said “no thanks”.
Next year, the names of Bonds, Bagwell, Clemens, Biggio, Piazza, McGwire and company will be joined by the likes of Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine, and Greg Maddux. These players, along with many others, will comprise a ballot so full it should pre-emptively change into turkey pants right now. (For the record, my 2013 ballot, were I to have one, would consist of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Jack Morris, Rafael Palmeiro, and Larry Walker).
Short of swift, vital changes to the selection process, the Hall of Fame faces the very real risk of having Hall of Fame-caliber players coloured by PED suspicions hang around year after year, receiving less than half the vote. Until the writers know what to do with such players, the ballot will continue to swell with highly qualified players unable to achieve election, or worse, failing to receive even 5% of the vote and dropping off the ballot altogether.
The takeaways from today are five-fold:
1) The Hall needs to absolve its outdated rule limiting voters to the selection of a maximum of ten players per ballot;
2) A consensus on what to do with PED-tainted players will not be reached for a very, very long time;
3) We face the very real possibility of having a Hall of Fame that excludes the all-time hits leader (Pete Rose), the all-time home run king (Bonds), a player with the third highest average in the history of the sport (Shoeless Joe Jackson), and a player with more 60 home run seasons than any man living or dead (Sosa);
4) The Veteran’s Committee is going to have their hands full 20 years from now; and
5) The only people that should feel worse than baseball fans on a day like today are the hotel and B&B operators of the greater Cooperstown area.
July 28th will be a lonely day in the jewel of upstate New York.