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Oh, Those Baseball Writers

Tomorrow we find out who -- if anyone -- from the steroids era gets into Cooperstown.

By 1.8.13

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On January 9, we will find who (if anyone) the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) have selected to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York this summer.

This year I am taking a greater interest in the vote than usual. I do so for two reasons.

The first reason is because of my visit to Cooperstown last September. Although I have been aware of the Baseball Hall of Fame since childhood, I now have a physical connection to Cooperstown I did not previously possess. Now that I have seen the plaques of the 300 men comprising of MLB and Negro League players, managers, executive and umpires it forces me to give more thought as to who should and should not join them in Inductee Row. Naturally, this brings me to my second reason. The 2013 ballot is arguably the most controversial in Cooperstown’s 75-year plus history. The players appearing on the ballot for the first time include Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, Kenny Lofton, David Wells, Steve Finley and Julio Franco. Despite the credentials of these players, it could mark the first time since 1996 the BBWAA does not elect anyone to the Hall of Fame.

Bonds, Clemens and Sosa have long been under the cloud of suspicion of the so-called Steroids Era. Indeed, Bonds and Clemens were put on trial concerning their lack of candor for their alleged use of performance enhancing drugs. While it could be argued that Bonds and Clemens compiled statistics sufficient to warrant inclusion in Cooperstown before steroids were believed to become factors in their career, I suspect Bonds and Clemens will not be inducted this year or in the next fifteen years. If Mark McGwire is any indication, Bonds, Clemens and for that matter Sosa, they will be lucky if they get 25% of the vote. Or they could end up like Rafael Palmeiro and drop off the ballot altogether. Oh, those baseball writers.

It’s hard for me to take the BBWAA seriously when they enthusiastically bestowed Bonds with four consecutive National League MVP Awards between 2001 and 2004 when his head and shoe size expanded faster than the federal government. It’s hard for me to take the BBWAA seriously by punishing players for allegedly doing things that were not prohibited by Major League Baseball at the time.

But let’s suppose that Bonds, Clemens and Sosa used performance enhancing drugs. Longtime Cincinnati Reds beat writer Hal McCoy argues that Bonds, Clemens and Sosa “cheated to gain an unfair advantage.” A decade ago, Jose Canseco claimed that 85% of MLB players took performance enhancing drugs. Let’s say half that number is true. If even half of all big league players were taking steroids then Bonds, Clemens and Sosa did not make for much of a competitive advantage. So it’s hard for me to take the BBWAA seriously if its writers argue that steroids on the one hand gave Bonds, Clemens and Sosa an unfair advantage but, on the other hand, argue they were pervasive. It’s a classic case of having their cake and eating it too.

The problem with steroids in baseball is that perception equals reality. Houston Astros’ slugger Jeff Bagwell never tested positive for steroids nor was he named in the Mitchell Report but that hasn’t prevented various members of the BBWAA to accuse Bagwell of using performance enhancing drugs despite not having any evidence to back up such claims.

I have a feeling that Mike Piazza will become this year’s Jeff Bagwell. Even though Piazza never failed a drug test nor was named in the Mitchell Report, his name has been linked to steroids by rumor and innuendo. Oh, those baseball writers.

Let me go back to Bagwell for a moment. The player with the best chance of being enshrined into Cooperstown this summer is Bagwell’s friend and teammate Craig Biggio. The catcher turned second baseman collected 3,060 hits in a 20-year career with the Astros. Biggio belongs in Cooperstown but I’m sure he and Astros fans would prefer if he were to be inducted with Bagwell. Biggio and Bagwell go together like peanut butter and jelly. Unless, the BBWAA has evidence Bagwell acted improperly there is no reason to deny baseball fans peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Oh, those baseball writers.

As a Red Sox fan, I wonder about Curt Schilling’s chances. No steroids issue here. But a bloody sock turned into a bloody mess when his video game business went belly up last year. Unlike his ankle, Schilling’s business could not be sutured back together. Will his financial troubles keep him from getting into the Hall? Oh, those baseball writers.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few of the players who have been waiting for years to get the call from Cooperstown. Holdovers from previous ballots include Jack Morris, Tim Raines, Lee Smith, Alan Trammell and Dale Murphy. A two-time NL MVP, it is Murphy’s 15th year on the ballot. Unless the longtime Atlanta Braves slugger and Gold Glove outfielder receives 75% of the vote from the BBWAA, Murphy falls off the ballot. In 2012, Murphy received 14.5% of the vote and has never topped 25%. And to think that Murphy never took steroids. Barring a miracle, there’s a good chance that the only way Murphy will ever be inducted would be through the Veterans Committee. Oh, those baseball writers.

Like Brooklyn Dodgers fans, we might have to wait ’til next year when 300-game winners Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine join the ballot. Chicks might dig the long ball but they’ll be making speeches in Cooperstown and McGwire won’t. Nor for that matter will Bonds and Clemens.

Oh, those baseball writers.

Photo: Keith Allison (Creative Commons 2.0).

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About the Author
Aaron Goldstein writes from Boston, Massachusetts.