8:11 PM CST, November 28, 2012
The Baseball Hall of Fame ballot was released Wednesday and the list of great players on it is so long that I honestly don't know what I'm going to do with mine when it arrives in the brown envelope from Cooperstown, N.Y.
I could frame it. I could return it. I could throw it in the trash and walk away defeated, as I once did with a Rubik's Cube.
The steroid-driven logjam for voters reaches a new level of angst with the 2013 ballot. The first-timers on the ballot include Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, Craig Biggio and Kenny Lofton.
Voters are allowed to vote for as many as 10 players, and for the first time since the 1930s (the Hall's first few classes) you will be able to make strong cases for 15 or more. Thirteen holdover players return from last year's ballot, and they include Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell, Lee Smith, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker, Edgar Martinez and Dale Murphy.
Chairman Jane Forbes Clark and the Hall of Fame board of directors have not updated voting guidelines, so it once again will be up to me and the other 575 or so voters to sort this out.
In regard to knowing how to treat known users of banned drugs designed to enhance performance, the best we can do is follow outdated instructions that say "integrity'' is among the factors to be weighed. In terms of knowing who did what and who was clean -- well, at least as clean as the guys who gobbled amphetamines and are already in the Hall (pretty much anyone who played after the Vietnam War) -- this is truly an exercise in the blind leading the blind.
Take away the PED issue and Bonds, Clemens, Palmeiro, Sosa and McGwire are unquestioned Hall of Famers. Their career totals in home runs, hits or victories soar far beyond the traditional threshold. Yet McGwire received only 112 of 573 votes last year, and Palmeiro even fewer.
Some argue Bonds and Clemens should be elected to the Hall despite their ties to steroids because they established themselves as elite players early in their careers, long before their ties to steroids. That claim, to me, doesn't get you past the "integrity'' guideline.
If it did, Pete Rose and Joe Jackson would be in the Hall (although they are different cases, as their lifetime bans from the game have kept them out of the Baseball Writers' Association of America process).
Clemens, however, is a very interesting case. Unlike everyone else tied to steroids, he has defended himself successfully in court. Brian McNamee, his former strength coach, was the primary source of information that caused Clemens to be included in the MLB-commissioned Mitchell Report. Clemens' lawyers destroyed McNamee's credibility when Clemens was tried for lying to Congress.
If you take away the Mitchell Report, Clemens is like many other players. He might have been suspected of being a cheater but he never would have been linked from a positive test (Palmeiro) or anecdotal evidence (Bonds and Sosa), even if that evidence is as weak as a leak of a positive test in 2003, when results did not bring discipline and were supposed to be anonymous. That's the only connection that differentiates Sosa from guys such as Bagwell, Piazza and, if you discount the Mitchell Report, Clemens.
It's stupid that guys like me are left to sort through this. We really don't know enough to make the pre-steroid guidelines work in the post-steroid period. The Hall should draft a dividing line and include it on the ballot.
Without that, it's 575 votes, 575 standards. I don't vote for guys who have tested positive or have been linked through some evidence (beyond the so-called "eyeball test").
I voted for seven players last year, including Barry Larkin and Bert Blyleven, who got in. I will probably vote again for Morris, Raines, Bagwell, Trammell and Walker. I'll re-examine my non-vote on Smith (he got 50.6 percent of the vote last year), then weigh the new candidates. I'm most likely to vote for Clemens, Biggio, Schilling and Piazza.
Even throwing out Palmeiro, McGwire, Bonds and Sosa, it will be tough to narrow my list of deserving candidates to 10. Imagine how tough it will be this time next year, when Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina head the list of first-timers.
Something needs to change. And fast.
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