Wondering when would be a good time to write this column, it seems that opportunity has finally landed in my lap. The issue is the Hall of Fame, and the inclusion process, namely as it pertains to those players in the “Steroid Era.”
Grappling with the subject really means an examination of the Hall of Fame, the players in the Steroid Era, and those in the voting process, many of whom are part of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA).
As is often the case when one goes about selecting anything for inclusion into a group, the more defined you set the criteria, the easier it is to place items into one bucket or the other. When it comes to players in baseball, the use of statistics is often the measure of defining greatness.
But, it isn’t the “Hall of Greatness” it’s the “Hall of Fame” and with it, the criteria for inclusion has become muddied. Throw in that there are players that have been out-and-out proven to use performance-enhancing drugs, or worse, suspected of using, and the waters are as clear as split-pea soup on who should, or should not, get votes.
Into the fray, people like myself weigh in, but others as well. Such will be the case when Bryant Gumbel has his closing remarks on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel (10pm ET/PT). Bryant will close with the following:
“Finally tonight comes word that Reggie Jackson has wisely decided to pass on this weekend’s induction ceremonies at Cooperstown. You may have seen that Jackson recently caused a stir by suggesting that a variety of baseball notables didn’t merit inclusion in the Hall of Fame. Now, because his judgment was personal and his timing terrible, Reggie has since retreated from his stated views. But here’s hoping that the gist of what he said isn’t altogether lost on the Hall’s voters.
You see Reggie was basically right in contending that the hall should be special and its doors should not be opened just because someone stuck around long enough to collect 3,000 hits or 300 wins. Yes, the numbers are proof of some very good players. But as the former star pitcher Jim Kaat has often noted so astutely, Cooperstown’s supposed to be a Hall of Fame – not a hall of achievement.
If the voters are really so obsessed with honoring guys with the numbers, they’d be wise to start rethinking the exclusion of those megastars linked to steroids, and do it quickly. Because the next Cooperstown ballot will, for the first time, include among others, both the seven-time MVP Barry Bonds and the seven-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens. And while both men have a suspect past, it’s going to be hard to argue they don’t deserve a bust in Cooperstown. After all, a hall of fame that somehow excludes the game’s homerun king and its most honored pitcher and its all-time hits leader, would really be making a mockery of itself.”
The debate about whether a player is worthy of inclusion means you have to understand the mind of the voters, and with that, you get wildly divergent opinions, often passionately so. Many of the writers I’ve spoken with have held fast to the position that they will not vote for a player that fits Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens for the Hall of Fame, falling into two camps: “never” and “not on the first ballot.”
It’s here where there’s some wiggle room. It’s here that I side with the non-voters of the latter ilk. No, I do not have a vote, but if the good graces ever fall upon me, it seems more than reasonable to make a statement on the issues of performance-enhancing drugs and its effects on the statistics by which we should measure “greatness” by saying a voter deserves the right to consider a player such as Bonds or Clemens for the Hall of Fame, but it won’t be on the first ballot.” You’re not saying you won’t vote for him; just not now.
Finally, the larger question surrounds the fact that it is the Hall of “Fame” and therefore, you’re talking about something subjective. Bonds and Clemens certainly meet the “fame” criteria. Whether their greatness was fueled in part by better- performance-through-chemistry, is ultimately a question that can’t definitively be answered.
Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He writes for Baseball Prospectus and is a contributor to Forbes.He is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network (select his name in the dropdown provided).
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