The Hall of Fame Debate

from Nick Suss

Jan. 9, 2013, 7:52 p.m.

Well, I’m peeved to say the least. To say the most, I’m spitting angry. The Major League Baseball Hall of Fame ballots, cast by the Baseball Writing Association of America (BBWAA), have done nothing more than assure the public that Cooperstown, hallowed ground, heaven on earth, is no longer a Hall of Fame and Museum, but a club which snooty purists vote upon. For the first time since the 1960s, no living player, umpire, manager or owner will be put enshrined. Furthermore, for the first time since 1996 there will only be Veteran’s Committee inductees. Not that there is anything wrong with no one being selected of course. If no player deserves to be inducted, no one should be inducted. However, the problem lies not in the lack of inductees itself, but rather in who was shunned from eternal recognition for one more year just because of suspicion and a clause.

As many people may know, the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame has since Mark McGwire has been on the ballot invoked a little known “Sportsmanship Clause” for deciding who gets bestowed the highest honor all of sports upon themselves and who is thrown to the curb as if they were common street trash, waiting twelve more agonizing months to only be discarded again. I’ll be frank, steroids put a black mark on baseball. Not since the Eight Men Out scandal of 1919 had the great game been tarnished as it was by steroids. Countless single season and career records were broken and may never be recovered. An era of clean, hardworking ball players from the 1960s and 1970s had been replaced in the late 1980’s with muscle bound Goliaths who wielded the bat as if they were swinging a redwood like a twig. However, not everyone was juicing. There were still those among the Goliaths who were no bigger than David. There were still those who played based on ethics, based on pride, based on pure hard work and talent and based on nothing more than the pure spirit of baseball. (Even if you’ve watched this, watch it again. It’s the best speech ever. Ever.) And even in a culture where it seemed as if everyone was a sinner, there were still saints among the crowd who should not only be honored for their acts, but for their passion and sportsmanship.

Sportsmanship.

Of course, this brings me back to the clause. Logic works two ways. Tickets can be roundtrip. Plenty of one way roads lead into two way streets. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Believe it or not, this principle is not only prevalent, but almost a rule. With every rule comes exceptions, and the exception that makes this rule obviously pertains to the BBWAA Hall of Fame vote. As you may have noticed, I haven’t used any names yet. Names should not matter in this endeavor. Concepts matter, facts matter, ideas matter, principles matter. Above all else, the Hall of Fame should honor those who made the game what it is today. The museum itself should house the memories of the greatest ballplayers in the history of the game, all the way from Cap Anson and Nap Lajoie to Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki. However, this year a precedent was set. Much like Supreme Court Cases, Cooperstown works on a set of precedents. After the inaugural class of inductees, a precedent was set that no player, not even players among the likes of Joe DiMaggio, would make the hall on their first try. In 1962 that precedent was stricken from the books when two of the most important and talented players in the history of the game, Bob Feller and Jackie Robinson, were both inducted on their first try. All that precedent stated was that all you have to do to be a first ballot HOFer is either be the most dominant pitcher of your time starting at the age of 17, throw three no hitters, be the first president of the players union and crusade for the right to free agency and serve four years overseas in World War II, or break the color barrier in baseball and forever change the landscape of sports and American culture forever. From there, in about 1980, the modern precedent was set that there are three landmarks for automatic first ballot entry: 3000 hits, 500 home runs, or 300 wins. That precedent stood practically until today when the new precedent was set: the Sportsmanship Clause not only dictates who gets in, but also only works in a negative manner.

Let me begin by saying Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire were just the tip of the iceberg. Each of them have HOF credentials, but they have both either tested positive, admitted to juicing, or said that they wouldn’t allow themselves to be enshrined. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are so much more than just a Palmeiro or a McGwire, or even a Sosa, another class of 2013 first timer. Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds were prodigious. Had there been no clout regarding either of their ethical standings, they may have been used in the same sentences as Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson. Now they are in the same club as Rondell White and Aaron Sele, nobodies that were not inducted on their first try this year. Why is this so? Is 7 MVPs, the all time lead in home runs, eight Gold Gloves, 12 Silver Sluggers and more walks than any other player in the history of baseball not enough? Are 354 wins, 7 Cy Young Awards, an MVP and the third highest WAR among pitchers ever not conclusive evidence? Steroids do not make a player better. Steroids do not magically make the ball fly off the bat like Superman speeding for a falling Lois Lane. I could not take steroids today and hit a home run over a 300 foot fence tomorrow. Steroids add the potential to more quickly gain mass and recover from injury. Even if Clemens and Bonds used, which can’t be guaranteed but can fairly be guessed, they still needed the innate talents they possessed to go as far as they did in their careers. I would personally vote for each of them to go into the hall three times a year every year until they get busts, but their respective denials in no way hurt me. I expected nothing from them. But, they robbed one man. Their infidelities ruined the prospects of the highest echelon including one more name. In short, they denied Craig Biggio baseball immortality.

Craig Biggio has 3000 hits. Craig Biggio has more doubles than any other right handed hitter in the history of the game. Only 14 players scored more runs in a career than Craig Biggio, and all of them are in the hall of fame, playing on the right side of the Yankees infield, banned from baseball because of gambling, or Barry Bonds. In effect, only 14 of the best players ever to grace the planet Earth with their presences scored more runs than Craig Biggio. AND THAT IS THE POINT OF BASEBALL! Only 14 men crossed home plate more times than he, proving that he could get on base, he could run the bases well, and he can get across and back into the dugout safely. In truth, he stole 414 bases and had a career OPS of .796. On top of that, he played three positions, catcher, second base and centerfield, and exceled in all of them. He was a sabermetricians dream; he rarely cost the team outs and forced plenty of them on the backside with his defensive play. He won four Gold Gloves and five Silver Sluggers and he did it in an era dominated by the long ball. Craig Biggio was without a doubt a clean player. He hit 2.3 times as many doubles as home runs not only in an era where runs and home runs were unnaturally high, but on a team which set the record for the most home runs in a single season and lived and died by the long ball. Craig Biggio was an old school player who lived and died by his skillset and looked like he played in the mold of a traditional middle infielder like Honus Wagner. Honus Wagner exemplified the best side of the Sportsmanship Clause. He was respected by his peers and by the media. And when he finally reached the pinnacle and exceeded 3000 hits, it didn’t come with the same fanfare as Derek Jeter, but it came just like he did, softly in an era of boisterous displays of over confidence and disregard for the sanctity of the game. If Craig Biggio is not a first ballot Hall of Famer, than the term means nothing. Of course, next season he will definitely find himself in Cooperstown, but the fact that he has to wait a sixth year is an insult to his legacy. In my book, this man is a Hall of Famer and it is a crying shame that he was deprived membership in the baseball brotherhood because of the implications bestowed upon his peers.

All that being said, my ballot would include seven men if I could vote this year. Besides Craig Biggio, my ballot would include Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Tim Raines, Larry Walker and Bernie Williams. Yes, I just crusaded against the expectations put upon players now because of players like Clemens and Bonds, but I can discern the difference between using steroids and abusing steroids in my mind. No one truly understands how steroids affected baseball or who truly used, but I can tell you one thing. This is my ballot and I will explain my heart out, justifying why these men should be there and why a few others shouldn’t.

Like his former teammate, Jeff Bagwell will be in the hall someday, it’s just a matter of when. His numbers speak for themselves. He averaged 29.9 home runs a season over just a fifteen year career, finishing with 449 back backs. Had he played merely two more seasons he undoubtedly would have smashed 500 jacks and gone in in one try. He dropped 30 or more bombs in a season nine times in his career. His outrageous career .948 OPS is balanced out by an equally outrageous 202 steals, 2314 hits, and a career .297 batting average as a first basemen. His hardware includes a rookie of the year, and MVP, a Gold Glove, and three Silver Sluggers. He posted a 7+ WAR four times in his illustrious career and most importantly hasn’t been connected to steroid ever. Cooperstown awaits, just probably not for three, four, or possibly five years. It will be worth the wait.

I’ll tackle Bonds and Clemens together. I don’t need to spew numbers at you willy nilly, all of their numbers are fantastic. The argument is do implicated cheaters deserve to be members of baseball’s most exclusive fraternity. Let me tell you, this is the toughest question to answer in all of baseball since the great DiMaggio vs. Williams MVP debate. However, this isn’t a discussion of whether or not batting .400 is more impressive than hitting in 52 straight games. This is a discussion of legacy. This is a discussion of honor. And finally, this is a discussion of opinion. Baseball is a numbers game. Formulas can show you that the Yankee Clipper’s feat was more impressive than Teddy Baseball’s. Statistics are wielded like daggers in baseball debates, stabbing the guts of the uninformed with uncounterable truths. But there are no statistics or formulas that can decide this. Here is my take on Bonds and Clemens. They are completely different cases than Sosa, Palmeiro and McGwire. Go on baseballreference.com and analyze each of those players’ stat lines when you have a chance. You'll notice significant spikes in all of their numbers save Clemens for when the players were said to have begun taking steroids. Look at Sosa in 1997 and 98 to see exactly what I mean. Steroids obviously made Sammy Sosa significantly better. He would have never gotten anywhere near 600 home runs had that spike not occurred. Assuming no natural regression and taking into account home run averages per games played, I did some Sammy Sosa calculations. Through 1997, Sosa average approximately .19025 home runs per game, good for 207 total home runs. Through the rest of his career, while he was supposed to be aging, he hit 402 more home runs, an average of approximately .31754 home runs per game. If you adjust the 1266 games that Sosa played after 1997 to his home run average prior to 1998 and assuming he never became less talented, he would have finished with 447 home runs. That is a completely respectable total, but it is not the 609 with which he finished. However, if you set the year 2000 as the year you assume Barry Bonds began juicing because of his significant jump in batting average, he averaged .2225 home runs per game pre 2000 and approximately .3215 home runs per game post 2000. Adjusting Bonds’ 986 games in the new millennium for the .2225 home runs per game average from before, he still would have finished with 664 career home runs, which currently would be good for third all-time and four ahead of his godfather Willie Mays. According to this math, Bonds was afforded 98 home runs by steroids, but Sosa juiced 162 extra home runs from his potential. Using this logic alone, Barry Bonds is a no doubt Hall of Fame caliber, top 10 career baseball player. Clemens is in the same boat as Bonds, but it is harder to compare Clemens’ numbers because of the vast number of pitching stats that exist. If you set 1997, the year he moved from Boston to Toronto and allegedly met Brian McNamee, as the year he began taking steroids you would think some stats would change drastically, while others not so much. However, on the key stats of wins, ERA, and strikeouts, all of the rates went down per start post 1997. Clemens won .501 games per start pre 1997 and .498 post 1997, a negligible difference. Clemens strikeout rate of 6.782 batters per game pre 1997 declined to 6.406 per game in subsequent years. And finally, Clemens ERA jumped from 3.17 to 3.28 over those spans. None of these rates increased, partially showing that steroids made virtually no impact on Clemens except for keeping him healthier and slowing his rate of decline. If anything, this shows that Clemens probably would’ve retired earlier and the last two years of his career which consisted of most of his decline would not have happened and his average numbers would have been better. Clemens and Bonds are Hall of Famers. There is no doubt about that.

Tim Raines is a vote based purely off of numbers. I never watched him play, so I don’t really know enough about him to expand. However, my other two votes I have memories of, one quite more so. Larry Walker should be in Cooperstown. I like his numbers more than I like Bagwell’s and hell, I like them more than Biggio’s. No joke, this guy had a higher career OPS than Bagwell despite hitting nearly 100 less home runs and still managed to be a career .313 hitter. He led the NL in average three times, and each time that number led the majors. He was the recipient of seven Gold Gloves and three Silver Sluggers. He won the 1997 National League MVP in the heart of the steroid era leading the NL with 49 home runs. Did I mention he was never once implicated with juice? He averaged 107 RBI per year but balanced that with an average of 110 runs per year. By pure definition of the game, he was consistently near perfect on the three most important phases of the game. He managed to score runs, drive in runs, and prevent runs well in nearly every season. In his prime, he was one of the best and most well rounded players in a National League that was dominated by big names like Bonds, Sosa and McGwire. Yet he only received 21.6 percent of the vote. To quote the great DeAndre Cole, “What up with that?” However, Bernie Williams is a different story. Yes, his numbers may be considered Hall of Fame worthy by some. He batted .297, had 2336 hits, 287 home runs, .858 OPS, four Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger and hit cleanup for the most vaunted baseball teams of the past 50 years. He was, for lack of more eloquent terms, really fricking good. But, he was also my favorite player growing up, so I seem to be a little bit biased. Is that a conundrum? No, I feel he deserves to be in the fraternity. I’ve earned the right after 2800 words of unbiased, statistically based decisions to splurge on my childhood hero. I’ve decided it.

Now, if you are thinking what about Jack Morris, Curt Schilling and Mike Piazza, I say its good you asked! To start with Piazza and Schilling, I simply don’t believe they deserve to be on the first ballot. Next year, Piazza will earn my vote. Schilling, not so much. I’ve never been a big believer in his numbers. Plus, he nearly single handedly cost the Yankees two World Series victories. As for Jack Morris, I have a hard time believing that someone who didn’t make it in the past thirteen years has done anything in the past year to make his case better. People need to believe their first instincts. If you aren’t good enough in five years, you aren’t good enough in six. That seems like pure logic. Nothing has made his numbers any better. And yes, sabermetrics have given light to certain points that were before unseen, but the main argument for Jack Morris is still wins. And he doesn’t have 300 of them, so I don’t see the point in judging him based off of a decade of mediocrity in which he was the most successful. If that seems harsh, that’s because it is.

So pretty much that is the airing of my grievances about the MLB Hall of Fame. I don’t have a sweeping grand finale hook to draw you in so I guess I’ll just stop midsentence like The Sopranos. Or would that be too clichéd. I guess I’ll have to ponder that while I


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