I haven’t written much about the Hall of Fame this year. To be honest, at this point, the subject fatigues me.
Very little, if anything new has been said. The same arguments regarding the steroid generation we had first explored ad nauseum when Mark McGwire became eligible have been played and replayed. Amplification has done nothing more than increase the distortion level of the noise. Positions taken long ago haven’t changed. Instead, trenches are dug deeper.
As is seemingly always the case when problems arise, the masses look for someone to blame.
The current and former baseball writers making up the voting bloc of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America serve as a convenient punching bag. Historically entrusted with the Hall of Fame voting, the writers actually do a pretty good job overall.
Some of the BBWAA writers with votes voluntarily share their ballots. Unfortunately, it is a small segment of the overall voting population. The better ones also explain the thought process that went into their votes. While no disclosure is required, it can help focus discussion.
The BBWAA could spruce up their participation by limiting the voting population to recent baseball writers. That could reduce some of the outlier votes that can make the majority, who seem to take their responsibilities very seriously, look bad.
In an ideal world, some of the historical oddities would be clarified and perhaps altered. They include first-ballot consideration and non-unanimous voting for obvious superstar candidates.
Still, in the big picture, those are just tuning items.
I have seen others suggest adding broadcasters and others to the voting eligible group, but that would do nothing to clarify the steroid question.
The misinformed blame the BBWAA for the current Hall of Fame gridlock over the steroid era, as if any 500 different individuals would have a hope of interpreting the voting guidelines in a consistent manner.
The current rules state that “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”
Among themselves, the writers have been unable and/or unwilling to clarify these rules. In my opinion, that should not be their role. Their job is to execute the mission given them.
Let’s move up the management chain to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the group that charges the BBWAA with this purpose.
What is the Hall, really?
It is a business that operates a lucrative museum, library and research facility. The Hall not only directs the current vote, but also the controversial veterans committees which evaluate players no longer on the ballot as well as owners, coaches and executives.
This private entity is not owned by Major League Baseball, but certainly takes direction from the lords of the game as the ultimate provider of their meal ticket.
In the specific context of Hall of Fame eligibility, there is some clarity. Players on MLB’s permanent suspension list are ineligible for the Hall. That is why Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson are not enshrined.
That does not help with the steroid era, however. Even confirmed users are not on any long-term suspension list. In fact, MLB has welcomed at least one of them back with open arms and heaps of praise. A confessed user is now a major league coach recently employed by the Cardinals, the aforementioned McGwire.
In a number of cases, these players’ transgressions came to light after the fact and/or may not technically have been against the rules at the time. In the stickiest cases, there is no proof at all, just suspicion that can never be resolved.
No, this is not the Hall’s issue, either. It is clearly Major League Baseball’s.
Bud Selig’s legacy will not be fully solidified until many years into the future, but the steroid era will almost certainly be a key element. He was the unquestioned leader during the glory days as well as the belated and accelerated attempts to clean up the game.
It is my belief that Selig owes the game the responsibility to take the lead in putting the steroid era players into proper context. Just as with the suspended list players, make it black or white. Declare whether steroid-tainted players should be considered for the Hall of Fame or should not.
If not, then a list of proven offenders would have to be developed. It would spawn a process that would likely make the Salem witch trials appear fair.
That leaves us with the only viable solution. MLB needs to publicly declare that steroid era players should be eligible for Hall consideration. Further, they need to facilitate the development of clearer voting guidelines with the support and involvement of the Hall and the BBWAA.
Though certainly having the appearance of being controversial and perhaps even endorsing the past sins, what’s done is done. MLB looked the other way for years while this was going on. To come back later and act as if nothing happened seems hypocritical. MLB needs to lead a clear, viable path forward that is lacking today.
Others might argue that such action would change nothing. After all, McGwire, Bonds and the rest are already on the ballot. Yet the only reason they are there is that no one took specific action to remove them. The tainted candidates remain in an odd limbo.
Here is why I think direction from MLB would help. By those entrusting them with the vote clearly stating it is ok to consider these players, the BBWAA can better do its job. Voters can assess candidates based on their results without having to struggle with the impossible question of morality. Of course, the voters would never be told how to vote. Each individual would still have to make his or her own decisions.
If – or more likely, when – the first steroid-suspected players enter the Hall, the door will be opened for others, as well. There can be no middle ground.
Would that be fair to the players who were non-users? No, it would not be, but we have no idea who these clean individuals are. All we know are those who were caught and those who were not.
Let’s face reality. The results happened on the field and there is no way to selectively exclude them.
While there is no solution to this problem to which every one would agree, I believe the buck ultimately stops with MLB specifically and Selig personally.
Sadly, I doubt any change will occur. Another core element of Selig’s legacy is inaction/late action on key issues affecting the game.
MLB’s path of least resistance will continue to be to ignore the issue while letting the writers and the Hall struggle with and take the heat for a problem that they did not create and cannot solve.
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