Hall rejection of Bonds, Clemens may be temporary
The shutout pitched by the Baseball Writers Association of America in Hall of Fame voting results announced Wednesday was not a shocker. A pattern had been set in previous years with the dismissals of Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Jose Canseco and Juan Gonzalez: no player connected to performance-enhancing drugs has come close to clearing the threshold of 75 percent support to gain election to the Hall. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens certainly brought next-level credentials to the debate this time, but the message remains the same, given that they couldn't clear even 40 percent of the vote.
So don't be surprised but also don't draw final conclusions. The Steroid Era was messy and complicated and the voting has become a mirror held up to one of the most embarrassing eras the game has known. It will take some time to sort through it. This was one snapshot, not the definitive judgment.
I believe many writers simply deferred their choice on many of the candidates. The history of polling of elections is filled with people who say they will vote one way, but when they actually enter the voting booth and the curtain closes behind them, the reality of pulling the level may give them pause. I believe many writers were unsure about what to do, or didn't quite feel right about pulling the lever on some candidates. The easy thing to do is nothing -- to defer the decision for another year after finding out which way the wind is blowing. A small percentage of writers also wanted to keep guys out for one year only, a position of "taking a stand" of little significance.
What does this ballot mean? It means as much as the number of players elected: nothing. What matters is where we go from here. The voting is a process. The last ballot with a shutout, 1996, actually included six eventual Hall of Famers. Every ballot from 1968 through 2002 (let's leave off the past decade to allow candidates a good run on the ballot) included at least five Hall of Famers and an average of 10.2. It's reasonable to expect that five or more players on this ballot eventually will get into the Hall of Fame.
What matters is how next year differs from this year, if at all. How many voters who "deferred" their vote will begin to support candidates? We just don't know, though I admit the support for Bonds and Clemens was lower than I expected.
Shutouts happened seven previous times, and somehow the sun came up, baseball went on and the Hall endured as the most prestigious Hall of Fame in all of sports without significant changes to the voting procedure. The rules don't need to be changed just to honor steroid users. Just wait -- and not long.
The Steroid Era is a dirty era but it is not a forgotten one. It will be well represented where appropriate. A flood of players is lined up to enter Cooperstown like planes at O'Hare at rush hour. Next year could include one of the biggest induction days ever, with as many as eight or more Hall of Fame acceptance speeches. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas stand a very good chance of getting elected, while holdover candidates Craig Biggio and Jack Morris (each at 68 percent) could easily join them. In addition, candidates from the Expansion Era Committee likely to be considered include managers Tony LaRussa, Joe Torre and Bobby Cox and general manager John Schuerholz. Cooperstown will be jammed.
Behind the Class of '14, which also includes Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina, come Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Ken Griffey Jr., Trevor Hoffman, Vlad Guerrero and others, while holdovers such as Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling and Tim Raines figure to continue to climb toward 75 percent.
Barry Larkin and Roberto Alomar didn't get into the Hall on the first ballot, so there is no shame with Biggio coming up just short. Remember this: the majority of Hall of Famers elected by the writers needed three or more ballots to get in (58 of 110). The Hall of Fame election includes the highest standards for enshrinement. Those standards were upheld Wednesday. But what happens five, 10 or 15 years from now remains unknown.
Some more observations on the voting:
• Jack Morris was hurt by collusion, the DH, the 1981 players strike and now he is hurt by steroids. As Murphy said Wednesday on MLB Network, the PED debate sucked the air out of the Hall of Fame discussion room. Morris gained almost no traction and is in trouble next year, his last year on the ballot. Since the original 1936 ballot, the writers have elected as many as four candidates only twice -- and not since way back in 1955. With Maddux, Glavine, Thomas and Biggio the favorites for election next year, Morris has the daunting task of elbowing his way into a rare four- or unprecedented five-person induction.
I know Morris' ERA is high and I don't put too much stock in "most wins in the '80s" or "clutch postseason pitcher." What I do know that since the AL adopted the DH way back in 1973, no starter in the league has taken the ball eight innings or more more times than Morris (248), and only Clemens and Mussina won more games (254). And if you want to go all the way back to 1961 -- more than half a century of baseball, going back to the start of the expansion era and a time with so little offense they needed to invent the DH -- Morris ranks third in such starts of eight innings or more, behind only Hall of Famers Jim Palmer and Bert Blyleven. We won't see the likes of him again.
• With Morris still on the outside, no starting pitcher who debuted after 1970 has been elected to the Hall of Fame. Bert Blyleven was the most recent.
• Fred McGriff has suffered, as well. He has suffered because of the 1994-95 players strike (costing him the seven homers needed for 500), suffered because of the steroid users who inflated home run numbers to the point of making his 32 homers seem piddling (he finished 17th in the league in 1999 with that total) and now he suffers because of steroids again because those guys get too much attention and because writers still haven't figured out the value of his clean numbers.
McGriff is better than Eddie Murray in OBP, slugging, 100-RBI and 30-homer seasons, played the third most games at first base, posted a .917 OPS in the postseason, and retired as only the 10th player with 10,000 plate appearances and an OPS as high as .886, joining Mike Schmidt, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Mel Ott, Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb.
• No first-ballot candidate has been elected for four straight years, a record that should end next year.
• Lee Smith (48 percent) is not gaining momentum. He could wind up with the record for the highest first-year percentage never to enter the Hall (42.3), eclipsing the "record" of Steve Garvey (41.6).
• Curt Schilling did fairly well (39 percent). He should eventual get in, but expect a slow climb. He's Don Drysdale with better control and a better postseason career. But remember this: we think of Drysdale as a full-blown Hall of Famer, but Drysdale debuted at 21 percent and needed 10 ballots to get in. Only Duke Snider (17 percent) and Blyleven (17.5) overcame a worse start to gain election than Drysdale. Another reminder: give it time.