Advice for my fellow Hall of Fame voters
Updated 3:52 p.m. ET on Shutout Day, Jan. 9, 2012:
I am disappointed in many of my fellow Hall of Fame voters right now. That includes a lot of people I consider good friends. Not even Craig Biggio, with more than 3,000 hits and a career all spent with the same team, one of the best guys in baseball (isn’t this now about best guys vs. bad guys?), will be inducted next summer? Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Michael Weiner said it best: “…to penalize players exonerated in legal proceedings — and others never even implicated — is simply unfair. The Hall of Fame is supposed to be for the best players to have ever played the game. Several such players were denied access to the Hall today.”
I voted for Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza and Lee Smith. This is my 24th year in the Baseball Writers Association of America, going back to my first year (1990) on the San Francisco Giants beat for the San Jose Mercury News, and as a Lifetime Honorary member I take the annual responsibility very seriously as a privilege.
In 2007, I was in Cooperstown covering the historic Cal Ripken Jr.-Tony Gwynn induction weekend for MLB.com, and there were record crowds. At that time, Bonds needed one more home run to tie Hank Aaron for the all-time lead with 755. Among the record crowds at the Hall that weekend, 100 percent of the many patrons I interviewed told me there was no place there for Bonds. He would tie the record that next week and then finish that final Major League season with 762, official and unasterisked.
In the course of agonizing over my ballot last month, that particular juxtaposition of anti-Bonds sentiment and the subsequent crowning of a new home run king was the thing I thought about the most.
I watch the games, I talk to players and club personnel, I talk to fans, I am a fan, I grew up playing the game, I made my own scorecards as a boy to score Evansville Triplets Triple-A games on the radio that night, I am the nephew of a former Major League player and manager (Johnny Goryl), I am the father of boys who played baseball (one All-Stater at the alma mater of Ryan Howard and David Freese), I believe pitch-and-catch is as good as it gets in life, I am in my 12th year with Major League Baseball Advanced Media, and I love and breathe baseball as the greatest game. I share your passion.
I go to Cooperstown routinely and I feel the hallowed greatness of the plaques that surround me in the Gallery. It always reaffirms my belief and commitment that it is for the elite of the elite. Plaques of Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, Stan Musial, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Willie Mays, Cy Young, Joe DiMaggio are what I see. I get chills down my spine and I see goosebumps on my arms.
As a voter, there is a temptation to see your role as a voter as representing a constituency, like a Senator or Congress member, but that is not the reality when I open the ballot envelope at home and pore over choices. For me, it is about body of work and not work of body. I can know the former but not the latter. I will never know who exactly may have used steroids, and a BBWAA voter should not vote based on perception of a suspected user’s body language, cranial measurement, innuendo, allegations and so forth. The character clause, included in a long list of expected voting criteria that we receive, seems inapplicable there to me.
Since Mark McGwire first appeared on the ballot and was eligible for that same classic, one-team-only, All-American Class of 2007 (could you imagine?), I have believed that it is the Commissioner’s right to exclude a person from our ballot consideration, as was the case with Pete Rose. It is only his right. I do not believe voters should attempt to play that role. Body of work, not work of body. So for the last time, hopefully, I have explained why I vote the way I do — just as I explained it one day this year to a former postseason star who once shared a clubhouse with many big names on this ballot. He told me in strong terms: Do not vote for them.
Why Biggio, Bonds, Clemens, Piazza and Smith? I believe 3,000 hits is still very much a Hall benchmark, so Biggio is in for me. I was shocked not to see his name read. Are you serious? The Hall would be incomplete without Bonds and Clemens, as the former is the greatest player in history and left field was “my house” in his prime, and the latter knows no superiors among history’s right-handers other than Walter Johnson and Nolan Ryan. Piazza hit more home runs than any catcher, a 62nd-round draft pick Disney story. Once we started electing the Goose Gossages and Bruce Sutters of the world, I knew that Smith belonged as well, a relief legend.
I stopped there, at half of the maximum 10 boxes you are allowed to check. I’m not much of a vote-for-everyone guy. Five is a lot. Rather than checking Big Mac’s box as I had each previous time, I considered the overall ballot and in my view felt those were the candidates who truly were worthy of the Gallery room. If I’m not voting for McGwire, then I am not voting for Sammy Sosa. Based on their home run numbers, perhaps one day they will be added. Perhaps Rafael Palmeiro as well.
I have much respect for other voters and for fans who have made impassioned cases for others, such as Jeff Bagwell, Jack Morris, Tim Raines, Dale Murphy, Alan Trammell and others. Those candidates should feel fortunate that they had such ardent supporters who make such strong cases for them. My five is not an indication that I am right and others are wrong, it is merely how I ultimately had to put my pen to the check boxes on the hardest ballot the BBWAA ever saw. Next December I will look at the ballot with fresh eyes. The voting electorate is the right one now and for the future, and it is an honor taken seriously.
I was expecting Biggio’s name to be read alone. A shutout for this ballot is frankly embarrassing, and it is just disappointing to see so many of my peers make the wrong judgment, to see themselves in a job that is simply not theirs on LinkedIn. Maybe it feels empowering. More likely, it feels hard for them to concede that they took the wrong position in previous years and can’t bear the admission that they must change. Again, these are many of my good friends. May they see the light.
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