I’m not smart enough to solve all of the problems that plague the voting process for baseball’s Hall of Fame. I’ve given my opinion, which is just that — one opinion. I think much of the angst and hand-wringing could be eliminated if they simply eliminated the voting rule that states we have to factor in sportsmanship, integrity and character. It works for the Pro Football Hall of Fame — which certainly doesn’t have things exactly right, but at least the process doesn’t force the voters to make educated guesses about who did and did not do things that were against the rules or the law.
It’s high time the voting process was revamped, anyway. If an attention-seeking sports columnist and TV personality from South Florida can thumb his nose at the process by giving his vote away to readers of a satirical sports news website, something clearly is wrong.
Still, it’s a process I feel compelled to take seriously. I spent 1999-2009 covering baseball, 11 consecutive seasons as a card-carrying, hard-traveling member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Yes, it was a truncated career. It wasn’t my choice to leave newspapers, any more than it was the choice of so many others whose careers went south when the print industry imploded. I hung around long enough to meet the requirement for 10 consecutive years of uninterrupted membership. Growing up, I lived the game. I love it still, and that decade-plus I spent roaming clubhouses and press boxes was the culmination of a dream come true in a lot of ways.
So, I’ll keep voting until they tell me I should stop.
Here are my 2014 selections (I voted for nine players, one fewer than the 10-player limit):
- Greg Maddux, RHP
- Tom Glavine, LHP
- Frank Thomas, DH/1B
- Craig Biggio, 2B/C/CF
- Jeff Bagwell, 1B
- Fred McGriff, 1B
- Lee Smith, RHP
- Mike Piazza, C
- Edgar Martinez, DH
This is my sixth year as a voter. My thoughts on the PED users already have been documented. And you can see by my ballot that my thoughts haven’t changed. I won’t vote for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa. I never voted for Rafael Palmeiro, who fell off the ballot this year. Rumor and innuendo are not necessarily enough to convince me to not vote for a player (witness my inclusion of rumored users Piazza and Bagwell). What separated those two from Bonds and Clemens? The overwhelming preponderance of circumstantial evidence against the all-time home run leader and the greatest right-handed pitcher in baseball history. Simply, the rumbling and whispers about Piazza and Bagwell just weren’t loud enough, and I think their numbers and contributions to their teams made them Hall of Fame players.
A few other notes.
I vote for Martinez because I believe that if we’re going to put relief pitchers into the Hall, all specialists should be included. This argument about “only” being a hitter and not contributing with a glove doesn’t make sense to me. Are we going to exclude pitchers because they can’t hit? Outfielders because they don’t pitch? Nonsense. Baseball specialists who excel at an extraordinary level should be considered for the Hall. Extraordinary specialists whose achievements are historical (such as closer Lee Smith) should be elected.
There’s also this: Martinez won the 2004 Roberto Clemente Award, which is bestowed upon the major leaguer who best combines giving back to the community with excellence on the field. Biggio won it in 2007. Why does this matter? Because if factoring in sportsmanship, integrity and character means Bonds and Clemens are out, how can we not take into account exemplary displays of those qualities? In other words, the way the rule works now, being a good guy during a playing career meant something. That’s one reason I voted for Dale Murphy for five consecutive years before his candidacy came to an end in 2013.
So far, I haven’t deviated from the belief that if a player is a Hall of Famer, there is no reason to leave him off the first year. I re-evaluate each candidate with each new ballot, but unless some new evidence came up the last time I voted, there is virtually no chance I’ll include him.
I’ll finish with this: If the integrity, sportsmanship and character rule was eliminated, I would not hesitate to vote for Bonds and Clemens. I didn’t ask to be some sort of moral cop when it comes to Hall of Fame voting, but as long as that rule is in there, I feel like it’s my responsibility to make as informed a decision as possible. Ultimately, it’s a futile exercise, because as I’ve written before — here and in my old life as a sportswriter — no one who didn’t see PED use happen knows for sure if it did. We’re guessing, at best. I hope I’ve made the right choices, and I hope the process is reformed soon.