The road to Cooperstown has its share of potholes - for the players and for the voters. This week, baseball writers elected three new members to Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas. But a day that should be focused on their well-deserving careers is instead being spent, in part, on the voting process itself.
With little guidelines on what should constitute a Hall of Famer, some writers have turned the voting process into a venue for their own agendas. This year, one writer left his ballot blank, another voted only for ex-pitcher Jack Morris and another let readers of the website Deadspin fill out a ballot on his behalf (voting for all three inductees in the process).
However, the elephant in the room (or the Hall) is the steroid era, which continues to weigh on the baseball writers who are yet to determine a consistent way to evaluate the players whose careers spanned the 20 year period starting in the late 1980’s. 16 writers, for example, left Maddux off their ballots completely, despite his string of four straight Cy Young awards and 18 Gold Gloves. One writer said flatly that he wouldn’t vote for any player from the steroid era. But there’s no consensus on the issue - not by a long shot.
Despite speculation and accusations about the use of performance enhancing drugs, all-time home run king Barry Bonds earned nearly 200 votes, although it was less than half the amount he needed for election. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa - both in the top 10 home run leaders of all time - lost ground from last year’s vote, but still collected 100 votes between them. Sosa, however, received just over 7%, and is now in danger of falling off the list completely. Rafael Palmiero, who had more than 3,000 hits, saw his 19-year-career overshadowed by a failed drug test in 2005. He fell below 5% of the vote and will be dropped from the ballot. Those are the biggest names affected, but plenty of other players have also been swept up in the controversy.
Players like Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza - some of the most dangerous hitters of their time - have all fallen victim to speculation about PED use despite any evidence. Murray Chass, a long time baseball writer for the New York Times, lumped those players together. “(They) won’t get my vote because they were proved to have cheated, admitted they cheated or are strongly suspected of having cheated,” he wrote. ”If I’m wrong on any particular player, so be it, but I’d rather err on the side of caution. I wouldn’t want to learn two or three years after the fact that I had helped elect a cheater.”
Bob Nightengale, sports writer for USA Today, took the other side of the debate. “I take the lonely stance, judging players simply on their performance on the field and their impact on the game,” he wrote. “We have absolutely no idea who was clean and who was dirty during the steroid era, and anyone who tells you they know for sure are lying to your face.”