Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Cluttering up the ballot

I exchanged emails yesterday and today with one Hall of Fame voter to get his thoughts on the ongoing exclusion of Mark McGwire. He made an interesting point: "Here's my fear as a voter -- that none of these guys will ever get elected, so they'll start cluttering up the ballot and prevent us from voting for other deserving candidates."

It's a fascinating idea; with an onslaught of Steroid Era candidates on the horizon, Hall of Fame ballots might become absolutely stuffed with candidates like McGwire who get enough votes to stay eligible but not enough to get them in the Hall of Fame. Some writers might keep right on voting for those players without clouds of suspicion around them (like Rickey Henderson) and not for those who have been implicated (like McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds).

If you fall into that group, it won't be too hard to fill out your ballot. You'll vote for Robby Alomar and Craig Biggio and Greg Maddux and wait until the Testing Era generation retires. But if you believe in voting for players as compared to their contemporaries -- and thus not punishing anyone for the Steroid Era because we have to assume just about everyone was taking something -- here's how your ballot might look over the next few years:

2010 (6): McGwire, Alomar, Bert Blyleven, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Tim Raines. Let's say that Alomar and Larkin get in; Martinez doesn't because his peak was too short.
2011 (6): McGwire, Blyleven, Martinez, Raines, Jeff Bagwell, Rafael Palmeiro. Palmeiro definitely has the cloud of suspicion; Bagwell might not quite have the numbers. Let's say neither of them get in.
2012 (6): McGwire, Bagwell, Blyleven (15th year), Martinez, Palmeiro, Raines. If none got in the previous year, they won't this year.
2013 (10): McGwire, Bagwell, Martinez, Palmeiro, Raines, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa. Yikes. You don't even get a chance to evaluate the candidacy of someone like Curt Schilling because you don't have room on your ballot. Biggio and Piazza are the only two players on that list who are lead-pipe-lock Hall of Famers who don't have any steroid suspicion surrounding them. That means they'd be the only two to get in.
2014 (10): McGwire, Bagwell, Bonds, Clemens, Martinez, Schilling, Sosa, Palmeiro, Raines, Greg Maddux. Mike Mussina, in his first year of eligibility, gets bumped in favor of Schilling -- but he'll be in that group in 2015. And if any other veterans retire this offseason -- like Ken Griffey Jr., Pedro Martinez, Ivan Rodriguez or Omar Vizquel -- that list grows even longer. It's just crazy.

At a certain point, writers are going to have to wise up. The Steroid Era is part of baseball history; you can't just keep anyone who has ever been associated with performance-enhancing drugs out of Cooperstown. It was just too pervasive. If writers don't wise up, voting is going to turn into a jury verdict for steroid use rather than an opportunity to debate who's elite and who's not quite elite. And that's going to make Hall of Fame discussions a heck of a lot less fun.

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