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Bob Ryan

Baseball Hall of Fame voting process is fine

Take a deep breath. When Baseball Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson opens the envelope next January, there will be a few new inductees to report.

Greg Maddux will be elected. Tom Glavine and Frank “The Big Hurt” Thomas will more than likely be elected. Craig Biggio will more than likely be elected. What happened this year, when no one received the needed 75 percent of the vote, was utterly aberrational. The process itself is fine.

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What’s not so fine is the climate that has been created by the entire issue of performance-enhancing drugs. Voting was always difficult. It has been fun and rewarding, yes, but it has also been very challenging at all times. It’s easy to check the box next to Willie Mays or Hank Aaron. It’s not so easy to evaluate the candidacies of Bert Blyleven or Jack Morris, as this enterprise has quite clearly demonstrated.

Now, I must say I was very surprised with the actual vote. There was a universal assumption that neither Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, nor Sammy Sosa would get in, but I thought that Messrs. Bonds and Clemens would each be in the 50 percent vicinity, with Sosa maybe getting 25-30 percent of the vote. So it was quite eye-opening when the respective vote percentages were 36.2, 37.6, and 12.5 percent. And here is a very good question posed by colleague Peter Abraham: Why would eight people vote for Clemens but not for Bonds?

This, of course, speaks to the fact that we are dealing with a voting body whose number this year was 569. This is in huge contrast to the procedures of baseball’s fellow major league sports. Football has 46 electors. Basketball has 24. Hockey has 18. In each of these cases, the voting committees are a mixture of executives, retired coaching and/or playing personnel, and media members, both current or retired.

The Baseball Hall of Fame is the only one of the four whose voting body consists entirely of writers, both active and inactive.

The larger the body, the greater the possibility of, shall we say, an independent thinker or two. One baseball writer actually voted for Aaron Sele. Is he a relative? Was he bribed? Was he under the influence of something? I’d love to know.

There used to be but one issue confronting a baseball voter. Is Player X qualified, in your judgment, to be a Hall of Famer, or isn’t he? If it takes 15 years to make up one’s mind, so be it. I’ve changed my mind on several people over the years. Education is a wonderful thing.

Now we have a second concern. We have just come through — or are still in the midst of, because we can’t be 100 percent certain — an era in which the sport was infested with PEDs, which, many of us choose to believe, have artificially enhanced the achievement capability of those who take them. Should that be factored into anyone’s judgment on a player? Or should we rely strictly on the numbers, the performances, as we’ve always done?

Let’s stick with the baseball-only part for the moment. Leaving aside the PED issue, there were, in my judgment, 21 players among the 37 on this year’s ballot who merited strong consideration. That means there were 18 people not named Bonds, Clemens, or Sosa, and 16 not named Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, Jeff Bagwell, or Mike Piazza, the latter two gentlemen PED-linked solely by what I shall refer to as the Eyeball Test.

Among them were a 3,000-hit man with four Gold Gloves; the greatest designated hitter of all-time; a 216-game winner with an 11-2 postseason record who has the greatest strikeout/walk ratio in the modern era; perhaps the second-best leadoff man, not just of his time, but all-time; and the winningest pitcher of the ’80s and the personification of a No. 1 starter. I’ll stop there, but I could go on.

Yet Craig Biggio, Edgar Martinez, Curt Schilling, Tim Raines, and Jack Morris all fell short. I voted for them. I also voted for both Bagwell and Piazza. By process of elimination, you can see that I did not for Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa, a.k.a. the Toxic Trio.

There are baseball arguments galore here, and that, and only that, is what the Hall of Fame voting should be all about.

I take this thing very seriously because I love baseball, and because the idea that a kid who grew up at 214 Ellis Avenue in Trenton, N.J., devouring Sport Magazine and The Sporting News now actually has a vote such as this is both a thrill and an honor. I want to do the right thing.

It’s all opinion, of course, opinion supposedly reached by both observation and research. And the one name that jumps out at me, the one player whose exclusion on baseball worthiness alone most baffles me, is Edgar Martinez, who, after four years on the ballot, is not making much progress (204 votes, 35.9 percent).

Martinez retired with a lifetime OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .933, which is extraordinary. I know the Stat Guys, who regard most of the writers as quasi-Neanderthals, hate to hear this, but I know this to be true. Edgar Martinez was feared. Edgar Martinez was respected. Edgar Martinez was a great hitter, by any measure that matters to me. But Edgar Martinez was a designated hitter, and thus an inferior being in the eyes of some voters.

To me, ignoring Edgar Martinez on that basis is to ignore 40 years of baseball history. DHs are a fact of life. People should deal with it.

But that’s my crusade. Most every voter has one. Or should have. Crusade 1A for me will be Curt Schilling, who, when healthy, was not just a good pitcher, but a great one. Others are going apoplectic about the rejection of Tim Raines, Jack Morris, or even Fred McGriff. That’s fine. It’s all about the baseball, period.

Here’s what I think should be done with the PED issue. We need a summit conference featuring the Hall of Fame directors, commissioner Bud Selig (as passionate a pure baseball fan as anyone on this earth, whether you choose to believe that or not), and representatives of both the Baseball Writers Association of America and the Players Association.

Together they should agree on a printed acknowledgement of some sort at the Hall that baseball has always had injustices and improprieties, whether it’s an unconscionable color line from the 1880s to 1947, the amphetamine era of the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, or the PED era. Then we can all just vote on the baseball matters involved and stop trying to be judge and jury about the morality of using PEDs.

I once jokingly suggested color-coded plaques, but we need to do something. We need something at the Hall that spells it all out. It’s one thing to reject Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa. It’s another to reject Piazza, standing alongside Johnny Bench as the greatest-hitting catchers we’ve ever known, when he has no direct ties to PEDs. Absent evidence, he is pure collateral damage. There is no reason other than suspicion not to check the box next to his name.

I really don’t think we can, or should, go on like this. If we’re all guilty, as Schilling suggests — and by “we” I mean ownership, players, and the media — than we should all be involved in finding a solution.

Bob Ryan’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.
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