Let’s get the messy, uncomfortable, and, I think we all know, ultimately irresolvable, unresolvable, impossible-to-resolve PED thing out of the way first.
No, once again I did not place checks in the boxes alongside the names of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro on my Hall of Fame ballot.
And, yes, I did place checks in the boxes alongside the names of Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza.
My position on the inclusion of PED-tainted baseball greats remains the same. I may very well wake up one day and say, “I give up. Juiced pitchers threw to juiced batters. We will never know the full effect of the PED usage. It is impossible to be both judge and jury in this matter. So, let ’em all in. If they’ve got the numbers, vote ’em in.” And, indeed, that is the position of many Hall of Fame voters, many of whom I admire and respect. I’m just not there — yet.
Wait. I suppose I should explain that while I am well aware of the PED suspicion attached to Messrs. Bagwell and Piazza, my position is that, absent more than the so-called “Eye Test,” I have no reason to deny either my vote, not that they are in the same strata. Bagwell is a borderline candidate I happen to favor. I can understand someone not being in agreement. But Piazza, are you serious? There is no remote justification for rejecting a man many consider to be the greatest hitting catcher of all time — and if he’s not the best, he’s no worse than one of the top three — other than a belief that he was a steroids guy. Which brings me to . . .
The big question emanating from the new Hall of Fame ballot: Will this finally be the year we have the preposterously overdue unanimous selection?
It is a source of embarrassment to the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) that in the history of these elections, which date from 1936, no one has ever been a unanimous choice. Four people said no to Ty Cobb and 11 said no to Babe Ruth in the first election. So there was trouble right away. As the years went by, we learned that some members of the voting body were refusing to vote for anyone in their first year on the ballot. Hence, nine said no to Hank Aaron, 20 said no to Ted Williams, and 23 said no to Willie Mays. As for how or why it took Joe DiMaggio three years to get in, I am at a loss for words. I’m almost tempted to go quasi-Groucho on you and say that I am not sure I want to be a member of a club that allows deviates such as those wacko voters to likewise have membership privileges. But don’t hold me to that. I like voting too much.
(For the record, the leading vote-getter, with 425 of 430 for a percentage of 98.84, was Tom Seaver in 1992. As great as he was, he does not deserve that honor, surely not as long as Aaron, Mays, and a few others are drawing a breath.)
Simply stated, this failure to have unanimous selections when they are clearly warranted is an intellectually indefensible state of affairs, and this year we have a man worthy of stopping the madness. There is no way any voter can look any other voter, or any other human being, in the eye and proclaim that Greg Maddux is not a Hall of Famer.
I won’t review his credentials. If you follow baseball you should be aware of Greg Maddux. He will top the ballot. We know he will join Veterans Committee selections Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa, and Bobby Cox at the Hall of Fame festivities next July.
I have that much faith in the electorate.
After that, the fun begins.
In addition to Bagwell, Piazza, and Maddux, I also checked the boxes alongside the names of Craig Biggio, Tom Glavine, Edgar Martinez, Jack Morris, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, and Frank Thomas. That’s the maximum allowable 10, and I wish that limit could be expanded to 20.
There are many other worthy people on this ballot. I would not quarrel with anyone who votes for Moises Alou, Jeff Kent, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Mike Mussina, Lee Smith, Alan Trammell, or Larry Walker. Add my 10, these eight, and the five PED guys and that makes 23 reasonably qualified candidates for baseball’s highest order.
One of my rejections really pains me. I really loved Alan Trammell during his lengthy career with the Tigers. Another who is causing me some pain is Larry Walker. Did you know he won three batting titles and seven Gold Gloves, or that he had a career OPS of .965? But life, as they say, is choices, and I am comfortable with my 10.
My wishes aside, Maddux will probably not be unanimous. And I don’t think it’s inconceivable that in such a congested field no one else will make it. I’ll be very curious to see what happens to Thomas, whose first seven years were on a par with the likes of Ted Williams and Hank Greenberg, but who will be dismissed as unworthy because he spent so much time as a DH. The voting body has not been kind to fellow DH Edgar Martinez, who, despite being as feared and respected a hitter as there was in the American League for 10 years, has had distressingly limited support, receiving 36.2, 32.9, 36.5, and 35.9 percent of the vote during his four years on the ballot.
Glavine will get in, whether it’s this year or in the very near future. Craig Biggio, a 3,000-hit man, was last year’s leading vote-getter with 68.2 percent, should get the requisite 75 this time. But the big question is what will be the fate of Jack Morris, now in his 15th and final year on the ballot.
Morris is a favorite of traditional voters, who value his 254 career wins and his ultra-competitiveness and the fact that he was the very personification of an Ace. Younger, metrics-oriented baseball fans, some of whom are voters, hold him up as an example of all that is wrong with the old way of thinking, and, to some degree, what’s wrong with Hall of Fame voting itself. Wins, they say, are purely circumstantial, and they go from there.
There will always be debate on this subject. Baseball Hall of Fame worthiness is the single greatest sports topic of them all. It gets people riled up 24/7/365.
I know I get riled up every time an obvious candidate does not secure every available vote. I’m waiting to hear the reason why some member of my lodge doesn’t vote for Greg Maddux. I may give him a thrashing, or, if female, a lecture that might include a naughty word or two.
Bob Ryan’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.