I just can’t.
For I don’t know how many years I’ve been saying that one day I may wake up and say, “The hell with it. I don’t know which juiced pitchers pitched to which juiced batters. I don’t know how many home runs would have wound up on the warning track, absent the juice. I don’t know which 94-mile-per-hour fastballs would have been 89 or 90 absent the juice. None of us will ever know. So what’s the sense of trying to be judge and jury? Go by the numbers and achievements. Let ’em all in.”
In other words, I just received my Hall of Fame ballot. I don’t think I need to tell you which sport I’m talking about. There is only one sport where the use of so-called performance-enhancing drugs has become an endless topic of conversation, or that has resulted in so much heated debate. And people seldom talk about the effect the use of PEDs may have had on winning and losing. The argument is about who should and should not be in the Hall of Fame.
Anyway, that day has not yet arrived. I just can’t. I just can’t vote for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, or Manny Ramirez. Or Alex Rodriguez when his time comes. (I don’t have to worry about Mark McGwire anymore. He’s off the ballot.)
Now, to my knowledge, no highly suspicious people are new to the ballot. Then again, you may know something I don’t.
Among the newcomers there is one drop-dead mortal lock. You don’t need to possess a PhD in diamondology to know that Mariano Rivera is getting in. He is the most acclaimed relief pitcher/“closer” in history. I don’t have to recite the numbers. Is his candidacy enhanced by the seemingly innumerable times he was able to display his greatness in the postseason? Why, sure. Good for him.
Mariano Rivera was a phenomenon. A failed starter, he perfected one pitch, and one pitch only, a dastardly cutter that was even more hellish on lefthanded batters than it was on righties. I love it when there is an image and almost a downright myth surrounding an athlete, and in his case it was best acknowledged by the Minnesota Twins, whose Mariano Rivera farewell tour gift was a rocking chair made out of broken bats. In the 160-some-odd-year history of organized baseball, no pitcher has ever been more associated with broken bats than Mariano Rivera.
The only question before us is what his vote percentage will be. The Hall of Fame came into being in 1936 and there has never been a unanimous choice. This is beyond absurd, and downright embarrassing. I believe there are at least 50, and possibly 75 or more, players about whom no one could reasonably look anyone else in the eye and say, “That guy is not a Hall of Famer.” The sad truth is that some voters have been philosophically against voting for anyone the first time around. There can’t be many of them left. One of these days, someone will be unanimous.
No offense to Rivera, who, of course, gets my vote. But I would prefer someone other than a closer to have the honor of being the first unanimous choice. Does that make me a bad person? You decide.
The most notable new additions to the ballot (other than Rivera), in my view, are, in alphabetical order: Lance Berkman, the late Roy Halladay, Todd Helton, Andy Pettitte, and Billy Wagner. The most prominent holdovers, in alphabetical order, are: Andruw Jones, Fred McGriff, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, Omar Vizquel, and Larry Walker. If you wish to add Roy Oswalt and Scott Rolen (eight Gold Gloves, in addition to his bat) to the list, I’m not going to stop you. The PED guys are in another category. I know their numbers. Bonds, Roger, Manny, and Sammy should all be in. Except . . .
I have been a staunch advocate for Edgar Martinez and Curt Schilling. Edgar got 70 percent of the vote last year, and in this his final year of eligibility, he should finally get his proper recognition as the most respected American League righthanded hitter of his time. I didn’t say “feared.” That was Manny. But Edgar was respected for what he did and how he carried himself. The only reason he has been kept out thus far is the anti-DH feelings of some National League-oriented voters. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. That bias, and not any PED taint, is what might get in Big Papi’s way.
Schilling should have given his acceptance speech already. He is one of the great postseason pitchers ever (11-2, 2.23). The only time he wasn’t not just good but great is when he was hurt.
In addition to inductees Vladimir Guerrero and Jim Thome, I also voted last year for Vizquel, a magician (11 Gold Gloves) who also sneaked in 2,877 hits when you weren’t looking, and whose misfortune it was to have played at the same time as Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Nomar Garciaparra (quite analogous to Richie Ashburn going against Willie Mays, Duke Snider, and Mickey Mantle); and for Mussina, who produced 270 wins and a .638 winning percentage in a career spent entirely in the treacherous AL East, and whose valedictory was a 20-win season at age 39.
So, I’ve got four holdovers — Edgar, Mussina, Schilling, and Vizquel — and one new guy, Rivera.
That leaves me once again pondering the likes of Jones, Jeff Kent, McGriff, Sheffield, Walker, and Michael Young. I could make a devil’s advocate argument for each. Well, maybe not Young.
I’m still working on it. The ballot’s not due till Dec. 31. But I will say that the more you look at Walker, the harder he is to ignore. Yeah, yeah, Coors Field. Can’t deny it. But how can a guy from Boston hold that against him when you look at the hallowed Bobby Doerr’s career home/road splits? Walker had a three-year stretch from 1997-99 when he hit .369. He had an eight-year run (1995-2002) when he had an OPS of 1.062. He also won seven Gold Gloves. I think you know where I’m leaning.
As for the PED guys, the burden should be on the Hall, not the voters. Take a stand. It’s your museum. Tell us what criteria to use. Put up a disclaimer that some of the people in here were accused of using PEDs in a known PED era and the fan is free to feel how he or she wants. (Give the finger to a plaque, if that makes you feel better.) But these people achieved.
Do that, they’ll get in, and life will go on.
But as things stand, I just can’t.