One of these years, the baseball writers who vote for the Hall of Fame will exercise their collective memories of just how good Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were before and during their presumed use of performance-enhancing drugs.
But that time has not arrived in time for this year’s Hall of Fame voting, to be announced on Wednesday. It’s the Chernobyl effect. It will take a while for the region to feel safe from contamination.
Bonds and Clemens were Hall of Fame players, with or without the stuff, but baseball has dumped them into the workload of the poor baseball writers, and said, here, you decide.
(The New York Times does not allow its employees to vote for awards, sports or otherwise, and I still observe the guidelines. Our job is to report and comment on the news, not make it.)
Eventually the writers will get past the sense of guilt, self-imposed and external, and deal with what Bonds and Clemens did on the field, before testing, before penalties. It’s not the writers’ fault that the leaders of the Players Association played upon the weaknesses and needs of the owners and executives and players and sponsors, making drug-testing sound like an invasion of civil liberties rather than the safeguarding of rules. Because baseball kept it all hidden, the voting writers must deal annually with the question of who was guilty, who should pay the penalty.
I wouldn’t vote for Bonds or Clemens this time around because of the creep factor of their personalities, plus the things we know about them and their association with unsavory laboratories and enablers. And I certainly would not vote for Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro because I suspect their numbers are inflated by stuff they were taking. There are too many terrific players out there.
One thing writers and fans must do is factor in the expansion of baseball from 16 teams to 30, starting in 1961. More teams meant more great players and more great numbers. The high salaries and improved medicine and diet and training allowed players to dominate longer.
We cannot compare all players to the greatest players – Ruth, Mays, Johnson, Koufax. There are four or five levels in the Hall of Fame. We cannot hold endurance against players like Frank Thomas, Craig Biggio, Edgar Martinez, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Fred McGriff, Mike Piazza, Larry Walker and Jeff Kent.
I’d vote for Thomas this time. I also remember the arresting sound of Piazza’s bat sending the ball out in the direction of the dim-sum palaces in downtown Flushing. I’d vote for him -- next year – and would consider Martinez, the epitome of the designated hitter, a position I dislike, but that’s not his fault.
This year, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine were dominant and enduring pitchers who deserve to go in on their first attempt. Both pitchers helped make the Braves the best team in their league – and in return their statistics gained from that dominance.
I’d vote for Jack Morris because he won big games and time is running out, and I’d be tempted to vote for Lee Smith because he was one of the great closers of all time.
Then there is the matter of Don Mattingly, Donnie Baseball, who carried the Yankees through the bad years. It’s easy to say he would be an automatic if he had not hurt his back in mid-career, which limited his power to 222 homers, while he batted .307 and remained a terrific first baseman. Still, as a New Yorker, I saw Roger Maris, Gil Hodges and Keith Hernandez excelling on offense and defense, and can understand their not being in the Hall of Fame.
I also think Pete Rose, the player, belongs in the Hall of Fame. One of Bud Selig’s final gestures should be making Rose eligible for the Hall, despite Pete’s addictive behavior. Put it on his plaque: arrogant blockhead. But Pete the player belongs. Eventually, Bonds and Clemens will belong, too. It’s not the writers’ fault that baseball did not want to know. But give it a decade.
Here are other links about the voting:
Hall of Fame candidate biographies:
Richard Sandomir from the quiet 2013 ceremonies in Cooperstown:
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.