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:
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.