The Baseball Writers Association of America just announced its picks for the Hall of Fame next summer, and the debate continues over who should eventually be in Cooperstown. Players suspected of being involved in the Steroid Era have turned up the heat on this debate making opinions even more intense and subjective. Many writers seem to sit on both sides of the proverbial fence, unable to commit to one side or the other. Lately, the debate seems to be centered on not which player was voted in, but which player was not. Case in point: Rafael Palmeiro, who recently received 11 percent of the vote, despite topping 500 home runs and 3,000 hits.
Baseball is perhaps the one major sport holding statistics as irrefutable benchmarks. The magic numbers 500 and 3,000 used to equal first ballot enshrinement from the BBWAA. The writers’ voting process continues to be one of gut feeling subjectivity combined somewhat with statistical objectivity. And of course baseball writers have, over the course of covering players, developed personal relationships with them, meaning personal likes and dislikes will be part of the equation. Many writers struggle with this and are often called to task by the general public for their choices.
The Steroid Era has polarized and inflamed the debate amongst writers and fans even more. Where does one draw the line if there even is a line to be drawn? What, if anything, does this change for those who have been denied inclusion? Should baseball adopt a more firm approach to the guidelines which loosely define who is and is not eligible? Who should decide, if they must? How serious and defining should the Hall of Fame be? Is it a right or a privilege?
In a December 28 column for Fox Sports, Ken Rosenthal bemoaned these very ideas. What used to be a fun and a looked forward to perk, Hall of Fame voting, has lost its luster. Rosenthal is not the first nor will he be the last writer to struggle with the revelations of the past decade. Writers do not wish to be seen as judging a player solely on suspected steroid use or other murky issues yet all want to believe in the integrity of the game.
The cases of Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens and Palmeiro point to the majority opinion as positive when considering eventual election coupled with an unofficial rationale. There is no infallible yardstick. These recent debates and actions seem to indicate that more respect is due and forthcoming a player elected in his first year of eligibility than someone who reaches somewhere during his fifteen year eligibility.
The solution seems obvious, as voting for the Hall of Fame is mostly subjective anyway with no hard and fast rule. I think there can be no doubt steroid and other performance enhancing drugs greatly inflated statistics for many years. Logic should prevail. Athletes do not naturally get better, stronger and faster as they age. Why should the obvious weigh on the BBWAA? They did nothing wrong except be trusting and naive. Do the math. Two plus two always equals four.