Something significant happened in December that could start to affect the voting for candidates on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. Former MLB Commissioner Bud Selig was elected by the Today’s Game Era Committee as a member of the 2017 class of Hall of Fame inductees. So, why would his election have an impact?
The issue of how baseball writers who cast Hall of Fame ballots should deal with player candidates that are admitted or suspected PED users is as controversial as ever. Neither Major League Baseball nor the Baseball Hall of Fame has given any guidance to the voters on how they should treat these players. Consequently, there’s been a mixed bag of results to date.
Let’s take a look back at how Hall of Fame voters have dealt with the issue up until now.
Mark McGwire (after 10 years) and Rafael Palmeiro (after four years) have completely fallen off the ballot after not being able to garner the required number of votes. It was evident voters were absolutely influenced by McGwire ultimately admitting to his PED use, while Palmeiro actually tested positive during his last season as a player after denying before a congressional investigative committee that he had never used PEDs.
However, in the past few years there appears to be some softening of the opinions of the baseball writers, as well as the baseball analyst community in general.
Suspected PED users Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have gradually increased their votes such that they each received votes on 44-45% of the ballots in 2016. Although never failing a drug test, the cloud of suspected PED use affected Mike Piazza votes, until he was finally elected last year on his fourth ballot. Jeff Bagwell, who has been similarly affected by the suspicion of PED use, appears to be poised for election this year, as he came extremely close last year with 71% of the votes (75% is the minimum). Presumably, the difference in these four players and McGwire/Palmeiro is that there was never any definitive proof or admission of their use.
Bud Selig’s recent election to the Hall may be another signal that players in the PED era will get increased consideration in the future. Some observers maintain that actual or implied PED users on the ballot shouldn’t be excluded any further, since the PED era occurred under Selig’s watch as commissioner. They argue that the view of Selig shouldn’t be separated from the view of any players on this issue. Of course, hard-liners on the PED issue counter that Selig shouldn’t have been elected in any case. While Selig has publicly made statements that he was not aware of the prevalence of players using PEDs prior to drug testing being instituted, it’s hard to imagine that he was innocently out of touch with what was happening during that time.
Two new entrants on the ballot this year may be the next test of how the Hall’s official voters will treat the PED issue going forward and whether Selig’s election has done anything that would alter their stance toward actual or implied PED users. Manny Ramirez and Ivan Rodriguez are appearing on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in 2017, and both carry some PED baggage.
Ramirez failed drug tests twice in the waning years of his career, while Rodriguez falls into the category of suspected user by being linked to Jose Canseco, who wrote a tell-all book about his experience with steroid use. Both players certainly have enough credentials to be elected, if not on the first ballot, then soon afterwards.
So what’s my “fantasy” Hall of Fame ballot going to look like this year?
To recap last year, I voted for Ken Griffey Jr., Piazza, Bagwell, Bonds, Clemens, Lee Smith, Trevor Hoffman, Tim Raines, Gary Sheffield, and Curt Schilling.
With Griffey and Piazza gaining induction last year, that opens up two more slots for new players on my ballot. I’m going to stick with my remaining eight carryovers from 2016. Even though Lee Smith (34.1%) and Gary Sheffield (11.6%) lagged behind other players in the voting last year, I’m staying the course with them.
Lee Smith doesn’t get the attention he deserves because he didn’t have significant post-season appearances, plus relief pitchers generally seem to draw the short straw in the voting when compared to other position players. However, he finished in the Top 5 for the Cy Young Award in three seasons and he’s third on the all-time saves list. 2017 is Lee Smith’s final year of eligibility.
Gary Sheffield probably suffers from not being identified with one specific team during his career. In fact, he played for eight different clubs during his 22 seasons. But it didn’t seem to matter what team he played for, since he was in the Top 10 for the MVP Award in six seasons. He was a 12-time All-Star and captured five Silver Slugger awards.
It appears that Bagwell (71.6%), Hoffman (67.3%) and Raines (69.8%) have a good chance to be elected in 2017, based on last year’s results.
For my two new open slots, I’m voting for Ivan Rodriguez and another first-time player on the ballot, Vladimir Guerrero.
So, why Rodriguez and not Manny Ramirez? I have drawn the line personally on the PED issue that “suspected” use is not sufficient enough reason for excluding a player (Rodriguez’s case) and that failing a drug test is sufficient reason (Ramirez’s case).
Furthermore, I take the position that before Major League Baseball instituted drug testing for PEDs, there should be no reason to automatically exclude players for consideration. Hence, Bonds and Clemens still have my votes. We should recall that amphetamine pills and cortisone shots were never on baseball’s “illegal use” list, yet were actually “performance enhancing” because their use contributed to many players being able to minimize the effects of pain and wear and tear on the body, so that they could play every day. Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax was a prime example during the last few years of his career in the 1960s.
I like Rodriguez because he was a solid, all-around player as a hitter and a fielder. The 1999 American League MVP collected 2,844 hits while compiling a .296 career average. He hit 311 home runs and 1,332 RBI. He earned a record 13 Gold Gloves during his 21 seasons. He appeared in more games (2,427) as a catcher than anyone in history.
Guerrero was a feared hitter during a 16-year career that included a .318 batting average, 449 home runs and 1,496 RBI. The outfielder posted ten seasons with at least 100 RBI. The 2004 American League MVP was in the Top 6 of MVP voting in five additional seasons. He was noted for his strong throwing arm from right field.
Jorge Posada is another key first-timer on the ballot this year, but I put both Rodriguez and Guerrero records well ahead of the former Yankee catcher’s.
The Hall of Fame Class of 2017 will be announced on January 18. Stay tuned to see how the baseball writers will react on this year’s ballots.