Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Thoughts on the Hall of Fame, BBWAA, and Steroid Users

This afternoon, the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) released the list of Baseball Hall of Fame inductees to Cooperstown. The list of players was short: Roberto Alomar. Bert Blyleven. End. It's good to see that this list continues to stay short and incredibly exclusive, as it should be. Congrats to both of Alomar and Blyleven on this incredible honor.

It's important to remember a few things about the Hall of Fame before we continue into a brief discussion of steroid users. The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown is designed to enshrine the best of the best of the best in the history of America's Pastime. This is no small honor, and I don't envy the decision that the BBWAA members have to make year in and year out. Furthermore, I don't think they take the task lightly. You can't make everyone happy after all. Only 109 members in the history of the Hall have been selected by the BBWAA, making it one of the most exclusive honors that American sports have to offer.

But this is the Hall of Fame. Not the Hall of Good. Not the Hall of Very good. Not the Hall of Great. This is the place where the best of all-time go when they're done playing the sport. How you set that criteria is what makes the voting process difficult. For the most part, I think the BBWAA voters do a great job, and I'll never be one to excessively criticize the writers that vote. Though I must admit Roberto Alomar missing out on the first-ballot honors last year was a sin.

All that aside, there seems to be a recurring theme year in and year out as more players who were connected to performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) become eligible for the Hall. They're not getting in, at least any time soon. Take the two players that are the most prominently associated with steroid use that were eligible this year.

Mark McGwire: In McGwire's second ballot year, he received an even smaller percentage of the vote than he did in his first. In year one (2010), McGwire received 23.7% of the vote, or 128 votes. In year two (2011), he received 19.8%, or 115 votes. McGwire was a 12 time All-Star who cranked 583 career home runs, had 1,414 RBI, and had a 15 year career. The number of votes received already declined in just one year. It doesn't bode well for his future hopes to reach the Hall.

Rafael Palmeiro: This was Palmeiro's first year on the ballot, and he received 11% of the vote. Whether Palmeiro is a HoF player or not on statistics alone is always up for debate, but his numbers were certainly better than the 11% of the vote that he received. He had 3,020 hits, hit 569 home runs, and knocked in 1,835 runs in a 19 season career. He was clearly hurt, and significantly, by the alleged steroid use.

One thing about these numbers remains unclear to me, though. How is it possible that Mark McGwire received more votes than Palmeiro? I'm not saying that either player deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, but look at the numbers. Palmeiro had a better batting average, a longer career, more hits, more RBI, just 14 fewer home runs, and was better defensively than McGwire. How did all of the 115 people who voted for McGwire in 2011 not also see fit to vote for Palmiero, who only received 64 votes? Maybe it's a first ballot punishment. But even in his first year McGwire received a higher percentage than Palmeiro did in his first year.

This is what I'm saying about the process. It's incredibly difficult to make a decision on these things. If you want to catch a real, in depth break down on a BBWAA voter's ballot, check out Mark Zuckerman's if you haven't already done so. It's one heck of a justification, whether you agree with him or not. It's just one snapshot into the difficult decisions that the members have to make every year, and it will remind you how jealous, yet not envious, you should be.


  1. Palmeiro gets slighted as a player because he was percieved as a "good, not great" player when he was active, hence just 4 all-star berths in what should be a Hall of Fame career. He is one of only four players IN HISTORY with both "Magic Numbers" (3000 hits, 500 homers).

    People can justify not voting for him because of the steroid suspension (which, by the way, I believe his story), but to argue against his career numbers is wrong.

  2. Roberto Alomar: A clear slam-dunk.

    Bert Blyleven: I agree with Zuckerman that he's more of the Hall of Very Good (or perhaps the Hall of Solid Longevity), but his election isn't a travesty.

    Barry Larkin: He really should've gotten in. One of, if not the, very best all-around shortstops of the 1990s and a great character in and out of the clubhouse.

    Lee Smith: One can make a serious case, but I have a problem with trumpeting pitchers whose specialty is pitching one inning per game and--most of the time--not giving up three runs. Rollie Fingers is in because he was the first closer, and Mariano Rivera will get in because he's simply in a class by himself. But I would induct Lee Smith before both Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter, who are already in (though Sutter gets credit for inventing a new pitch). That said, the Hall of Fame isn't infallible, and the criteria for election cannot be "anyone who's as good as the worst player in the Hall." I wouldn't elect Smith.

    Mark McGwire: No. Barry Bonds had a Hall of Fame career before his steroid binge, so I could see writers punishing him for a few years and then eventually electing him. If there ever was a pre-steroids McGwire, he doesn't belong in the Hall.

    Rafael Palmeiro: I agree with Dave (good to see you posting here, by the way!) that Palmeiro is a slam-dunk on the numbers alone. He improved every team he played on with his great all-around game. However, steroids are a disqualifier, and I for one don't believe his story. If I were Palmeiro and I were innocent, I would be yelling to high heaven in defense of myself and explaining what happened publicly, loudly, repeatedly, and in staggering detail. I would not lay low during my suspension, and I certainly wouldn't lay low for 5 years after.