It has begun. The ballot for the 2013 Hall of Fame class is being distributed and the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America are into their deliberations for the Jan. 9 announcement of who will be inducted next year. This is the election baseball fans have been waiting on. For the first time Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa are up for consideration. The five-year waiting period since their retirement is up and the clock starts ticking on the 15-year limit on their potential stay on the modern era ballot.
Bonds, Clemens and Sosa clearly have the statistical qualifications to be first-ballot Hall of Famers. But we are about to find out if reputation counts more than numbers in the minds of voters, if enough voters think they got away with cheating even if the cases made against each man have only grown murkier in the light of courtrooms and testimony. Does suspicion trump proof? Is truth somewhere in-between fact and hunch?
This is a seminal moment for the Hall of Fame (which only acts as a conduit for the vote), for the sport, and the desire for retribution versus the proper value of honor. Remembering that it takes 75 percent of ballots cast to be selected, not a mere majority, I fully expect some funky results when the election is over. I have already read a sports commentary that says no one who was under suspicion during his playing days should get into the Hall and I have read a sports commentary that says the heck with all of the steroids stuff, just vote all of the players in with the worthy stats. I’m guessing the vote will not be clear-cut either way.
I have never been much enamored of the old-school thinking that prevented some voters for casting ballots for players in their first year on the list just for the sake of it. That seemed gratuitous. However, I can see voters who otherwise will vote for great players later wishing to send a message of protest this time and leaving some greats off this ballot altogether.
As the weeks go on through December I will take a closer look at the candidacies of the 37 players on the modern era ballot, but will do some summarizing here. Each year there are new names added to the ballot, some of them seemingly as a courtesy because you know, I know, we all know, that they aren’t getting into the Hall. This is their one minute of fame, they do not obtain five percent of the vote, and they get crossed off before the next year.
Here is the group of first-time eligibles that I think fit the one-and-done category: Todd Walker; Jose Mesa; Mike Stanton; Jeff Conine; Royce Clayton; Roberto Hernandez; Aaron Sele; Kenny Lofton, Woody Williams; Ryan Klesko; Jeff Cirillo; Reggie Sanders; Rondell White; and Steve Finley. The best bets to obtain more than five percent of the vote are Sandy Alomar, Shawn Green, and David Wells.
There were 13 players who were holdovers from past years that received between 9.6 percent of the vote and 66.7 percent. The low man was Bernie Williams, who with the additional competition this year is probably looking at the end of his run of hope after two years. The high man is Jack Morris, who is in his 14th year on the ballot and is likely to see his numbers drop because of the situation of so many new faces coming into the mix.
The others who have received decent to substantial support are Jeff Bagwell (56 percent); Lee Smith (50.6); Tim Raines (48.7); Edgar Martinez (36.5); Fred McGriff (23.9); Larry Walker (22.9); Mark McGwire (19.5); Don Mattingly (17.8); Dale Murphy (14.5); and Rafael Palmeiro (12.6). Murphy is in his last year on the ballot and his candidacy is doomed. McGwire and Palmeiro were caught up in the steroids-era sweeps. McGwire never had all-around statistics, but his home-run achievements probably would have gotten him elected by now if not for the performance-enhancing drugs scandal. Palmeiro’s numbers are overwhelming (569 home runs, 1,835 RBIs, 3,020 hits), but he got nabbed cheating.
Under ordinary circumstances Bonds and Clemens would receive 99.9 percent of the vote and Sosa would probably get something like 80 percent. But right now the exit polling shows they’re all wild cards. I think Schilling and Franco will receive enough votes to stay on the ballot, but won’t really be in the discussion with this crowd. There should be real intrigue surrounding how voters look at Piazza and Biggio. The smokescreen surrounding the Bonds, Clemens, Sosa triumverate could skew everything for everybody.
We could see such wild ballots returned with angry voters leaving Bonds, Clemens and Sosa off completely and support thrown to Piazza and Biggio. We could see everybody cancelling out everyone and no one being elected (with maybe someone put forward by the Pre-Integration Committee). That would be something. But probably the single craziest result of all would be Morris being chosen all by his lonesome after 14 years of trying.