Phil Neikro: 68.3% - Inducted 1997
Tony Perez: 65.7% - Inducted 2000
Don Sutton: 63.8% - Inducted 1998
Steve Garvey: 37.2% - Not in, Fell Off Ballot 2008
Ron Santo: 37% - Inducted 2012
Tony Oliva: 36.2% - Not in, Fell Off Ballot 1997
Jim Rice: 35.3% - Inducted 2009
Bruce Sutter: 29.1% - Inducted 2006
Tommy John: 21.7% - Not in, Fell Off Ballot 2010
Nobody else cracked 20% that year, nor did anybody else make a dramatic move and get voted in. This year’s balloting with an awfully stacked class looked like this:
Craig Biggio: 68.2% - 1st Appearance
Jack Morris: 67.7% - 14th Appearance
Jeff Bagwell: 59.6% - 3rd Appearance
Mike Piazza: 57.8% - 1st Appearance
Tim Raines: 52.2% - 6th Appearance
Lee Smith: 47.8% - 11th Appearance
Curt Schilling: 38.8% - 1st Appearance
Roger Clemens: 37.6% - 1st Appearance
Barry Bonds: 36.2% - 1st Appearance
Edgar Martinez: 35.9% - 4th Appearance
Alan Trammell: 33.6% - 12th Appearance
Larry Walker: 21.6% - 3rd Appearance
Fred McGriff: 20.7% - 4th Appearance
One part of the problem seems apparent without even looking at the names. The second list is much longer, and I used the same 20% cut-off on both lists. There are simply a ton players with Cooperstown-worthy numbers coming up with this ballot. And, as you might note, there are an awful lot of first ballot guys on that list. And that’s only going to get harder, as you can see about halfway down on this Wiki article. There is a ton of talent coming down the pike, and I don’t really see but a couple of those players with the steroid cloud hanging over their career.
And, well, the writers certainly made a statement. Going straight by the numbers, Clemens and Bonds especially should be first ballot hall of famers, no question. Just for home run numbers, even if their games were limited otherwise, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire didn’t come close to cracking 20%. Rafael Palmeiro, who has both 3,000 hits and 500 home runs,* something only four players have been able to do, couldn’t even struggle up to 10% in his third year. With that statement, though, I’m pretty surprised Biggio didn’t get in. I would have thought a lot of writers would have gone out of their way to vote for him and maybe even somebody like an Alan Trammell to make a point of voting for guys without steroid accusations. Still, I think Biggio will get next year.
*Both numbers that I"m sure most of you are aware would usually get you to Cooperstown on their own.
And if he doesn’t, well, that’s just because who is coming up on the ballot, when you’ve got a ton of guys who are both thought to be clean and friendly with the media. That might really make things complicated for Bonds and Clemens when they start to get crowded out by guys like Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and maybe even Frank Thomas.* And right behind them are Randy Johnson, John Smoltz. They might get a bit of a break in 2016, because the only slam dunk I see there is Ken Griffey Jr.
*I thought about including Jeff Kent, but I couldn’t even keep a straight face typing that.
Now, the million dollar question for every baseball writer. Is this the right course of action? Not to find a cop-out, but it’s really hard to say. Everybody has their own idea of the Hall of Fame and their own interpretation of the “character clause.” Add in the very subjective idea of “right,” and the waters get muddied quick.
But, here’s the rub against “protecting the Hall” from the steroid guys. Sure, they all fit into a larger narrative about baseball, this country, and history. Baseball takes itself very seriously like that, which is both its charm and its curse with fans. But it’s certainly there. Furthermore, these players are the representatives of their era. The Hall of Fame’s full name is The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. And as part of that oft-forgotten last part, a huge mission of the Hall is to tell this story of baseball, which means you’re going to have to speak to every era. It’s unfortunate to be sure, but the steroid era of the 90’s and early 2000’s is part of the game. I don’t see how you can tell the story without these guys. That doesn’t mean you necessarily sugarcoat over these things on their plaque, as much as that might upset some guys. Especially a guy like Clemens, who you might remember went to trial and won when he was supposed to have no chance. But it’s part of the story, and a part of the story that should be told, just as much as the Black Sox scandal and the wild days of John McGraw should be remembered, even if they are not so glorious as the Golden Age of the 50’s through, oh, we’ll say the 70’s. If you want to tack the 80’s on there, I’ll listen, but all the artificial turf and track teams water it down for me. On that same note, if you want to stop the Golden Age in the 60’s, I’ll listen to that, too. Those are the much more fun debates than the one we’re currently having over Cooperstown right now.
And on that note, if you haven’t been to Cooperstown, you really need to go. It’s been some time since I’ve been, but I can honestly say it might have been the most magical place I’ve ever been. If you have the slightest interest in baseball, you would be a fool not to make the trip at least once.