How refreshing. There is at least one name on the 2015 ballot for the National Baseball Hall of Fame that doesn’t create a firestorm on social media or cause TV pundits to raise their voices. Eddie Guardado, whose 908 career appearances and 187 saves deserve respect, if not a plaque in Cooperstown, doesn’t expect to receive a single vote when the latest Hall of Famers are announced on Tuesday, and he doesn’t mind a bit.
“Any time your name is in the same sentence as Hall of Fame, that’s something to be proud of,” said “Everyday Eddie,” who is in the Twins Hall of Fame (and on their coaching staff, too) but whose time on the ballot for Cooperstown will be limited to just this year. “I never really thought about [baseball’s Hall of Fame], but to be put on the ballot, yeah, that says I had a pretty good career.”
Just not as good as Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz, the trio of pitchers widely expected to clear the 75 percent requirement and be informed Tuesday that they will be inducted on July 26. Former Astros sparkplug Craig Biggio, who missed election by two votes a year ago, is likely to join the Class of 2015 as well.
But after those four, baseball’s Hall of Fame ballot frequently devolves into controversy, criticism and acrimony. Is Lee Smith the beneficiary of the game’s obsession with saves, or was he an all-time great pitcher? Why don’t voters realize Tim Raines was more than a base-stealer? How much of Larry Walker’s brilliance can be attributed to Coors Field?
Those are the type of debates fans have had for decades, and while the internet and social media have added voices, and intensity, to the discussion, the evidence cited is normally limited to baseball and on-field achievements.
Not so anymore. In the wake of an era when performance-enhancing drugs put players and their achievements under suspicion, each Hall of Fame vote seems to revolve around a completely different debate: Who took steroids, and should they be disqualified for it?
“It’s an unprecedented situation, and it’s frustrating as a voter to be put in this position,” said Scott Miller, the national baseball columnist for Bleacher Report, who has covered the majors for 26 years and cast a Hall of Fame vote for 16. “I’m not comfortable being on some pedestal rendering moral judgments. I’m not saying I have the answers. But at the same time, you have to follow your conscience.”
For Miller, that means not voting for seven-time MVP Barry Bonds or seven-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens, on the reasoning that they knew right from wrong and chose, based upon a substantial amount of circumstantial evidence, to use illegal drugs to gain an advantage. It’s a conclusion that a majority of voters — 10-year members of the Baseball Writers Association of America are eligible, including eight Star Tribune writers and editors — agrees with; Bonds and Clemens were named on roughly 35 percent of the 571 ballots turned in last year.
That position has led to annual, unresolvable arguments over voters’ responsibilities, the effect of PEDs, and suspicions about players who never admitted to use or failed a drug test. And it’s all had an unintended consequence: With otherwise qualified players not being elected, the ballot has become overgrown with viable candidates, making it more difficult, under the rules that limit each voter to 10 “yes” votes — for players to gather the required 75 percent consensus.
That means there is more attention and discussion each year, including this story, on the voting process itself, rather than the players up for election. Two voters this year — ESPN’s Buster Olney and the Detroit News’ Lynn Henning — even chose not to turn in ballots, Olney on the rationale that his vote for the top players was mathematically hurting deserving candidates who didn’t make the 10-vote cut.
In hopes of addressing the logjam, a BBWAA committee voted last month to recommend to the Hall of Fame’s board of directors that voters be allowed to select 12 players instead of 10. But there is no indication that the people in charge of the museum feel any of the frustration that BBWAA members do. The Hall has been silent on the steroids issue, choosing to let the electorate decide whether qualified-but-tainted candidates like Bonds deserve induction.
“They’ve always indicated that they are very happy with how the process works,” said Susan Slusser, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter who chaired the eight-member BBWAA committee. “We don’t know what they’ll do [regarding the voting limit], but it’s their baby. It’s ultimately their choice.”
The museum did announce one change in July, cutting each player’s ballot eligibility from 15 years to 10, a move widely interpreted as an attempt to put the steroids issue behind them sooner. So will Bonds, Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and other players linked to PEDs ever join their contemporaries on the stage in Cooperstown?
“I don’t like their chances,” Miller said. “They’re not going to get to 75 percent, and then those guys will all surface with the Veterans Committee. Given that [those panels] are filled with living Hall of Famers, who might not want them in, I think it’ll be awfully hard.”
The debates, in other words, have only just begun.