Until this year the candidates for the Baseball Hall of Fame (HOF) who have been tarnished with steroid use have been much like random seashells washed up on a beach. Only two nominees, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, have possessed career statistics (583 and 569 home runs respectively) that would have normally made them automatic first-year selections. However, the attitude toward these two individuals by the Baseball Writers Association of American (BWAA) voters who determine admittance to the Hall has been apparent. Induction requires that a player be named on at least 75% of the ballots cast in any given year and neither of these men has come close. In his seventh year of eligibility McGwire’s highest total thus far has been 19.5% while Palmeiro was listed on 12.6% in his third. Based on past history, those numbers may never reach the threshold of 75% within the fifteen years of eligibility. Those results indicate that BWAA is committed to keeping players who used performance-enhancing drugs out of Cooperstown.
But in 2013 that task could become more complicated for those casting ballots. That will be the year that the first major wave of questionable candidates will arrive. The ballot may include all-time home run king Barry Bonds (762 home runs, .298 lifetime BA), 354-game winner Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza (427 home runs – most for any catcher in history, career .308 BA), Sammy Sosa (609 HR) and Craig Biggio (3,060 hits) as the most prominent retirees with questionable drug histories.
Patience is a virtue
The BWAA takes the job of selecting the members of the Hall of Fame very seriously. Being voted into the HOF often demands patience. There are those slam-dunk first year choices like Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn. But for the most part players have to wait in line until it is their turn. This year’s lone inductee, Barry Larkin, had to wait for three years. For others that time period can be much longer. In 2013 it appears that it will be Jack Morris’ turn after 14 years on the ballot. The former Detroit Tiger right hander received mention on 66.7% in 2012 which mirrors Larkin’s 62.1% the year before his induction.
But the fact that McGwire has languished for seven years below 20% clearly indicates that admission to Cooperstown after being tarnished with steroids may be impossible. In the cases of Biggio and Sosa this stance may not be too difficult. Biggio’s hit total is offset by his career .281 batting average. Sosa, who may be the poster child for the unfair advantage of performance enhancing drugs, was in the majors for 18 years and yet hit more than 40% of his homers in a four-year span. The problems for the voters will revolve around Bonds, Clemens and Piazza. Bonds was the greatest power hitter of his generation; Clemens had the same status as a pitcher. Piazza’s stats dwarfed those of other catchers already enshrined in the Hall. Can one vote in Barry Larkin, a lifetime .295 hitter, while leaving off Bonds and Piazza? A ballot for Morris that does not include Clemens translates into voting for the pitcher with exactly 100 fewer career wins and an ERA almost one run higher.
The answer to all of these questions will remain unclear until the first ballot is cast for this flock of tainted players. Based on previous history McGwire at 19.5% after seven years on the ballot will never be inducted. Sosa and Biggio will more than likely have a similar fate. The suspicion is that Bonds, Clemens and Piazza will someday have a spot in the Hall of Fame but not in the very near future.