It is up to Cooperstown Hall of Fame officials to determine character and integrity when certifying who is on the ballot
Eight nominees, including Bonds,
Clemens and Sosa, will be voted for on this writer’s 2017 Hall of Fame ballot
By David Maril
A few days after Thanksgiving, if you are one of approximately 500 participants in the voting for baseball’s Hall of Fame, the ballot arrives quietly in the mail.
There’s no danger of the voting being sabotaged by Internet hacking from Russia or crooked election officials tampering with ballots. Even better, voters don’t have to deal with months of attack ads on TV trashing the skills of one retired player in comparison with another.
However, election to baseball’s Hall of Fame shrine in Cooperstown is an extremely difficult journey. To be inducted, a player must receive votes on at least 75 percent of the ballots. The active and retired members of the Baseball Writers Association of America who vote are allowed to pick up to 10 former players on their ballot each year. They also have the option to not vote for anyone.
A special panel selects the former players who are eligible each year to be on the ballot. Former players must be retired five years and can stay on the ballot 10 times for consideration as long as they receive a minimum of five percent of the votes from the preceding year.
HAVING COVERED MAJOR LEAGUE baseball actively for over 25 years, I have been a Hall of Fame voter since the 1980s. To vote, you must have been a BBWA member and covered major league baseball for 10 straight years. Once qualified as a voter, you are allowed to continue up to 10 years after no longer actively covering games.
This electorate is a tough bunch. Last year, only two players, Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza, received enough votes to win election. Griffey, who is probably baseball’s most flawless modern-day all-around outfielder, had to settle for 99.3 percent of the vote. Only in the BBWA would a couple of voters find a reason not to select him.
In making our selections of who to vote for, we are supposed to consider statistics and special achievements along with judgements we have made as sports journalists covering the games.
One of the biggest gray, or undefined, areas in voting is consideration of the character factor. We are instructed to make selections based on “the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”
While I feel comfortable, as a former baseball writer, on assessing talent and players’ impacts in games, their character and integrity are a lot more difficult to determine. Not being a licensed detective, criminal investigator or doctor, I refrain from considering off-field rumors and accusations related to such categories as use of banned steroids and other performance enhancers.
In my opinion, it’s up to the Hall of Fame panel to screen candidates who do not meet the minimum standards of the character and integrity categories.
For example, this is how the Pete Rose situation has been handled. He was formally investigated for gambling charges and has been banned from baseball and kept off the Hall of Fame ballot. People ask me all the time whether I vote for Rose. I answer that if baseball’s hierarchy at some point determines he is no longer banned from baseball and is put on the ballot, I will vote for him. His statistics as a player put him among the all-time greats. But until his association with baseball is formally restored, I would not write his name in on a ballot. He has to be formally included as a candidate.
MANY OF THE OTHER HALL OF FAME voters feel differently. If you examine the balloting the past few years and see that retired superstars like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa have fallen short of the totals needed for induction, it’s obvious they consider themselves qualified in determining character.
I would ask those voters who take their roles seriously as guardians of the Cooperstown gates, how many of the current members in the Hall would be left standing if character was professionally investigated. When you start digging too deeply into such an undefined area, it opens the door to hypocrisy, inconsistencies and a lot of politics.
Another area I would differ with some voters on is the concept that there are two categories of inductees. There remains a strong belief that the honor of induction in the first year a player is eligible is reserved only for the special immortals such as Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, and Walter Johnson. The thinking is the majority should not be voted in until their second, third or fourth ballot years.
I totally disagree with this. A former player is either a Hall of Famer or not. And the last time I checked, there isn’t a separate gallery at Cooperstown for players inducted in their first year of eligibility.
THIRTY-FOUR FORMER PLAYERS are on the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot. In all, I will vote for eight. Several of them are easy.
No matter how loud the talk of using performance enhancers surrounds Bonds, unless baseball officials ban him from the game, he’s an obvious Hall of Famer. Bonds is the home run king for a career (762) and single season (73). The 14-time All-Star outfielder, who earned eight gold gloves, is the only player to have won seven National League MVP awards. Despite all of this, he only received 44.3 percent of votes last year.
Roger Clemens also gets my vote and his ballot situation is as absurd as Bonds. Clemens owns seven Cy Young Awards, a 354-184 career record, an American League MVP trophy, and an incredible 3.09 lifetime ERA.
Sosa, also under a cloud of controversy, is another former player I always vote for. He’s eighth on the all-time home run list (609). And if character is a problem why was he selected as a winner of the Roberto Clemente and Henry Aaron awards during his career?
I continue to vote for former pitcher Mike Mussina. The things people, especially in Baltimore, forget is his 270-153 career record is almost the same as Oriole great Jim Palmer (268-152). Granted, Palmer was a more dominating pitcher. However, it should be noted that Mussina played a good portion of his career in Camden Yards, which is a launching pad for home runs. Also, some of the 10 years he spent with the Orioles were during a rebuilding period for the team.
Ivan Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, and Trevor Hoffman, all making their first ballot appearances, will also get my vote.
“Pudge” Rodriguez is another definite Hall of Fame pick considering talent and winning contributions on the field. The 14-time All-Star catcher, making his first appearance on the Cooperstown ballot, won 13 gold gloves in 21 seasons of stellar play. He holds numerous records for longevity as a catcher and had a powerful arm.
With Guerrero, it is impossible to ignore nine All-Star seasons, a league MVP award and a .318 career batting average.
A .312 career batting average, 555 home runs and 12 All-Star appearances outweigh criticism of Ramirez for his inconsistent defense and quirky style of play.
Trevor Hoffman is one of the great all-time relievers with 601 saves and a 3.09 earned run average.
THERE ARE A NUMBER OF OTHER candidates that merit strong consideration but I think come up a bit short.
The bottom line on pitcher Curt Schilling, who was a workhorse and always seems to be in the news, is he was 216-146, a good but hardly all-time great career record.
Gary Sheffield, Edgar Martinez, Jeff Bagwell, Jeff Kent, Magglio Ordonez Larry Walker and Fred McGriff all were punishing hitters but, in my mind, come up a little short.
The toughest former player not to vote for is outfielder Tim Raines, a seven-time All-Star who was a master base stealer.
David Maril has been a columnist, sports editor and copy editor at three newspapers published in Massachusetts, winning numerous writing and section-design awards. As sports editor of the Milford Daily News, he covered the Boston Red Sox, Celtics and the New England Patriots. At the Brockton Enterprise he served as vice president of the newspaper’s guild, dealing with contract negotiations and workforce issues through difficult economic times. He also served on the board of the Boston Chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, where he is a lifetime member and voter in Major League Baseball’s annual Cooperstown Hall of Fame balloting. For several years was a columnist for Voice Of Baltimore. The son of the late artist Herman Maril, whose work is included in over 100 museum collections, David splits his time between Cape Cod, MA and Baltimore, MD. He currently serves as president of the Herman Maril Foundation, which supports curatorial projects, art education programs and exhibitions related to the study of his father’s work. The website, featuring his father’s artwork, is hermanmaril.com. A graduate of Park School in Brooklandville, MD, David majored in English at Clark University in Worcester, MA.
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