The Major League Baseball Hall of Fame recently inducted its latest members, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez. Garnering the required 75% votes is nearly always difficult, as Raines is the latest that can bear witness to this fact. Moving forward, there are new dynamics at play, which impact on the steroid era and voting for inclusion in the HOF. Specifically, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens come immediately to mind. But their cases are not nearly the most complicated and although currently transparent, the longtime approach to selection process will soon be under scrutiny.
Hall of Fame Selection Must Be Addressed
It would be easy to get on the Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson bandwagon here. However, that is a discussion for another time. In this case, the issue starts with Bonds and Clemens, who possess statistical accomplishments that unquestionably rate first-ballot selection to Cooperstown. However, they have been passed over five consecutive times since becoming eligible. The fact that they have already been passed over multiple times is obviously because of their linkage to the steroid era and performance-enhancing drugs.
Bonds and Clemens to the Hall?
Despite the delay of what would otherwise be a done deal already, this does not appear to be a sustaining problem for the two of them. Despite low and shaky returns in their first three years of eligibility, Bonds and Clemens have risen 8-9 percentage points over each of the last two years. Conservatively, at this rate, they will be voted into the Hall within three years, in their eighth year of eligibility.
This, however, is not the issue because the real problem lies in others from the era that retired and were considered earlier than Bonds and Clemens. At that time, the feelings about players tainted during the steroid era were quite raw, resulting in very few votes. Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro are players, who would almost certainly be in the Hall of Fame already. Unfortunately, they came up for eligibility too early.
The Case for McGwire and Sosa
While Bonds and Clemens have reaped the benefits of softened stances and the passing of time, McGwire and Sosa will never be selected, despite bodies of work that are clearly Hall of Fame worthy.
Through his career, McGwire tallied 583 home runs, over 1100 runs scored, and 1400 RBI. Sadly, he has already had his 10 years of consideration and has been eliminated. Sosa slugged 609 home runs, with nearly 1500 runs, and nearly 1700 RBI. Sosa has been eligible five years, but only broke 10% his first year and only 8.6% this year. So there is little chance Sosa will get there before his 10 years are up.
The bottom line is that while McGwire’s numbers are such that he would be very close to selection, Sosa’s are not borderline. His body of work is more than enough for him to already be at Cooperstown.
Palmeiro’s Accomplishments are Irrefutable
But the most egregious case is that of Palmeiro. Over his major league career, Palmeiro amassed 569 home runs, 3000 hits, nearly 1700 runs, 1800 RBI, and a .288 batting average. Only Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray achieved 500 home runs and 3000 hits before Palmeiro… and they are all in Cooperstown. Although, Alex Rodriguez has since become the fifth, he is not eligible for consideration yet. The jury is out on Rodriguez, but the indicators are good that he will get there. However, Palmeiro was eliminated in 2014, after only his fourth look for the Hall, when he netted just 4.4%. Currently, like McGwire, he has no chance.
Bad Optics with Bad Timing
Clearly, timing was not on the side of these three superstars. But was it only timing? McGwire, Sosa and Palmeiro, each had bad optics when it came to the steroid era. Sosa had a corked bat literally sawed off in his hands while batting during a game. McGwire sat before an inquiry and famously stated he was there “to talk about the future, not the past”. And Palmeiro stated during a hearing that “I did not take steroids, period”, only to be proven a liar. This was a crushing blow to Palmeiro and was clearly never forgotten.
Bad Optics with Good Timing
However, there are other optics. Bonds became a walking optic. He somehow transformed his lean body (much like his father, former major leaguer Bobby Bonds) to a hulk, building massive muscle that even made his head larger. Additionally, his trainer/super-friend Greg Anderson went to jail after refusing to testify against Bonds in the BALCO steroid case. Clemens issues, on the other hand, led to a federal indictment on perjury charges associated with an investigation into steroid use in baseball. These two also had bad optics, arguably worse than anything McGwire, Sosa, and Palmeiro ever had. But somehow, Bonds and Clemens are now on glide path to the Hall, by virtue of later consideration.
Corrective Action is Required
When Bonds and Clemens are voted into Cooperstown, the selection system must be revisited. Sosa and McGwire, but most especially Palmeiro, must be reconsidered for the Hall of fame. Ty Cobb was not a nice person. But that is not criteria for induction and rightly so, Cobb is a member. Beyond the steroid taint, Bonds and Clemens were never considered two of baseball’s good guys. However, they will be inducted into Cooperstown soon. When that happens, Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame must find a way to adjust the selection process. It must put Palmeiro in, while also giving fair reconsideration to Sosa and McGwire. Baseball, without question, turned a blind eye to the steroid era. It has a few years left to do the right thing now with these stars of that era.
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