Why the 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame Class Should Be the Biggest in Years
What's done is done. The ballots for the 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame class were cast on New Year's Eve, and the results are slated to be announced next week.
I don't know what's going to happen. What I do know is what should happen, and that's that the 2013 Hall of Fame class would be a big one if there's any justice in this world.
Instead of one or two new members, I'm thinking there should be five. The last time the BBWAA elected that many new members was in 1936, when Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner became the very first members of the Hall of Fame.
Clearly, I'm more generous than most. Some—such as John Fay of The Cincinnati Enquirer and Mark Faller of The Arizona Republic—didn't vote for anybody this year. Baseball Think Factory's "Hall of Fame Ballot Collecting Gizmo" suggests that there won't end up being any new Cooperstowners this year, as none of the 37 candidates are projected to get 75 percent of the vote.
Electing nobody will solve nothing. In fact, electing nobody this year would create more problems than it would solve.
This year's Hall of Fame class should be big in large part because the list of deserving candidates is bigger than usual. Among the first-timers, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza and Craig Biggio deserve entry. Among the holdovers, Jeff Bagwell is a no-brainer.
Piazza and Biggio are the easy ones among the first-timers. Piazza is the all-time leader in home runs among catchers, as well as the all-time leader among catchers in OPS+, regular OPS and Weighted Runs Created Plus (see FanGraphs). He's the greatest-hitting catcher ever, period.
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Biggio, meanwhile, is a member of the 3,000-hit club, which history tells us is pretty much an automatic ticket to Cooperstown. And the best part about Biggio, of course, is that all the signs suggest that he did it the right way.
Biggio has no real ties to PEDs. Despite the various whispers you hear about him, neither does Piazza. Barring them from Cooperstown on the basis of mere suspicions would be a horrid injustice.
That's exactly what's happened with Bagwell the last two years. He's one of the greatest first basemen to ever play the game of baseball, but he's been shunned so far because he was muscular during his playing days. That, apparently, passes for a crime in the eyes of the voters.
As for Bonds and Clemens, well, their cases are admittedly more complicated.
Clemens may be the greatest right-hander ever, as the only righty with a higher career bWAR than him is Walter Johnson, who pitched before integration and well before the Steroid Era.
Clemens' own place within the shady history of the Steroid Era, meanwhile, is not as clear as his critics want it to be. Allegations of his PED use were revealed in court to be very weak, and there's no positive test for him on file.
There's also the reality that Clemens had a Hall of Fame career even before his alleged juicing days, as he won 192 games, compiled a 3.06 ERA, a 144 ERA+ and 2,590 strikeouts and won two Cy Youngs and an MVP between 1984 and 1996.
Bonds' ties to PEDs are a lot stronger than Clemens'. There's a positive drug test for him on file, and it's only ever been decided that he didn't knowingly take steroids. It was his word against the government's, and the government couldn't prove that he was full of it.
However, it's often been argued that Bonds is a lot like Clemens in that he was a Hall of Fame player even before he Hulked-out in the early 2000s. Between 1986 and 1999, he hit 445 homers and stole 460 bases, compiling a .968 OPS, a 163 OPS+ and winning three MVPs along the way.
It's very much debatable whether guys like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro would have been great players without PEDs, but not so with Bonds. Even his critics should be able to admit that steroids didn't make him a great player. They just made him an impossibly good slugger.
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Those who keep Bonds, Clemens and other PED users—alleged and confirmed—out of the Hall of Fame this year will do so based on the "integrity, sportsmanship, character" clause of the voting guidelines. I would have been fine with this in the past, as I, too, once preferred great ballplayers to be heroes and role models.
But I'm not naive enough to still feel this way. Baseball players are members of the human race, where the scoundrels outnumber the saints. Even Cooperstown is flawed, as all-world scumbags like Ty Cobb and boozing womanizers like Mickey Mantle share space with humanitarians and war heroes.
Because Cooperstown has never been a shining monument of morality, playing the morality card in regard to the Steroid Era just doesn't work. I'll admit that I used to do it all the time, but my anger at the Steroid Era eventually gave way to reason.
Let's refocus the Hall of Fame strictly on baseball, even if that means having to come to terms with the reality of the Steroid Era; it was a time when juicers were the rule, not the exception. Those who apparently did things the right way should be celebrated, but there shouldn't be a blanket ban on both alleged and confirmed PED users.
If the most notable Steroid Era players—Bonds, Clemens, Piazza, Biggio and Bagwell—are let in, a monumental precedent will have been set. This would make it official that character does not, and should not, outweigh performance.
If the most notable Steroid Era players are denied entry, the bright side for them is that they'll be back. That's about the extent of the bright side, though, as pushing off the juicers to next year and the year after that and the year after that is going to create difficulties.
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In 2014, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas will be on the ballot for the first time. In 2015, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz will be on there. In 2016, Ken Griffey Jr. will appear.
So in a span of three years, seven guys with first-ballot credentials will be showing up on the ballot. Come 2016, they could still sharing the ballot with Bonds, Clemens, Piazza, Biggio and Bagwell. This is to say nothing of long-suffering candidates like Jack Morris, Alan Trammell, Lee Smith and, to a lesser extent, McGwire and Tim Raines, who are being overshadowed by the new kids on the ballot.
Whereas Hall of Fame voters have been faced with a relative shortage of deserving candidates in years past, they are now faced with an excess of deserving candidates that will only become more robust if the status quo is upheld.
If so, the forgiving voters will be troubled by the 10-player voting limit. The less forgiving ones will have a harder time playing judge and jury than they already were. The dilemmas those on both sides of the fence face will make it hard for players to get more than 75 percent of the vote.
It's a mess that could take years to clear up. Along the way, the same old debates will be fired up again and again. The emphasis will continue to be on exclusivity at all costs, and that means a further obsession over which players should be out rather than over the players who should be in.
And therein lies another benefit of having a big Hall of Fame class. In addition to setting a new precedent that will allow more deserving members to get into Cooperstown, the guidelines for the exclusivity of the Hall of Fame will have been changed for the better.
Right now, upholding the exclusivity of the Hall of Fame means letting in only one or two players at a time. That's a dated way of doing things, as the league has many more teams now than it did back when the Hall of Fame was first established.
More teams mean more players. More players mean more great players, especially considering how many more sources MLB has to draw on for talent. More great players mean more potential Hall of Famers.
Preparations should be made for a day and age when three-member Hall of Fame classes are the norm, with the occasional four- and five-man class mixed in. The list of Hall of Famers would surely become bloated if this eventuality comes to pass, but at least the list would be a fitting narrative of the greats who came, saw and conquered in Major League Baseball.
To this end, opening the gates in 2013 would be a mere first step. Nobody would have to like it, but it would be a means to an end.
It's too bad it's not going to happen. Maybe next year.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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