Barry Larkin is the newest member of the Baseball Hall of Fame after receiving 86 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America. Larkin is the only player to be inducted by the BBWAA this year, and now the question starts…could he be the last?
Okay, that's cheap. Obviously someone will be voted in next year or the year after that or the year after that. Jack Morris keeps inching his way up to Cooperstown's front door, getting 67 of the necessary 75 percent needed for inclusion this year. Tim Raines and Jeff Bagwell increased their percentages this season as well.
Now, after celebrating Larkin's induction, we all look to next year—when things get really interesting.
Voters have already dealt with the Mark McGwire situation, keeping him out of the Hall with a consistently low 20 percent of the vote. But next year come Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa, three of the biggest names in the Steroid Era of baseball. What are voters going to do? Are you telling me there's a baseball writer who would spend 10 years keeping Jack Morris and his mediocre numbers out of the Hall and suddenly vote for him, just to stick it to Roger Clemens? Will Tim Raines finally get in the year we all expected Barry Bonds to, and Bonds won't?
Steroids or not, that's just ludicrous. Barry Bonds is one of the greatest players to ever play the game. He was great before we all thought he was a steroid user and he was great after we all thought he was a steroid user. The same goes for Clemens. Keeping the two of them out of the Hall of Fame makes absolutely no sense. Keeping them out on their first ballot, but putting in the likes of Morris or Raines or Jeff Bagwell or Craig Biggio or Curt Schilling or Mike Piazza—the latter three also become eligible for the first time in 2013—does more to marginalize the importance of the Hall of Fame than selecting Clemens or Bonds could ever do.
Sosa is a curious case. Sosa, much like McGwire, was a bit of a one-trick pony. They were both quintessential sluggers in an era where steroids clearly helped people hit the ball farther than ever before. Bonds was a complete player in a way the other two never were. Having said that, there are dozens of sluggers in the Hall of Fame and some of them couldn't play a lick of defense or run the bases with any pace even if their shoes were on fire. The BBWAA didn't keep anyone else out for "just" being a slugger, so why should McGwire or Sosa be left out?
The point is, it's not cut and dry, but it is going to become a very serious issue next year.
We will certainly see what the voters decide when their ballots are cast a year from now. You could make the case for leaving McGwire out the last few years, especially in light of the timing of his Hall of Fame eligibility coinciding with the steroid hammer coming down around baseball. Yes, McGwire has admitted taking steroids and yes, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have been embroiled in legal issues that all surround their alleged involvement with illegal performance-enhancing drugs. The baseball writers now have a year to decide if that matters enough to keep the best players of an era—some of the best of all time—out of the Hall.
Should we go back and look at every single member of the Hall of Fame to determine if they cheated when they played the game? Should Alex Rodriguez, who has admitted to taking steroids earlier in his career, be lumped into the same category as Bonds and Clemens if they don't get in? Can we really have a Hall of Fame without the best players in the history of the game just because some of them failed a drug test during their career or, more incredibly, were suspected but never caught?
Is it not hypocritical that the same baseball writers who elect Hall of Famers admitted they didn't look hard enough into steroid use when players first started taking performance enhancers? Doesn't it stand to reason that someone may have already gotten into the Hall of Fame simply because the writers weren't paying as much attention to PEDs as they are now?
Are we holding current players to a higher standard the history of the game has never asked others to live up to? Is any of that fair?
We will find out a year from today; that's for sure.
What should be a celebration of the sport has actually become a bit of an albatross around the necks of Hall of Fame voters, saddling themselves as gatekeepers of the history of the game. Does the National Air and Space Museum have annual votes to determine if Rex J. Walheim is in the same class as Buzz Aldrin or debate why Wilbur Wright is a first-ballot guy but Orville should wait until the second ballot?
The way to solve the issue of who should be in the Hall of Fame is to let everyone in. If we honor the accomplishments by recording the history of the game—good and bad—we don't have to worry about which players got enough votes to have a plaque on the wall and which players get to hang out with Pete Rose.
That will never happen though, because the gatekeepers of the BBWAA relish the fact that they get to make the decision of whether the likes of Bonds or Clemens become Hall of Famers...until the Veterans Committee votes them in anyway.
Regardless, it's going to be a fun year of debating; that's for sure.