This week the Baseball Hall of Fame and its sportswriters got together for their annual rite of passage. Their job was to elect the best of the best to the hall and to that end they chose to extend entrance to pitcher Bert Blyleven and second baseman Roberto Alomar. However there is a bigger story here than who got elected. It’s the sportswriters themselves and their stance toward election in general and the steroid era in specific.
Sportswriters have taken what many would say is a moral stance towards rendering their vote for a player. They cite the fact that they are asked to judge the character of a player as well as his statistics and they use this to create their own subjective set of rules for admission. One need look no further than Roberto Alomar who by all accounts had a career that was worthy of election on his first try. Instead he was made to wait till year two.
The reason why, well because of one incident in his long career where he showed poor judgment and spit in the face of an umpire. Alomar and the umpire John Hirschbeck have long since apologized and are even friend, with Alomar having helped him with a charity for a disease that affected several of his family members. That did little to dissuade the writers though who punished him for one egregious act by making him wait an extra year.
That leads us into the steroid era where rhetoric has been flying from numerous members saying that player implicated in steroids are cheaters and will never get their vote. Interesting stance when you consider the case of Jeff Bagwell. Bagwell’s statistics withstand the supposed eye test when it comes to players making the hall. Prodigious home run and runs batted in totals over a long span should see him into the hall. Yet he garnered only 41 percent of the vote.
This is because of a perceived notion that he may have been involved in the steroid era. Much is made of the fact that he hit 7 total home runs during his time in the minors, then arrives on the Major League scene and grows into a big man with a big stick. He was known as a workout warrior and a ravenous eater. He never had a positive test, nor was he mentioned in either the Mitchell report or Jose Canseco’s book. Yet he only amassed 41 percent of the vote.
Even the case of Rafael Palmeiro should be examined. Though he was tested at other points in his career, he never tested positive for a thing. By all accounts a clean ballplayer. Never had any rapid body growth or increase in power, other than the fact he played in homer friendly Camden Yards. Yet after he goes before Congress and shakes his finger saying, “I never did steroids”, he would go out and do them knowing he would be watched? Makes little sense and gives some validity to his theory that a b-12 injection given to him by Miguel Tejada, who himself was named in Canseco’s book, might be a plausible explanation.
To the writers this matters little. There is no real consideration of other theories or thoughts. If there is a hint on impropriety then you can forget it. With that in mind there is little reason to not believe that Palmeiro might be off the ballot after next season. That could be a real travesty and according to the rules one that could not be corrected if his story turns out to be true. In the end, sportswriters yield too much power in a process that is subjective at best. Perhaps these same members should be held up to similar morals tests or made to justify how BJ Surhoff, who was a fine player but not really anyone’s hall of famer, received a vote this past year. Makes you wonder, huh?