Yankee greats fall short of Hall

It looks like the only Yankee headed to Cooperstown this year is Joe Torre.

According to the election rules, the eligible players must receive at least 75% of the votes to be elected to the Hall of Fame. This year, only three made the cut. Former Braves pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine garnered 97.2% and 91.9%, respectively, and former White Sox slugger Frank Thomas earned 83.7%. Maddux and Glavine certainly were part of the dynamic Braves dynasty in the 90’s that led them to the World Series three times — the 1995 win over the Indians and the 1996 and 1999 losses to the Yankees. Both were truly outstanding, earning an unheard of number of win in the era of power-slugging with the aid of steroid and PEDs. Thomas had the unfortunate luck of being on the White Sox in a post-season slump era of the Chicago team; Thomas helped the Chicago team at least vie for October in 1993 and 2000, between his outstanding hitting (he ended his 19 year career with a .301 average) and his time at 1st base.

More rules restrict who can appear on the ballot next year. If players fail to get at least 5% of the votes or if they are on the ballot for 15 years without getting the 75% to be elected, they are automatically disqualified from future ballots. A slew of 1st year nominees are eliminated due to low voting and only one 15 year veteran nominee won’t make next year’s list (a total of 16 eliminations).

A few interesting things happened on the ballot this year. 2nd year nominee Craig Biggio (Astros) fell just .2% of the line, which is close enough to believe next year might be the year for him. And another 2nd year nominee Mike Piazza (Mets) came in with 62.2%. Piazza’s been dodging PED rumors for years, which is another interesting revelation about this year’s ballot. Most of those who were either rumored or confessed to using PEDs (like Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Sosa, and Piazza) failed once again to make the cut but still garnered enough votes to stay in the running. I think there’s some internal battle between their honest potential and great numbers during the unregulated “steroid era” and the desire to see and keep a clean game now. In the same vein of recognizing and honoring true heroes who exemplify the class and dignity and integrity of the game, I think there will be a continual struggle as more and more from that era continue to age out and retire in the days to come.

Former Yankees Roger Clemens (2nd year), Mike Mussina (1st year), and Don Mattingly (14th year) all failed to make the cut. Clemens, though officially cleared of any misdoing with PEDs, is still tainted in many people’s minds and that could ultimately keep him from the Hall. Mussina earned just 20.3% of the votes, which means he has a steep road to climb to get that 75% one day; the score was awfully low in light of Mussina’s outstanding career, but perhaps in this class with Maddux and Glavine, Mussina gets a little overshadowed. And with Mattingly, I’m guessing he will have to wait for the Veterans’ Committee Ballot one day.

It’s so easy to imagine Hall of Fame inductions for some of the recent and current Yankees, but the truth is that because there’s a voting process, nothing is certain. Sure, players like Mariano Rivera seem like a first ballot shoo-in (and most people believe he should be the first 100% ever inducted), but there’s a lot of anti-Yankee sentiment among the Baseball Writers, even for universally admired players like Rivera. Ultimately, it’s a popularity contest, and being on the “wrong team” or associated with the “wrong kind of people” or whatever could very easily leave someone out in the cold. I’m not sure how many people elected to the Hall decades ago would fare with today’s “standards” and today’s 24/7 media coverage, exposing less-than-ideal character qualities and habits in many players we, a few generations later, esteem as the “best of the best”.

Maybe there was a bit of a push in the early days of Cooperstown to fill in as many spots as possible, remembering as many people who played the game we love before they disappeared into oblivion. It seems that more recently the Hall has been more restrictive with its allowances, as if the spots were few and far between. Even now, when people talk about potential Hall of Famers, it’s spoken with due reverence but also as if it’s nearly impossible for even the greats to achieve such an honor. And as the years pass, that standard continues to be raised for every generation, every new class of nominees. But will we keep raising that bar until there is no more elections because there is no perfect player? There is a difference between excellence and perfection. No one expects perfection, but Cooperstown should always honor excellence. If they hit that eventual standard of perfection only, the Hall will undoubtedly be filled with many flawed men from days gone by and that gap between the standard that was and the standard that is will grow until we alienate current generations of little leaguers from professional ball.

Always strive for excellence, keeping that standard high and honoring it wherever you see it. You’ll know it when you see it.

Go Yankees!

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