We are firmly in the era where I actually remember watching the guys up for the Hall of Fame playing on my parents’ television while I grew up. Of course, none of today’s selected few were on any of the teams “we” liked, but they were there nonetheless.
Today, the Baseball Writers Association of America elected four new players into the hallowed halls of the Hall of Fame — pitchers Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz and utility player Craig Biggio. The pitchers were all on their first ballot, while Biggio making his 3rd appearance finally garnered enough votes to make the cut. Long-time Yankees fans will undoubtedly remember the nasty-throwing starters in crucial games like the 2001 World Series featuring “The Big Unit” (Johnson) leading his Diamondback teammates to that rare November victory. Or perhaps Martinez on the now infamous 2004 Red Sox team and the equally infamous 2004 ALCS. Or even Smoltz being part of the pitching heat that was the Atlanta Braves in the mid- to late-90s, which featured Glavine and Maddox of HoF ’14. Meanwhile, Biggio made his career of two decades with the Astros, accumulating 3,060 hits.
To make the cut, players must garner at least 75% of the votes. BBWAA members cast their votes for up to 10 eligible players on their ballots. Johnson earned 97.3%, Martinez 91.1%, Smoltz 82.9%, and Biggio 82.7%. Some notable players who missed this year’s cutoff include Mets’ catcher Mike Piazza (at 69.9%), Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling (39.2%), Mariners’ DH Edgar Martinez (27%), Yankees’ pitcher Mike Mussina (24.6%), and Yankees’ 1st baseman Don Mattingly (9.1%). Anyone with less than 5% of the votes are eliminated from future consideration, which effectively dropped 12 eligible players from the ballots, most 1st year nominees.
It should be noted that we are in the middle of the results of what has been regrettably dubbed “The Steroid Era”. So the ballot also featured suspected and admitted steroid users who garnered a mixed number of votes — Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa (3rd year on the ballot) and Mark McGwire (9th year). Some writers acknowledge their achievements on the field as part of an era where performance enhancing drugs were common use, though “frowned upon”, and thus believe players like these should be admitted. Some writers are focused on the zero-tolerance policy as set in place today, viewing even past drug use as cheating the numbers and thus question the qualifications of said players for such an honor. However this is settled will certainly affect a number of recently retired and nearly retired players up for the Hall within the next decade.
I do have very strong opinions about this, but I must confess that we also need to be mindful of how such behavior was seen some 20 years ago. We didn’t really live in the open, media saturated 24/7 world then, and the League was doing whatever possible to recover from the giant gash in baseball that led to and resulted from the 1994 strike. The McGwire-Sosa home run race of 1998 was all anyone talked about, though now it seems tainted in memories with the knowledge of both players’ active partaking of PEDs. At the time, everyone was back to watching baseball, seemingly at its finest and displaying the power and machismo of its athletes on exhibition for the world. Baseball was back, the Yankees were on top of that heap, and the underground world of PEDs was about to implode and take the whole system down with it.
It wasn’t really the case of “everyone was doing it”, but I’m sure (like the old middle school excuse) it sure felt like it. And unlike middle school, the principal didn’t care if it was wrong or if you got caught. And then the world shifted, a new millennium brought new light to the truth of popular PEDs, and following several large exposés, it slowly became more than just “frowned upon”. And despite taking much longer than anyone thought necessary (read: last year due to some recent exposés), the standards are now set in baseball, with an overall call to “clean-up the game”.
A commentator on one of the many sports shows addressed this issue fairly openly with his fellow broadcasters. He mentioned that he feels that some voters may rightly hold personal vendettas against certain players for their personal actions, including the use of PEDs. This is such a mixed bag for me. The Hall of Fame was established long ago before we knew the personal lives of our “heroes”, so they elected known drunks, womanizers, gamblers, racists, and just jerks in general. The fact is that it’s a “Hall of Fame”, not a Hall of Heroes. It’s a place to recognize greatness in baseball, and just the way these men performed on the field of play. It’s not about their personal lives. Now, unless they did something to alter their performance, then nothing in their personal lives should be considered when voting for the Hall. Honestly, there are quite a few players already in Cooperstown who I would never consider “heroes” or “great men”, but I would certainly consider them amazing ball players, including a handful of former Yankees.
Look, there are no perfect men, so there will be no perfect heroes. And while we would hope those memorialized in baseball history would be as close to perfect as we imagine them to be, it’s not reality. We can’t do anything about what was, so instead, let’s focus on the good guys we have today. They’ll never be perfect, but what makes them good is how we celebrate them. So if you want good guys to be your heroes, celebrate those who are good guys on and off the field. There’s quite a few of those in baseball, including some of our pinstriped guys who will report to Tampa in about 6 weeks for Spring Training.