By Joe Clark, Sports Page Editor
The Baseball Hall of Fame officially has a problem. Instead of recognizing the best players in the history of the game, it recognizes the most media players. That was proven last week when the only player inducted into the Hall of Fame was former Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz.
Let me start by saying that I’m a die-hard Red Sox fan — I love Ortiz, and I categorically believe he should have been inducted in the first round into the Hall. It’s not a knock on him or his accomplishments. It is, however, a blow to the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) and their flawed and antiquated process for deciding who is inducted into the Hall of Fame.
A bit of background: to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, you need 75% of the votes of the 397 BBWAA members. In theory, there shouldn’t be too many problems with this process. If enough people in the baseball media think a player deserves the Hall of Fame, then he’s there.
The problems lie in the objectivity of the voting process. If a player wasn’t the friendliest of reporters during his playing days, they might be more motivated to keep him out of the Hall of Fame.
The voting rules for BBWAA elections state that: “Voting shall be based on the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team or teams in which the player has played.” The key word in this sentence is “character”. Determining a player’s character is an entirely subjective exercise that can be interpreted differently by each voter.
In recent election cycles, it’s fair to say that Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling have all been negatively affected by the interpretation of the cowardly character clause, leaving all three short of Hall of Fame eligibility. . Schilling’s problems are different from those of Bonds and Clemens, so I’ll focus on both.
Bonds is the MLB record holder for most homers, smashing 762 in his career en route to seven Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards. He has a career on base percentage (OBP) of .444. For reference, if you took all of Bonds 762 homers and turned them into outs, he would have a career OBP of .384. That would be higher than Ortiz’s career OBP of .380.
However, Bonds (like Ortiz) was reportedly on the list of players who tested positive for steroids in 2003, before MLB initiated mandatory testing. Bonds was later convicted of one count of obstruction of justice related to questioning about his steroid use during grand jury testimony in 2003 against his trainer.
Clemens, who won seven Cy Young awards and an MVP while amassing 354 wins and 4,672 strikeouts during his career, was tried for a similar perjury case. However, he was found not guilty on all six counts.
The problem with these two is that it’s a known fact that they used steroids during their playing careers. However, most steroids were not a banned substance in baseball until 2005, and once MLB began mandating testing, neither Clemens nor Bonds tested positive. There’s no reason for them to be kicked out of the Hall of Fame, but they were kept out because of steroids and because they had a bad reputation with the media.
Bonds and Clemens might be the two best players to ever play in their respective positions; however, because they were using steroids in a time when everyone was probably doing something to get an edge and because they weren’t Mr. Nice Guys, you won’t see their bust in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
It’s too bad, and the Hall of Fame needs to find a way to fix the voting process. Either lowering the voting threshold from 75% (Bonds got 66% of the vote while Clemens got 65.2% of the vote) or increasing the vote pool to include more diversity than just BBWAA members would be a start.
Until that happens, fans won’t see some of the best to ever play the game in their rightful place in the Hall.