I hope that the Baseball Writers Association of America is happy with themselves right now.
Many voters are unclear how to handle the influx of players suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs, which this year included big names like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Other voters want to punish those players, and decided to take it out on the entire generation.
Five voters (ESPN’s Howard Bryant among them) sent in ballots that were completely blank; other voters, such as Garry D. Howard of the Sporting News, sent in votes that practically ignored the accomplishments of the past 20 years. Still others (SI’s Tom Verducci, for example) voted with the delusion that the Hall of Fame is filled only with the most upstanding of citizens, apparently because segregation, gambling, equipment-doctoring, and previous PED usage were all marks of honorable character.
As a result, not a single player managed to clear the 75 percent threshold required for Hall of Fame induction.
This is the first Hall of Fame vote that I have ever seen where a majority of voters have openly admitted to not voting for the best players. Voters are unanimous in agreement that Bonds and Clemens are not only the best two players up for induction, but among the finest ever to be on the ballot. But both hare widely suspected of having used PEDs during their careers, which has offended voters to such a degree that neither player received as much as 40% of the voting.
Why this standard applies to the current generation as opposed to all of the ones that came before it, however, remains a mystery.
But as much as I do not like it, I can see why many voters are choosing not to show support for players with known ties to PED usage. It is an issue that has inspired a lot of outrage among voters, and it will be a few years before everybody calms down and cooler heads prevail.
What I do not understand, however, is why the HOF voters chose to punish all of the other quality candidates on the ballot. Newcomers like Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, and Curt Schilling have first ballot-quality resumes without PED allegations, as do holdovers like Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines. Voters are as aware of this as anyone, yet they could not bring themselves to put these players in the Hall even as they were openly bypassing superior candidates.
Even the folks who run the Bowl Championship Series are shaking their heads at this one.
And if HOF voters think that this problem is just going to go away on its own, they clearly are not paying attention to future ballots. Names like Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, and Mike Mussina hit the ballot for the first time next season, while Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, and Gary Sheffield become eligible in 2016.
In other words, the squeeze on great candidates (PED users and otherwise) is only going to get worse.
This year’s ballot would have been the perfect opportunity to vote in players who, while not complete no-brainer selections, are nonetheless strong candidates for the Hall of Fame. But voters could not even do that, instead choosing not to elect anybody and let the ballot swell even further. Do not be surprised when a worthy candidate gets the Kenny Lofton treatment, falling off the ballot after a single year due to the stubbornness of voters.
By their actions, Hall of Fame voters hoped to send a clear message about steroid-era players. Unfortunately for them, that message is “everybody is a suspect”.