In 2003, I walked through the doors of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, awestruck at the names on those walls. I gazed up at plaques honoring the greatest baseball players to ever play the game.
If I head back this summer, I probably won’t see a complete history of the game I love. And that fills me a range of emotions, from anger, to sadness, to disappointment.
On Wednesday, we will find out that the Baseball Writers Association of America won’t open the doors this year to some of the greatest players to ever step on a baseball field.
And it’s a shame. Those writers are essentially keeping a segment of baseball history out of the one place created to display that history, good or bad.
Do some of the players up for vote have questionable backgrounds? Of course. But many players already enshrined in the Hall of Fame probably has skeletons in their closet they don’t want anyone to know about.
Here’s my test for enshrinement into the Hall of Fame: Can you talk about the history of baseball without mentioning them? If the answer is “No,” then they deserve serious consideration. The question I ask myself about a player: When I take my future children to Cooperstown — which I absolutely will — do I want them to know about a certain player?
If I had a Hall of Fame ballot, here’s what it would look like.
We live in the Steroid Era. There is no avoiding it.We shouldn’t hide from this part of baseball history. Barry Bonds may have used performance-enhancing drugs, but as we’re finding out, so did pitchers he faced.
Bonds was enhancing his performance, but so were the pitchers. And Bonds was better.
Opposing teams didn’t pitch around him because of steroids. They pitched around him because they feared him. And he still beat them. He still managed to hit 73 home runs in a season.
With all the pressure on his shoulders and teams trying not to pitch to him, Bonds still surpassed the most revered number of my childhood: 755.
Steroids and all, Bonds is part of baseball’s history. If the Hall of Fame wants to put a note on the plaques of all suspected and confirmed PED users, that’s fine. But to leave Bonds out is a shame.
You cannot ignore the fact that Bonds was voted MVP seven times. Seven times, these same writers voted him the best player in the league. To now not vote him into a club honoring the best players in the game is a joke. If MLB hasn’t taken away his awards and records, these writers cannot ignore them.
I feel the same way about Roger Clemens. He was the greatest pitcher of my generation. Seven Cy Young awards spanning three different decades, one MVP, seven ERA titles and 354 career wins should not be left out of the Hall of Fame. We will never see a more dominant pitcher. He had the perfect delivery allowing him to stay durable for 20+ seasons.
Clemens finished his career with 4,672 strikeouts. Of active pitchers with a contract to pitch in 2013, Andy Pettitte is the closest with 2,320 career strikeouts. Yep. Clemens has more than twice as many strikeouts as anyone who will pitch in 2013. He was just dominant.
If Clemens and Bonds aren’t allowed into the Hall of Fame, why even bother having it? They were the best at their positions over the last 40 years. Put’em in and don’t complain.
The two slam dunk locks for me are Mike Piazza and Craig Biggio.
Piazza is one of the top five offensive catchers ever. He hit the most home runs of any catcher and it’s not really close. His .545 slugging percentage is the highest among catchers all-time. Only one other non-active catcher has even cracked a .500 SLG (Roy Campanella). Giants fans, Buster Posey currently has a .503 Slugging Percentage.
Biggio was the ultimate team player. He played his entire career with the Houston Astros and was the face of that franchise for 20 years. He started as a catcher, then moved to second base where he made a name for himself, winning four straight Gold Gloves.
When the Astros asked him to move to the outfield for two years towards the end of his career he did that. He collected 3,060 hits, 668 of which were doubles, 291 home runs and 414 stolen bases. He’s someone I’ll tell my future children about:
“Look, son, he wasn’t the biggest, but he was tough and moved positions for the benefit of the team and never complained and was a great player.”
The last three I would vote for aren’t slam dunks. I could very easily not vote for them.
Jeff Bagwell was one of my favorite players to watch growing up. Point blank, I think he’s a Hall of Famer. But when I look at his stats and resume, I have my doubts.
Bagwell won Rookie of the Year in 1991, and the NL MVP in 1994, but that’s about it. He had some really good years, but nothing spectacular. He never won a batting title, never led the league in home runs or hits. I’d vote for him, but I wouldn’t be disappointed if he doesn’t get in.
The last two are linked together: Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Together, they rewrote baseball history together. Neither, though, was a difference-making, game-changing player. They had immense power, but little else.
McGwire hit 583 home runs but hit just .263 over his career. Sosa somehow hit 609 home runs with a .273 lifetime average. McGwire has a Rookie of the Year award, Sosa has an MVP. I’m not sure either truly deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, but I feel like they are a big part of baseball history and it’s hard for me to ignore that.
My heart wants me to only vote for my childhood favorite, McGwire, and leave Sosa out. But the more I think about it, the more I feel like they are the same. Vote for both or vote for neither. Like Bagwell, if they get in, great, if they don’t, I’m not losing any sleep.
So to recap, if I had the honor of filling out a Hall of Fame ballot, I’d vote for Bonds, Clemens, Piazza, Biggio, Bagwell, McGwire and Sosa.
They were some of the best players of my generation. These were some of the players that made baseball such an integral part of my childhood. Bonds, Bagwell and McGwire are a big part of why I love baseball more than any sport.
I’d rather have the Hall of Fame include its greatest stars and acknowledge their wrongdoing instead of ignoring them completely. If national writers fail to elect Bonds, Clemens and the rest of these superstars, they are doing a disservice to the history of the sport they cover.