(Editors’ note: Mike Piazza was inducted into the Hall of Fame on July 24, 2016.)
Can the game’s story be complete without a plaque of the baseball’s all-time home run leader? Doesn’t the man with the most Cy Young Awards deserve induction? How about the catcher with the most career homers?
All have been on the ballot, yet none is enshrined.
Certainly his numbers are certainly Cooperstown-worthy.
Amassed in any other era, his 427 homers and .308 lifetime average would be enough to garner the catcher a bronze plaque. Piazza’s six seasons with at least 100 runs batted in, 12 all-star appearances, and ten Silver Slugger awards certainly seem Cooperstown-worthy.
In today’s Hall of Fame voting process, however, numbers aren’t enough. That’s where hypocrisy begins to creep in.
During the steroid era, the Baseball Writers concerned themselves only with on-field performance. Seven times they voted prickly Barry Bonds the MVP; seven times they cast enough votes for Roger Clemens to receive the Cy Young Award. No one cared then that the players’ statistics might have been aided by performance enhancing drugs.
When those same two players were on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in 2013, the same writers were much less generous with their ballots – neither player amassed even 38% of the votes. All of a sudden, morality mattered.
Article 5 of the Rules of Election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the BBWAA states that, “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”
So now it’s up to the writers to pass judgment on an era to which they turned a blind eye as it was happening. When the players were shooting up, bulking up, and hitting it out, the fans were applauding and writers were busy handing out awards.
And here we are years later with no consensus about who should be invited to Cooperstown.
Some say no admitted or confirmed steroid user should get into the Hall. In that case, what happens when a man is voted in and later admits he used steroids?
Others say that because we can never be sure who used and who didn’t, the entire era should be ignored. Can the game’s greatest shrine really be complete without recognition of its home run king, or it’s only 7-time Cy Young Award winner?
Some fans take a more liberal approach, saying that the best of every era are in Cooperstown and the steroid era should be no exception. Not many are completely comfortable with that idea either.
Baseball wants closure on the era, a tidy ending to a dark chapter in the history of the game. But closure takes time.
Keep in mind, the writers’ 2013 snub of Clemens, Bonds, and Piazza only shows their thoughts at the time they voted. Some players might get gain induction next year. That often happens. In 2010, Roberto Alomar came up short in his initial year of eligibility, waited a year, and got in.
Heck, players like Bonds, Clemens, and Piazza who are on the ballot for the first time, have 14 more years on the ballot.
Then there’s the back door to the Hall of Fame where the Veterans Committee lets in the players who the writers rejected.
They just ushered in Deacon White, a barehanded catcher who debuted six years after the conclusion of the US Civil War. He died in 1939 at age 91. All of his children are dead; so are his grandchildren.
The 2013 voting results don’t tell us who will get in someday; they only tell us who got inducted this year.
Those who didn’t get the call now will have to wait. They’ll have to travel a bumpy road that sometimes ends in Cooperstown.
The lucky ones eventually get in just like Alomar.
Or Deacon White.
Reach Jim Smiley, the author of this story, CooperstownExpert@yahoo.com