Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Steroid-era players no longer automatic outs for some Hall of Fame voters

For veteran Baseball Writers' Association of America members with the immense privilege of Hall of Fame votes, there have become two absolute truths:

One, no matter how much time, thought, research, philosophical wrangling, intellectual tradeoffs and increasingly sinuous line drawing, and redrawing, we do, we are never quite sure we got it right.

And two, once we tweet, blog or post to Facebook (or even share with our friends, brothers and wives), we are quickly told how absurd, asinine and awful our ballots are. Then they move on to the B-words.

That immediate "You don't agree with me so you're an idiot" response has become part of the process for us voters who have opted for transparency in revealing our ballots and, in some cases, our thought processes.

That won't change when this year's results are released Wednesday night, no matter if there is one inductee or even a stunning five (Jeff Bagwell, Vlad Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Tim Raines, Ivan Rodriguez) — as a sampling of nearly half the approximate 450 ballots suggests, that's possible — with 75 percent needed for election.

But there is something considerably different this year in the voting totals: increasing support for players associated with the steroids era.

Not enough, not yet anyway, for poster boy-candidates Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens to get in, but building and trending in that direction, as those early results show them making 20 percent gains from their mid 40 totals. Mike Piazza, long rumored though never proven, got in last year. Bagwell and Rodriguez, similarly tainted with doubt — fairly or unfairly — are looking likely this year.

Why? How?

Among myriad theories, some common themes emerge:

• The December committee vote to induct former commissioner Bud Selig is seen by some as an endorsement of that era, in that he was in charge and didn't do enough — initially anyway, Bud, settle down — to address the issue. (Similarly, that Piazza was somewhat of a pioneer in that the door, which undoubtedly allowed in previous users we didn't know of, was opened wider.)

• Though some voters remain staunchly opposed to any player even remotely suggested to have used, there is, through natural evolution (and some voter-eligibility tightening), a bloc of younger/newer balloters who are more open-minded and see those candidates, and their performance, as reflective.

• Related, that with the perspective of time, voters adapt to the philosophy that the Hall is a museum to record what the game was, not a cathedral to reflect what some wish it were.

As I've written annually, my admittedly very squiggly line has me voting for players who are suspected, tainted and even generally acknowledged to have used, such as Bonds, Clemens and previously Mark McGwire, but did not fail a test, were not caught. I won't — at least not yet — vote for those who were busted, which this year now means leaving off Manny Ramirez, who otherwise is arguably one of the game's most proficient hitters.

Another point worth making is voters are allowed to change their minds. The "gotcha" mentality among the social media monitors promulgates hypocrisy, but being open-minded and willing to reconsider should be considered qualities for voters with this responsibility.

That said, I voted for the first time this year for Raines. No, that wasn't because he had a good 2016 season. Yes, it was in part, at least sub­consciously, because it was his final year of eligibility.

With my ballot — limited in previous years by the Rule of 10 — cleared a bit, I was willing to revisit his statistics, impact on the game and extent to which he dominated his era, my hallmarks for induction.

While not suddenly transforming into a Raines truther, after a fresh, detailed look aided but not misled by sabermetric tools, I felt good enough — or thought I felt good enough — to check his box.

Even with "Tampa guys" Fred McGriff and Gary Sheffield on my ballot — remember, it is my ballot — I had one more spot. I took further looks at Edgar Martinez and Mike Mussina, two certainly worthy candidates, but turned in a ballot with only nine names. I've heard a few complaints.

So, a third truth: No matter how much things change, the Hall of Fame debate will always rage.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

     
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