Friday, February 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Tom Jones' Two Cents: Baseball Hall of Fame vote suggests some trends

Baseball's all-time home run king did not get in. Neither did a seven-time Cy Young winner.

Two members of the 3,000-hit club were denied. As was the only slugger ever to have three 60-homer seasons. A guy who once belted 70 home runs in a season was kept out, too.

This was one of the most star-studded ballots in the history of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

And no one got in.

Yet no news was actually very interesting news. Even with no one collecting enough votes for induction, this will go down as one of the most intriguing years in the history of Hall of Fame voting. That's because we are now wading waist deep into the murky waters of the steroid debate.

Here are some of the things we learned from Wednesday's results.

Voters remain conflicted

The two most compelling names on the ballot are seen as the ultimate test cases for how voters are going to judge the steroid era: Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

And how do voters feel? Thoroughly confused and divided about two players who, by numbers alone, are first-ballot Hall of Famers.

Needing to appear on 75 percent of the nearly 600 ballots to gain induction, Clemens was named on 37.6 percent. Bonds collected only eight fewer votes. They obviously were lumped together.

I don't think these two cheaters should ever get in, but I now believe they have a decent shot based on Wednesday's numbers. Being in the high 30s might seem miles away from getting to Cooperstown, but it's way more than the other alleged steroid users with Hall-worthy numbers. Plus, coming from the 30-some percent range to make it to the Hall is not unheard of. Jim Rice, Ralph Kiner and Bert Blyleven all were below 30 percent in the first year of eligibility.

Out of spite or protest, many voters simply were not going to vote for two players so associated with steroids on the first go-around. But Bonds and Clemens appear to have a strong foothold. Next year, you watch, their numbers will climb as voters consider whether Bonds and Clemens were Hall of Famers before there were suspicions of steroid use.

"I'm looking forward to what happens next year,'' ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer Barry Larkin said. "I think it'll be closer to the true opinion of the voters.''

The vote total also suggests that Bonds and Clemens, at the very least, will remain on the ballot for years to come. The longer they are there, the more old-school voters will retire and more younger voters will get to vote. Younger voters tend to be more tolerant, improving the odds of Bonds and Clemens getting into the Hall at some point.

Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa are not getting in

The two players associated with steroids following their 1998 home run derby are sinking together. McGwire received 16.9 percent, down from 19.5 last year and 23.7 percent in 2010, the year before he admitted using PEDs. Sosa got even fewer votes than McGwire, appearing on only 12.5 percent of the ballots.

Both are done and deservedly so. Neither puts up Hall of Fame numbers without pills or syringes and whatever they dumped in those protein shakes.

Craig Biggio got a raw deal

The former Astro is one of 28 players in history with 3,000 hits. Of the other 27, only three are not in the Hall of Fame: all-time hits leader Pete Rose, who is banned because of gambling; Rafael Palmeiro, who hasn't gotten in, presumably, because of his association with steroids; and Derek Jeter, who isn't in only because he is still playing.

Biggio earned the most votes (68.2 percent) Wednesday but came up short because some voters don't believe in electing a player in his first year of eligibility, which is stupid. Is the guy a Hall of Famer or not? If he is, vote him in. Now.

You also wonder if Biggio is caught in a trap where his numbers are skewed and, perhaps, diminished by playing in the steroid era, but voters are obsessed with sabermetrics.

"The guy I can't understand why he didn't get in is Craig Biggio,'' ESPN's John Kruk said. "You're lumping him in with everyone else. The man has 3,000 hits. He played the game the right way. Nobody has a bad word to say about him. He's a family man. He's a great person. How's he not in the Hall of Fame?"

Final thought

Wednesday's votes told me that Biggio is a Hall of Fame lock, that Bonds and Clemens have a much better shot than I ever imagined, that PED users McGwire, Sosa and Palmeiro will never get in, and that Tampa's Fred McGriff, a deserving candidate, is doubtful.

But sifting through the numbers, I also came to another conclusion. There's all this hand-wringing and protest, yelling and disgust. A few voters even turned in blank ballots to protest I'm not sure what. Ultimately, this is all about whose pictures will appear in a museum. That's all the Hall is. We're not electing congressmen here. It's ludicrous to suggest that Bonds being voted in or Clemens being kept out is a travesty.

Does a player having a plaque inside of a building in upstate New York change what you really think about that player?

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