No one was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday, and the lineup of candidates in competition with Edgar Martinez is only growing longer.
Once upon a time, Edgar Martinez faced a stiff Hall of Fame challenge: Convincing the electorate his glittering body of work deserved to overcome the stigma of being primarily a designated hitter.
That hasn’t changed, and the skeptics remain largely unconvinced, judging by a vote total that hasn’t budged much in four years on the ballot.
But now Martinez is facing another roadblock, one that might prove just as burdensome to his eventual enshrinement in Cooperstown.
The logjam factor.
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On Wednesday, to the surprise of few but the consternation of most, no one was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. That hasn’t happened since 1996, meaning that the induction ceremony next summer will be limited to three choices of the Veterans Committee (Jacob Ruppert, Hank O’Day and Deacon White), all of whom have been dead for more than 70 years. That should pack ‘em in.
It’s the steroids era come home to roost, presenting voting dilemmas that have effectively flummoxed the 569 voting members of the BBWAA. And so a class that contained the all-time career and season home run king (Barry Bonds), a 354-game winner with seven Cy Youngs (Roger Clemens), a member of the 3,000-hit club (Craig Biggio), a member of the 3,000-hit and 500-home run club (Rafael Palmeiro), the man who broke Roger Maris’ home run record and finished with 583 homers (Mark McGwire), the only man to exceed 60 homers on three occasions (Sammy Sosa), one of the best-hitting catchers of all time (Mike Piazza), one of the best-hitting first basemen of all time (Jeff Bagwell), and, oh yeah, the greatest DH of all time, Martinez, got blanked.
The upshot is that all of them will be carried over to next year’s ballot, along with Jack Morris, who is knocking on the door with 67.7 percent (and will be making his 15th and final appearance on the ballot), Tim Raines, Fred McGriff, Curt Schilling, Alan Trammell and Larry Walker. As with Edgar, good cases can be made for all of them.
Oh, did I mention that four extremely strong candidates will be making their inaugural appearance next year: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas and Mike Mussina, followed by Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Gary Sheffield in 2015, Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman in 2016, and, well, I’ll stop there.
It’s superstar overload, made more cumbersome by the communal angst of what do with the PED brigade.
You get to vote for 10 each year, max. Something’s got to give, or numerous worthy candidates, like Martinez, are going to get lost in the shuffle. And he knows it. Edgar has girded himself for what he hopes will be a long, slow, steady climb to 75 percent in the remaining 11 years — the operative words being long and slow. But in four years, he’s gone from 36.2 percent to 32.9, 36.5, and, in the latest tally, 35.9. That’s slow, but not very steady.
“I don’t obsess about it, because I know there’s a good chance I’m not going to get in any time soon,” he said. “I’m not worried about what’s going on with the ballot. I don’t think about this. It doesn’t change anything in my life, to be quite honest. It’s true the more players who are All-Star players and great players over the years, it’s more difficult to get the votes from the writers. We’ll see, but it’s going to be more difficult.”
For the record, here was my ballot: Bagwell, Biggio, Bonds, Clemens, Martinez, Piazza, Raines, Schilling, Trammell, Walker.
Obviously, my solution to the migraine headache of what to do with all the players linked to steroids was to vote for them on the merits of their statistics (which were never invalidated by MLB) rather than try to untie the hopelessly tangled knot of who used and who didn’t.
My position has been consistent since McGwire first appeared on the ballot; I had voted for him every previous year, but this time he was knocked off by what I felt were stronger candidates. It’s that logjam again.
I know that stance angers a lot of people (including my father). I accept that. I don’t feel so great about it myself. But as long as you have people like Bagwell and Piazza, suspected of steroids use by many but with no smoking gun, it’s a no-win task. I think it’s just naive to say you’re only going to vote for “clean” players. None of us know who was clean, though we might have strong suspicions about who was dirty.
The whole era was dirty, and you either vote for no one, which I don’t think is an accurate reflection of baseball history, or you vote those who dominated.
That’s my rationale. There were about 500 of them, I suspect, among my peers. Some choose not to vote for anyone with a steroids taint. I’m sure some decided to hold off a year because of the perceived sanctity of the first ballot, and will vote for Bonds and Clemens next year. Some turned in a blank ballot, and some elected not to vote at all.
And that doesn’t even take into account all the very real baseball questions that used to dominate the Hall of Fame discussion — the fun ones about whether Jack Morris’s 3.90 career ERA, which would be the highest in the Hall of Fame, overshadows the fact he was the winningest pitcher of the 1980s, or whether Walker’s stats are padded too much by playing so many years at Coors Field.
Those are debates from simpler times. Nowadays, we all tie ourselves into knots trying to come up with a ballot that accurately reflects the steroids era. And guys like Edgar Martinez, I’m afraid, are the collateral damage.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @StoneLarry