Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Empty Hall

Moving kind of slowly this morning-slash-afternoon following a late night of writing. Have been a little distracted today by some of the lead-up to the announcement of this year’s Baseball Hall of Fame vote, with a lot of the discussion concerning the candidacies of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa.

The story reached its climax just a few moments ago with the announcement that in fact no player had earned the needed 75% total of votes to be elected this year. For the first time since 1996, the Baseball Writers Association of America didn’t see fit to elect anyone to the HOF.

Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa all made their last appearances in the majors in 2007, which means after five years of non-activity this was the first year they were eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Bonds won seven MVPs during his career on his way to establishing a new all-time home run record. Clemens won 354 games as a pitcher and seven Cy Young Awards. And Sosa was a seven-time All-Star on his way to becoming one of only eight MLB players ever to hit more than 600 home runs.

Of course, thanks to allegations regarding all three players’ use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) during their careers, all three were likely considered essentially ineligible by a large number of voters. In the end Clemens only earned votes from 37.6% of the 569 BBWAA voters, Bonds only got 36.2%, and Sosa 12.5%.

There were a few other players whose named appeared on this year’s ballot who’ve also had their reputations tarnished by allegations of PED-use, including Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Rafael Palmeiro, and Mark McGwire. While the allegations have more or less substance in each instance, all four of those players have what most observers regard as “HOF numbers.” But none of them were voted in this year either.

“This is the best pitcher and the best hitter that any of us have ever seen, and they’re only getting one-third of the vote” said a somewhat baffled-sounding Tim Kurkjian on ESPN just now. The MLB analyst was referring to Clemens and Bonds, of course. “At some point the relevancy of the Hall of Fame is going to come into question... when the best players of a generation are not voted in,” Kurkjian added.

Baseball Hall of Fame voting follows a complicated process that many regard as flawed even without the impossible-to-quantify variable caused by the “steroid era” that plagued the game from the early 1990s to the mid-2000s.

For the last three years I’ve had the great privilege of being invited to participate as a voter for the considerably less controversial Poker Hall of Fame. The process we follow is also not perfect, although I think has ultimately produced some worthy inductees of late.

There are certainly players and other individuals who are not presently in the Poker Hall of Fame who deserve such recognition. And there are probably a couple in there who shouldn’t be. But I think the institution (as such) does nonetheless retain a modest level of veneration, with those who have earned their way into the PHOF justly regarded as having achieved something significant.

I wonder about the Baseball Hall of Fame, though. While I certainly belong to the large group of fans who lament the influence of PEDs on the game, I tend to share Kurkjian’s consternation that baseball’s HOF may be rapidly descending into a state of irrelevancy (if it isn’t already there). Yet another, only recently realized casualty of the steroid era, you might say.

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