Should the Baseball Hall of Fame Have Inducted More Than Four Players?

Posted: 01/07/2015 by levcohen in Baseball

As you might have heard, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America inducted four players into the Hall of Fame, the first time since 1955 that more than three players made it. Three pitchers — Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, and Pedro Martinez — were inducted along with Astros second baseman Craig Biggio. This was generally considered to be a good day for baseball, given how long it’s been since so many players crossed the 75% threshold (412 of 549). And there’s no argument that Johnson, who earned 97.3% of votes, Martinez, who was perhaps the most dominant pitcher in his generation and garnered 91.1%, Smoltz, who along with Greg Maddux anchored the Braves’ starting rotation (and bullpen for a while) and got 82.9%, or Biggio (82.7%), who didn’t win many accolades but ended up with close to 300 homers to go along with his 3060 hits and 285 (!) hit by pitches. Yes, he’s been hit more than anybody other than Hughie Jennings, who debuted in 1891 and died in 1928. Anyway, the four guys who were inducted almost certainly deserve it. But should more players have gotten in?

What do Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark Mcgwire, Sammy Sosa, Joe Jackson and yes, Pete Rose have in common? There are two possible answers. One is that all of them were dominant players when they played. The other is that none of them are in the Hall of Fame not because of numbers but because they are tainted in some way. Jackson and Rose are obviously different from the rest, so I’ll tackle them first.

I think Rose is the easiest case of them all. The hit king was banned from baseball for gambling, but unlike Jackson he gambled not against his team but for it, as a player and later as a manager. It’s still not acceptable to bet on a game you participate in, and it’s understandable albeit a bit harsh that Rose was banned. But he needs to be in the Hall.

Jackson is a harder case, both because it’s a lot older and because he threw a World Series. He’s unlikely to ever make the HOF, and while I believe he should be in simply because of how good he was when he played, I don’t care that much. The fact that he participated in the worst scandal in baseball history is pretty damning, and I’m not going to raise a big fuss if he’s never inducted.

The other four guys are all still on the ballot, but none is likely to make the Hall of Fame unless something drastic happens to change voters’ mindsets. Here are the # of votes each one got:

 % votes year of eligibility
 Clemens 37.5% 3
 Bonds 36.8% 3
 Mcgwire  10% 9
 Sosa  6.6% 9

Based on the number of votes each got, these players can easily be split into pairs. Bonds and Clemens were transcendent players, steroids or not. Bonds was a Hall of Fame-bound player even before he started hitting 45+ homers in his upper 30s. Through the 1999 season, Bonds had only hit more than 40 homers twice. He had 445 homers, 460 steals, a .288/.409/.559 triple slash, and three MVPs. That’s a surefire Hall of Famer. What happened after made Bonds the most hated player in the league, but the only seven-time MVP belongs in the HOF. Clemens, the only seven-time Cy Young, deserves the honor too. He was dominant in his 20s and early 30s and would have made the HOF even before his mysterious late-career rebound.

The other two are trickier, since their value was almost fully linked to homers. I’d put them through, since they are a big part of baseball’s history and since the Hall of Fame will be incomplete without two of the scariest hitters of the late 90s and early 00s. And if I’m arguing for Bonds and Clemens, why not Sosa and Mcgwire too? Look, I don’t care if the Hall of Fame puts an asterisk on their plaques or makes a “steroids?” wing (although that would be weird), but the Hall is meant to document the best players in each period of history.

There’s also the point that we don’t know who did or didn’t juice in the juice-heavy early 2000s. Albert Pujols had some gaudy numbers, so how do we know he hasn’t taken steroids? You can make this argument with any of the best players who has made it recently, including Johnson, Martinez, Smoltz, and Biggio (well, maybe not the tiny Biggio).

However you feel about letting the steroid-linked players in, it’s crazy that the stigma surrounding those four players has also impacted voting on two power hitters who, as far as we know, haven’t taken steroids. Mike Piazza is going to make the Hall, and probably next year, in his fourth year of eligibility. He neared 70% this year and should reach the 75% threshold soon. But the only reason the best hitting catcher of all time wasn’t a first ballot Hall of Famer was because voters suspected him of steroid use. Why? Not because he was on any list, but because he had a lot of power. Same goes for Jeff Bagwell, who got 55.7% of the votes and still has some time to get the remaining 20%. Again, it’s absurd that these guys are being penalized for being a good power hitter in a time in which some players used steroids.

There are other changes I think should be made. I think voters should be able to choose more than 10 players (maybe 14 or 15?), both because they aren’t obligated to fill their ballots and because solid candidates who compare favorably to some current Hall of Famers are being overlooked simply due to the lack of ballot space. Tim Raines (one of the best leadoff hitters of all time, Raines is now an underdog to reach the HOF), Curt Schilling, and Mike Mussina are a few examples.

I also think the Hall of Fame should be divided a bit more. How is Ray Schalk in any way equal to Babe Ruth? Maybe they should put some players on each floor of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, putting the worst HOFers on the first floor and the best on the top floor. Compared to the rest, though, this is a pretty minor request. The main thing I want is for the guys who deserve to get in or at least get consideration to have a fair shot. I also think the steroid users should be put in, because, to put it frankly, baseball is less about morals and more about results. Who cares if Bonds wasn’t chummy with the media while Smoltz was? Bonds was simply a better player than Smoltz, even before he started taking steroids. The most influential and memorable players should be in the Hall of Fame, because that’s what it’s for. I’m not sure that will ever happen, but I’m happy the conversation has started.

  1. quadrangular says:

    You say “baseball is less about morals and more about results” to bolster the position that steroid use should not bar a player from the Hall of Fame. If by “morals” you were referring to a guy who beat his wife or shoplifted, your point is well taken. However, steroid use is not merely a question of morals but is also related to results and I think that’s an important distinction. That’s not to say steroid users should never become Hall of Famers, but it’s a harder question.

  2. 5toolstar says:

    It would be one thing if we knew exactly who took performance enhancing drugs and when. It’s an entirely different thing to assume people did or didn’t. There are steroid users who are in the Hall of Fame right now, and more will be inducted. The fact is that the time Bonds and Clemens played in was saturated with PEDs. Sure, their stats might be tainted, but they’re all we have, and they are strong evidence that the two (and others linked to steroids) belong in the Hall of Fame. They were competing against other steroid users, and I don’t think their stats were so superior simply because they were taking stronger stuff. It’s a slippery slope, and once one guy who has been linked (perhaps wrongly) to drugs- Piazza will be first- I think the rest of the guys with HOF worthy stats should follow.

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