Each winter, 500-plus members of the BBWAA fill out ballots. The truly brave release them to the public with their rationale. These are their stories.
First up, Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer…
Mr. Brookover has filled out perhaps the most unusual ballot I’ve seen this year: Dale Murphy and Dale Murphy alone. There are perhaps around 20 legitimate candidates on the ballot this year, and Murphy is one of them, but he’s at the bottom of that list. Murphy is on his 15th and final ballot, and has never reached higher than 23.2% on the ballot, which he did in 2000. His case has come back into the news recently, but it is still unlikely that he will be elected. So let’s delve into Mr. Brookover’s rationale for voting for Dale Murphy, yet nobody else (bolded text is Mr. Brookover’s, regular print is mine):
The mother of all Hall of Fame ballots arrived in the mail earlier this month and I immediately set aside the manila envelope and continued to ponder how to handle the polarizing players who showed up on the ballot for the first time this year.
You know the names.
Superstars who stained the game by using performance-enhancing steroids.
This immediately starts out on a weird note. Barry Bonds is arguably the greatest player in baseball history. Roger Clemens isn’t quite the best pitcher of all-time; he’s certainly in the top ten, though.
Sammy Sosa, on the other hand, is not one of the all-time greats. Yes, Sosa hit 609 dingers. I like dingers. You should like dingers too. However, that is essentially the entirety of Sammy Sosa’s HOF case: he hit a lot of dingers in a real nice five year peak from 1998 through 2002, in an era where a lot of dudes hit a lot of dingers. Sosa falls well below the JAWS HOF average line, a mile behind Larry Walker (who is danger of falling off the ballot) and behind decided non-elites like Reggie Smith and Bob Abreu.
I do concede that Sosa would likely have been inducted, perhaps on the first ballot, without the PED cloud overhanging. He certainly fits the “fame” part of the HOF, and he’s not any worse of an inductee than Andre Dawson. But statistically Sosa’s a borderline case, and lumping him in with Bonds and Clemens is a major service to his campaign, not the disservice it immediately appears to be.
Our objectivity makes us good voters, but we do risk losing it when voting on something that provides great financial reward for the chosen ones. Just ask your local sports memorabilia guy how much more valuable an autograph becomes when it has the initials HOF attached to it.
I’m conflicted by that part of the voting, but since I’m a member of the BBWAA I feel obliged to perform the service our organization has been providing since 1936, the year that the racist Ty Cobb and the boozing Babe Ruth were among the first players inducted.
The truly difficult part of the job is to determine how to deal with the PED issue that has never been more at the forefront than now. One writer I have respected and admired for a long time screamed in capital letters that it is not the right or responsibility of voters to keep the game “pure of miscreants.” He argued that the Hall of Fame is not church. He argued that a lot of people who did bad things are already in the Hall of Fame. I’d be surprised if some of the players already in the Hall of Fame didn’t use some sort of performance- enhancing drugs, including steroids.
I think Brookover actually makes some good points here. The Hall of Fame doesn’t exist for the players so much as the public; the major tangible benefit that living players receive is the ability to charge an additional $15-25 for autographs. But, like a lot of writers these days, Brookover misses something here when trying to distinguish PED users from other bad seeds: a bunch of guys in the Baseball Hall of Fame used performance-enhancing drugs, including some of the biggest names ever.
At least one Hall of Famer, Pud Galvin, is known to have injected testosterone during his career. What makes this especially amusing is that Galvin played in the deadball era; his career ended in 1892, his life in 1902. Galvin was elected to the Hall in 1962, decades before anyone gave a crap about steroids in baseball, which I suppose is why we’re supposed to ignore his usage. Then again, with the exception of Rafael Palmeiro, baseball never actually caught any of the alleged current PED user candidates either, and baseball did not even start trying to do so until 2004.
Many of baseball’s greats used amphetamines, another now-banned performance-enhancing drug which has plagued baseball for decades. In many cases, the amphetamine usage of past greats is far more documented than the alleged usage of the current ballotees. Henry Aaron, in his autobiography, admitted to using amphetamines. John Milner confirmed Willie Mays’s amphetamine usage under oath in the Pittsburgh Drug Trials. Mickey Mantle was a patient of the infamous amphetamine overprescriber Max Jacobson. Does anyone want to get rid of Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and The Mick? Those aren’t just “some players,” those are the greatest players of the golden era of baseball.
A final note on the distinction occasionally made between steroids and amphetamines as performance-enhancing drugs go: the concept of steroids as magical dinger juice is a falsity, promoted because bodybuilders and professional wrestlers used steroids to get really jacked in the 1980s and 1990s as steroids first entered the public consciousness. That kind of absurd body would actually hurt someone in baseball.
I’ve read columns by voters who say they will support a player as long as the player was never caught cheating, and I’ve been questioned in the past about not voting for (Jeff) Bagwell, who has openly denied ever using steroids and whose name cannot be found anywhere in the 2007 Mitchell report.
I’m just not sure I believe him, and the reason is because I’ve watched players lie in front of Congress. If they can lie there, they can lie anywhere about anything.
The problem here is that to be intellectually consistent you have to fill out a blank ballot. Why would you strike Jeff Bagwell for maybe using steroids but not Dale Murphy? Okay, Bagwell used andro and was jacked. Why Craig Biggio? Why Alan Trammell? Why Edgar Martinez? And so on…
(Curt) Schilling, one of the more outspoken players in his contempt for steroid users, once was asked if he was still dipping smokeless tobacco during his playing days with the Phillies. He assured the questioners he was not. It was a lie that was revealed by his wife, Shonda, just a few days later.
That’s questionable integrity and character. Many of Schilling’s teammates would tell you he displayed a lack of character, sportsmanship, and integrity more than a few times during his career. I still think he belongs in the Hall of Fame, but the rules on the ballot would argue against his case.
Curt Schilling committed no crime by dipping. His private usage of tobacco products had no impact on the game of baseball. It did not break a rule. Who could possibly care about this?
For this year, however, I will cast one vote for Dale Murphy, who is on the ballot for the 15th and final time. He gets my vote because I believe he was a terrific player who showed great integrity, sportsmanship, and character.
Mr. Brookover rebuts the cases of Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Bagwell, and Schilling (and, by implication, Palmeiro). His rationales for excluding Bagwell and Schilling are paper-thin, but at least he made them.
Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, and Fred McGriff are candidates that Brookover claims to find Hall of Fame worthy yet does not vote for. Why?
Alan Trammell and Lee Smith played in the same era as Murphy and have, as far as I know, never even been discussed in the same sentence as steroids. Mr. Brookover has voted for both of them as recently as last year. He did not this year, with the implication that it is because of their “integrity, sportsmanship, and character.” Why on earth are they excluded here?
Dale Murphy was a heck of a baseball player. Voting for Dale Murphy is not ridiculous. Voting for Dale Murphy because he was the only sportsman of the era is completely ridiculous unless you tell us why. And that’s the entire mention of Dale Murphy in this article: two sentences begging the question.
What a way to give out baseball’s highest honor.