By Joe Clark, Sports Page Editor
The Baseball Hall of Fame officially has a problem. Instead of recognizing the best players in the game’s history, it recognizes the most media-friendly players. This was proven last week when the only player inducted into the Hall of Fame was former Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz.
Let me preface this by saying that I’m a diehard Red Sox fan –– I love Ortiz, and I categorically believe he should’ve been a first-ballot induction into the Hall. This isn’t a knock on him or his accomplishments. It is, however, a knock on the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) and their flawed and antiquated process for deciding who is inducted into the Hall of Fame.
A little bit of background: To get inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, you need 75% of the votes from the 397 members of the BBWAA. In theory, there shouldn’t be too many issues with this process. If enough people across baseball media think a player is deserving of the Hall of Fame, then they’re in.
The issues lie in the objectivity of the voting process. If a player wasn’t the friendliest with reporters in his playing days, they may be more motivated to keep him out of the Hall of Fame.
The BBWAA election voting rules state that: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” The key word in that sentence is “character.” Determining the character of a player is an entirely subjective exercise that can be interpreted differently by each voter.
In the last few election cycles, it’s fair to say that Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling were all negatively impacted by the loose character clause interpretation, leaving all three to run out of Hall of Fame eligibility. Schilling’s issues are different from Bonds and Clemens, so I’m going to focus on the two of them.
Bonds is the MLB record-holder for most home runs, smashing 762 in his career en route to seven Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards. He has a career on-base percentage (OBP) of .444. For reference, if you took all of Bonds’ 762 home runs and turned them into outs, he would have a career OBP of .384. That would be higher than Ortiz’s career OBP of .380.
However, Bonds (like Ortiz) was rumored to be on the list of players who tested positive for steroids in 2003, before the MLB initiated mandatory testing. Bonds was later convicted on one count of obstruction of justice relating to questioning over his steroid usage during a 2003 grand jury testimony against his trainer.
Clemens, who won seven Cy Young awards and one MVP while amassing 354 wins and 4,672 strikeouts in his career, was on trial for a similar perjury case. However, he was found not guilty on all six counts.
The issue with those two was that it’s a known fact they used steroids during their playing career. However, most steroids weren’t a banned substance in baseball until 2005, and once MLB started mandating testing, neither Clemens nor Bonds tested positive. There’s no reason they should be excluded from the Hall of Fame, but they were kept out due to the steroids and becasue they had a poor reputation with the media.
Bonds and Clemens might be the best two players to ever play their respective positions; however, because they used steroids in an era where everybody was likely doing something to get an edge and because they weren’t Mr. Nice Guys, you won’t see their bust in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
That’s a real shame, and the Hall of Fame needs to find a way to fix the voting process. Either lowering the 75% voting threshold (Bonds got 66% of the vote while Clemens got 65.2% of the vote) or increasing the voting pool to include more diversity than just the BBWAA members would be a start.
Until that happens, fans won’t see some of the best to ever play the game in their rightful spot in the Hall.