MLB Hall of Fame Voters Make a Statement
The strangeness carryover from 2020 to 2021 continues unabated. Sports fans have been rolling with the changes and oddities fairly well, mostly because we are all junkies for our favorite sports and will put up with almost anything. Cable companies love us because they know that we’re willing to be gouged in fees just to watch a few hours a week.
Things just got a little weirder for Major League Baseball fans when the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) announced that it will not be inducting any new members into the Hall of Fame this year.
For the first time since 1960, the membership of the National Baseball Hall of Fame will remain frozen.
No player on the Hall’s 2021 Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot reached the 75% threshold needed for enshrinement in Cooperstown. The results of the voting were announced by Hall of Fame president Tim Mead on MLB Network on Tuesday night.
The leading vote-getter was controversial pitcher Curt Schilling, who was named on 71.1% of the ballots, 16 votes shy of the minimum needed for selection. Schilling was followed by all-time home run leader Barry Bonds (61.8%) and 354-game winner Roger Clemens (61.6) in the voting.
All three former All-Stars were in their ninth year of eligibility on the ballot, leaving them one more chance next winter. Players get 10 shots at enshrinement via the writers’ voting before moving on to consideration by one of the Hall’s various era-based veterans committees.
Reminder: in modern American mainstream media speak, “controversial” is code for “conservative.” That’s the only reason that Schilling is being given the shaft here. He’s had enough of it, too. The article goes on to note that Schilling has asked that his name be removed from next year’s ballot.
There will be inductees this year, but they are from last year’s ballot. The 2020 ceremony was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Statistics have never been the only things considered by the BBWAA for induction into the Hall, as The Wall Street Journal noted before this year’s results were revealed:
Eligible members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America receive Hall-of-Fame ballots every autumn instructing them to choose candidates not only based on their performance on the field, but also on their integrity, sportsmanship and character. Some variation of those words have been part of the criteria for 75 years and have caused confusion and fierce debate ever since.
This year has put the meaning of the “character clause” to the ultimate test. Virtually all of the players on the ballot with the most obvious Hall-worthy statistics have something on their résumés that, depending on one’s interpretation of the character clause, could disqualify them from induction into Cooperstown.
Reiterating: politics are keeping Schilling out. He’s a conservative who — this will sound familiar — occasionally tweets mean things. The people who vote for selection to the Hall are members of the press. It’s an easy equation to work out.
Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds both have otherworldly statistics, but those stats have a lot of the steroids baggage that the Hall voters have demonstrated they aren’t fans of:
One group of players’ extraordinary accomplishments have been shrouded in accusations that they used performance-enhancing drugs during their careers, an issue that has polarized voters for years. Leading this class are Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Bonds has hit more home runs than anybody in major-league history. Clemens won a record seven Cy Young awards. The specter of PEDs has kept them out, with enough voters concluding that their alleged use violates the character clause.
Bonds and Clemens are in their ninth year on the ballot, meaning they have just one more year of eligibility left. Their vote total has risen steadily, from the mid-30% range in 2013 to just over 60% last year. But Thibodaux said that judging from the available data, voters’ opinions on how to handle PEDs is largely “set in stone,” and there’s no indication that there are any more minds to change. Other sluggers who have been linked to PEDs—like Manny Ramírez, Gary Sheffield and Sammy Sosa—have also failed to generate much support.
That character issues are taking center stage for this year’s Hall balloting is especially interesting given that the results were released just days after the passing of Hank Aaron. Aaron is still considered by many (myself included) to be the real baseball home run king because of Bonds’ “alleged” (snickers all around) use of performance-enhancing drugs. Bonds went from being a scrawny finesse hitter in Pittsburgh to a power hitter who looked like a battle mech from Pacific Rim once he got to San Francisco.
While MLB may not have been able to nail him for PED use, everyone on the planet Earth was pretty well aware that growth spurts like that don’t just happen in the gym.
While Hank Aaron had the unreal home run stats, it’s always his character that people who knew him first mention when talking about him.
Character may not be quantifiable like home runs or earned run average, but, to paraphrase the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, we know it when we see it.
Heck, even sportswriters can recognize it.