Empty classroom: 2013 Hall of Fame Class without a player

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In 2009 MLB did away with the annual Hall of Fame game, played every year at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, N.Y. – a place that many believe was the birthplace of baseball. “Scheduling conflicts” prevented a game played every year since the year the Hall of Fame’s inception in 1936. A meaningful game to the people of Cooperstown – and in respect to the Hall – eliminated.

Not much of an uproar was heard over this decision; in fact, no one really talked about it.

Today, for only the eighth time in the 77 year history of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and for the first time since 1996, not one player was elected to have a plaque with their face on it plastered on the fabled walls in Cooperstown; no class of 2013. No class of players, anyway.

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That being said, upstate New York on the last weekend in July will be rather quiet this year. And unlike the choice to drop the Hall of Fame game, this time, there was uproar.

Current players, team beat writers, journalists, analysts, fans, and basically everyone on Twitter (this writer included) criticized the voters, namely the Baseball Writers Association, for the absence of a player in the 2013 Hall of Fame class. The criticism was well-earned, considering there were a number of players who many deemed worthy of enshrinement.

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The voters are only allowed to vote for 10 players, and players need 75% of votes to make it in. On the ballot for his first year eligible, Houston Astros superstar Craig Biggio was the closest to getting in, receiving 68.2% of votes.

Jack Morris (67.7%) was right behind Biggio, followed by his old teammate Jeff Bagwell (59.6%) and New York Met icon Mike Piazza (57.8%).

Longtime Montreal Expo and Yankee fan-favorite Tim “Rock” Raines fell short, 52.2% in his sixth year on the ballot. A former Yankee killer, Seattle Mariners DH Edgar Martinez, was given 35.9% of votes in his fourth year on the ballot.

In his 13th year on the ballot, Don Mattingly finished with 13.2% of votes.

Two huge names on the ballot for the first time this year were Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds: guys who have accomplished a lot during their respective careers; broken records, World Series titles, Cy Young awards, MVP awards, which are all achievements that put players in great positions to be elected and sit alongside baseball’s very best forever.

However, the thought of either one of them making the Hall of Fame on their first year of eligibility is farfetched – only because of their linkage to steroid usage and PEDs. Clemens publicly said he wasn’t surprised; “The Rocket” only receiving 37.6% of votes. Bonds finished right behind Clemens with 36.2%.

In this writer’s opinion, most of these players could have made it – and at least one of them should’ve.

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Biggio, albeit this year being just his first year of eligibility, was no doubt worthy of getting the call. Same can be said of Piazza. 3,000 hits (Biggio) and 400 home runs off the bat of a catcher (Piazza) should be enough to get in – and I believe both of them will get in down the line. Bagwell, to me, will always be a borderline guy: great numbers for a 15-year career, but will always be straddling the line of good and great.

Raines was close to 3,000 hits (2,605) and nearly ended his career with a BA above .300 (.294), but it being his sixth year of eligibility – and Rock being a seven-time All-Star, a batting champ (1986), All-Star Game MVP (’87), three-time World Series Champ (twice as a player, ’96, ’98, once as a coach, ’05) – should at least get him closer to that elusive 75% than his mark of 52.2%.

It surprised me that Martinez hasn’t received a higher percentage of votes. His career numbers weren’t at all bad – 309 homers, a lifetime .312 BA, 1,261 RBIs, and over 2,000 hits. All numbers that may not jump off the page, yet go nicely with his two batting titles (’92, ‘95), his five Silver Sluggers and seven All-Star Game appearances.

To me, Martinez is highly underrated. There are those who are always going to turn their heads away from him because he mostly played as a designated hitter; to some fans he might even be considered a “part-timer.” But remember, he played the field (specifically third base) in his career, too.

Time to face facts: Mattingly will never make it. Thirteen years and a small percentage of votes to show for it is not exactly a ticket to Cooperstown.

But we all have to understand that it’s called the Hall of Fame. Not the Hall of Very Good.

Which brings me to Clemens and Bonds – who were famous, not just “very good.” Each then fell from grace and became infamous. And for the record, in the future I believe both could make it in – but considering the direction both players’ careers have gone in, I had a reasonable feeling neither one wasn’t a first ballot player.

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During his 2008 interview with 60 Minutes, which explored the controversy surrounding his alleged use of steroids and PEDs, Clemens was asked about his HOF chances, given the accusations brought against him. He responded curtly, saying,

“What makes you think I give a damn about the Hall of Fame?”

I thought right then and there, Clemens was doomed to never be considered for the Hall, let alone make it in; his statement being a slap in the face to every baseball player enshrined in Cooperstown. He later respectfully recanted his asinine remark, and last June was acquitted for lying to congress about steroid and PED usage.

Legally Clemens’s name was cleared. But he will always have that smudge next his name – a smudge that hurt him today, his quest for Cooperstown undoubtedly an uphill battle.

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Bonds will have that same hill to climb, his name also associated with steroids and PEDs. A liar, a cheater, and an overall arrogant player with a superiority complex– but because of his numbers, and the fact that he broke the home run record in 2007, Bonds still has a chance to make the Hall.

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The bottom line here is that sure, maybe all of these players aren’t overly worthy. Perhaps Tim Raines was just a regular player. Maybe Edgar Martinez shouldn’t be in because he was mostly a DH. Mattingly sure as heck won’t make it, even with his impressive merits.

And I get it: not everyone gets in.

However, at least one of the players on this year’s ballot should have gone in. It’s disgraceful how the Baseball Writers Association is unable to vote a player into Cooperstown, considering voting for a HOF’er is probably the most important aspect of their job.

It’s only going to get tougher as the years go on for the players currently on the ballot; keep in mind, players can stay on the ballot for 15 years. The likes of Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, and Greg Maddux will be eligible next year, and in the not-so-distant future names like Ken Griffey, Jr. and Randy Johnson will be on the list – names not linked to anything illegal or incriminating.

I will be curious to see how it plays out for these gentlemen. But as for today…

It’s tough to feel good about baseball. Jon Heyman, a respected baseball writer, even described it as “a sad day for baseball.” They nixed the Hall of Fame game, which was bad enough. Now they can’t elect a player to the Hall of Fame?

If you ask me, today showed me that respect for the game’s history is being devalued. Time-honored tradition is becoming extinct, shamelessly. History is being discarded.

What’s next? They take two dozen bulldozers to Cooperstown and plow the whole town away?

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