Baseball Hall of Fame election day a cause for more sadness

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Baseball Hall of Fame election day is a time to celebrate our wonderful game. But unfortunately, it’s also become an annual exercise to regret, to question, to condemn and to second-guess.

And boy is there ever a lot to lament again this year.

Scott Rolen deserves our congratulations. He’s a fantastic two-way third baseman who made the Hall of Fame Tuesday, and deservedly so.

Todd Helton should feel very pleased with the results, too. He is trending the right way, and history tells us next year will probably be his year.

So should Billy Wagner, who was maybe the greatest left-handed reliever ever and one of the most interesting cases (more on that below).

Congrats to all who polled well. But no congrats to the writers, who like to pat ourselves on the back but continue to lead the league in fickle (more on that below, too).

Baseball’s Hall of Fame is by far the greatest of all the halls, and it’s an overall plus that it triggers conversation and controversy for days. But it brings sadness, too, especially over what might have been.


Alex Rodriguez
Alex Rodriguez
Anthony J. Causi

The four most accomplished players on this year’s ballot finished out of the money. PED talk surely has diminished with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens falling off the writers’ ballot, but steroids (and scandal) still linger.

Alex Rodriguez is a three-time MVP and all-time great, Manny Ramirez an unstoppable offensive force, Carlos Beltran one of the great switch hitters ever and Gary Sheffield one of the most feared hitters ever, and they finished eighth, ninth, tied for sixth and fifth respectively, thanks to, in order, steroids, steroids, sign stealing via technology and a trash can, and more steroids.


Beltran probably will make it in coming years since sign stealing didn’t aid his numbers (he flat out stunk in 2017). It feels like a one-year punishment is about right for his involvement as a league-documented instigator of the Astros’ scandal. I pledge to vote for him next December (and I suspect enough others may, too.)

If history is a guide, A-Rod and Manny never make it, and that’s a shame, because they surely had the talent to do it without chemical enhancement. The strange one is Sheffield since he’s the fourth best of these tainted players yet polled better than Beltran, A-Rod and Manny. Sheffield was a BALCO customer who sent Victor Conte cash, yet more than half the electorate is now voting for a guy whose career is barely over the border, steroids or no steroids.

He’s even trending better than his buddy Barry Bonds did at this stage. My guess is that Bonds got too good via steroids, drawing extra attention to himself via his exploits and his records, while Sheffield aided his case by acting ticked off when he was publicly linked, and by blaming Bonds.

Forever, I’ve been defending the voters (who include me). It’s a good system I say in the face of the avalanche of criticism.

But as it turns out, we are wishy-washy. We are way too easily influenced.

We aim to please. And the result is that the voting has taken some strange turns.


Barry Bonds
Barry Bonds
AP

Take the 2019 ballot, when Rolen, Helton and Wagner got 17 percent of the vote. And Jeff Kent got 18 percent. Today, Rolen is in, Helton will be in next year and Wagner is on his way to election while Kent is now officially off the ballot after receiving less than 50 percent support.

There’s a lot to be said about Rolen, Helton and Wagner. They all have a decent case. But from here, that first vote where that trio received about the same vote totals as Kent is closer to reality. They are all very good and very close. (Full disclosure: I voted for Kent and Rolen but didn’t quite get there for Helton or the former Met Wagner, who had all-time great rate stats but came up just short for me as a one-inning relief specialist who didn’t have either enormous bulk numbers or big moments.)

Regarding Rolen, Helton and Wagner, you don’t have to be a math genius to understand that more than half the electorate changed their minds in four short years. The question must be asked: Why did Rolen, Helton and Wagner rise as precipitously as just about any candidate ever while Kent experienced a negligible bump?

It’s very likely about strong opinions on Twitter, folks becoming convinced and in some cases undoubtedly feeling the pressure. I’m all for transparency. But it seems to have triggered groupthink.

Perhaps it’s subconscious, but at least some voters embrace the narrative driven by the crowd that emphasizes rate stats over true impact. The way the overall voting is going, maybe the Cooperstown museum should be renamed the Hall of New Stats.

Kent, who is the greatest home run hitter and RBI man for a second baseman, never got thumbs-up from the in crowd on Twitter. Nothing against Rolen and the rest, but Kent’s omission is just one more thing to regret on a day that’s supposed to be all about a celebration.

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