Can we still call Pudge a "future Hall-of-Famer"?
The big news Wednesday was the elections of Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven to the Hall of Fame. Although The Post doesn't let me vote, my self-admitted elitist tendencies and fairly strict adherence to the best-at-your-position-in-your-era rule have me taking some issue with the election of Blyleven. But I'm certainly not outraged by it. Congratulations to both men.
But in the bigger picture, the one that relates to the long-term future of the Hall of Fame, what was most significant about this particular election is what occurred further down the vote totals -- where anyone associated with baseball's steroids scandal got some very bad news.
Rafael Palmeiro: 11 percent of the vote, in his first year on the ballot. This would suggest he is never getting in. (Alomar, with 90 percent of the vote, was said to be elected "overwhelmingly"; almost the same percentage of voters rejected Palmeiro.)
Mark McGwire: 19.8 percent, in his fifth year on the ballot -- but his first since confessing his steroids use. This was a small decline from his 23.7 percent a year ago, and suggests he, too, is never getting in.
Juan Gonzalez: 5.2 percent. That's the lowest total in over 40 years for a player with multiple MVP awards (Gonzalez has two) in his first year of eligibility.
Kevin Brown: 2.1 percent. He falls off the ballot forever, despite having career numbers on par with Jack Morris (53.5 percent), who is slowly creeping his way to Cooperstown.
Benito Santiago: 0.2 percent. That's one vote -- and banishment from future ballots -- for a guy with three Gold Gloves, five all-star appearances and four Silver Sluggers.
All of them were strongly linked to PEDs, either through a positive test, an admission, or inclusion in the Mitchell Report.
And then there was Jeff Bagwell, who was arguably the dominant first baseman in the National League, if not all of baseball, during his career, and who has never been linked to steroids (other than through rumor and innuendo). He got a mere 41.7 percent of the vote in his first year of eligibility, and his path to enshrinement seems murky. It certainly appears the suspicions about Bagwell cost him some votes, and in fact some writers acknowledged keeping him off their ballots for that reason.
All of which brings us to current Washington Nationals catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, who is often referred to, without qualification, as a "future Hall-of-Famer." Based on this year's Hall vote, however, I don't know if we can still make that assumption.
Yes, Rodriguez was the preeminent catcher of his era (or at the very least, in a dead heat with Mike Piazza), and if he succeeds in reaching 3,000 career hits -- well, let's just say his body of work would be that of a first-ballot electee.
But the steroids problem certainly complicates things.
Rodriguez has never been definitively linked to PEDs -- no positive tests, no Mitchell Report citations, no admissions. (In fact, he has steadfastly denied using PEDs whenever questioned.) He was, however, fingered in Jose Canseco's influential 2005 book, "Juiced," in which Canseco claims to have personally injected Rodriguez with steroids while they were teammates with the Texas Rangers. Say what you will about Canseco, but several other claims made in his book have subsequently been proven right.
Whether or not you agree that the BBWAA, whose 10-year members vote for the Hall of Fame, ought to be the ultimate moral arbiters in regards to Cooperstown worthiness, it is undeniable that, in the absence of any guidance to the contrary, such a stance is being taken by many, if not most, voters. The voting instructions on the Hall ballot famously ask voters to consider a player's "record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship [and] character."
As long as that clause remains in the instructions, and as long as the Hall offers no guidelines to clarify the steroids issue, voters are likely to continue withholding votes from confirmed, and sometimes suspected, PED users. In fact, quotes from Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson in this article indicate that Cooperstown is quite comfortable with the current voting system, and the stance that voters have taken towards steroids-tainted players.
"The voters should have the freedom," Idelson said in the article, "to measure [the 'character' clause] however they see fit."
Pudge has a long wait before he appears on the Cooperstown ballot. Even if he retires after the 2011 season -- and I'm guessing that will depend upon how close he is to 3,000 hits -- he wouldn't be on the ballot until 2016 (with the announcement coming in Jan. 2017). There is every reason to believe the landscape for Rodriguez could change significantly between now and then -- new information, new perspectives, even new voting guidelines.
And before voters get to Pudge, they're going to have to grapple with the monstrous Class of 2013 ballot, which includes Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Piazza.
But sitting here today, given Rodriguez's overwhelming credentials (which surpass even Bagwell's) and the flimsiness of the steroids evidence against him -- far less than what is known (or alleged) in regards to Palmeiro, McGwire, Bonds, Clemens or Sosa -- I suspect he would eventually get in.
| January 6, 2011; 10:14 AM ET
Categories: Hall of Fame
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