It’s holiday season and Hall of Fame season, too. Just after New Year’s, the voting results will be announced. It’s arguably the most contentious year for voting. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa are on the ballot for the first time.
Dale Murphy and Rafael Palmeiro may be on the ballot for the last time.
Murphy is in his 15th and final year of eligibility. Last year, Murphy finished 12th with 14.5 percent of eligible voters favoring his induction. Palmeiro was behind him with 12.6 percent of the vote.
For election, it takes 75 percent of eligible voters. Candidates falling below five percent are off the ballot.
Murphy won’t get in the Hall of Fame. Neither will Palmeiro. With many voters ignoring Bonds, Clemens, Sosa and Mark McGwire, Palmeiro will be shunned, too.
It’s always an easy column to write about Palmeiro. A few of his defenders will say that he’s one of just a handful of players to hit 500 home runs and have 3,000 hits. Many more of his detractors will argue he defaced the Orioles uniform, testing positive for steroids as he was marching toward 3,000 hits.
I’m with the detractors, and though I don’t have a Hall of Fame vote, but could in the future, I like to cast an imaginary ballot.
I couldn’t vote for Palmeiro, McGwire, Sosa or Clemens. McGwire’s admission of steroid use taints him, and the overwhelming evidence that Sosa and Clemens used disqualifies them in my mind.
Bonds was a separate case. Like a few voters, I thought that before the time of his supposed use, he had already established a strong Hall of Fame case. A superior batter with good power and speed, and a graceful player in the field.
It didn’t matter that he was a lout, that he was obnoxious to reporters.
He had the stats. Then, came the steroid use and the gaudy stats. I wasn’t sure how I’d vote on Bonds—until Sunday.
In a fascinating article in The New York Times by Tyler Kepner, Murphy’s family talked about his case for the Hall of Fame. It’s still not convincing.
For much of the 1980s, Murphy was perhaps baseball’s brightest star. He won consecutive MVPs in 1982 and 1983, hit 30 home runs or more six times and drove in more than 100 runs five times, but by the time he was 32, Murphy’s stat lines plummeted, and while his 398 home runs are fairly impressive, his .265 lifetime batting average really wasn’t.
Most of the Atlanta Braves teams he played on weren’t very good. He played just three postseason games, but Murphy excelled off the field.
Lots of charity work, unfailingly friendly and polite and devoted father of eight.
“We’ve always kind of felt like, if he would have taken some shortcuts, maybe he would have had a longer peak,” Murphy’s son Chad told Kepner. “But that was never part of how he wanted to play that game.”
Palmeiro, Sosa, McGwire, Clemens and Bonds took those shortcuts. At least Clemens and Bonds were likely Hall of Famers without steroids, and maybe Palmeiro, too.
How many of the 10 seasons that Palmeiro exceeded 30 home runs and 100 RBIs were enhanced chemically? Surely, the artificial help allowed Palmeiro to play until he was 40.
Murphy didn’t do that.
“You can argue that they weren’t testing back then, but none of this stuff was done in public,” Murphy said. “Everybody knew it was against the law or against the rules of the game. That’s why it was done in secret.”
Murphy is right. McGwire, Sosa, Clemens, Bonds and Palmeiro resorted to illicit backchannels to obtain this stuff. It wasn’t done through team doctors or trainers.
While club officials may have looked away, felt that everybody did it, or just didn’t want to know, the majority of players didn’t take shortcuts.
More were like Murphy, but he was able to crystallize my thinking. The players knew it was wrong. That’s why it was done in secret.
And that’s why I hope that none of them get in the Hall of Fame.