By Ross Newhan
Thanksgiving, or Thank Goodness?
Well, put is this way:
While the 2014 Hall of Fame ballot may fall far short of the many more personal and substantive reasons for giving thanks, it at least pushes the tiring residue of the steroid era largely into a secondary status behind a strong lineup of untainted players in their first and second year of eligibility.
Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro are still on the ballot, bringing with them the admissions, skepticism and documented proof of PED use.
But, unlike 2013, when Clemens, Bonds and Sosa were on the ballot for the first time, dominated December debate and, in the end, no one was elected in BBWAA voting, the Hall's 2014 induction ceremonies, coinciding with the museum's 75th anniversary, should, could and will include (my view and vote at least) more than one ballot winner.
I mean, with Greg Maddux deservingly automatic in his ballot debut, fellow freshmen Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina also seem on the fringe of that automatic category, and I have never understood the philosophy of some voters in withholding their first ballot accredidation, as if the accomplishments of retired players are going to change over time.
Craig Biggio's haven't. He still has 3,060 career hits and was an All-Star at three different positions. Biggio received 68.2% of the 2013 vote in his first year on the ballot and certainly should eclipse the needed 75% this time.
Eligible Hall voters can select 10 players from a ballot of 36.
I have never reached 10, but 2014 could prove an exception.
Without being totally definitive at this point, there's Maddux, Glavine, Thomas, Kent, Mussina, Biggio and my ongoing support of Mike Piazza, in his second year of eligibility, and Jack Morris, needing to jump from 67.7% in his 15th and last year of eligibility.
Then there's Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Lee Smith and Curt Schilling percolating somewhere in my considerations, and among those PED boys, does the hammer continue to fall on Clemens with his seven Cy Young Awards, 354 wins and acquittal in the 2012 jury trial on all six counts of obstruction and lying to Congress in denying PED use. Clemens received 37.6% of the 2013 vote in his first year on the ballot and isn't going to jump to 75% in '14 no matter how many voters dismiss the syringe collection of his former strength coach, Brian McNamee, and damning insistance by former teammate and (former?) friend Andy Pettitte that Clemens told him he had used HGH.
There ARE voters, of course, who contend that the BBWAA is not charged with the responsibility of serving as Morality Police, that Ty Cobb, Gaylord Perry and even the Babe, among others in the Hall, are illustrative that this is not an annual election on Sainthood. However, if the BBWAA does not accept its role as a custodian of the game in general and primary caretaker of the Hall, who will?
For 2014, Thank Goodness AND Thanksgiving, the positive choices far outweigh the potentially negative, and there is also this:
The 16 member Expansion Era Committee, composed of writers, owners/executives and former players, is expected to help fill the Cooperstown dais by voting in three former and acclaimed managers--Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa and Bobby Cox--while rejecting again (oh, those owners) the late Marvin Miller.