By Dan Schlossberg
We haven’t heard the last of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.
United in disgrace for allegedly cheating their way through their twilight years, Bonds and Clemens never mustered the 75 per cent of the vote needed for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Then they fell off the writers’ ballot, their 10-year stay exhausted.
But wait! Here comes the Veterans Committee, charging out of the swirling dust like the Lone Ranger rescuing Tonto.
Now called the Contemporary Baseball Players Era Committee – more than a mouthful to be sure – it’s one of three revamped Veterans Committees deciding the fate of players overlooked or snubbed by the Baseball Writers Association of America in their annual elections.
Bonds, Clemens, are the half-dozen others on the newly-minted ballot will learn their fate at the Baseball Winter Meetings in San Diego next month. If any of them muster 12 votes from the 16-member panel, they’ll become the first installment of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2023.
The committee’s very first ballot is shrouded in controversy.
Beyond Bonds, who won seven MVPs, and Clemens, with seven Cy Youngs, are Curt Schilling, a star pitcher who posted inflammatory political rhetoric on social media and then asked voters to ignore his name, and Rafael Palmeiro, who used a Congressional hearing to angrily deny involvement in performance-enhancing substances (PEDs), also known as steroids.
Notable by their absence are Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, sluggers who staged a successful but suspicious two-man assault on the single-season home run record of Roger Maris in 1998.
Assault is a good word to describe Albert Belle, a battering ram on and off the field during an all-too-short career curtailed by injury. In 12 seasons, he made five All-Star teams, won three RBI crowns, and alienated teammates, opponents, fans, and media members with his temperamental tantrums.
The Hall of Fame’s prerequisite for good character should kill his chances.
That leaves three “good guys” surprisingly shunned for a decade by the voting writers.
Tops on that list is Dale Murphy, who reached the majors as a catcher in 1976 and once caught a one-hitter thrown by Phil Niekro, a knuckleball artist who won a spot in Cooperstown with 318 wins.
Murphy was the National League’s version of Cal Ripken, Jr. He didn’t drink, smoke, or swear and was the epitome of politeness, never refusing a request for an autograph or an interview. A devout Mormon, he moved from catcher to first base to center field, eventually winning five Gold Gloves during his long tenure with the Braves. A durable slugger who played all 162 games four years in a row, he also won two home run titles, had a 30/30 season, and brought home consecutive MVP trophies – all without benefit of drugs. He’s the only National Leaguer with back-to-back MVPs not in Cooperstown.
Fred McGriff should also wear an Atlanta hat on his Hall of Fame plaque. After the Braves got him in a midseason swap with San Diego during the 1993 campaign, both he and the team caught fire (as did the press box on the night he arrived), making up a 10-game deficit in a tooth-and-nail battle with San Francisco that ended on the last day. The Braves finished with 104 wins, the Giants won 103, and Major League Baseball imposed the wild-card system as a result.
A year later, McGriff was the All-Star Game MVP. Then he led the 1995 Braves to their first Atlanta world championship. He finished with 493 home runs – Lou Gehrig’s total – but would have had many more if not for the numerous work stoppages instigated by Marvin Miller (who shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame).
Another first baseman on the ballot is Don Mattingly, who played 14 seasons and managed for 12. He won an MVP, a batting crown, and a Manager of the Year award but Mattingly is most remembered for his quiet leadership and superb defense (nine Gold Gloves). A lifetime .307 hitter, he’s the only man on the ballot who spent his whole career with one team, though Murphy came close.
For voters, it will be hard to overlook the statistics of the suspected cheaters. Bonds and Clemens were contemporaries who played a combined 46 years and rewrote the record books in the process. The former broke the single-season and career home run records, hitting 762 home runs but as many as 50 only once: when he hit 73 in 2001.
Clemens won 354 games, second to Greg Maddux among living pitchers, thanks to five 20-win campaigns. He fanned 20 men in nine innings twice, winning an MVP and two World Series rings. He also led his league in earned run average seven times.
Another Boston bellwether, Schilling pitched 20 years, winning 216 regular-season games while going 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in postseason play. He was co-MVP (with Randy Johnson) of the 2001 World Series.
Palmeiro, who also lasted 20 years, is the only eligible Cooperstown candidate not inducted despite 3,000 hits and 500 homers. The four-time All-Star won three Gold Gloves and hit at least 30 home runs in 10 different seasons.
The ballot was compiled by 11 writer/historians including Jack O’Connell, secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers Association of America [BBWAA]. Eligible players who made their primary contributions after 1980 were considered for inclusion. That’s why Pete Rose is missing.
Next year, the other half of the Contemporary Era committee will consider managers, executives, and umpires. Then the Classic Baseball Era committee will vote for the Class of 2025 before the cycle begins again with the Contemporary Baseball Player Committee choosing electees for the Class of 2026.
Results from this year’s election will be announced Dec. 4 at 8 p.m. EST on MLB Network.
HTP weekend editor Dan Schlossberg, a national baseball writer for forbes.com, lists Dale Murphy and Fred McGriff among his Top Ten Omissions from Cooperstown. Also on that list are Lew Burdette, Lou Whitaker, Luis Tiant, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Charlie Finley, George Steinbrenner, and Leo Mazzone, with honorable mention to Rusty Staub, Joe Niekro, and Wes Ferrell. Dan’s email is email@example.com.