Just so we're on the same page: I like the Hall of Fame. At least, I like the idea of a Hall of Fame. I like the concept of a game, steeped in history and tradition, having that tangible link to the past. It helps you remember the greats that have come before; it provides a sense of continuity between generations; it's a celebration for the game and for the players inducted.
After that it gets messy. What constitutes the "Fame" in Hall of Fame? Stats? Celebrity? Breaking barriers, big-game performances, historic streaks or first-time accomplishments? Qualifications for the Hall of Fame are as defined as those for the All-Star game. Share your beliefs with your sports-conscious friends at your own risk.
Allow me to answer two popular Hall-based questions, so you have a better idea of my own heretical thoughts on enshrinement.
Should Pete Rose be in the Hall of Fame?
I think he should be eligible now. Betting, even for your own team, crosses a dangerous line as far as I'm concerned. Place bets on other teams, place bets on other sports, but betting on a game in which you're actively involved is suspect. Still, I think that punishment can only go so far. We aren't banning players with proof of PED usage; while I won't go so far as to say one is a greater sin than the other, they're both wrong in my book. But we'll get to PED use momentarily.
It's now been nearly 27 years since Rose last bet on a game he was involved in, that we know of. In February it will have been 25 years since the news started getting out. It's been just over 24 years since Rose was banned from baseball, although he's now taken part in on-field activities. It's been 16 years since he first applied for reinstatement, and nearly ten years since he admitted publicly to betting on the Reds.
Even if the powers that be aren't ready to reinstate Rose yet, he needs to be reinstated at some point. Maybe we start counting from when he publicly admitted it and agree that he'll be eligible 25 years after that date; maybe we think he should be eligible for the Hall once he passes away, so that he can't enjoy what will inevitably be seen as his victory over baseball; maybe he should be eligible next season, since it seems that much of the baseball-loving American public has been able to move on.
Rose finished his career with an unbelievable 4,256 hits. That's 67 more than Ty Cobb; 940 more than the active leader, Derek Jeter. A great hitter who collects 200 hits a season would need to average that number over 21 years just to be within sniffing distance of that record, and that's just ridiculous.
Should players connected to PED use be allowed in or have an asterisk attached to their name?
I thought so, for a long time. If those guys were to be let in, I was in favor of a "Hall of Shame" that you had to walk through to get into the Hall of Fame, loaded with larger-than-life statues of the shamed looking down upon you as you walked through the court. I wanted baseball to acknowledge, through this act, that they had brought it upon themselves, and I wanted it to be a reminder of what a monster they had created and ignored and allowed to propagate for a generation.
Now I think a bit differently. This is mostly because we can never know for certain which players used and which players didn't, and for the players we do know used we have no guidelines for what should be exclusionary and what should be glossed over, if anything. There is a lot we don't know, and in the interests of posterity and of my own conscience, I want nothing - absolutely nothing - to do with a witch hunt. Because that is exactly what this would turn into, regardless of how hard in the sand the line was drawn on PED use.
Basically, to ensure that innocent players aren't lumped in with the accused, I'm willing to not blackball Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens or Rafael Palmeiro. Would I vote for them? Maybe not, but I wouldn't exclude them as a rule.
The 2014 Hall of Fame Ballot consists of 17 returning players and 19 newcomers. No matter how many players are deserving, each ballot can only approve ten players. That's a ridiculous rule, since voters are also allowed to not vote for anybody, but that's the reality of it. I'll abide by that as I walk you through my list.
First Timers, No Vote
Kenny Rogers, Luis Gonzalez, Moises Alou, Ray Durham, Richie Sexson, Paul Lo Duca, Armando Benitez, Mike Timlin, Sean Casey, Jacque Jones, Eric Gagne, J.T. Snow, Todd Jones
Some of those are bigger no-brainers than others. Guys like Gonzalez, Alou, Durham, Lo Duca, Snow and even Gagne had a couple of really good seasons...or more. But no matter which guys you look at, none of them had the type of career or the type of notoriety that gets them Hall of Fame consideration for me. What do you think about this group?
The Odd Consideration
Nomo didn't pitch well enough to deserve consideration for Hall membership by numbers, but he was the first Japanese player to have a full career in Major League Baseball. Masanori Murakami was the first Japanese player to grace the MLB stage, but he put forward just a short stint in 1964 and a full 1965 season with the Giants before red tape and league politics between MLB and NPB saw him pulled back home. If Major League Baseball hadn't been so greedy, or perhaps simply been more forthcoming, the Giants may have been able to retain Murakami - and judging from 89.1 outstanding innings, Murakami could have made a name for himself in America.
Back to Nomo: if it wasn't for Murakami, who I didn't know broke the Japanese-MLB barrier until I researched the topic, I would have given Nomo my vote. As it is, I'd be happy to vote Murakami into the Hall of Fame. I think he deserves to be there.
Returning Players, No Vote - Easy Decision
Jack Morris, Mark McGwire, Don Mattingly, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro
This is how it works for me: Mattingly wasn't good enough for long enough; Sosa and Palmeiro don't match up against the average right fielder in the Hall of Fame; all McGwire did was hit home runs. He broke the single-season home run record by Roger Maris, but single-season accomplishments or records aren't enough for me to give him the nod.
And then there's Morris. He pitched for a long time, had a couple of good seasons but was rarely great, he was a workhorse, he pitched on good teams, pitched ten shutout innings in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, and was rarely a bad pitcher. He's also the sixth-best starting pitcher on this year's Hall of Fame ballot...and I'm not voting for each of the five I'd place in front of him, either.
For me, Morris belongs in the Hall of Good.
Close but No Cigar
Tim Raines, Lee Smith, Curt Schiling, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker, Fred McGriff, Mike Mussina, Tom Glavine
If any of these players would be on your ballot, I can't begrudge you that. Each of these eight players are just a cut below the rest, for me, but individually they all have accolades and numbers and recognition as far as the eye can see. One or two of them I could even pencil onto my ballot, depending on how I'm feeling on a certain day, but for today I'm trying to cut a definitive line. And unfortunately for these guys, they wouldn't fall on the right side of that line today.
Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Edgar Martinez, Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Jeff Kent
Numbers, longevity, awards, championships, accolades, domination - most of these guys embodied more than one of those descriptors. As far as I'm concerned each of these players are worthy of first-time ballot voting.
Yes, particularly with Clemens and Bonds I'm having to look the other way because of endless strings of connections to PED use, but you've already seen the guidelines that I'm living by on my Hall of Fame ballot. To ensure that innocent players get the benefit of a doubt, I can't exclude these guys - and based off of their numbers alone, they deserve the recognition of the game's highest individual honor.
I can see how it might be seen to sully my vote or the Hall itself, but as far as I'm concerned that's baseball's issue. It's not my job to clean up the game or the Hall for baseball, and I'm not going to allow the to come out looking cleaner than it is by refusing to put those types of players on my ballot.
Anyway, that's how I see it. And we're now more than 1500 words deep into this Hall of Fame discussion, so I'll turn it over to you. How would you vote?