Nobody got elected. Rob Neyer has a great break down. Deadspin has a fun little article on relationships among votes for players. Jonah Keri has some interesting thoughts as well. Even Bill Livingston, who normally writes like a moron, thinks people are dumb for ignoring steroid era stars.
Here’s what baffles me. Five years ago, when some of these guys retired, we all would have agreed they’d be first ballot HOFers. No question. Barry Bonds is the greatest offensive player in baseball history; only Babe Ruth comes close, and only if you count his years as a pitcher. (The introduction to Baseball Between the Numbers covers this argument better than I can.) Roger Clemens is arguably the best pitcher in baseball since 1950, certainly since 1975. (I’d call Greg Maddux the clear #2, with Randy Johnson, Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez, and a few others jockeying for best pitcher since 1975; Clemens was more dominant and performed better in the postseason.) Mike Piazza is the greatest offensive catcher of all time.
None of them even got 60% of the vote. Bonds and Clemens got less than 40%. The most popular candidate of the first balloters? Craig Biggio. Biggio was an excellent player, and deserving of the Hall of Fame. He was not the most deserving person on the ballot; not even close. Here’s what you have to ask yourself: why on earth would you not vote for Bonds or Clemens? Here are some potential reasons.
1. You’re an idiot or don’t cover baseball. This is, by far, the best excuse.
2. You legitimately think that all steroid users are evil. I’m tired of arguing about this point, so I’ll just direct you here and let you read for yourself. This is where the sanctimony comes in: cheating is a part of every professional sport. The only one who’s honest about it is pro wrestling. I’m not saying you shouldn’t condemn cheaters, but here’s what you need to grasp. Clemens and Bonds got it away with it. No matter how angry you get, you’ve lost your chance. Sorry.
3. “I refuse to vote for first ballot guys because Joe DiMaggio (insert name) didn’t make it.” I’m sorry that Joe DiMaggio didn’t make it. I happen to think he’s a bit overrated, but a worthy Hall of Famer. That has nothing to do with Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens, both of whom were much, much better players than DiMaggio. We’ll have this same argument next year, when Greg Maddux is on the ballot, and Greg Maddux is 100% clean and a nice guy to boot.
4. Going along with point #3, you might not like Clemens or Bonds because they’re jerks. I offer you this counterpoint: every athlete in the history of the planet has acted like a jerk at some point, because every human being has acted like a jerk at some point. (Now, not all athletes are humans, but nobody’s arguing Air Bud belongs in the Hall of Fame anyway.) Bonds and Clemens are exceptionally huge jerks, but they’ve also been badgered pretty relentlessly for various reasons. But you know what? Let’s pretend like we don’t like jerks (and we do). What about Piazza, who had the one feud with Clemens and was a model citizen otherwise? What about Craig Biggio, who is David Eckstein if David Eckstein had talent? How can you leave them off?
Every other argument is a variation on those four, because there is no way to argue that, statistically, Bonds/Clemens/Piazza don’t belong in the Hall of Fame. (Biggio is less open and shut, mostly because he was a meh defender.)
Do we need to fix the voting process? Maybe. I don’t see how, unless you either a) drastically alter the voting pool, b) let fans vote (and G_d help us if that ever happens), c) forbid voters from sending in blank ballots (I fully support this; if your ballot is blank, you lose your membership in the BBWAA), or d) force all voters to take a test before permitting them to vote. Until we firmly establish the Steroid Era’s place in baseball history, one way or the other, these arguments will keep coming back.