Today the Baseball Writers Association of America had their annual vote for potential Hall of Fame candidates. Out of 37 candidates on the ballot, 24 of whom were on there for the first time, the BBWAA failed to elect even a single player. The prevailing issue at stake during today’s vote, and the controversy that will loom over many future votes for these and other eligible players, was the use of steroids. Many of the eligible players, most notably Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, are alleged to have participated in the use of steroids during their time as a player, so their accomplishments are in question.
I have no idea whether these players are guilty of PED use. What I do know, however, is that there was at least one person on the ballot whose character and performance has never been in question: Craig Biggio. Of all the players on the ballot today, he came closest to receiving the requisite percentage of votes, falling short by less than 7%. I suppose my question to the 32% who did not vote for him would be, “What in the dickens are you thinking?”
His stats speak for themselves. He was an All-Star seven times, often leading the league in multiple categories, including stolen bases, doubles, runs, and defensive assists, and consistently ranked among the top ten in many additional categories. He was the recipient of four Gold Gloves and five Silver Slugger awards. Reaching the 3000 hit plateau is very nearly enough of an accomplishment alone. Of the players who have done this, only 4 are not members of the Hall of Fame. The first is Pete Rose, whose notorious gambling activities have rendered him ineligible. The second is Rafael Palmeiro, one of the more highly publicized players connected with steroid use. The third is Derek Jeter, who is not yet eligible because he is still active in the league. Biggio has numerous other statistical accomplishments as well, but no success is more notable than his refusal to participate in steroid usage despite its prevalence in the league. Granted, I may be a bit biased here: I grew up an Astros fan, and remain one to this day, despite the doldrums they find themselves in currently. But that does not make his accomplishments any less significant. Many, many times I can recall Biggio saying, “I just got out there and played the game the right way.” And he did. He was a selfless team player, even unto the point of moving to center field to accommodate the acquisition of Jeff Kent, not to mention being willing to literally “take one for the team” (he is second all-time in hit-by-pitch). He hustled, ran out every ground ball, was a clubhouse leader, and perhaps most importantly no one has ever had even the slightest inkling of a notion that he was a steroid user.
I can only guess at the motivations of the BBWAA voters, and of course each of the writers had their own reasons for voting as they did. The vast majority of speculation in the sports talk world is that writers wanted to make a statement about PED use in baseball with this vote. And they certainly did that. Many of the other eligible candidates did not even scratch the surface of the 75% necessary to get in. Bonds and Clemens both finished with about 37%, McGuire with 16%, and Sosa with only 12%. While I do applaud the integrity of the BBWAA in this regard, in my opinion, they missed a grand opportunity today. In an age sullied with accusations of cheating, failing to elect a man of exemplary character, a man who persevered through the age where many players around him were using PEDs to get ahead, is an absolute travesty. After all, what better way to send a message to cheaters than to elect on the first ballot (a rarity these days) a player whose reputation remains unsullied?
I have no doubt Biggio will find his way into the Hall of Fame eventually, perhaps even next year. I am just puzzled a little by the particular tendency among the voters to refuse to elect someone on the first ballot. After all, it is not as if his stats will improve from this year to next. So let’s get it together, jokers. You dropped the ball today. Next year let’s get it right.