Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Piazza, Bagwell And The Puzzlement Our Time

On Tuesday the BBWAA announced its body had voted Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The secondary newser was about who didn't make it.

Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds -- the poster children of the Steroid era -- remained stuck in neutral and well off the pace, chasing in vain the needed 75 percent for election. Mark McGwire, well-ensconced on the poster, as well, continues to spiral down in the annual vote. Sammy Sosa, another prominent fallen home run hero now buried in the revenge-filled PED muck and mire, came within one percentage point of being lopped off the ballot forever.

Then there are Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell.

These two players, arguably the best catcher in the history of the game and one of the best-ever first basemen, respectively, did not make the cut. Piazza drew 69 percent, Bagwell came in the mid-50s. Both are gaining ground, but the fact that the weren't elected made headlines.

As for Piazza and Bagwell, I voted for neither, fitting in neatly with the voters being pilloried for being swayed by the large cloud of innuendo and suspicion that both built their careers using banned or illegal substances.

On Tuesday, I was asked by peers in New York and Houston to justify my non-votes.

My answer to both havens where Piazza and Bagwell made their names is this: I simply need more time and clarification of the era and what occurred in all quarters. I think of Bagwell as one of the most impressive players I’ve ever seen and, like Biggio, I reserve the right to say yes in the remaining years of eligibility he has left to him.

People -- impassioned and infuriated fans -- have to remember that there is a reason each player is given a 10-year window, so that the passage of time can better shape his legacy, and the history of the era in which he played. The debates among writers never cease; they are impassioned and heartfelt. We listen and learn from each other, and massage our thought processes each and every election.

As for many on this ballot, there is no doubt that the era put a cloud over a great many extraordinary players, many of whom have never been charged, accused, or failed drug tests. Sosa fits in that category. Piazza, too. So, too, does Bagwell.  

How this era ultimately fares will likely hinge on how Piazza fares next year. If he is elected, the floodgates will open and the impediments, suspicions and otherwise, will fall away. Quite frankly, Piazza is the best hope, not only for Bagwell, but conceivably Clemens and Bonds, too.

Personally, I have another year to think about it. And both Piazza and Bagwell, have much, much more time on the ballot. They have time to use their numbers to make their arguments, to turn around more voters than just mine. I hold comfort in that. I truly do, because I believe in the process that allows for the evolution of thought rather than a rush to judgment. Remember, many greats did not come close to being elected in the first year, the first decade of eligibility. If Cy Young, with his 511 wins, didn't get voted in on his first ballot (had to wait a year), then other players can and will stand the test of time, too.

As for the "Era," I will say this: it's time for without indication of any stance by The Hall to take a stance on whether Bonds, Clemens, etc., are welcome. It's time for the HOFers to speak of their feelings openly and frankly about the issue of having tainted Steroid-era players join them. Their opinions count -- for a lot. Many speak angrily about the modern players' actions, but they leave it to the BBWAA writers to articulate the atmosphere, and animosity, in The Hall.

I already vote for Clemens and Bonds, have every year for the simple reason thatI believe they compiled HOF-worthy numbers well before they lost their minds during the Steroid era. I am wavering on others, though, not because of their pleas, or plights, but because of the lack of leadership from those already in The Hall.

Without that input, I find myself inexorably drifting towards the laissez-faire attitude that grips Cooperstown. I'm starting to take the silence up there as a green-light, or hands-off when it comes to the tainted era.

Maybe all the already-enshrined want us to do is look past the era, and simply judge the talents of the seven-Cy Young Award guy, the five-time MVP dude, the stars of the Mac and Sammy Summer. If the Hall of Famers don't care, why should we voters? Especially when we also know that everyone, including the media, turned blind eyes.

The whole sport enabled, and profited. If everyone was guilty, then everyone should be ineligible -- players, managers, GMs, owners and a certain commissioner. Or everyone should agree it was an ignoble era, like the spitball era, the pre-integration era, when cheating and unethical and inexcusable, unforgivable behavior was ingrained and accepted, when the otherwise noble and righteous went quiet. Frame it as such, on individual plaques, or whatever, and move on.