Gil LeBreton

It’s a Hall of Fame vote, not an exorcism

From left: Craig Biggio, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and John Smoltz.
From left: Craig Biggio, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and John Smoltz. AP

Contrary to widespread belief, there are few constituencies who take their privilege more seriously than the Baseball Writers Association of America members who annually vote for the Hall of Fame.

This year’s illustrious and truly deserving class — Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Craig Biggio and John Smoltz — was announced Tuesday.

But no sooner had the big envelope been opened, than we electors braced ourselves for the traditional response:

Idiots!

Why didn’t Mike Piazza make it? Why Biggio and no Jeff Bagwell? Where’s Mike Mussina?

Or in my case: How could I vote for that slimeball Barry Bonds?

I did, though. I voted for Bonds and Roger Clemens, as I do every year, for reasons that I will explain shortly.

My complete 10-man ballot:

Bonds, Clemens, Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Smoltz, Biggio, Bagwell, Piazza, Tim Raines and Jeff Kent.

That’s right — Jeff Kent. If Bill Mazeroski and his career .299 on-base percentage, lowest of any position player in the Hall, can make it to Cooperstown, second baseman Kent should, too.

My noble reasoning on Kent was not shared by many, however. Only 76 others joined me this year in voting for him.

It took 412 votes from the 549 ballots cast to gain the 75 percent necessary for election.

Somehow, 15 people chose not to vote for Johnson, and a full 49 decided that there was no room on their ballots for Pedro.

This, of course, is why America hates us. They think that the BBWAA voters have agendas (some do). They think we play favorites (some do). They think we don’t take the balloting seriously — but on that, I would argue that a great majority do.

Too seriously, as it turns out. It’s a ballot, not an exorcism. It’s a Hall of Fame, not the Sistine Chapel.

Many of my colleagues continue to refuse to vote for Bonds, Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and anyone else whose ledger is suspected of being tainted by performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).

The extent and nature of those taints, however, have been arbitrary. Some voters use the scarlet names in the 2007 Mitchell Report. Others go by perceived muscles or back acne.

They don’t know what they don’t know, but apparently that insufficiency has been deemed enough. Some will never vote for Bonds or Clemens, as this year’s vote again indicated. Each gained exactly four votes from a year ago, and they are still at least 206 votes short of the 75 percent.

Three pitchers are in this year’s induction class, with two others (Mussina and Curt Schilling) within hailing distance for next year’s ballot.

You don’t hear the PEDs discussion for the pitchers on the ballot. But why not?

The BBWAA’s hoary vote-casters — a sizable portion of the electorate — seem to have decided that steroids mostly affect hitters, not pitchers. This, at best is naïve thinking.

Jose Canseco, who’s been called the Johnny Appleseed of baseball steroids, once claimed that 80 percent of MLB players used PEDs. Even if that estimate is as bloated as Jose’s ego, it seems reasonable to conclude that one-third or more of major league pitchers also were using some form of PEDs.

So why accuse the hitters and not the pitchers?

Bonds, Clemens, Bagwell, Gary Sheffield, et al, played the bulk of their careers during baseball’s “steroids era.” How many of Bagwell’s homers came against testosterone-aided relief pitchers?

Don’t shrug and say that PEDs mostly affect hitters. You don’t know that. You also don’t know about muscles and back acne and who has gotten away with what. The complete list likely would shock you.

It was the steroids era. Fans need to weigh the statistics of the era accordingly.

But it is naïve to assume that only the 89 names in the Mitchell Report, or only the 13 implicated in the Biogenesis scandal, or only the handful whose guilt has been alleged by media investigative reports are the ones who have used performance-enhancing substances.

We all saw Bonds and Clemens play. They rank among the greatest ever.

It was a hitter and a pitcher, performing in the same era.

I’m no exorcist. I used my Hall of Fame vote to choose the most worthy baseball players, not to make some sort of self-righteous statement.

Wasted my vote? You don’t know that.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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