The 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot will be the most congested one ever in terms of having players with strong credentials. The reason, of course, is the steroid-era backlog. Many players, who under normal circumstances would have already been elected, are lingering on the ballot because of admitted or alleged connections to PEDs. They are drawing some support from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voters, and this is making it harder for players with no PED ties to garner the necessary 75 percent of the vote.
Just look at these names that are carryovers or first-timers: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Jeff Kent, Greg Maddux, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Mike Mussina, Rafael Palmeiro, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Lee Smith, Sammy Sosa, Frank Thomas, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker.
Without the PED issue, BBWAA voters would be hard-pressed to winnow their selections down to just 10 players, which is the maximum a writer can choose. Decisions are further complicated by the different levels those with possible PED links fall under. There are those who have admitted use, those who have failed a test, those whose names appear in the Mitchell Report, those who have strong anecdotal evidence against them, and those who are rumored to have used.
So what might the 2014 class look like, given that the PED users will be there to split the vote?
Greg Maddux. He is the surest of all the candidates. His body type never suggested he might be a juicer and his finesse style of pitching probably wouldn’t have been helped by PEDs anyway. His numbers are overwhelming. Maddux won four Cy Young Awards and 18 Gold Gloves, had 355 victories, over 3,000 strikeouts, and was on a World Series champion, according to baseball-reference.com. In addition, he led the league in ERA four times and innings pitched five straight years.
Craig Biggio. Usually having at least 3,000 career hits means an automatic invitation to the Hall, but Biggio came up short with 68.2 percent of the vote for 2013. With the ballot even more crowded this year, he may not get in for 2014 but definitely will at some point. He had 668 career doubles, the fifth most in history.
Frank Thomas. Let’s hope the Big Hurt doesn’t get hurt by his large size. People might assume someone that enormous must have been on something illegal, but he really seemed to be just a naturally huge person and not especially muscle-bound. His career stats show 521 homers, 1,704 RBI, 494 doubles, 1,494 runs and two MVPs.
Tom Glavine. He joins former teammate Maddux as a first-timer on the ballot. When you win 20 or more games five times and have over 300 career wins and two Cy Young Awards, you are pretty much a Hall of Famer.
Tim Raines. The new advanced baseball metrics are playing in his favor and helping his cause. He is steadily rising up the list, going from 24.3 percent to over 50 percent. But the field is too crowded for him to be elected in 2014. Eventually he may get there.
Jack Morris. This is his final year on the ballot and there will be a big push for him to be elected. He was an outstanding and durable pitcher, but just not a Hall of Famer. Having Maddux and Glavine on the ballot will hopefully allow the writers to distinguish between a Hall of Famer (Maddux and Glavine) and a near Hall of Famer (Morris).
Lingering steroid issues. Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell probably have not put aside the steroid rumors enough to be elected in 2014. Without the rumors, Piazza would be a shoo-in.
Steroid-linked dismissals. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro would all be in if the election were based on statistics alone. But the Hall also stresses integrity, sportsmanship and character. And has anyone found a way to calculate how these players would have performed had they not been using substances? Sosa, for example, was just a little above average in the power stats before he bulked up and started producing 60 homers a year. Bonds and Clemens both got over 35 percent of the vote in their initial go-round. Given that writers often depress vote totals for a first-year candidate by making distinctions between who is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and who isn’t, it will be interesting to see if Clemens and Bonds increase their vote totals in their second years.
2015 will add to the confusion. Pitching standouts Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz will be eligible in 2015. If little or nothing is resolved in 2014, their candidacies will only add to the gridlock.
In 2013, no recent player or living person was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Hall enshrined 19th-century star Deacon White, umpire Hank O’Day, and executive Jacob Ruppert. Those inductees certainly did not create any buzz among the fans or excitement for the Hall. The Cooperstown, New York, institution needs current big names to generate enthusiasm. There is no excuse for the BBWAA not to elect anyone. For 2014, Maddux, Glavine, Thomas and Biggio are all worthy of election.