The announcement will come out around 11 a.m. Wednesday and, barring a major surprise, Seattle Mariners fan favorite Edgar Martinez is ticketed for at least another year on the Hall of Fame’s waiting list. I want to be wrong about this. Heck, Martinez so defined the role of designated hitter that baseball’s annual award for the game’s best DH now bears his name.
A: Martinez failed to hit the 40-percent threshold in any of his four previous years on the Hall of Fame ballot. (He checked in last year at 35.9 percent, down a bit from the 36.5 percent in 2012).
B: A player must be cited on 75 percent of all ballots cast to win election to the Cooperstown shrine. (It requires 5 percent for a player to remain on next year’s ballot; up to a maximum of 15 years on the ballot.)
C: This year’s ballot is more packed than any time I can remember with candidates deserving consideration, and the rules permit voters (yes, I’m one) to list no more than 10 players.
Now, you can protest that it’s inconceivable that there are 10 players more deserving than Martinez, and you might be right, but your opinion carries no weight — zero — unless you’re one of the roughly 600 members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America who comprise the electorate.
That might not be fair. You can argue such a voting setup is lunacy. Fine. But that’s the system in place — and that’s a decision made by the Hall of Fame, which is a private museum that gets to make its own rules. The Hall can change that voting process at any time, and do so at its sole discretion, but for now, it entrusts the primary voting power to those in the BBWAA who have at least 10 consecutive years of active membership. End of discussion.
(I say “primary voting power” because the Hall has various historical committees that consider players and others either bypassed or not eligible under the yearly BBWAA balloting. One of those committees decided last month to induct three retired managers: Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre.)
OK, back to Martinez’s chances. For one thing, he continues to battle a disinclination among some voters to put a DH in the Hall. That bias is softening; just as it softened for closers in recent years. (Not other relievers, though. Even top set-up guys are universally ignored. And defensive specialists similarly fail to move the voting needle.) Even so…while being a DH remains a hurdle, it might, in other circumstances, easily be a surmountable one.
Right now, though, consider:
This year’s ballot has nine other returning candidates who last year received greater support than Martinez. There’s no guarantee that happens again, but that, as gamblers say, is the chalk. Those nine are Craig Biggio (68.2 percent), Jack Morris (67.7), Jeff Bagwell (59.6), Mike Piazza (57.8), Tim Raines (52.2), Lee Smith (47.8), Curt Schilling (38.8) Roger Clemens (37.6) and Barry Bonds (36.2).
Alan Trammell is also back after falling just shy of Martinez at 33.6 percent.
Now, add a flood of notable newcomers that includes Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Jeff Kent, Luis Gonzalez, Mike Mussina, Kenny Rogers and Hideo Nomo. In all, there were 36 players on the 2014 ballot. (All votes are already in, by the way.)
If you’re the inclusive type, even if you vote for the maximum of 10, there are some pretty good players who must be left off any ballot…unless you throw out players with ties, proven or merely alleged, to performance-enhancing drugs. Many of my friends and colleagues in the ballwriting world do just that; they refuse to vote for anyone with even a whiff of taint from PEDs.
That’s why, of course, players such as Bonds, Clemens, Sammy Sosa and many others — players whose statistical resumes would once have virtually guaranteed election — remain on the outside. And let’s face it; there’s a whiff of that taint, fair or not, around Martinez.
I disagree with this punitive approach, although I respect the point of view (assuming it’s not selectively applied). I choose instead to vote solely on the player’s on-field performance. I can’t say it doesn’t make me feel a bit queasy at times with certain players, but the fact is, overwhelmingly, I don’t know who used and who didn’t. (Yes, obviously, I have a stronger suspicion with some players than others.)
My view is this: All of those records, to whatever degree they were (or weren’t) PED-fueled, are still in the books. Baseball didn’t erase their accomplishments. So if a player is on the ballot, I’ll consider him on the basis of what he did on the field.
It is, however, a debate that remains heated, and it affects every player on the ballot — not just those suspected of PED use. Bonds and Clemens, for example, are sufficiently suspect that many voters withhold support. But they continue to draw enough votes to remain on the ballot, which means they’ll siphon votes this year and in the future from other candidates.
This ongoing crunch is particularly damaging to candidates like Martinez, who generate widespread support but face a challenge to reach the 75-percent threshold. A vote for Bonds or Clemens, etc., is a vote that can’t go to someone else for the increasingly number of voters who submit 10 names.
(And look, even without the PED debate, getting 75 percent of the people in any group to agree on anything is no small feat. Say you and three pals want to order a pizza. Ignore the heretic who wants fruit on it. Even then, how easy is it for you and your two normal friends to agree on a specific set of toppings?)
For what it’s worth, I think voters will get past the PED question at some point. I think somebody slightly tainted will be elected at some point in the next few years. I think that will open the floodgates. (If you let this guy in, who do you keep this guy out…and so forth.) My guess is it will then take a few years for the backlog to clear.
And then, guys who deserve serious consideration but who aren’t universally regarded as slam dunks — guys, well, like Martinez — will get a longer and more-encompassing evaluation. And some will, deservingly, get in.
I don’t see it happening this year, though.