Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
January 19, 2018
For the last several years I have devoted time and space in my annual Hall of Fame column to consistently rail against the evils of steroids and the potential allowance of players tainted by steroids to call Cooperstown their immortal home.
Either due to a lack of a prescient Hall of Fame policy or fear that too many members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) have short memories, as certain former players are inching closer to the 75 percent vote total required for enshrinement, Joe Morgan penned a letter to the BBWAA voters regarding the steroid issue.
Not a fan of the Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies, or Oakland A’s, I nevertheless long admired Morgan the player, a Hall of Fame second baseman inducted in 1990, enjoyed his commentary on ESPN, and even more so now that he has taken his position public. Morgan continues to serve on the Hall of Fame’s board of directors, a position he has held since 1994. Much of the contents of Morgan’s letter were the subject of a December 4, 2017 Sports Illustrated article, “Letter of Intent,” written by Jay Jaffe.
Morgan, in his e-mailed letter, requested that the BBWAA voters “reject players who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in Major League Baseball’s  investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell Report.”
“We hope the day never comes when known steroid users are voted into the Hall of Fame. They cheated. Steroid users don’t belong here,” wrote Morgan.
Morgan signed his letter “Vice Chairman,” his title with the Hall’s board of directors since 2000, making it “an official position,” wrote Jaffe.
Jaffe further opined that Morgan was disingenuous with his letter for using “the term steroids and not performance-enhancing drugs” avoiding the fact that amphetamines were used for decades, long after their classification as controlled substances. Jaffe also criticized baseball as an industry for hypocrisy over splitting hairs regarding one set of substances versus the other. “Steroid use was due to a complete failure that implicated the commissioner, owners, players and media,” wrote Jaffe.
Former Major League Baseball Commissioner Allan “Bud” Selig is without a doubt complicit in the growth of the steroid era by refusing to address the larger than life elephant in the stadium. Following the baseball strike of 1994, Major League Baseball revived itself and grew its fan base with the accomplishments of Cal Ripken, Jr. and the home run battle waged between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.
Career-long Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame shortstop, Ripken, one of the true class acts in the history of the game, who I had the privilege to meet in 2001, set the standard for durability eclipsing the consecutive games played streak of New York Yankees Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig. Gehrig’s streak of 2,130 consecutive games stood for 56 years until Ripken played in consecutive game number 2,131 on September 6, 1995. On that historic night, Ripken hit a home run, and the Orioles defeated the then California Angels in Baltimore at Camden Yards 4-2. Ripken’s streak would continue through game 2,632, a record I believe will not be broken due to the current climate of the game.
Three years later, the epic 1998 McGwire-Sosa home run behemoth was akin to Godzilla swallowing Tokyo. Back and forth the sluggers went trading places on the leaderboard until September 8 when McGwire hit home run number 62 at home in St. Louis in a game against Sosa’s Chicago Cubs with Sosa watching from the outfield. Also present were the children of the late Roger Maris, whose record McGwire broke, having initially been set in 1961 with the Yankees. The Cardinals defeated the Cubs at Busch Stadium that night 6-3. By the end of the 1998 season, McGwire won the home run title 70 to 66.
Another three years later Barry Bonds of the Giants would pass McGwire with 73 home runs, but by that time the rumors of steroids had become more of a reality. In fact, both Bonds and McGwire admitted to steroid use while Sosa and others such as pitcher Roger Clemens and infielder Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez, known unaffectionately as A-Roid, have been linked to steroids with a preponderance of strong innuendo and overwhelming circumstantial evidence. But Selig did little if anything to thwart the use of steroids, instead enjoying the renewed popularity of America’s favorite pastime. Sadly, Selig himself was enshrined in Cooperstown last year.
The cloud of controversy has been dark and heavy, while initially eliminating others from Hall of Fame contention; yet in the cases of Bonds, Clemens, and even Sosa with his less than 10 percent support, have seen their numbers rise from 2016 to 2017. The BBWAA voters’ support of Sosa rose from seven percent in 2016 to 8.6 percent in 2017. Bonds’ support rose from 44.3 percent to 53.8 percent during that same time, and Clemens’ totals jumped from 45.2 in 2016 to 54.1 last year. Manny Ramirez, another accused steroid user received 23.8 percent of the vote in his first balloting opportunity last year. The voting results due to be released on January 24 will determine if a trend is looming or if the BBWAA voters have come to their senses and reverse course. What is not released are the ballots of the voting members of the BBWAA. I think they should be disclosed to the public. Let the BBWAA voters defend their votes as I have defended mine, even if not as a member of the BBWAA.
In the interim, in an effort to shrink the window of opportunity for tainted ball players to achieve Hall of Fame status, the board reduced the number of years of eligibility to reach the 75 percent promised land, from 15 to 10 in 2014. But Jaffe sees that as hypocritical. “Recognize the era’s best, while understanding the context in which they thrived, and move on,” he concluded.
I disagree vehemently. The only way steroid users should enter Cooperstown is with a paid ticket for admission. Jaffe encourages rewarding bad behavior. It’s how they got there to be the best that should matter. Cal Ripken played a clean game, as did myriad others, including, but not limited to Hall of Famers Joe Morgan, Nolan Ryan, George Brett, Lou Brock, Brooks Robinson, Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, and future hall of famer Jim Thome. It’s time to stop perpetuating the bad behavior. Many wrongs do not make anything right. Now is the time draw the baseline in the sand.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame has a so-called character clause. “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played.” So-called because it has existed since 1945 and more than a fair share of ne’er do wells have found their way to Cooperstown. (https://baseballhall.org/hall-of-famers/bbwaa-rules-for-election)
With voting in mind, were I privileged to be charged with the task of electing the Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2018, seven former major leaguers would earn my votes - four first ballot denizens and three holdovers. Of those seven, I expect three to be inducted on July 29, along with two others for whom I would not vote, but deserve induction. Candidates must receive at least five percent of the vote in order to remain on the ballot should they not attain 75 percent the previous year.
Because members of the BBWAA are permitted 10 votes, I’m throwing one to Jamie Moyer in his first year on the ballot, mostly for his longevity in the league - 25 years pitching in the Major Leagues, but also for some of the statistics. Let that sink in for a moment - Moyer toiled in the Bigs for a quarter century. Only five pitchers appeared in 25 or more seasons: Nolan Ryan (27), Tommy John (26), Jim Kaat (25), and Charlie Hough (25) - all having hurled since the 1960s. Five other non-pitchers have done likewise: Cap Anson (27), Deacon McGwire (26), Rickey Henderson (25), Bobby Wallace (25), and Eddie Collins (25) - interestingly, all but Henderson had retired by 1930.
Moyer became the oldest player to win a game at age 49 years and five months, minus one day, on April 17, 2012. Moyer tossed seven innings, yielding two runs, neither earned, on six hits, picking up the win at Coors Field, as his Colorado Rockies defeated the San Diego Padres 5-3. His 269 wins ranks 35th - 23 of the top 24, sans Clemens, are in the Hall with 300 or more victories. Of the next 10, five are also in the Hall. With 2,441 strikeouts, Moyer ranks 40th. Moyer, having started 638 games, ranks 16th, and all but two of the top 15 are also in the Hall. While Moyer would get my vote, I don’t expect him to reach 75 percent.
Another freshman on my ballot not expecting to reach the magic number but would still earn my vote, is pitcher Johan Santana. His win-loss record of 139-78 and his 3,20 ERA are very good, but not great. He led the league in wins once and in ERA three times. Of his 12 seasons, eight are worthy of discussion, yet only four could be considered very good to excellent. My vote for Santana is mostly for the no-hitter he tossed while playing for my favorite team, the New York Mets, on June 1, 2012 versus the St. Louis Cardinals in an 8-0 victory at Citi Field in New York. This was the first no-hitter in the history of the Mets, but certainly not enough to warrant Hall entrance beyond this year’s symbolic vote.
The last two freshmen on my ballot were teammates for nine years with the Cleveland Indians - Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel, both of whom I expect to be enshrined in July. Both players suited up for six teams each, but are best known for their time with the Tribe.
With his 612 home runs, Thome is eighth on the all time list and 16 times in his 22 year career did Thome hit 20 or more homers. Six times he hit 40 or more. Nine times Thome batted in more than 100 runs and his career total of 1,699 RBI places him 26th on the all time list. Thome was five times an All Star and earned MVP votes in nine different seasons. Thome is one of only five players in MLB history to accumulate 500-plus home runs, 1,500-plus runs scored, 1,600-plus RBI, and 1,700-plus walks. Of the other four, three are Hall of Famers - Mel Ott, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams, while one, Barry Bonds, should not be.
Thome’s teammate, Vizquel, was the quintessential shortstop of a generation, having won 11 Gold Glove awards during his 24 year career, second most at that position all time. Vizquel was also the oldest shortstop to win a Gold Glove, having done so at age 39 in 2006. After five years with the Seattle Mariners, Vizquel took his talents to Cleveland continuing to be the defensive gem that will vault him into Cooperstown.
Vizquel was three times an All Star, overshadowed by Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees. On the field, Vizquel led the league in Fielding Percentage six times as a shortstop and is the all time leader in Fielding Percentage at .985. Vizquel shares the season record with Cal Ripken, Jr. for committing the fewest errors by a shortstop playing in at least 150 games with a paltry three. Additionally, Vizquel is first all time in double plays turned by a shortstop, third all time in assists at shortstop, and 11th all time in putouts made by a shortstop.
At bat, Vizquel compares rather favorably to Hall of Fame shortstops Ozzie Smith, Luis Aparicio, and Luke Appling. Vizquel hit more home runs than Smith and Appling, trailing Aparicio by only three. Vizquel drove in more runs than Smith and Aparicio, stole more bases than Appling, hit for a higher batting average than Smith and Aparicio, while collecting more hits overall than all three. Vizquel and Thome should be inducted together, donning Indians caps.
Rounding out the ballot first timers who I believe will win the necessary votes for enshrinement is Chipper Jones, who played his entire 19 year career with the Atlanta Braves. Jones, with his 468 home runs, ranks 33rd, and his 1,623 RBI, ranks 34th to go along with his .303 career batting average is practically a lock for Cooperstown. Jones was selected for eight All Star games, garnered MVP votes in 13 seasons and won the award in 1999. Jones is one of nine players to accrue at least a .300 batting average, .400 on base percentage, .500 slugging percentage, while belting at least 400 homers. Seven of the other eight are already ensconced in Cooperstown: Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Mel Ott, Stan Musial, Babe Ruth, Frank Thomas, and Ted Williams. The eighth, Manny Ramirez, should be disqualified from the Hall of Fame for steroids.
While there is no doubt Jones deserves a plaque in Cooperstown, I would not vote for him. He single-handedly slaughtered the Mets for two decades. He enjoyed such success in Queens, he named a son Shea - home of the Mets from 1964 through 2008.
In addition to Jones, I am fairly secure in saying Vladimir Guerrero will also be elected into the Hall of Fame, but I would not be voting for him. In his first year of eligibility, Guerrero garnered 71.7 percent of the vote in 2017, falling 15 votes short of election. He has excellent credentials. In his 16 year career Guerrero batted .318, hit 449 homers, driving in 1,496 runs on 2,590 hits. He earned MVP votes in 12 seasons, winning the award in 2004.
Of the three holdovers from 2017 I would have voted for last year and again this year, Trevor Hoffman seems the only one likely to gain admittance into the Hall of Fame, having earned 74 percent of the vote, falling a mere five votes short. Neither pitchers Mike Mussina nor Curt Schilling are likely to reach 75 percent this year, but I continue to support their candidacies. Mussina’s stock rose as he earned 51.8 percent of the vote in 2017, up nearly nine points from 43 percent in 2016, while Schilling lost some momentum slipping seven points to 45 percent last year from 52.3 percent in 2016.
Hoffman pitched his 18 years in the majors with the then Florida Marlins, San Diego Padres, and Milwaukee Brewers racking up 601 saves while hurling mostly for mediocre teams where save opportunities were not as prevalent as for sure-fire Hall of Famer to be in 2019 Mariano Rivera. Known as a Padre the majority of his career, Hoffman represented the team as a six-time All Star, and one additional selection as a Brewer. The first pitcher to reach both the 500 and 600 save threshold, Hoffman was four times in the top 10 voting for the Cy Young Award and five times received votes for MVP. In 1998 Hoffman converted 41 consecutive save opportunities – a record at the time.
With 270 career wins, five-time ballot occupant Mussina spent 10 years with the Baltimore Orioles and eight with the New York Yankees. A big fan of “Moose,” an economics graduate from Stanford University as an Oriole, it hurt my eyes to see him donning pinstripes. Mussina made five All Star teams and won seven Gold Gloves. While overshadowed by Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz in 2015, Mussina garnered more victories than Hall of Famers Carl Hubbell, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal – with whom Mussina was compared, and Whitey Ford. Mussina ended his career at age 39, the oldest to record his lone 20-win season, going 20-9 with a 3.37 ERA.
Schilling, bloody sock and all, is a six-time All Star who pitched 20 seasons in the big leagues – three with the Orioles, one with the Astros, eight-plus with the Phillies, three-plus with the Arizona Diamondbacks, then calling it a career with the Boston Red Sox. Schilling tossed 83 complete games, appeared in three World Series, and had three 20-plus win seasons within a four year span at ages 36, 38, and 39. Schilling should have his ticket stamped this summer – was my mistaken prediction the last five years, and while he probably won’t reach 75 percent this year, Schilling still belongs among those earning a plaque in Cooperstown.
While it is important to not sully the Baseball Hall of Fame with the likes of Bonds, Clemens, Ramirez, and Sosa, the focus must be on the greats who will be enshrined this July and how they will continue to be the true ambassadors to the community as so many before them have been. Ambassadors such as Jim Bunning and Bobby Doerr, who sadly left us in 2017 – Bunning at age 85, on May 26 and Doerr at age 99, on November 13. Bunning pitched a perfect game for the Phillies on Father’s Day 1964 against the Mets at Shea Stadium. He later went on to represent Kentucky in the United States Senate. Doerr, at the time of his death, was the oldest living former major leaguer, and the last living person to play in the 1930s. Doerr, a career Red Sox player, missed the entirety of the 1945 season serving his country during World War II. May their memories always be for a Blessing.
Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN. He has been a Patron-level member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame since 2007.