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Final Hall Of Fame Vote Reveals Softening Stances Among BBWAA

January 24, 2017
The final vote totals for baseball's 2017 Hall of Fame class revealed a lot more than the three players -- first baseman Jeff Bagwell, outfielder Tim Raines and catcher Ivan Rodriguez -- who are headed to Cooperstown, N.Y.

Perhaps the most obvious is the fact a somewhat reduced and younger electorate is showing a more lenient tendency, which means there is a good chance the steroid era is destined to join the cocaine era in the rearview mirror and simply become a tainted partner in the game's history.

The best evidence of the changing climate can be seen in the results of this year's first-time voters. Of the 14 known votes by those with first-year eligibility, Raines scored 100 percent -- the only player on the ballot to do so -- while outfielder Barry Bonds and right-hander Roger Clemens were named on 13 of those ballots.

No one here needs to be reminded of the reason why Bonds and Clemens weren't elected long ago. As poster boys for the so-called steroid (or PED) era, they finally pulled more than 50 percent of the vote. 

For Raines, the overwhelming support of new (and presumably younger) voters was dramatic, as he finished with  86 percent, 380 of the 432 votes, one fewer than Bagwell, whose steady climb during the last few years made him the odds-on favorite this year. This was the 10th and final year on the ballot for Raines, who undoubtedly suffered in his early years because of his activity during the cocaine era, which now dates back more than a quarter of a century.

Of the 432 voters, more than 300 made their ballot public before last week's announcement, so the results weren't exactly a shock -- though they were surely a disappointment to closer Trevor Hoffman and outfielder Vladimir Guerrero, who came up short by five and 15 votes, respectively.

Like Bagwell, Rodriquez had to deal with the baggage of innuendo when it came to steroid suspicion. He also squeezed in with 76 percent (336) in his first year of eligibility, whereas the former Houston Astros first baseman had to wait his turn, was another indication voters are inching toward the position of accepting statistics for what they are.

Right, wrong or indifferent, to beg an overused and worn out term, it is what it is, and the times they are changing.

Tom Verducci, senior baseball writer for Sports Illustrated (and analyst for MLB Network), brought up something about the new HOF electorate I hadn't thought about -- there are now some Baseball Writers Association of America voting members who were not covering baseball during the steroid era. That, of course, doesn't mean they weren't aware, didn't know or didn't care about what was going on, but it is interesting to think about as the process moves forward.

The BBWAA rules require an active member to have covered the game for at least 10 successive years before getting a voter's card. In recent years, in conjunction with the HOF, the BBWAA has moved to eliminate those who haven't been connected for 10 years -- as opposed to the past practice of retaining the right as long as one felt qualified to vote.

It is not something taken lightly -- in most cases having a vote for the Hall of Fame is an obligation, not a right. Requiring 75 percent acceptance rate among a constantly changing electorate guarantees it will be as difficult as it should be. There will always be disagreements, and should be, but there aren't any free passes.

And for a perspective as to why it should take 10 years for a player to make it when nothing has happened to change what he did, I can only offer this -- the player's numbers might not change, but the competition changes every year. There has never been a ballot identical to the previous one, and there never will be.

It's a difficult process -- as it's supposed to be. 

***

I have always made my HOF ballot public, but I stopped doing it before the announcement once the tracking system got so sophisticated that it almost sounded like an exit poll, with numbers changing every day. Starting next year, all ballots will be made public, which will lead to even more scrutiny -- and controversy.

For the sake of full disclosure, my initial reaction to those on the HOF ballot who were either accused, suspected or even found guilty of PED use was to wonder why this was a BBWAA problem. If the player was on the ballot, he was eligible, so let the numbers tell his story.

Not many of the people I talked to agreed with that philosophy, though that too seems to be softening, and when it became obvious the ballot was being cluttered and the voting splintered because of the debate, I dropped Bonds and Clemens to make room for some others I thought were qualified.

I continued that this year, so as promised, here is a look at my ballot, which used all 10 of the allotted spaces:

In addition to the three who will be inducted in July, I also voted for: Hoffman, Guerrero, designated hitter/third baseman Edgar Martinez, right-handed starter Mike Mussina, closer Billy Wagner and outfielder Gary Sheffield -- some of whom are carrying low percentages that might need explaining, so we'll look at that deeper in next month's print issue.

Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com