By Dave Wischnowsky-
(CBS) With a slew of all-time greats in their first year of eligibility for Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame, the summer of 2013 should be a banner one for Cooperstown.
But, because of steroids, it won’t be. And if I had my way, the summer of 2013 wouldn’t even exist in Cooperstown. At all.
This week, in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal and shameful cover-up, Penn State avoided the “death penalty” of having its storied football program shut down for a full season. But baseball’s Hall of Fame shouldn’t avoid that fate.
In fact, as a nod to the integrity of our national pastime – or what’s left of it, at least – when HOF ballots are distributed to writers this November, I’d like to see them impose a one-year ban on all inductions.
Now let me explain why.
This fall, no less than six players with serious Hall of Fame-worthy numbers appear on the ballot for the first time. That sounds like a windfall for Cooperstown’s 2013 Hall of Fame Induction Weekend, until you realize those names include the likes of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa.
In June, Clemens was acquitted of charges of lying to Congress when he testified that he had not used performance-enhancers. Bonds, meanwhile, was convicted last year in his own perjury trial on one count of misleading a grand jury that was investigating drug use by athletes. And Sosa, in June 2009, was identified in a New York Times article as having tested positive for PEDs in a 2003 drug test administered by Major League Baseball.
Because of their links to steroids, I don’t want any of the three to be voted into the Hall of Fame – no matter how stunning their career numbers are. And based on the chilly reception that proven steroid users Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro have received thus far from HOF voters, I don’t expect that they will be inducted.
But, for 2013, I’d like to see the writers go another step beyond.
Also eligible for first-time induction this fall are Craig Biggio (3,060 hits), Mike Piazza (427 home runs) and Curt Schilling (216 wins), who each have their own impressive resumes, albeit on a plateau below Bonds, Clemens and Sosa.
None of those three men have been directly linked to steroid use – Schilling has gone so far as to say steroid users don’t belong in the Hall of Fame – but suspicion has swirled around each. And while I don’t believe that you can keep a player out of the Hall on suspicion alone, I’m also not convinced that any of the three are first-ballot HOFers, even if you removed the thought of PEDs from the equation.
Biggio, with his 3,000 career hits, is obviously the strongest candidate. But I also don’t believe that Cooperstown would crumble if he were left standing on the Hall of Fame’s doorstep next summer. And that doorstep is where I’d like to leave the entire 2013 ballot.
For anyone who has attended the Hall of Fame’s Induction Weekend (I was there in 2010 when Andre Dawson earned his plaque), they know how big an event it is for Cooperstown each July. It’s the town’s showcase event and baseball’s showpiece, as well.
With that in mind, there’s also the mentality in Cooperstown that the show must go on. Every summer. Hot or cool. Rain or shine.
But what about worthy HOFers or no worthy HOFers?
The last thing I want to see this fall is for the writers to vote a player into the Hall merely because someone has to be elected every year to feed the summertime beast that is Induction Weekend.
This past year, Reds great Barry Larkin was the only player on the writers’ ballot to be voted in, earning 86.4 percent of the vote. The only other player even close was former Detroit pitcher Jack Morris with 66.7 percent – a number still well below the 75 percent minimum that’s required for election.
Morris, who won 254 games in his career, has been on the ballot for 13 long years, but is yet to get the HOF nod. And while I wouldn’t have a problem with the Tigers stalwart entering the Hall, I don’t want to see him go in next summer simply because if he did not, there would be an enormous void on Cooperstown’s famed lawn.
Rather, I think that having a void in 2013 would speak volumes.
A year without a Hall of Famer would be a sobering way to cleanse the baseball palate as we (hopefully) emerge from the era of steroid-marred ugliness. Along those same lines, I’d prefer to see the Veterans Committee not elect longtime Cooperstown outsiders Jim Kaat or Gil Hodges just to guarantee there’s a Hall of Famer in 2013.
That shouldn’t at all be the way a Hall of Fame works.
If Morris truly is a HOFer, then he can enter the Hall in 2014 – his final year of eligibility. Same goes for Kaat, Hodges, Biggio and others who can join Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas in Cooperstown two summers from now.
Don’t taint a Hall of Famer’s legitimacy next summer by voting him in just because. Let’s instead help legitimize the Hall of Fame by taking the summer off. Baseball, I think, will be better for it.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.