On Monday, the Baseball Hall of Fame welcomed two new members. Longtime Royals and Braves GM John Schuerholz and former Brewers owner and Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig were elected from a pool of ten players who appeared on the newly minted Today’s Game Era ballot. This was the outcome I predicted two months ago when the ballot was first released, and the two newest Hall of Famers do not come as much of a surprise. Still, the results are interesting nonetheless, and could have some major residual effects on Hall of Fame balloting in general.
On one hand, not many pure general managers are enshrined in Cooperstown, so the inclusion of Schuerholz is a nice addition. The only GM to win a World Series in both leagues, Schuerholz stands as one of the most successful front office executives in history.
Selig, however, is the candidate who will generate the majority of the discussion. While it can’t be overstated how large of a role he played in shaping the game that we know today, Selig also presided over the steroid era, and many of that era’s top stars have been denied induction by the writers. Selig was checked off on 15 out of the 16 ballots by the Today’s Game Committee, but no player who is strongly connected to PEDs has yet to receive 50% of the writers’ vote.
Many of the baseball writers simply don’t factor steroid use into their criteria, chalking it up to an unfortunate characteristic of the era. I’ll save my stance on that issue for another time, since it is far too complex to get into here. Yet, it seems sort of odd that while Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have waited and waited to get into Cooperstown, the man who oversaw all of it for so many years would get in so quickly and so easily. Even certain players with no connection whatsoever to PEDs have been slighted by voters in the past, for no reason other than hitting a lot of home runs in the 1990s. Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell, who both should have been elected on the first ballot, had support withheld from them by account of some people’s unwarranted suspicions.
Since the regular ballot is not voted on by the same people who vote on the era committees, it’s possible that these committees will tend to have a softer stance on the issue of steroids. Judging by the overall reaction, I don’t believe that Selig would have been voted in this year if his case was voted on by the hundreds of writers who vote for the regular ballot. It’s too early to reach any conclusions on the era committees’ voting tendencies regarding the issue, since Monday’s election marked the first time there was a player connected to PEDs on one of these ballots. Mark McGwire, whose time on the BBWAA ballot expired last year, received fewer than 5 votes on Monday. But unlike Bonds or Clemens, he isn’t a shoo-in candidate even if you just focus on his stats.
In terms of the BBWAA ballot, the fact that Bud Selig is now in the Hall of Fame could result in a shift in momentum for some other candidates who have been in limbo. A number of Hall of Fame voters have already said that they will now support Bonds and Clemens after not doing so in the past, in light of Selig’s election. Among these voters are Susan Slusser and Steve Buckley. Slusser brings up a great argument in pointing out the hypocrisy of keeping the greatest players of the era out of the Hall of Fame while the people who enabled the problem to happen are in. Buckley echoes that sentiment, even though he acknowledges how unfortunate it is for the players who resisted the urge to turn to PEDs in the mid-90’s and were often overshadowed. Bonds (44.3%) and Clemens (45.2%) have both inched closer to the halfway mark in vote percentage in 2016, but neither has experienced a major jump since debuting on the ballot in 2013. This trend suggested that both candidates’ support would remain mostly stagnant until they fall off of the ballot after 2022. However, if more and more voters are willing to ignore Bonds’ and Clemens’ connection to PEDs, there is at least a chance that they could be inducted by the writers eventually. Furthermore, other steroids-related players like Manny Ramirez, who is eligible for the first time this year, and Alex Rodriguez, suddenly have a clearer path to induction.
I’ve long believed that it would just take one proven steroid user getting into the Hall of Fame to turn the tide for candidates like Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and Sammy Sosa. Whether that happened via someone like Bonds getting voted in by the writers or somebody who is already in admitting to have used steroids, it would function all the same. As it turns out, Selig getting in may be enough to change the mindset.
For the record, the goal of this writing is not to slam Selig or to say that he shouldn’t be in. His legacy involves many other aspects aside from the steroid era. It’s simply to point out the connection between his election and some of the more controversial players currently on the ballot. It will absolutely have an effect on how voters view the era in regards to the Hall of Fame. The only question is how much of an effect it will have. Plenty of people will disagree on how to handle steroid candidates. There are a number of different stances you can take on the issue, but it’s part of what makes the Baseball Hall of Fame great. It’s so exclusive and leads to so much more discussion that we don’t see in other halls of fame.