Next year’s Baseball Hall of Fame inductions could have a Cleveland flavor to them.
What’s even more likely is that they’ll have more than a touch of controversy.
The Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot was announced Monday, and among the candidates on the ballot for the first time are former Indians Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel.
Thome, currently eighth all time with 612 home runs, appears to be an odds-on favorite to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. And Omar? Well, he won 11 Gold Gloves and turned 1,734 double plays – more than any other shortstop – but his WAR is about average compared with other shortstops. And he’s a lifetime .272 hitter with 2,877 total hits (for many years, 3,000 hits was considered almost a surefire ticket to baseball immortality).
If you’re asking me, and I don’t have a vote, I think he’ll get in, but definitely not on the first ballot. Sometimes a good team can drag a borderline candidate over the finish line, and there aren’t a whole lot of other Indians players from that era who will get voted in by the writers (Eddie Murray is already in the Hall of Fame, a testament more to his time with the Orioles than with the Indians).
Albert Belle dropped off the ballot quickly – likely due to a combination of factors including his overall truculence (which effectively cost him the 1995 American League MVP) as well as a career that was too brief by Hall of Fame standards. Kenny Lofton dropped off the ballot just as quickly, which seems to be slightly more of a miscarriage of justice.
Probably the other player from those teams with the strongest hall credentials would be Manny Ramirez, in his second year on the ballot, but here, we come to another issue, which reared its head Tuesday amid news that Joe Morgan sent out a letter to BBWAA voters imploring them to keep out steroid users.
Morgan sent the letter out in his capacity as the hall’s vice chairman and a member of the board of directors, and pointedly said steroid users. Here, it’s worth noting that when steroids were finally banned by Major League Baseball, other controlled substances were also banned – including amphetamines, which were a major part of baseball pretty much for the preceding half-century. There were tales of “greenies” out in bowls like candy in major league clubhouses.
Morgan’s attitude – and he says he’s not speaking alone on this – reeks of closing the barn door after the horse has escaped. It’s easy to clutch pearls now, but the guardians so interested in preserving the honor of the game were far less concerned – or far less vocal about their concern – as it was happening. There were whispers of this kind of activity 20 years ago, neither team officials nor Commissioner Bud Selig had any interest in investigating. And if Selig – who was also a main figure in the collusion by major league owners in the 1980s – can get a plaque in Cooperstown, why can’t the players?
The standard Morgan proposes is anyone who tested positive for steroids, admitted using steroids, or were mentioned in the Mitchell Report should not be in the hall. (That last condition is itself dubious. With two exceptions, no players testified, and George Mitchell had a massive conflict of interest as a board member for the both the Red Sox and Disney, the parent company of ESPN.)
Manny failed several drug tests, and while players like Jim Thome, who was tainted by the era in which he played, or Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens, who were mentioned in the Mitchell report but never had any hard proof of drug use, might get the benefit of the doubt, Manny cannot.
It’s entirely possible – and seems kind of fitting – that much like those 1990s teams never won a title, they might end up underrepresented in Cooperstown as well.
Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer
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Thome is in on first ballot. Has credentials and was one of the most likable players in the game during a controversial era.