If you only read one article this Hall Election Season about the future of the Hall of Fame, make it this one, in which Rob Neyer envisions a 2015 ballot so clogged up with proven, suspected, and somewhat possible steroid users that it’s nearly impossible for a right-minded voter to limit his ballot to ten names.
Rob’s list, with a few edits, ranked by bWAR:
So we start with the greatest hitter of all time, followed by one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Down the list we’ve got the #2 guy on the career strikeout list (for pitchers), the pitcher with the best five-year peak ever, the best DH ever, one of four players with 500 homers and 3,000 hits, the most efficient base stealer ever, everyone who’s ever hit 65 home runs in a season, and the best offensive catcher ever. And if the ten guys I just mentioned are all on your ballot, there’s no room for Bagwell or Thomas, two of the five or six best first basemen in the game’s history; Glavine, who never felt like anything but a first-ballot lock, or Bill James darling Biggio, perhaps the most underrated plater of my lifetime.
And this assumes Barry Larkin gets in next year (possible, but certainly not a lock) and Greg Maddux gets in in 2014 (very likely). It’s possible that Larkin’s still on the ballot in ’15, with Bernie Williams, Lee Smith, and Fred McGriff still hanging around too. Can anyone get 75% of the vote if the Hall keeps telling voters they can only name ten players and issues no guidance as to the candidacies of the steroid guys who will clearly get some support based on their numbers, but not enough support based on the Hall’s character clause?
If you’re not depressed yet, see what Joe Posnanski has to say after interviewing Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson, who fully supports those voters who have applied their own moral standards to keep steroid users out of a Hall that already includes racists, spitballers, sign stealers, and amphetamine users.
I predict that Rob Neyer’s message will be heard and, eventually, acted upon. Despite all their warts, Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame are two noble institutions, both astute enough to recognize when this kerfuffle becomes a crisis. If five years pass, twenty-something eligible players sit and wait for induction, and only one or two are called, while some of the best players in the game’s history are repeatedly snubbed, the rules will change. Perhaps the 10-name maximum will be lifted. Maybe the 75% standard will be decreased. Maybe (though not likely), players who failed drug tests or admitted to illegal steroid use will be exiled from the ballot, clearing space for the allegedly clean guys, so we can pretend they were the real heroes of their generation.
I don’t know what the change will be, but I don’t think the Hall of Fame will stand around and do nothing while its plaque room becomes a random sampling of great players, good players who were friendly to writers, and good players with friends on the Veterans Committee, rather than the 250 greatest baseball players of all time.