added 1/4/2012 by Willie B. Lakey
A couple of recent articles regarding Jeff Bagwell's second year on the Hall of Fame ballot reminded me of how much better my life, at least the baseball part of it, has been since being freed from the shackles that is the Baseball Writers Association of America.
It also reminded me of the amazing season Ron Santo had in 2011. We'll come back to that.
The two articles that stirred my thoughts were by Bob Hulsey here at Astros Daily and David Schoenfield over at ESPN. I've long respected both Hulsey and Schoenfield, and it didn't surprise me to read that each believes Bagwell to be worthy of enshrinement in Cooperstown. Both presented statistics and personal observations to back their reasoning, and the only thing I can add is my 100 percent agreement.
Next Monday (Jan. 9), when the results for the 2012 class are announced, I suspect that Hulsey, Schoenfield and myself will be in agreement once more when we share our disappointment that Bagwell again fell short of Cooperstown.
It will neither be the first nor the last time that I've been disappointed or disagreed with the BBWAA. That, by itself, is not the reason why the organization's decisions no longer hold much water with me. It's the hypocrisy and the confusing manner in which it makes decisions that has rendered the BBWAA meaningless to me.
The first-ballot, second-ballot, third-ballot, etc. method of voting has always bewildered yours truly. Perhaps there is something to spreading the classes out a bit so that there aren't eight players inducted one year and none in the following two classes. On occasion, there are players who I'm on the fence about when they first appear on the ballot - Bernie Williams is a first timer on the 2012 ballot that falls into that category. But I've heard/read actual BBWAA voters say they didn't think a player was "first-ballot worthy" before, and never understood the line of thought that a player should be in the HOF, just not on his first ballot.
Joe DiMaggio didn't make it in until his third-ballot in 1955. I mention the Yankee Clipper because DiMaggio received 44.3 percent of the vote in his first year of eligibility, close to the 41.7 percent Bagwell received in 2011. One might conclude that Bagwell is indeed in very fine company after not making it the first time he was up for consideration.
It also bugs me that no player has ever received unanimous approval. Nobody. Yeah, it's difficult to get 581 people to all agree on any issue. That's the number of BBWAA ballots that were turned in for the Class of 2011. Five of the ballots were blank. If we toss them out, I'd like to see if the remaining 576 could even all agree on a player that's already in the Hall of Fame.
Four of the 226 ballots in 1936 didn't think Ty Cobb should be in the Hall of Fame. Perhaps those were blank ballots as well. Eleven of the 226 voters that year didn't think Babe Ruth was worthy. Nine of the 415 voters didn't list Henry Aaron in 1982, "Hammerin' Hank's" first year. How is it possible to NOT vote for either Ruth or Aaron? If they aren't "first-ballot worthy," who is?
The biggest knock on Bagwell is the whole steroids-PED mess. Any BBWAA voter who is using those suspicions for not ticking off Bagwell's name falls into the hypocrisy column. Funny how nothing more than suspicions now can spoil a player's career, while some of the same writers will tell you they couldn't publish any stories about players using PEDs back in the 90s based solely on suspicion.
Schoenfield's article at ESPN was titled "Denying Jeff Bagwell would be a travesty." It will be an injustice, no doubt, to not rightfully rank Bagwell among the game's elite players, but the real travesty won't be whether he or other players fail to make the Hall because of steroids use, suspected or proven. The travesty will come years from now when Bud Selig and maybe Donald Fehr as well, the two biggest enablers of the whole PED fiasco, are enshrined for their "contributions to the game."
The good news is making it to the Hall of Fame isn't entirely up to the BBWAA. The bad news is even the safety net intended to rectify mistakes made by the BBWAA doesn't always work. Take the case of one Ronald Edward Santo.
Saying I don't like the Cubs would be a huge understatement. Still, despite a strong distaste for Chicago's NL entry, I've long admired several of their players. It really was a love-hate relationship for me and Santo. He still ranks as the best all-around third baseman of his era on my list, and yes, that includes Brooks Robinson.
Santo was passed over 15 times by the BBWAA. In fact, his highest vote total was the 43.1 percent of the count he received in 1998, his final year on the BBWAA list. He was then denied year after year after year by the so-called Veterans Committee, a group that has been reorganized since its inception and now consists of three separate groups.
One of those groups is called the Golden Era Committee, who this past December decided to finally acknowledge what a whole lot of us already knew and put Santo's plaque up in Cooperstown. Their decision came a year after Santo died, and while I'm glad one injustice has been undone, it's just too bad that the longtime Cubs player and broadcaster won't be around to be up there on that stage this July at the 2012 induction ceremony.
Perhaps there will soon be a new faction of the Veterans Committee for the Steroids Era that Bagwell and others rightly or wrongly fall into. Though I'm sure it won't be given that name, it might wind up being the same committee that considers the likes of Selig and Fehr. In some ways, it would be poetic justice if Selig is forced to stand there accepting his plaque right next to a great Astros player like Jeff Bagwell.