It’s not the advancement of time. It’s not as easy as just saying change is inevitable. It’s not progress. And it’s not because the voters are all different or because there are so many of them here in 2013.
There is no status quo. Either you move forward, or you begin to fall behind because others are moving ahead while you get a day older and deeper in debt.
The criteria for becoming a member of baseball’s Hall of Fame is the same as it was when Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, and Walter Johnson were the five players brought in to Cooperstown’s “First Class.”
When those five figures showed their “immortal” numbers, their entrance into the “Hall” was judged solely on the statistics and the numbers of wins or hits they piled high.
Even though there was a clause on the list of qualifications needed to become a member of the Hall of Fame that alluded to a player’s character, forthright behavior, and credit to the game only the baseball numbers were important.
Players of every stripe and background did what they could to get an advantage. Any advantage. Bats were corked. Balls were defaced with sandpaper, slippery elm, tobacco juice, and many other “foreign substances”.
The players of yesteryear were not from Father Flanagan’s Boys Town nor were they singing in any church choirs on Sundays.
None of their shenanigans were held against them when it came to checking credentials and weighing their careers on the scales that might lead to Cooperstown.
Walter Johnson wasn’t tainted by the total nastiness that was Tyrus Raymond Cobb of Narrows, Ga. Honus Wagner’s character was not mentioned in the same breath as a beer-drinking Babe Ruth.
Any upstanding player with family values and some humble bones in his body was not tossed into the same kettle with players who spent afternoon hours in the outfield with eyes made bleary by staying too long in an ale house.
The cheaters may have never been caught. But they didn’t blight the whole game. They didn’t cause the small cadre of media to find fault with each and every player.
Moving forward from those baseball days in the 1920s and 1930s until today has seen wholesale changes that range from the number of teams advancing from 16 to 30. Players now come from all over the world instead of the often polarized United States of those long-gone years.
Technology has brought ever-changing advances to gloves, bats, or how videos can be used to help a player see what he is doing at the plate or critique his delivery when on the pitching mound.
Strategy and decisions were done by feel or trained instinct in those days. And now decision-makers have stop watches, computerized accounts of what happened on every pitch, and video replays right down to the last pigeon that landed in the outfield to fetch a bit of popcorn.
The cheating was never completely eradicated. Teams with little power put baseballs in refrigerators to keep them from being hit very far. Binoculars were used by teams to steal catcher’s signs. Playing fields were manicured to give the home team an advantage. And still the bats were corked and the baseballs defaced and sliced with dexterity.
Yet, legions of players from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s were allowed into the Hall of Fame.
Finally, baseball came into the 1990s and on into the early 2000s.
And here came human growth hormone and other steroids or drugs designed to produce added muscle mass for hitters and to aid in quick recovery from arm injury for pitchers.
Barry Bonds went from about 180 pounds to 235. His head was the size of a state park in California. Sammy Sosa went from 170 pounds to 215. The slender figure of Mark McGwire became the Hercules of baseball. Roger Clemens was 6-foot-3 and about 175 when he came to the majors. He left in his early 40s weighing about 240.
Players like Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez, and Jose Canseco were known steroid users. But there was no testing by major league baseball.
There were players watching the home runs fly off the bats of teammates or opponents whose bodies were once ordinary and 180 pounds and in a year were muscular and more powerful.
When allegations began flying and then admissions about useage came forth, the public wondered how widespread was steroid abuse.
Did nearly every player use some substance to stay up with the madding crowd? Were there any 20-game winners or 40-homer sluggers who were clean?
Stain was everywhere. The steroid brush just might have painted them all.
Bonds was indicted in California. Clemens was indicted in Washington, D.C. Sosa testified before a Congressional committee and told a questioner that he didn’t understand English well enough to give an answer. McGwire also testified before Congress and told the public servant asking him about any possible steroid use that he wasn’t there to talk about the past.
The black paint of steroid use flew in every direction.
The voting for the Hall of Fame Class of 2012 was just revealed. Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa were eligible for the first time. None of them came close to getting the necessary 75 percent of votes to be inducted. Over 600 votes were cast as compared to far less in the era of Ruth, Johnson, and Wagner.
McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro were holdover names on this year’s ballot. Neither of them could draw even 20 percent of the vote and Palmeiro had 3,020 hits.
Craig Biggio, a National League infielder on the ballot for the first time, has 3,000 hits and he couldn’t draw enough favor to get the necessary votes. Mike Piazza has many offensive records no other catcher in baseball history can match. He was also a first-time candidate. And his vote total fell short.
Curt Schilling had a distinguished pitching career. He may not have received the needed votes in any era, but he was far short this year.
With players like Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez, and Manny Ramirez giving rise to more proven allegations about drug use, the voters don’t have a clear picture of which players were “clean”, if any.
The election rules are the same as they were when Cobb and Ruth were ushered into the Hall. One of those rules states: “voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”
Biggio could have been thrown into the same bag with the known cheaters. Their transgressions have leaked onto him. And now he and Palmeiro are the only major leaguers with 3,000 hits that aren’t included with Cobb and Ruth in the Hall of Fame.