Stark: 5 things we learned from the Hall of Fame Contemporary Era election

In Sport

SAN DIEGO — It wasn’t just an election. It was a proclamation.

The headlines will say that the Contemporary Baseball Era Committee unanimously elected Fred McGriff to the Hall of Fame on Sunday. And that in itself is cause for celebration.

But in elections like this one, it isn’t just the player who got elected who was the story. In some ways, the players who didn’t get elected represented an even bigger story, a more momentous statement of where the Hall of Fame goes from here.

I’m thinking of two of those players in particular, but also of their entire tainted generation. So let’s start there, as we contemplate …

Five Things We Learned from the Contemporary Baseball Era Committee election.

1. Slam the door on Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and the performance-enhancing drugs generation


Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds couldn’t even muster four votes apiece. (Matt York / Getty Images)

It’s over. It’s all over for Barry Bonds. And for Roger Clemens. And, when you really think this through, for the whole generation of PED history makers who haven’t already sneaked into the Hall.

What’s the scenario now where any of them ever walk to the podium in Cooperstown on any Induction Weekend? I’m no visionary, but I can’t see one.

I guess I can’t predict how some era committee might vote in 50 years — or 500 years. So I’m going to stop myself from using the word, “never.” And also “ever.” But the vote of this committee feels like a deal-breaker … and a debate-ender … for the foreseeable future, at least.

There were 16 ballot casters who stepped into the Era Committee voting booth. Bonds and Clemens couldn’t even collect four votes apiece. They needed 12 votes to start working on their induction speeches. That was never going to happen.

So whaddaya know. It turned out that the baseball writers were actually their best shot — and quite possibly, their only shot. They both cleared the 60 percent bar in their final appearance on the writers’ ballot last year. You think they’ll ever top 60 percent in any election in which the voters include clean players they played against? Ha.

How about executives who are probably terrified of being viewed as sympathetic to two men who have become this radioactive in the industry? There will always be four or five of those folks on these committees, too.

Remember, it only takes five “no” votes or “non” votes to prevent any candidate from getting 75 percent in this 16-voter format. So what version of this committee will ever be made up of a group so open to a Bonds/Clemens induction extravaganza that there won’t even be five “no’s” in the room? Hard to imagine.

So that’s The End for them, right? Bonds and Clemens had 10 chances on the writers’ ballot and never made it. Now they’ve been rebuffed by a different group of voters. So will they even get another shot when this committee meets again three years from now? They might not.

Rafael Palmeiro, one of only seven members of the 3,000-Hit/500-Homer Club, was also on this ballot. He failed to get four votes, either.

And if you think Alex Rodriguez or Manny Ramirez are ever getting elected by the writers, you’ve been analyzing very different Hall of Fame election results than I have.

So let’s stop and recognize what just happened. The PED sentences have been handed down now. And it sure looks as though they’re lifetime sentences.

Oh, not for everyone, of course. The Hall asked us, the writers, to play an impossible guessing game of who did what before testing and suspensions kicked in. We were really, really not good at that game. But of course we weren’t. It was impossible.

So I don’t know how many PED users we’ve elected to the Hall already. Five? Ten? More? Less? Whatever. It now looks as if that’s probably going to be it — from an entire generation.

But hold your applause out there. I want you to consider what that means in the big picture. It means this is going to be a Hall of Fame that is unlike anything the founders could possibly have envisioned when the plaque gallery honored its first members nine decades ago.

It means the all-time home run king (Bonds) will be missing from this Hall of Fame.

It means the all-time Cy Young Award king (Clemens) will be missing from this Hall of Fame.

The guy who broke Roger Maris’ exalted home run record (Mark McGwire)? No plaque for him.

The man with more 60-homer seasons than any hitter who ever lived (Sammy Sosa, with three of them)? No plaque for him, either.

And then there’s the Hit King (Pete Rose). Don’t plan any future trips to go see his plaque in this Hall of Fame. He wrote an eloquent letter recently, taking one last shot at finding sympathy from the commissioner. But there was none to be found.

So think about this now. Are you sure that’s the kind of Hall of Fame you want? Is it the kind of Hall of Fame baseball should want? Just asking — because I’ll admit I feel a little funny about that.

But that’s the kind of Hall of Fame we’re almost guaranteed to have now. And that’s the most powerful thing we learned Sunday from the election results from the Contemporary Baseball Era Committee.

It’s over. It’s all over. For Bonds. For Clemens. For the kind of Hall of Fame that will only exist now in an alternate universe — where the plaques are chiseled only in the Bonds and Clemens family’s imagination.

2. Here’s to the Crime Dog

Fred McGriff watches a blast during his time with the Braves. (Focus on Sport / Getty Images)

I never like to go this deep into any column like this without saluting a man who actually did get elected. But sorry. I had to get that other rant off my chest first.

But now that it’s out of the way, here’s to Fred McGriff. It couldn’t possibly have been more fitting that this man got elected this year, in this election — because that, too, was a statement by this committee about the PED era.

I’ve written and said this many times over the years. I’ll say it again. No hitter of the last 35 years has had his Hall of Fame candidacy overshadowed by the PED era more than McGriff — until now.

Who embodied the fate of “the clean player” in that era more than he did? The correct answer is: Nobody.

Allow me to repeat what I wrote about him in his final year on the writers’ ballot (2019). It’s as true as ever — and, now, more meaningful than ever.

For a decade and a half, the 15 seasons from 1988 through 2002, the Crime Dog was pretty much exactly the same player. He never changed. What did change, obviously, was the sport around him.

So over the first five years of his consistently great 15-year peak, he was a constant presence on the league leaderboard, a home run champion waiting to happen. And then, in 1993, everything changed — except him.

Over the next 10 years, McGriff’s production was virtually identical. The only difference was, instead of finding him all over those league-leader lists from 1993 on, you suddenly couldn’t find him on those leaderboards with the Webb Telescope — even though he hadn’t changed at all. Here’s the breakdown:

1988-1992 — .283/.393/.531
1993-2002 — .290/.373/.506

TOP 5 IN HR — 5 of first 5 seasons, 2 of last 10 seasons

TOP 5 IN HR RATIO — 5 of first 5 seasons, 0 of last 10 seasons

TOP 5 IN OPS — 5 of first 5 seasons, 2 of last 10 seasons

TOP 5 IN SLUGGING — 4 of first 5 seasons, 1 of last 10 seasons

The writers had 10 years to figure that out and right that wrong. We never came close. It took this committee to see McGriff from a different perspective and honor his greatness. It’s the reason these committees exist, and it’s an important one.

So this group didn’t merely make a statement about the PED era by punishing the players it viewed as that era’s greatest offenders. The committee made just as powerful a statement by unanimously electing the man it honored. And it was a statement that made more people happy, in the always complicated sport of baseball, than you could possibly imagine.

3. For Curt Schilling, um, careful what you wish for

I think Curt Schilling is a Hall of Famer. I remind you that 70 percent of my fellow writers thought so, too, because 70 percent of us voted for him in our elections — twice!

But two years ago, after he missed out by just 16 votes, Schilling told us he didn’t want to be elected to the Hall by the likes of us. He wanted to be judged by a committee like this one. So OK, he got what he wished for. And it turned out the committee treated him more harshly than the writers. Life is cruel like that sometimes.

He appeared on the ballots of just seven members of this 16-person committee. That’s 43.8 percent. For the record, he got a higher percentage than that in seven consecutive writers’ elections. Merely passing along that helpful fact because that’s what we do around here.

Just as I would have loved to be in that room for the committee’s Bonds/Clemens conversation, I’m even more curious about what the Schilling debate was like. Unlike McGriff — who had a longtime ex-teammate, Greg Maddux, and the one-time president of the Blue Jays team he debuted for, Paul Beeston, in the room to stump for him — Schilling seemed to lack a strong advocate on the committee.

Only former Red Sox franchise-changer Theo Epstein, who once joined Schilling at Thanksgiving dinner in 2003 and then traded for him, had a direct connection. It would have been awesome to hear Theo’s take on a man who helped win him two World Series. But these committees are sworn to secrecy, so we’ll never know.

At any rate, here’s the historic angle on how the committee handled Schilling: When a guy gets 70 percent in the writers’ election, that’s always been an automatic ticket to election by these committees. Always.

The history of the writers’ modern voting system goes back about half a century. And until now, every player who reached 70 percent on the writers’ ballot — and then came before some version of the Veterans Committee — had gotten elected by that committee on the first try. It’s not a long list of players who got that many votes without getting elected by the writers. But still …

Orlando Cepeda — elected by the committee in 1999. Peaked at 73.5 percent in his final year on the writers’ ballot (1994).

Nellie Fox — elected by the committee in 1997. Peaked at 74.7 percent (two votes short) in his final year on the writers’ ballot (1985).

Jim Bunning — elected by the committee in 1996. Followed a very Schilling-like path before that. Got 70-plus percent in two writers’ elections. Peaked at 74.2 percent in 1988, when he still had three elections to go, but never even got back to 64 percent after that. Strange.

So this year, it was Curt Schilling’s turn. And for whatever reason, he was the one who brought that streak to a crashing halt. One thing we should keep in mind, though, is that the voting rules also changed this year, now that each committee member can vote for just three players instead of four.

Once McGriff collected his 16 votes, there were only 32 total spots left on 16 ballots. So the chances of any other candidate occupying at least 12 of those 32 spots were incredibly small. Ask your favorite mathematician to explain it sometime.

But unlike Bonds and Clemens, Schilling at least seems positioned to get another chance with the next Contemporary Baseball committee in December 2025. Will that election turn out like this one? Who knows. But I still think that one of these years, there will be a Hall of Fame plaque with his name on it.

4. Is there new life for Dale Murphy and Don Mattingly?

Is it three strikes, you’re out, for Dale Murphy and Don Mattingly? Honestly, I hope not. They both made progress in this election. So I’m guessing that they, too, have earned the right to try out this system again in three years.

Mattingly actually got more votes in this election than anyone other than McGriff. He was named on eight of the 16 ballots. That’s 50 percent — nearly double the most he ever received in any writers’ election (28.2 percent).

And Murphy finished fourth, with six votes. That computes to 37.5 percent, which is also a bigger number than he got in any of his 15 spins on the writers’ ballot (23.2 percent).

But they were still a long way from getting elected. And that’s tough news if you’re one of those people who thinks any player belongs in the Hall who had a run of multiple years in the thick of the “Who’s the best player in baseball?” debate.

That’s always been the appeal of both Murphy and Mattingly, two of the early 1980s most magnetic attractions. But these committees rarely seem to elect players like that. And no one knows that better than these two guys.

They were also on the ballots of the 2018 and 2020 Modern Era Committees. (Full disclosure: I served on that 2018 committee.) And those two years, they didn’t even get close enough to have their vote totals announced to the public. So while this committee didn’t elect them, it did lay the groundwork for some future group to pick up where this one left off.

Until then, you know what Murphy and Bonds have in common? They’re sharing space on the very short list of retired players who won multiple MVPs and are not in the Hall of Fame.

(*-no longer eligible on writers’ ballot)

Barry Bonds — 7
Dale Murphy — 2
Roger Maris — 2
Juan Gonzalez — 2


Albert Pujols — 3
Mike Trout — 3
Miguel Cabrera — 2
Bryce Harper — 2


Alex Rodriguez — 3

But of course, Bonds and Murphy are on this list for two very different reasons. It’s actually only Murphy and a different home-run record-breaker, Maris, who have won multiple MVPs and not gotten elected despite no PED ties. So if the Hall ever builds a Clean Players wing, those two might sail in on the first ballot.

5. Fred McGriff escaped one of history’s most notorious clubs

And now one last related development. Fred McGriff is out of the club!

So what club is that? The Most Homers But Not in the Hall of Fame Club. What else?

Until this election, his 493 career home runs were the 10th most in history by a non-Hall of Famer. But if you check out everyone ahead of him, it’s clear why McGriff never fit in the first place.



Barry Bonds  



Albert Pujols  



Alex Rodriguez 



Sammy Sosa  



Mark McGwire    



Rafael Palmeiro



Manny Ramirez



Gary Sheffield 



Miguel Cabrera  



Fred McGriff 



There are so many reasons to appreciate McGriff’s election — but none more than this. Never has anyone been more grateful to get booted out of a club he never should have been admitted to in the first place.

(Top photo of Barry Bonds: Tom Szczerbowski / Getty Images)

Read More: Stark: 5 things we learned from the Hall of Fame Contemporary Era election

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