Will anti-McGwire stance among Hall voters soften over time?

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The announcement of the Hall of Fame vote will come in at 3 p.m. ET on Monday, and it will be interesting to see who is elected to Cooperstown.

Will it be Barry Larkin and no one elsePerhaps. Some even suggest that no one will be elected, which would be bad news for those who have been waiting awhile, what with a monster class coming in 2013 that will include Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Craig Biggio and Curt Schilling.

One thing is for certain: Mark McGwire isn’t going to get in – not this year anyway. The man with 583 career home runs, a .394 on-base percentage and .982 OPS doesn’t have a prayer. Not with the steroid stain on his resume. Some people thought McGwire would get a boost among voters after he came clean about his PED use, but his vote totals dropped to 19.8 percent last year, down from 23.7 percent in 2010. The stance of writers on PEDs seems to be mostly hardening over time, not softening.

But the 15-year window for induction into Cooperstown is a long one, and perception can change over time.

Look at Bert Blyleven. Over the 14 years he was on the ballot, voters began to realize that the stats being cited to keep him out of Cooperstown (chiefly winning percentage and home runs allowed) were not as important as ERA and WHIP and WAR, not to mention his impressive longevity.

Of course arguing statistics is not the same as taking on the issue of steroid cheats, and it seems unlikely in the current climate that opinions will change enough to ever earn McGwire a nod to Cooperstown, but you never know. Case in point:

In the wake of the St. Louis Cardinals’ stunning and surprising run to the World Series, the New York Times’ esteemed George Vecsey wrote a brief and interesting blog post titled “Rethinking McGwire.”

In it, Vecsey admitted that despite his issues with McGwire’s use of performance-enhancing drugs as a player, he enjoyed watching the ex-slugger in uniform, coaching the Cardinals hitters on the way to a championship. The whole thing gave Vecsey, as he put it, “a positive vibration.”

That didn’t mean Vecsey would change his mind about McGwire – “or some other bulked-up sluggers of the past generation” – being worthy of the Hall of Fame, but he admitted that his perception has changed – if only slightly.

“Maybe I’m getting soft-hearted or soft-headed, but I found myself glad to see him in uniform.”

George Vecsey, a strong voice against putting steroid users in Cooperstown, has softened a bit. It’s a small thing, perhaps, but interesting and surprising nonetheless. It makes you wonder if perceptions could eventually change enough to earn McGwire that trip to Cooperstown. If a championship won quietly and humbly as a one-of-the-guys hitting coach can help McGwire soften the heart of one baseball writer, what will the passage of time bring?

The steroid era is a murky one, made even more difficult by the fact that it is impossible to tell who juiced and who didn’t. Everyone assumes that Ken Griffey Jr. never took anything, while many seem to assume that Jeff Bagwell did – yet there has not been any evidence made public to support either theory. And there have been enough less-than-bulky players implicated (Ryan Franklin, Jason Grimsley, to name two) to destroy the notion that you can spot a juicer just by looking at him.

We simply don’t know.

It’s confusing as hell, and voters are left to fend for themselves. Do you let in the otherwise no-doubters who have been connected to PEDs – like Bonds and Clemens – and if so, where do you draw that line? Do you punish only those players who have failed tests or admitted drug use, or do you punish the whole era and elect no one? Do you rely on your own eye test – a horribly flawed method that some will undoubtedly employ – to pick and choose? Or do you just assume the playing field was level and elect the best players from the era?

There are no clear-cut answers to these questions, and methods for how voters handle them are going to spend a good many years evolving. As the voting field changes, as new information comes to light – not just as to who was using, but as to the actual impact of PEDs on on-field performance, as opinions change and new voices are heard, the process will evolve.

Will it evolve enough for Mark McGwire to get his wish? He has nine more years on the ballot, and then there is always the Veterans Committee after that. It seems unlikely now, but hardly impossible.

Only time will tell.

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The Nats are sniffing around for relief pitching help

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The Nationals began the year with Blake Treinen as their closer. That didn’t last long, and now Koda Glover seems to be Dusty Baker’s man in the ninth inning. He earned a save for the second consecutive game yesterday. Glover has been pretty darn good in the early going, posting a 2.35 ERA and striking out six batters and walking only one in seven and two-thirds. That obviously a small sample size, and anything can happen. If it does, Baker has Shawn Kelley as an option.

Not many household names there, which is probably why the Nationals are reported to be interested in the White Sox’ David Robertson and Alex Colome of the Rays. That report comes from Jim Bowden of ESPN, who also notes that the A’s have a number of guys with closing experience on staff and are likely to be sellers too. The David Robertson thing may have more legs, though, given that Mike Rizzo and Rick Hahn pulled off a pretty major trade in the offseason. If you know a guy well, you call that guy first, right?

As far as problems go this isn’t a huge one. The Nats sit at 13-5 and, as expected by most prognosticators, are in first place in the National League East. The Cubs had some questions in the pen this time last year too. They had the luxury of trying to figure it out before making a massive trade for a closer. The Nats do too, and likely will. But expect them to be a part of any trade rumor conversation for the next couple of months.

 

The big flaw in modern ballparks

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Travis Sawchik writes about the post-Camden Yards generation of ballparks over at FanGraphs. The ones everyone loves because they’re nice and clean and friendly and are full of amenities. And that’s true! They are nice! But they all have a huge flaw: unless you’re in expensive seats, you’re too far away from the action.

Sawchik uses cross sections of ballparks — available at Andrew Clem’s website — to show that fans sitting in the upper decks of ballparks are way higher and way farther back than they used to be at many old ballparks such as Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium, Old Comiskey, Tiger Stadium and Ebbets Field.

A lot of this has to do with an admirable impulse: to eliminate the beams which obstructed the view of many seats in those old parks. If you want to move that upper deck closer to the field, you have to have the beams because one can only achieve so much via cantilever effect. But that’s not the only impulse and probably not the primary one. More expansive lower bowls — which feature more expensive tickets — push the upper deck back and up. As do the luxury suites and club level amenities in between the lower and upper decks. Exacerbating this is the fact that most newer parks are built on vast tracts of land with few architectural constraints. If you can sprawl, you will, which leaves the most affordable seats in the land of binoculars.

I don’t agree with everything Sawchik writes here. He spends a lot of time talking about how much better neighborhood parks like Wrigley Field are and how it’d be better if newer parks were built in neighborhoods. I agree, neighborhood parks are ideal, but the fact is, most places don’t have mass transit like Chicago does. In most cities you have to have a place for 40,000 people to park.

That’s a quibble, though. Mostly, it’s a good look at an important thing most folks overlook when they praise the new parks. Important because, if you don’t have an enjoyable experience at the ballpark, you’re not likely to come back. And if you’re not fortunate enough to be able to buy expensive tickets, you may not have a great experience at the ballpark.