Will Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens ever get into the Hall of Fame?

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If you had asked me before 2pm today I would have guessed that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens would have received around 50% of the vote. Not a lot given their baseball accomplishments, but a healthy vote for two players so thoroughly associated with PEDs.  But they fell far short: Clemens received 37.6% of the vote, Bonds 36.2%.

I think there are two distinct groups of voters who voted no on these guys this year (1) the never ever voters; and (2) the not this year voters.  The never ever voters will, obviously, never-ever vote for a PED user. They have drawn a bright moral line and will not consider these two no matter what happens.   The not this year voters are voters who took Bonds’ and Clemens’ first year on the ballot as an opportunity to lodge a protest vote. I recall reading many columns by these sorts, all of whom said some version of “I may vote for them in the future, but I don’t know what to do with them now …” or something like it.

For Clemens and Bonds to make it in, that second camp has to be gigantic. And frankly, I can’t see it being such a large group of people that it will allow them to jump up by nearly 40% in the vote be it next year or ten years from now.  Given how low their vote totals are the never ever camp has to comprise more than 25% of the electorate, and it only takes one more than 25% of the electorate to block a player.

Maybe attrition changes this, but I have my doubts. It’s fashionable to say that the “old man” voters oppose Bonds and Clemens and then assume that, over time, those voters will die off while younger, more progressive voters fill the BBWAA’s ranks. But I don’t necessarily buy that. There are a lot of “old man” voters who don’t think PEDs are a mortal sin. Maybe because they remember segregation and its after effects, greenies, cocaine and all manner of other bad things and know damn well that there are worse things in baseball than someone taking steroids.  Meanwhile, there are a lot of Hall of Fame voters south of 50 who are among the most virulent anti-PED guys as you’ll find anywhere.  Even if you’re counting on attrition, it’s going to take longer than the 14 years Bonds and Clemens have on the ballot to make a difference.

No, the only chance those two have to make the Hall of Fame is for some sort of fundamental change in the process to happen. For the BBWAA to alter the composition of its electorate, for MLB and the Hall of Fame to come out with some sort of formal diktat that PED use should not be considered in Hall of Fame voting or for the BBWAA to have the Hall of Fame vote taken away from it altogether.

I don’t see any of those three things happening. And for that reason, I don’t see Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens getting into the Hall of Fame without a ticket any time soon.

MLB Network airs segment listing “good” and “bad” $100 million-plus contracts

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On Wednesday evening, Charlie Marlow of KTVI FOX 2 News St. Louis posted a couple of screencaps from a segment MLB Network aired about $100 million-plus contracts that have been signed. The list of “bad” contracts, unsurprisingly, is lengthier than the list of “good” contracts.

As Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, it is problematic for a network owned by Major League Baseball to air a segment criticizing its employees for making too much seemingly unearned money. There’s a very clear conflict of interest, so one is certainly not getting a fair view of the situation. MLB, of course, can do what it wants with its network, but it can also be criticized. MLB Network would never air a similar segment in which it listed baseball’s “good” and “bad” owners and how much money they’ve undeservedly taken. Nor would MLB Network ever run a segment naming the hundreds of players who are not yet eligible for arbitration whose salaries are decided for them by their teams, often making the major league minimum ($545,000) or just above it. Similarly, MLB Network would also never think of airing a segment in which the pay of minor league players, many of whom make under $10,000 annually, is highlighted.

We’re now past the halfway point in January and many free agents still remain unsigned. It’s unprecedented. A few weeks ago, I looked just at the last handful of years and found that, typically, six or seven of the top 10 free agents signed by the new year. We’re still at two of 10 — same as a few weeks ago — and that’s only if you consider Carlos Santana a top-10 free agent, which is debatable. It’s a complex issue, but part of it certainly is the ubiquity of analytics in front offices, creating homogeneity in thinking. A consequence of that is everyone now being aware that big free agent contracts haven’t panned out well; it’s a topic of conversation that everyone can have and understand now. Back in 2010, I upset a lot of people by suggesting that Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract with the Phillies wouldn’t pan out well. Those people mostly cited home runs and RBI and got mad when I cited WAR and wOBA and defensive metrics. Now, many of those same people are wary of signing free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer and they now cite WAR, wOBA, and the various defensive metrics.

The public’s hyper-sensitivity to the viability of long-term free agent contracts — thanks in part to segments like the aforementioned — is a really bad trend if you’re a player, agent, or just care about labor in general. The tables have become very much tilted in favor of ownership over labor over the last decade and a half. Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs pointed out in March 2015 that the players’ share of total league revenues peaked in 2002 at 56 percent, but declined all the way to 38 percent in 2014. The current trend of teams signing their talented players to long-term contract extensions before or during their years of arbitration eligibility — before they have real leverage — as well as teams abstaining from signing free agents will only serve to send that percentage further down.

Craig has written at great length about the rather serious problem the MLBPA has on its hands. Solving this problem won’t be easy and may require the threat of a strike, or actually striking. As Craig mentioned, that would mean getting the players all on the same page on this issue, which would require some work. MLB hasn’t dealt with a strike since 1994 and it’s believed that it caused a serious decline in interest among fans, so it’s certainly something that would get the owners’ attention. The MLBPA may also need to consider replacing union head Tony Clark with someone with a serious labor background. Among the issues the union could focus on during negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement: abolishing the draft and getting rid of the arbitration system. One thing is for sure: the players are not in a good spot now, especially when the league has its own network on which it propagandizes against them.