The Baseball Writers Association of America has cast their votes…and no new players shall be admitted to the Hall of Fame this year. A lot has been written about how this is a very odd year, and it is. There are a lot of accused steroid users, including Barry Bonds and Rodger Clemens for whom this was their first year on the ballot. And no one got in. In the case of both Clemens and Bonds, they didn’t get in by quite a wide margin.
I think that’s going to change in the next few years. In part, you can expect an uptick from voters who decided to deny these and other players “first ballot” honors. Ok. I get that. But in part I think you need to look at the season we’ve just come out of.
Specifically, you need to look at Melky Cabrera.
Cabrera was a passable, if unremarkable, major-leaguer for his first five full season in the majors, from 2006 through 2010. He then had a bit of an uptick in 2011 before exploding in 2012. Some of this you can reasonably account for as player development. Some guys just take a while to figure out major league pitching, and since he’s still just 28 it’s not out of the question to assume he’s a bit of a late bloomer. Nonetheless, he did get caught with steroids, so let’s assume those first five years give us a reasonable baseline for Cabrera’s stats. Of those first five seasons, his best was probably 2009 in which he hit .274 and slugged .416, both just a tick above his five year average. In contrast, 2012 saw him hit .346 and slug .516. His OPS jumped more than 150 points, and he went from being just barely a major league caliber player to an All-Star MVP.
And that, I submit, is part of why Hall of Fame voting is down this year, even with some huge names in the mix. Voters are afraid of enshrining a player who, without PEDs, might have just been good. The idea of how much better PEDs can potentially make a player are too fresh on voters’ minds.
Yes, who should get into the Hall is a moral issue, and I’m not arguing it shouldn’t be. If you want to put all the cheaters in or keep every last one out, that’s your prerogative. But the reality is that we’re going to be making judgment calls about these players’ greatness relative to their PED use in the years to come. Was Barry Bonds a Hall of Famer before he bulked up and started jacking ungodly numbers of homers? Most people would say yes, and I think that’s why he gets in eventually. But look down the line at, say, Rafael Palmeiro. Hit a ton of homers. Was an excellent player for a long time. But if he was also a long time steroid user, what might that have added to his career?
It’s a question we’ll never answer. But thanks to Melky Cabrera, it’s that much more on voters’ minds this year.