This Great Game Comebacker

The Week That Was in Baseball: December 30, 2013-January 5, 2014
It Ain’t Easy Being a Hall-of-Fame Voter Our Picks for Cooperstown
Arizona to Adam Eaton: Good Riddance Who's After Masahiro Tanaka?

Different Votes From Different Folks
Baseball’s Hall of Fame announces its selections for the Class of 2014 this week, with the controversy surrounding its voting process more intense than ever. The Baseball Writers Association of America, which casts the votes, has had the same ground rules establishing the criteria for who is Cooperstown-worthy—but like umpires who gradually develop their own opinions of what constitutes a strike zone, the BBWAA’s voters each have their own ideas of what constitutes a Hall of Famer. Complicating matters is the legacy of the Steroid Era, from which numerous voters attempt to feather out who’s cheated and who hasn’t—even if the evidence isn’t in the form of a smoking gun.

It would be all so easy if the voters just agreed on the same two or four or ten players worthy of enshrinement—but then if they did that, they’d be accused of being programmable ditto artists. Throw out the bums, many bark, and let ex-players or the fans or Deadspin vote. Fine, go ahead. Do that and you’ll discover that the controversy would be just as heated. That’s the nature of a democracy: Votes are taken, people have different opinions and no one ever seems satisfied.

It isn’t easy being a Cooperstown voter—or a faux one, like Ed Attanasio and myself here at This Great Game. Solidifying our own criteria has wavered in the recent past as we both found out these past weeks while asking each other who was worthy of entering the Hall for 2014. Following are our enrollment philosophies—then and now—our selections and the reasons behind them.

Ed Attanasio’s Story
From now on, I will pick ten players every year, because I believe that over the past two decades, the voters have become way too picky. If a player puts in 15-plus years and leads in their respective categories during that period, then to me they’re Hall of Famers. There are a ton of players currently in the Hall that would never make it in with today's system.

Here are my ten picks for 2014:

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, because their careers warranted inclusion before they started juicing.
Jack Morris, because he came through in the clutch.
Mike Piazza, a catcher with amazing power.
Craig Biggio, whose only drawback was that he never played for great teams.
Tom Glavine, who dominated during his time.
Lee Smith, the premier reliever of his time.
Frank Thomas, no doubt.
Greg Maddux. Slam dunk.
Jeff Bagwell, who deserves at least a serious nod.

Now last year I proclaimed that no steroids user should ever be in the Hall, but obviously I changed my mind. Why? Well, I turned 55 in 2013 and forgiveness is my new mantra. My stepdaughter is now Buddhist and she asked me to read some books on Buddhism. Everyone needs to be forgiven, because we're human and imperfect. Now, that doesn’t mean I’m giving all the juicers a free ride. Many people say Piazza and Biggio likely took steroids but never got caught, which is a ridiculous claim and shouldn't even be discussed. It’s become a witch hunt, in my opinion, and if someone is kept out because of rumors, etc.—that is not a role the Hall wants to play, I imagine. So, Bonds and Clemens should be in because those are unique questions. Now the next question is: Should Rafael Palmeiro get in, and how about Mark McGwire? I'm not ready to decide on those quite yet.

Eric Gouldsberry’s Story
If I had BBWAA membership and a HOF vote, my standard for what qualifies as a Hall of Famer would be exceptionally high; after all, Cooperstown should be a place for the greats, not the very goods. I agree with
Reggie Jackson that there should be a Hall of Fame for the “real” Hall of Famers. I agree that if you have to think whether a player should go into Cooperstown, then he shouldn’t.

As many who have read the Comebacker for the past eight years are well aware, I’ve continually scratched my head at how voters’ minds can be so moveable. Once you believe a player should be in the Hall, you think you’d want to stick with that choice year after year. Similarly, if you don’t believe he belongs, why would you change your mind later? How does a player suddenly get better in retirement? How does Barry Larkin get 51% of the vote in 2010 and, two years later, receive 86%? How does Bert Blyleven receive 80% of the vote for enshrinement in 2011, 12 years after he only got a mere 14%?

Yes, I’m not a BBWAA voter but I often play one on the Internet. However, I am a member of the IBWAA—the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, an alternative group of respected baseball people run from Southern California by sportswriter Howard Cole and whose ranks include the likes of Jim Bowden, Peter Golenbock, Tim Brown and Ed. Every year, the IBWAA gets to select its own Hall of Famers. No, our voice doesn’t count in Cooperstown, but it gives us a chance to be heard in a parallel world. (And in our world, Barry Larkin’s not a Hall of Famer—yet.) So I cast my votes this year for the IBWAA, felt good about them, and then in preparation for this week’s Comebacker looked back at our choices from last year—and was mortified to discover that I said yes to Mike Piazza, after saying no to him in the IBWAA vote.

So alas, I must accuse myself of being hypocritical, even if it was unintentional. I need to refocus and get back to basics on what I believe: Only no-brainer picks should be given a checkmark, because if you have to think…

Here are my choices, and why:

Craig Biggio. Fantastic table-setter with 3,060 hits, 1,844 runs (15th all-time) and 668 doubles (fifth).
Barry Bonds. He was a Hall of Famer before he began juicing.
Roger Clemens. The steroid math is fuzzier in regards to when Clemens began taking them and for how long (and it’s never been fully proven that he did shoot up). Without definitive evidence, I have to believe in his natural baseball greatness.
Tom Glavine. A 305-203 record including five 20-win campaigns and a 3.54 ERA in a time when juiced hitters reigned. He may not get the votes because he often pitched in the shadow of Maddux, John Smoltz, etc., and that’s unfair.
Greg Maddux. Ditto Ed. Slam dunk.
Frank Thomas. The American League’s best hitter of the 1990s. I don’t care if he spent half his career as a designated hitter (which I’m sure will provide naysayers with an excuse not to vote for him).

Yes, I’ve backed off of Mike Piazza because I never should have listed him in the first place. The IBWAA vote affirmed that; at some point, I had to think whether he should be in the Hall. One time, I said yes. Another, I said no. Not right.

Biggio’s HOF Pitch
Somebody definitely thinks Biggio ought to be in Cooperstown. After all, besides all those numbers listed above, he rescued tornado victims, thwarted robberies and saved the Earth from World War Z. We’d believe it, too, by watching this campaign video—but c’mon, if that was the real Biggio, wouldn’t he be wearing that industrial-strength elbow guard?

Here Comes the Boom
The New York Post reminded us this past week that the Hall-of-Fame selections likely won’t be the only announcement made related to baseball this week. The Gotham scribe believes that a decision is imminent from
Fredric Horwitz on whether Alex Rodriguez should receive the full 211-game penalty levied against him by Major League Baseball for his role in the Biogenesis scandal—or whether he should get a reduced suspension or none at all. We’re guessing that Horwitz’s verdict will end up being the truth lying somewhere in the middle, meaning we expect something in the 50-100 game range. If Rodriguez follows up on his earlier statements and gets docked even a single game, he’ll sue. Stay tuned, we’ll Facebook it the moment we get word.

Bushers Book

Time to Chill in the Desert?
The Arizona Diamondbacks need to thicken their skins a bit. They cast off
Justin Upton for not being a gamer. Pitching prospect Trevor Bauer got sent to Cleveland and was ridiculed by ex-teammates for not getting with the program. Team reps ordered fans sitting behind home plate to shed visiting teams’ apparel. And everyone in Phoenix got irate over the Dodgers’ victory swim in the Chase Field pool.

Now comes word of a Diamondbacks player “anonymously” knocking outfielder Adam Eaton, traded last month to the Chicago White Sox, as an “addition by subtraction,” a “selfish me-me-type player” and one with “a huge sense of entitlement” for a rookie. The speedy Eaton finished last year with a .252 average and 40 runs in 66 games, but spent much of his time on the disabled list. He is projected to be the starting center fielder for the White Sox.

Eaton was perplexed by the shadowy comments, saying he never got a hint of dissatisfaction from Arizona players or executives.

Look Who’s Tanaka-ing on America’s Door
A few weeks ago we reported that the Rakuten Golden Eagles had decided, in the wake of the new posting system agreed upon by MLB and Japan, to keep red-hot pitcher
Masahiro Tanaka for the 2014 season. But because the holidays are a time for giving, the Eagles performed an about face and decided to put Tanaka on the open American market. Of course, they’re not giving away the pitcher who was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last season for nothing; they’ll get $20 million in posting fees should Tanaka sign with a MLB team, which is far less than they would have received under the old agreement.

The number of teams expected to wheel and deal for Tanaka is anyone’s guess; almost every MLB team has at some point been linked to the pursuit. The teams most often mentioned are Seattle, Arizona, Texas, Los Angeles, the Chicago Cubs and (of course) the New York Yankees.

Super-Sizing the Bryce
You look at
Bryce Harper on TV and he doesn’t strike you as a terribly big guy. Yet there he is on the roster listed at 6’2”, 225 pounds. And if you don’t believe that, here’s some new information that has to be seen to be believed: Harper is claiming that he’s made good on an offseason muscle-building regimen and has reached a goal of weighing 245 pounds. Hopefully for the Washington Nationals’ sake, his hefty new frame will be able to retain his gifted speed—but then again, maybe slowing up is a good thing; it’ll give him more time to see that unforgiveable outfield wall that he’s charging full speed at.

Going With the Home Team
The Philadelphia Phillies became the latest team to get rich in the local TV arena, inking a 25-year pact with Comcast (which is headquartered in Philadelphia) said to be worth $2.5 billion—or $100 million a year. That puts the Phillies in the top third of teams rich in local TV revenue, though they’re still behind the $150 million a year generated each for Texas and Los Angeles of Anaheim—and the eye-opening $340 million that will kick in for the Los Angeles Dodgers this coming season. But, they’re well ahead of the other four NL East teams in terms of revenue, with the New York ($65 million), Washington ($29 million), Atlanta ($20 million) and Miami ($18 million) all well behind.

Coming Soon to TGG
Over the next few weeks, look out for: The 2013 Yearly Reader page, featuring the story of the world champion Boston Red Sox; additions to our growing list of interviews with ex-ballplayers in our They Were There section; and next week, look out for the Best of the Comebacker, our traditional look back at the wild and wacky from 2013.

The Comebacker's Greatest Hits: Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2008 season.

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