In recent weeks several people have asked me if I thought Bud Selig would really retire when his term as commissioner expires after the 2012 season. Always feeling certain that he would not retire, I replied that by the start of spring training Major League Baseball would announce a contract extension for Selig.
This qualifies as coming before spring training so the owners, meeting my expected timetable as they held their quarterly meetings in Arizona this week, asked Selig to stay on as commissioner for two more years through the 2014 season.
With a salary of at least $22 million a year and use of a private jet, how could he say no? He’d rather write a book and teach history at the University of Wisconsin at Madison? Not in this lifetime.
This column wasn’t going to be about Bud Selig so that’s all I will say about him. Well, one more thing.
After the owners forced Fay Vincent to resign in 1992, Selig became acting or interim commissioner because he was chairman of the executive council. Selig, however, denied that he was acting or interim. He also denied repeatedly that he was interested in being the commissioner.
He denied it so frequently and so vehemently that some people believed him. One of those people was Len Coleman, the National League president, who quietly let it be known that he would be interested in being the commissioner.
He would have made an outstanding commissioner, but by declaring his interest he killed his baseball future because he had dared to step on Selig’s toes. Of course, Selig wanted to be commissioner in the same way that he has spent the past year or two insisting that he was going to retire after the 2012 season.
He accepted the job in 1998, and now he will accept a new term instead of retiring. He is nothing if not consistent.
But I started out to write about the Hall of Fame election and want to get to that without further mention of Selig. I want to write about the terrific, unexpected increase in Jack Morris’ vote total, but there’s another aspect of the writers’ vote that cries out for attention.
In the election that put Barry Larkin in the Hall of Fame, 13 players on the 27-player ballot failed to receive enough votes to meet the 5 percent requirement to remain on the ballot for future elections. Six players received no votes at all: Jeromy Burnitz, Brian Jordan, Terry Mulholland, Phil Nevin, Ruben Sierra and Tony Womack.
Why were they on the ballot?
Why were Javier Lopez and Eric Young on the ballot? They each received one vote. Why? Did each have a friend among the writers who wanted to express his feelings for him? Did the writers honestly believe Lopez and Young belong in the Hall of Fame? If so, how did those writers last long enough covering baseball – 10 years – to qualify as voters?
The writers get enough criticism for voting for legitimate candidates or not voting for players fans think belong in the Hall of Fame without incurring criticism for voting for players with career records like Lopez and Young.
In last year’s election 16 players failed to get the 30 votes they needed to continue as candidates. Like this year, six players received no votes: Carlos Baerga, Lenny Harris, Bobby Higginson, Charles Johnson, Raul Mondesi, Kirk Rueter. Bret Boone and Benito Santiago each appeared on one ballot. Again, why?
This is the way the system works. A screening committee of six members of the Baseball Writers Association receives a list of players eligible for the first time and nominates those they think should be placed on the ballot. Any player who is named by two or more of the six writers goes on the ballot, joining players who had been on the ballot in previous years.
Considering that players need 75 percent of the votes to be elected to the Hall, I would think that newly eligible players should need at least 50 percent of the screening committee votes to get on the ballot.
In this year’s voting, 12 of the 13 first-time players failed to make the cut, Bernie Williams was the only first-timer who survived, and he did with 9.6 percent, or 55 votes.
“I haven’t heard any complaints about it,” Jack O’Connell, BBWAA secretary-treasurer, said of the system. He noted that one writer complained this year that Edgardo Alfonzo did not get a second vote to get on the ballot, but he added that the system is intended to be as fair as possible in giving players a chance to be voted on.
I asked O’Connell if players might be embarrassed by being on the ballot but getting only one vote or no votes. On the contrary, he said, players are flattered simply by having their names on the ballot.
“Chet Lemon’s wife called me,” O’Connell related, “and wanted to make a plaque of the ballot and give it to him. Jerry Reuss saw me and asked me to send him a ballot.”
At this stage of his ballot history, Morris wants more than a piece of memorabilia. The pitcher has gone through 13 elections, and this year came closer than ever, falling 48 votes short with 66.7 percent of the vote.
Such a high percentage has always meant subsequent election, but Morris has only two years left on the writers’ ballot, and each year could present built-in problems for the pitcher.
In two years, two certain first-timers will be on the ballot, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. It’s unlikely that writers would vote for those two pitchers and Morris, though they could consider that it would be Morris’ last year on the ballot.
What about next year? Morris’ chances in 2013 could depend on the writers’ reaction to first-timers Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza.
The past several years the voters have overwhelmingly rejected Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro for their use of performance-enhancing substances. Some voters, however, might have rejected them without the steroids link, believing their careers did not merit Hall of Fame election.
That belief would most likely not exist for Bonds and Clemens and probably not Sosa and Piazza. But Bonds and Clemens have been clearly implicated in their use of illegal substances, and Sosa and Piazza have been suspected of their use.
Sosa and Piazza have never been convicted by testing or their own admission, but they may find it impossible to overcome the circumstantial evidence that has grown around them.
If, on the other hand, writers vote for some or any of them, they may not want to add Morris to their ballot. Since Hall of Fame voting began in 1936, more than three players have been elected in only three years and three have been elected seven times, only four times in the last 40 years and once in the last 21 years.
When I voted for the first time, I submitted a full ballot, all 10 lines filled with names. By the time I voted a year later, I had reconsidered what I had done. In voting for 10 players, I was saying in essence I wanted to see 10 players inducted into the Hall at the same time.
How foolish, I realized. Having 10 players enter the Hall at the same time would detract from the honor for each player. In addition, the induction ceremony would take forever and require a break for dinner. On subsequent ballots I placed an X next to three or four names at the most, sometimes only one or two.
I have not voted for McGwire or Palmeiro and don’t expect to vote for Bonds, Clemens, Sosa or Piazza next December. I will vote for Morris.