THE VOTE BASEBALL WRITERS DON’T NEED

By Murray Chass

January 3, 2013

One and done.

I placed an X next to Jack Morris on my Hall of Fame ballot, and I was finished voting. If Morris is elected, I will most likely be finished voting period. If Morris is not elected this time, I will vote for him next year in his final year of eligibility and then be done.

Jack Morris World Series Game 7 225

Barring a change in my thinking, which I don’t expect, I believe the time has come to relinquish my right as a 10-year (actually 50-year) member of the Baseball Writers Association of America to vote in the Hall of Fame election.

I offer two reasons for my decision.

  1. Though I don’t believe there is a more qualified set of electors, certainly not the new-age stats guys who are envious of the writers and believe they should determine Hall of Famers, I don’t think reporters and columnists who cover and comment on baseball news should be making baseball news.
  2. The steroids issue has made it impossible to conduct a rational vote and cast a reasonable ballot. No matter how a writer votes or on what he bases his decision whom to vote for or not to vote for, his reasoning has to be flawed and open to challenge.

I have read and heard all sorts of explanations for voting or not voting for players listed on the ballot, the focus falling on players known to have used performance-enhancing substances (i.e. those who tested positive) or those who were suspected or having used them (especially those cases where circumstantial evidence e of use was strong).

There are the writers who say they will not vote for anyone who cheated. There are writers who say they will vote for players who established Hall of Fame credentials before they became cheaters.

There are writers who say they will ignore steroids use, even in obvious cases, and vote as if the stuff didn’t exist because it’s impossible to know for sure who used and who didn’t use. And anyway Major League Baseball ignored all of the cheating so why shouldn’t they, the last group argues.

A. Bartlett Giamatti, the late commissioner, used to say in applicable situations, “You could use a higher standard,” and that suggestion would apply here for the writers who throw up their hands and say, “How am I supposed to know who cheated and who didn’t?”

It’s a perfectly good and fair question to ask, but it shouldn’t be answered by voting for known or suspected cheaters. The most logical answer is don’t vote. I have not made a study of the matter, but I noticed the other day a column on ESPN.com by T.J. Quinn, who declared an end to his voting. Good for him. Are there any other sensible writers in the house?

Now, you might ask and reasonably so, if I plan to stop voting, why did I vote this year? I voted in the hope that my vote would contribute to Morris’ election. I didn’t vote for anyone else because anyone I might have considered was a known or suspected cheater, and I didn’t want to aid and abet a cheater.

I think I am safe in concluding that Morris did not cheat. I know the stats zealots don’t think Morris is a Hall of Famer because his rankings in their new-fangled ratings fall below their standards. But they don‘t have a formula for intestinal fortitude or determination.

Morris willed the Minnesota Twins to win Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, refusing to leave as long as the game was scoreless. The stats zealots are tired of hearing about that game, but it is symbolic of the fatal flaw in their way of viewing players. Numbers simply don’t tell the whole story.

tom-kelly“They seem to have formed a band those fellows, and I don’t know if you’re ever going to change their mind,” Tom Kelly said in a telephone interview Wednesday evening. Kelly managed Morris with the Twins and managed against him when he played for Detroit and Toronto.

Coincidentally, Kelly had watched a replay of the 10-inning 1-0 Game 7 earlier in the day. “It was snowing and I sat there and flipped the channels,” he said. The game naturally brought back memories.

“I remember saying to myself in the dugout I gotta find a way to get a run,” Kelly recalled. “I was starting to get concerned that I couldn’t help the boys get a run.”

Morris pitched all 10 innings. John Smoltz, the Atlanta starter, left in the eighth.

“To me,” Kelly said, “the hardest part of the game for those two guys was their teams had opportunities to score and they didn’t. Other pitchers would have crumbled. Those two fellows kept going out there and being nasty.”

Morris, Kelly added, “did that quite often through the ‘80s and ‘90s. He shut down the other team. If he had the split-finger thing going you felt sorry for the other team. Through the ‘80s and ‘90s if you had a pitcher you had to pick out whom you didn’t want to face Morris had to be in the conversation.

“People just don’t know what it was like to sit there and watch from either side of the field. I got to do both.”

Lest anyone think Kelly was praising Morris because he managed him, I note that they were together only one year in Morris’ 18-year career.

“I sure hope it goes his way,” Kelly said. “It seems absurd that he’s not in. How many rings does he have? Three? I wish those young guys would look at that.”

In case those “young guys” don’t know what Kelly is talking about, he was referring to the three World Series championship rings Morris won with three different teams. That was no accident or coincidence, Kelly would tell them. Morris was instrumental in the success the Tigers, the Twins and the Blue Jays had in their championship seasons.

Morris, however, has not been as successful in his effort to gain entry into the Hall of Fames. He is in his 14th year of his 15-year eligibility on the writers’ ballot, and he labored through his first 10 years without drawing as much as 50 percent of the vote. A player needs 75 percent for election.

In 2010, Morris broke 50 percent with 52.3, then rose slightly to 53.5. Last year, in his 13th year on the ballot, he made a major breakthrough, receiving 66.7 percent and getting to an historically significant plateau.

According to the Hall of Fame, all but one player who attained the 60-percent plateau subsequently was elected, either by the writers or the post-writer committees. The lone exception – and Brooklyn fans still feel his pain – was Gil Hodges.

Three times the Dodgers’ first baseman received more than 60 percent of the vote: 60.1 each in 1976 and ’81 and 63.4 in 1983, his last year of eligibility. What happened in ‘82? He sank to 49.4. That year Hank Aaron got 97.8 and Frank Robinson 89.2.

During Morris’ first 13 years on the ballot, eight players gained more than 60 percent, some more than once, and all were subsequently elected.

Morris could be hurt or helped by how writers vote on the cheaters. If they go big for the big names, they will very likely not include Morris. If they choose to reject the cheaters, Morris figures to benefit. If Morris isn’t elected this time, he could face a problem next year because Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine will be on the ballot for the first time.

Years ago, I introduced a motion at a national writers’ meeting that we withdraw from voting. Had the motion been voted on at that meeting, I think it would have had a good chance of passing. If it had passed, we wouldn’t be debating the steroids issue now. But a quick-thinking writer moved to table the vote until the entire national membership could vote by mail.

My motion easily lost so here we are today talking about Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell among others.

I spoke to several writers about their ballots and found that two had voted for Biggio and two others hadn’t because of a suspicion in baseball circles that he used steroids. When Bagwell was eligible initially a couple of years ago, I voted for him, then was told he was a steroids guy. Trusting the information, I haven’t voted for him since.

Maybe the two writers who told me they voted for Biggio will come to a similar conclusion before the next vote. Those writers said they also voted for Piazza, which is troubling because I don’t know if there’s anyone in baseball who doesn’t think Piazza used steroids.

mike-piazza4

For some reason, the news media have not talked about the former catcher and steroids the way they have talked about Bonds, Clemens and Sosa. When I worked for The New York Times, I tried more than once to write about Piazza and steroids, but the baseball editor said I couldn’t because his name hadn’t been linked to steroids.

I can link his name to steroids, I countered, but I had to wait until I started this Web site to talk about Piazza’s acne-covered back, a generally accepted telltale sign of steroids use. Piazza’s passionate fans ridiculed me for that assertion (and surely will again) and ignored the fact that Piazza’s back cleared up as soon as baseball began testing for steroids.

A book for which Simon & Schuster paid Piazza an advance of $800,000 or $750,000 had been scheduled for publication next month, but there’s talk about a delay because of a dispute between the publisher and Piazza over the subject of steroids and their presence in the book.

The Hall of Fame wouldn’t look too good if Piazza were elected next week, and then his book came out with his admission that he used steroids. But maybe the Hall doesn’t care about Steroids. This was a headline on its Web site  the other day:

Sosa on verge of Cooperstown

It did not end in a question mark; it was a simple declarative statement as if he Hall knew something the rest of us didn’t.

Comments? Please send email to comments@murraychass.com.