Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 3, 2013

Bonds, Clemens up for election next week

By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — Two memorable sports moments will occur next week.

One will determine a champion in college football. The other is about immortality in baseball.

Notre Dame and Alabama will play for the national championship on Monday. The winner will hoist the crystal, and then it will be time to focus on next season.

Believe me, Nick Saban doesn’t spend much time in celebration.

What occurs Wednesday isn’t just a one-year thing. Those who get the call will be recognized as the greatest to ever to play the game, and they will never have their spot threatened, unlike the winner of Notre Dame-Alabama will next season.

More on that football game later this week. This is about the National Baseball Hall of Fame. I have been to Cooperstown twice, and it ranks right up there with Tuscaloosa and a certain house in Tazewell as my favorite places to be.

The 2013 class will be announced on Wednesday, and the intrigue is mounting. We know that the Pre-Integration Era committee has already tabbed umpire Hank O’Day, pioneer/executive Jacob Ruppert and 19th century catcher and third baseman Deacon White for induction.

We might need a deacon to figure out who will get the necessary 75 percent of the vote to join them for induction. Well, none of those guys will be there. O’Day died in 1935, while Ruppert and White did the same in 1939.

There are plenty of candidates, including holdovers like Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Lee Smith, Dale Murphy and Jack Morris. There are also newcomers, who, if not for allegations of steroid use, would be no-brainers for Cooperstown.

Just how will the voters decide on Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa — all of whom have been associated with PEDs. What about Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza and Curt Schilling?

Bonds and Clemens were supposedly both Hall of Fame players before the steroids rage began, but who really knows when that beginning was. Not even all those geeks that come up with stats like WHIP, WAR, VORP and something called pNERD can figure those numbers out.

That is why this has to be such a difficult decision for a voters. How do they really know? Of course, these are the same folks who have never voted in anyone with a unanimous vote.

That is right. Some of these guys apparently didn’t think Hank Aaron, Ted Williams, Stan Musial or Walter Johnson deserved to be in.

Among the reasons given is some writers won’t vote for a player if they don’t deem them quite good enough to get in on the first ballot, but they will let them in on the second or sometime in the future.

That argument is perplexing. What difference does it make if you are a first ballot Hall of Famer like Frank Robinson, or Bert Blyleven, who had to wait 14 ballots to finally get in.

In my visits to Cooperstown, I have never once seen any mention on a plaque of how many votes or how many years it took to get it there.

If you get in, you are a Hall of Famer.

Many voters have already said they would not vote for anyone tied to PEDs. That is why Mark McGwire and Sosa, who had been credited with invigorating baseball with their drive to pass Roger Maris in 1998, will probably never gain induction. Ditto for Rafael Palmeiro, who pointed his finger at Congress and said he had never done steroids, and then tested positive for steroids.

Palmeiro, minus the steroids, is a more legitimate candidate than McGwire or Sosa, who could be called compilers, which is exactly what has happened to Biggio. The longtime catcher, second baseman and outfielder for the Houston Astros was consistent for 20 years, but could fall short despite his 3,060 hits because he stayed around long enough compile those numbers.

Does that make any sense?

Then there is Piazza and Schilling. Piazza has often been called the greatest hitter catcher of all time, although Johnny Bench was pretty good at hitting and fielding. He has been rumored with PEDs, but never directly linked to it, while there are pitchers with better numbers than Schilling, but he had big moments in the postseason.

That is the same reason why Morris, who has better numbers than Schilling, could have a chance. He finished second to Barry Larkin last year with 66.7 percent of the vote. Could this be his year to reach 75 percent.

How about Murphy? This is his 15th and final chance. He was a similar player to Rice, who got in on his 14th year of eligibility a few years ago. Murphy’s .265 average and 398 home runs will fall short again.

Why not more support for Tim Raines, who was one of baseball’s best leadoff hitters, batting .295 with 880 stolen bases. Fred McGriff hit .284 with 493 home runs, and Jeff Bagwell batted .297 with 449 home runs, and did it with one of the craziest batting stances you will ever see.

There will be local connection in a few years. Tazewell’s Billy Wagner will be eligible for induction in 2015. Will he get in? All Billy the Kid did was rank fifth all-time in saves with 422 and a 2.31 ERA.

It would help his case — and Trevor Hoffman, who ranks second all-time with 601 saves — if Lee Smith could finally get in. Fourth all-time in saves with 478 and an ERA of 3.03, Smith has struggled to gain support as he enters his 11th year of eligibility. His chances will run out after 15 years.

It might be time to start a campaign for Wagner. He might need it.

As for next week, it will be interesting to see what the fate is of Bonds and Clemens, neither of whom were ever all that gracious to the media, which can make a difference in these scenarios.

I actually did see Bonds smile once in Atlanta walking back to the dugout after hitting his fifth home run in a row over two games. I also got to see Clemens strike out his 2,800th batter in Toronto.

Both are undoubtedly among the greatest to ever play the game, but how much did they do on their own and how much help did they get from PEDs?

That we will never know.

It’s up to the Hall of Fame voters to decide for the rest of us.

—Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He encourages feedback at bwoodson@bdtonline.com