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Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014

Major League Baseball: The Hall And The Fall

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Alex Rodriguez is hardly destined for baseball's Hall of Fame, judging from last week's vote totals for fellow superstars Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. A-Rod's admission in 2009 that he used performance-enhancing drugs years earlier and lied about it on national TV put him in the shadow-land of players—now including Milwaukee's Ryan Braun—whose careers will always be clouded by suspicion.

Last weekend Rodriguez hit a new level of dishonor when an arbitrator suspended him for the 2014 season as a result of the same drug investigation that led to Braun's 65-game penalty last year. Rodriguez vowed to fight Major League Baseball in court, but even if he plays again and approaches the all-time record for home runs, he won't escape the shadows.

 

Artie: The way the latest Hall voting went, whenever A-Rod becomes eligible he might get booted off the ballot right away.

Frank: That would take some doing; based on this year's 571 voters the 5% required to stay eligible would be only 29 votes. But it might not take long for A-Rod to vanish. Rafael Palmeiro, with 3,000-plus hits and 500-plus homers but also a failed drug test, just sank below 5% in his fourth year. Sammy Sosa's 609 homers drew 7.2% in his second year, and Mark McGwire (583 homers) kept sliding in his eighth year, to 16.9%.

A: Even Bonds and Clemens, who arguably had Hall of Fame numbers before they presumably began “using,” lost ground, ain'a?

F: Yup, both dropped to a little over one-third of the ballots. So A-Rod, despite his 654 homers and three MVPs, probably has no hope unless there's a huge change of thinking within the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

A: There's growing commentary that it's the voting system that needs changing. One move could be raising the 10-vote limit per ballot.

F: We're for that, as we said last month in assessing the ballot that had about 20 names worthy of discussion. There's also some feeling that the number of voters should be substantially reduced, perhaps to a committee like the NFL uses for its Hall of Fame and baseball does for its “veterans” category.

A: We'll see how that all plays out. But for now, if I was a Yankee fan I'd be thinking positive, as in, “Oh boy, in 2015 we'll see a 39-year-old A-Rod return from all that time to heal his aching hips.”

F: I'd say most Yankee fans are thinking, “Oh boy, we don't have to watch him creak around and then stink in the playoffs again.” He was great in 2009, the only time the Yanks have won the World Series with him, but since then in five post-season series he's hit .160 (12 for 75) with zero homers.

A: The Yankees won't have to pay him $25 million this year, which might keep them under the $189 million payroll that would trigger MLB's luxury tax. Except that, as usual, they've spent freely on guys like Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran.

F: Hey, the Yanks don't do their rebuilding on the cheap. And they'll still owe A-Rod more than $60 million for 2015 through '17. They'd love to see him quit, but how likely is that? Unlike Braun and the other guys nailed in the probe of the Biogenesis clinic, A-Rod didn't accept his penalty.

A: Which originally was a whopping 211 games.

F: He might have good reason to think Commissioner Bud Selig singled him out for extreme punishment. But there's so much "smoke," as you would say: The '09 admission of drug use and lying; his association with a Canadian doctor linked with supplying drugs to athletes; and of course his association with Biogenesis operator Tony Bosch.

A: Among A-Rod's complaints are that Bosch lied as part of a deal with MLB, which also paid for Biogenesis information.

F: But there are also reports that A-Rod offered to pay Biogenesis to withhold information. And as we asked with Braun, why did he have any dealings with Bosch?

A: Throw in A-Rod's bloated contract and his prima donna behavior and there can't be many who see a lot of redeeming social value.

F: He'll seek an injunction against the suspension, then sue MLB in federal court. But the legal experts say judges are very reluctant to interfere in disciplinary matters governed by a collectively-bargained agreement. Besides, when the arbitrator held hearings A-Rod refused to testify and stormed out.

A: Enough with this guy! Let's talk more about the Hall voting and other stuff.

 

TWO HEADS ARE...

F: We nailed the NFL conference championship games in our pre-season predictions!

A: Um, really?

F: Well, we went halfsies. I correctly forecast Denver-New England and you had Seattle-San Francisco.

A: This may be unprecedented for us in any sport. After we make predictions we forget 'em and hope the readers do too.

F: I only checked back to see how wrong we were. And of course neither of us was perfect. You had Denver playing Cincinnati, which at least made the playoffs. I brilliantly foresaw the 49ers playing Atlanta, which went 4-12.

 

A LITTLE MORE ON A-ROD

F: Just one more thing about the Rodriguez mess. In reading The New York Times' coverage, I ran across a good column by Juliet Macur that was headline, “Cruel Bargain for A-Rod and Boys With Baseball Dreams.” Here's how she summarizes that bargain:

 

“...Use drugs like human growth hormone and testosterone that enhance performance and bring tens of millions of dollars in salary. To try to catch you, we will send our own investigative team to uncover evidence in ways that could be considered unethical. But even if you are caught, teams will pay handsomely for your services if you are good enough to play.”

 

A: In other words, neither A-Rod nor Ryan Braun nor anyone else who got caught in the Biogenesis scandal is likely to go hungry.

F: And here's more from Macur:

 

“The league should not be alone in this fight. The union, which for years balked at drug testing, has come around on the issue. The teams, however, have yet to follow, and they should be held accountable for their passive attitude toward doping.

“The St. Louis Cardinals hardly flinched as they signed shortstop Jhonny Peralta to a four-year, $53 million contract in November, not long after he completed his 50-game ban for doping. He had been implicated in the Biogenesis scandal, alongside Rodriguez.”

 

F: And if Peralta performs up to the expectations of the Cardinals and their fans, they'll like him just fine. And the same can be said, I think, for Mr. Braun when he gets back on the field. Yeah, he and the others might get booed on the road, but if they help their teams succeed, well, we'll hear a lot about how “Americans are forgiving people” and “believe in second chances.”

A: Hey, while we're on the subject, a good spot for the post-suspension A-Rod might be the Seattle Mariners. After all, didn't I read last week that Tony La Russa, the soon-to-be Hall of Fame manager who presided over steroid guys Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire in Oakland, and then McGwire again in St. Louis, might become the president of the M's?

F: You did indeed.

A: And who better to be connected to A-Rod than the poster boy for “I saw them every day but I never had a clue about what they did.”

 

NOW, THE HALL VOTING

F: I don't think anyone has much of a beef with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas being elected on their first try. And Craig Biggio fell just two votes short of the needed 75%, so he's sure to be elected next year on his third try.

A: What really struck me was that so many strong candidates lost votes from the previous year.

F: Absolutely! Jack Morris, in his 15th and final time on the ballot, not only didn't get a “bump” but lost 34 votes to finish at 61.5%. Jeff Bagwell saw his vote total drop by 29; Tim Raines by 34; Fred McGriff by 51; Curt Schilling by 54; Edgar Martinez by 60; Larry Walker by 65; Alan Trammell by 72; And Lee Smith by a staggering 101.

A: The only major guys to gain votes were Biggio (39) and Mike Piazza (26).

F: The vote dropoffs reflect the strong support for the three first-timers who got elected. But only one other newcomer, Mike Mussina, exceeded 5% to stay on the ballot.

A: So what the dropoffs show is that the ballot is really packed and the voting limit of 10 should be raised. I'd say go to 15 but I'd settle for 12.

F: As it was, I heard someone report that the average ballot contained eight names, which is higher than usual. I voted for the full 10 for the first time. And in the next few years the crowding of worthy candidates ain't going away. Here are the top names who'll be eligible down the road:

 

2015 (voting next December)—Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Gary Sheffield, Nomar Garciaparra.

2016—Ken Griffey Jr., Trevor Hoffman.

2017—Ivan Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero, Jorge Posada, Manny Ramirez.

2018—Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel.

 

F: Oh yes, and I wanted to make sure you know that in 2018 voters will also see the name of Jeff Suppan.

A: They could expand the voting limit to 25 or 30 and Soup would be out of luck.

F; We can be quite sure that Ramirez won't get much support, given his multiple drug violations. I personally don't think Sheffield is worth a vote, 500 homers or not. Vizquel is interesting because he finished just 32 hits short of 3,000, but it was mostly because he hung on for his last five years as a part-timer.

A: But he could get in just on his glove work. That'll be an interesting vote.

F: The most controversial ballot was the one that was rejected. Dan Le Batard of Miami and ESPN turned his ballot over to readers of the website Deadspin...

A: And earned himself a one-year suspension by the BBWAA.

F: Le Batard explained himself, in part, by saying:

 

“I hate all the moralizing we do in sports in general, but I especially hate the hypocrisy in this. I always like a little anarchy inside the cathedral we've made of sports...

“I don't like how they do business over there at the Hall of Fame, where they're sitting there and they're being sanctimonious and they're keeping all the steroid guys out.”

 

F: The 10 players who got the most votes on Deadspin went on Le Batard's ballot, and their choices weren't all that surprising: Maddux, Glavine, Thomas, Piazza, Biggio, Martinez, Bagwell, Clemens, Bonds and Schilling.

A: If he really wanted to shake things up he should have turned his ballot over to that butterball in North Korea, Dennis Rodman's pal Kim Jong Whatever. That would get some attention!

F: No doubt Kim would have done a write-in for Rodman.

 

CONSISTENTLY INCONSISTENT

F: The word “inconsistent” was invented for this year's Marquette basketball team, at least so far this season. And not just from game to game, but within games.

A: Last week's games at Xavier and against Seton Hall at home were perfect illustrations.

F: They got out-muscled and out-shot by Xavier, then responded to Buzz Williams' “toughness” urgings with a strong first half against “the Hall.” But they fell apart for a long stretch of the second half, with lots of turnovers and poor shot selection, and just barely hung on to win.

A: Jamil Wilson is the poster boy for this inconsistency. Coming into this season he was touted as the next in line for “star status,” along the lines of Jae Crowder and Jimmy Butler. He's the same type of player, with height and athleticism and great offensive ability. But he doesn't seem to show it in consecutive games.

F: Against Xavier he had five points and fouled out in only 12 minutes. Then he was a monster against Seton Hall, with 16 points and 11 boards in 37 minutes. But even those stats were a little lopsided; he only had four points on 1-of-5 shooting in the second half.

A: I don't know if it's just underachieving or something off in team chemistry, but the Golden Eagles aren't gonna do much in the Big East if they don't fix it. And they were picked by a lot of people to win the conference.

F: Another puzzle for me is Davante Gardner. Against Xavier he was a force inside, scoring 19 points. But against Seton Hall he was shooting almost exclusively from the outside and wound up with six points and five boards, none of them offensive, in 34 minutes. He's one of MU's better free-throw shooters, but he didn't get to the line once.

A: Some of his outside shots look like something a guy might take at the YMCA.

F: I'll say this: They come as close to an old-fashioned set shot as anything in the modern game. It's no secret that Gardner is no leaper, but I swear on a couple of shots his sneakers never lost contact with the floor! Of course a couple did go in, but he was also one of the offenders in the second half when MU went 0 for 10 on three-pointers, several of them very ill-conceived.

A: Well, in one sense MU is playing short-handed this year. I don't think Buzz expected Vander Blue to decide he was ready for the NBA and take off a year early. And by the way, the latest news on Mr. Blue is that he was cut by a team in Israel.

F: I wonder if he wishes he was still a Golden Eagle.

 

IT WASN'T DOM'S FAULT

F: Lots of discussion last week in the wake of the Packers' demise about whether Dom Capers should return as the defensive coordinator. Mike McCarthy sure sounded like he'll keep him, but what do you think?

A: He really needs experienced players to make his system work, and he sure didn't have a lot of them consistently because of all the injuries. And not just experienced players, but guys who are “playmaker” types.

F: The one guy who fills that bill, Clay Matthews, missed almost half the season with his twice-broken thumb. They got occasional big plays out of several guys but not enough of 'em.

A: I think Capers is a good coach and his scheme is good. But there were guys out there who were really third-stringers, especially at safety. Casey Hayward's absence for almost the entire season really hurt!

F: Plus the linebackers mean so much in the 3-4 scheme, but Capers could never be sure which of them, or even how many, he'd have for any given game.

A: So I don't think you can really judge Capers on this season.

 

Frank Clines covered sports for The Milwaukee Journal and the Journal Sentinel. Art Kumbalek has never lied on television.