By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL/Designated Writers
There is the Baseball Hall of Fame and then there are the rest of the Halls of Fame. Your Football, your Basketball. Your Rock & Roll. Your Bridge Players. Baseball is over here by itself; everyone else on the other side of the room.
Which is why we love it so. It’s baseball, which is good, and it’s the Hall of Fame, for crying out loud. How are you going to beat that?
No Hall of Fame elicits such passionate discussion about who belongs and who doesn’t. Shoeless Joe Jackson has been dead almost 70 years and he’s still getting love over his Hall candidacy. And he isn’t even on the ballot.
One of the great days on the baseball calendar is the day the new Hall of Fame class is announced. It gives baseball fans something to talk about even though pitchers and catchers won’t report for another few weeks.
Tuesday’s announcement summed up just about every bullet point that is surrounding the Hall of Fame these days as Derek Jeter and Larry Walker made it in, Curt Schilling didn’t and Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds are treading water, but the pool is about to get drained.
Let’s start with Jeter. It’s not a matter of whether he deserved to get in; every knowledgable fans knows he deserves to. Expect one. That would be the one guy who didn’t vote for him. Otherwise, he would have been unanimously elected, which doesn’t make any difference, except for Vinny from the Bronx and Rocco from Yonkers. Those guys think it’s a crime against nature that “Jeet-uh” got snubbed by some ink-stained wretch. It used to be that being a first-ballot Hall of Famer was a big deal (this makes seven years in a row, by the way), but because everything is bigger in New York, that’s not good enough. Especially when Mariano Rivera got in unanimously last year. Doesn’t matter to me, but one vote? That does kind of stink.
Larry Walker was a really good player for a long time. That’s Item #2 on the list — guys like Larry Walker are getting in the Hall of Fame. Very good hitter, played good defense and had a rocket for an arm in right field. So did Dave Parker. So did Dwight Evans. More and more, the really, really good players are getting in. Used to be, only the great ones got in. There is no doubt that the bar has been lowered, but not tragically so. It was Walker’s 10th and final year to be up for election and that had to actually help his chances. Up until now, he was a guy who got a decent amount of votes but was never the guy on deck to get in. He picked up an amazing 250 votes in just four election cycles. Look, the Hall of Fame isn’t going to fall down because Larry Walker is going in.
Schilling is an interesting case because there are those who feel he shouldn’t get in because of perceived character issues after he stopped playing. Bad business moves, inappropriate comments and generally not endearing himself to the electorate. And there is the perception that next year, he will be far more electable because there are no new names on the ballot that will have any kind of support (Mark Buehrle?). He got 70 percent of the vote this year (75 percent needed), so he’s knocking on the door. It looks like he will get in, but nothing is a given with the Hall of Fame.
And then there are Clemens and Bonds. Will next year’s lightly regarded class make it easier for them to get in? Or if Larry Walker can jump them this year, couldn’t somebody do it next year? Or are voters are softening their hard-line stance against those who somehow associated with steroids? They have two more chances to make it.
But for now, it’s more about who did make it rather than who didn’t.