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The Hall of Fame Game Is Bitter Sweet And Confusing As Heck For Baseball Lifers 

Anyone who grew up watching Barry Bonds and Mike Piazza and Mark McGwire play baseball – meaning your childhood baseball peak coincided with their most productive and dynamic years – can thank the BBWAA, Bud Selig and MLB’s overall hypocritical attitude towards PEDs for being the buzz kill to what traditionally is one of the greatest sports moments of the year for a true blue baseball fan like myself.

It’s always a special experience when the titans of your time finally get their ticket punched for Cooperstown.

The guys whose performance consistently exceeded the output of 90 percent of the other players in the league, inspired the next generation of ballers and fueled a lasting passion for the game.

You know..The mythical players that become the subjects of stories that fathers and grandfathers tell to sons for years to come. The Hall of Fame is the culmination of a particular player’s incomparable contributions to the sport and to the fans.

After a couple of lean years due to the Baseball Writers Association of America’s refusal to vote in any player even suspected or linked to performance enhancing drugs, 2015 was a banner year for the HOF as three pitchers and a position player from "The Steroids Era" were resoundingly elected into MLB’s Heaven.

The 6-foot-10 lethal lefty Randy Johnson and his 303 wins, 4875 K’s (second-most ever) and five Cy Young Awards leads the class. The 97.3 percentage was the eighth-highest in the history of voting. He was truly a character of the game from his intimidating mound presence to his ornery demeanor with the press and public.

"I don't think people quite understand how difficult it is to be 6-foot-10 and be throwing a ball 60 feet, 6 inches away," Johnson said on MLB Network. "In order to do that, you have to be consistent with your release point and where you're landing and your arm slot and all that. For someone 6-1, 6-2, there's less body to keep under control, so it's a lot easier."

 

Pedro Martinez is the Dominican Republic’s greatest hurler and the second player from DR to be elected into Cooperstown (Juan Marichal in 1983).

The former Boston Red Sox ace was a Yankees killer and three-time Cy Young winner, garnering 91.1 percent of the vote in his first year of eligibility. Martinez was 219-100, struck out 3,154, and is the only pitcher to lead the major leagues in ERA five times and get away with head-slamming a 72-year-old man.

Classic stuff.

“So many people in the Dominican Republic and so many people all over the world got to know me as a player but not as a person," Martinez said during an interview with MLB Network. "What I mean to the Dominican Republic — it was a great honor to just have the opportunity to go on the first ballot.

As a player he didn’t take any crap. He would throw at your head and tell you he was going to do it. He was a throwback to baseball’s glory, warrior days.

 

“Mr. Versatility” AKA John Smoltz was picked on 455 ballots (82.9 percent) and will join former Atlanta teammates Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, who were inducted last summer along with Chi-Town slugger Frank Thomas. Bobby Cox, the manager of those pitching-laden Braves teams was inducted along with fellow “PED-ERA” managers Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre last year.

 

Smoltz, the 1996 NL Cy Young winner is the only pitcher in MLB history with 200 wins and 150 saves. Smoltz also went 15-4 in the postseason, helping Atlanta reach the World Series five times and win a championship in 1995.

"The only thing I think that all of us regret a little bit is that we didn't execute enough to deliver enough championship rings, especially for our manager [Bobby Cox]," Smoltz told ESPN.

Biggio is a top-10 all-time second baseman, whose 668 doubles is the most ever by a righthanded hitter. Biggio began his career as a catcher and blossomed into an all-star second baseman and formidable centerfielder as well. One half of the Killer B’s (along with HOF-contender Jeff Bagwell), Biggio managed to play most of his career and be close friends with a guy linked to PED use, but escaped any culpability of his own. He finally got enough support for his 3,060 hits in 20 big league seasons to be inducted in his third-year of eligibility.

The quartet will be inducted in Cooperstown on July 26. The BBWAA had not voted in four players in a single year since selecting Joe DiMaggio, Gabby Hartnett, Ted Lyons and Dazzy Vance in 1955.

The BBWAA didn’t induct a single player in 2013 and only Frank "The Big Hurt" Thomas made it in last season. 

Under normal circumstances, this would be a banner year for baseball and pure joy for baseball fans of any age. However, a real baseball fan can’t help but feel a way about the absences of Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Mike Piazza – fantastic players suspected of juicing their way to immortality.

 

With the exception of Piazza who actually improved up to 69.9 percent, these guys couldn’t even get 40 percent of the 75 percent of votes needed for induction. In my opinion, these results don’t reflect the opinions of the fans by a long shot and it doesn’t serve baseball history any justice. The writers, contrary to their own believes, are not doing the fans a moral service by shutting out some of the greatest players in MLB history. They are not the gatekeepers of baseball integrity. Like our former commissioner and the rest of MLB Nation, the writers were as responsible for the PED Era as the players.

Keeping in place with the former commissioner’s steez, the baseball writers have seemed to band together to protect the integrity of the sport by guessing, assuming, angling and spewing opinionated nonsense with no basis.

This guy votes for suspected cheats and this guy doesn’t. That player’s never been caught,so now I must value him more than a player that MLB has gone out of its way to embarrass and expose.

There’s too much personal crap going on. The integrity of the Hall of Fame voting is as tainted as the stats of the players the writers have banded together to blackball.

Nobody’s asking the fans what they want though and that’s what matters. The writers are irrelevant. These guys make the same arguments anyone else does – based on stats and popularity. Some won’t even vote for a player if he didn’t get along with the dude when he was cleating-up.

So as my enthusiasm for a fabulous Hall of Fame class is tempered by the fact that it’s incomplete—but MLB still wants to celebrate it as if the best four eligible players actually were the ones who got in—I have two points that I must get off my chest before I dive back into baseball euphoria and the HOF hocus pocus in July.

The three pitchers inducted are being credited with achieving their success in a “hitter’s era” as if that makes their accomplishments any more impressive than a Bob Gibson or Sandy Koufax. Gibson and Koufax pitched in a supposed “pitcher’s era,” but in my book pitching is pitching and I can’t be so foolish to think that only hitters were juicing.

We know that’s not true because Roger Clemens is still not in the Hall of Fame because he’s considered a PED user. How foolish of us to think that he is the only great pitcher to use. How insulting to the fans that MLB is still trying to sell us that nonsense. I will give the pitchers credit for being great, but I can’t give them extra mash potatoes at dinner because I’m assuming they were clean in the same way writers assume Piazza or Jeff Bagwell or Sosa was dirty when these guys didn’t fail any tests.

It shocks me how little value these so-called “baseball experts” place on the stolen base. Hall of Famers such as Ty Cobb, Lou Brock, Luis Aparicio and Ricky Henderson have proved how game-wrecking and pitcher-destructive swiping bags can be. The infrequency of stolen base masters also proves how difficult it is to thrive as a base stealer.

Montreal Expos outfielder Tim Raines’ six straight years of swiping 70 or more bases is phenomenal. He’s fifth all-time with 808 steals and has an impressive .294 career batting average. Last year he got 46.1 percent of the vote, which increased to 55 percent this year, but he still fell significantly short of the needed votes.

 

Other prolific base stealers like Maury Wills and Vince Coleman have also been overlooked. There's obviously still a modern-day disconnect between today’s baseball minds and the stolen base. Hopefully speedsters such as Billy Hamilton (who was robbed of Rookie of the Year despite stealing 56 bases) and Dee Gordon (league-leading 64 steals) will bring credibility back to the steal and educate people on how a mean SB game can add just as much to a team’s offensive arsenal as a big-bopper.

Moving forward, the BBWAA will have to work those issues out. For now we celebrate a worthy and accomplished 2015 HOF Class and pour out a lil’ liquor for the all-world players who fought the wars, built the empire, but didn’t make it to the promise land.

 

 

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