Stars of ‘steroid era’ deserve spot in Cooperstown

By Jack Magruder

The Hall of Fame extended its most prolific period of enshrinement by adding four deserving candidates Thursday. No surprise there.

The morality police, meanwhile, continued to stand as a barrier to others. No surprise there, either.

First-timers Chipper Jones and Jim Thome were obvious choices for the Class of 2018, and it is easy to wonder why it took so long to add Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman, in their second and third years of eligibility, respectively.

Meanwhile Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and more recently Manny Ramirez continue to butt up against the “steroid era” stigma. Because of that, they are no closer to enshrinement than ever.

Who is clean?

Who is not?

Who really knows? That seems to be the overlooked point in the “clean/dirty” conversation.

Who can play the game?

The numbers tell the story.

The newcomers have them.

Jones and Thome were two of the best corner infielders of their generation, even if each spent a lot of time at other spots. Jones played left field between stints at third base, and Thome shifted from third base to first base midway through his 612-homer career. Jones is the 10th player in the Hall with at least 450 homers and 150 stolen bases. (Guerrero is one homer short; Andrew Dawson is 12 homers short.)

The exclusion of Guerrero was a drastic oversight that took a year to correct, and those who discount Hoffman and his 601 saves are deaf to the evolution of the closer’s role and import. Years ago, a general manager told me, “I hate closers.” He said that because he did not have one. No, not anyone can do it.

Hall of Fame voters have added 16 players in the past five years, the busiest five years since the Baseball Writers Association of America began voting in 1936, and that figure does not include former Tigers Alan Trammell and Jack Morris, who were selected by the Modern Era Committee in December.

It is more than past time to acknowledge Bonds and Clemens, who are the products of the era in which they played.

The best player and the best pitcher of their generation belong.

As Kristaps Porzingis said the other day after he wasn’t selected an NBA All-Star starter, players know.

Clemens received 57.3 percent of the 422 votes this year, and Bonds was right behind at 56.4 percent. Each was only a few percentages points better than last year, a trend that indicates some voters are simply dead set against their inclusion.

Clemens and Bonds have three more years of eligibility before their cases are thrown to the Modern Era Committee, not the way anyone would choose to enter.

Edgar Martinez has one more try after receiving 70.4 percent this year, and if modern history holds, he will make it in 2019, when Mariano Rivera appears to be the only sure first-ballot choice. Each of the most recent eight players to receive at least 70 percent of the vote one year hit the 75 percent threshold the following year.

It is hard to make a case for Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling, strong pitchers who have a number of supporters but whose numbers are not quite there. Mussina gained almost 12 percentage points to 63.5 percent, and Schilling was up six points to 51.2 percent. Mussina would have the 74th-best ERA among the now-78 pitchers, and Schilling’s numbers are just marginally better.

Some deserved outfielders continue to get short-sheeted. One of the following players was a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Consider:

Player A: .292/.393/.514 slash line with 509 homers, 1,676 RBIs, 253 stolen bases and a 140 OPS+. No Gold Gloves.

Player B: .312/.411/.585 slash line with 555 homers, 1,831 RBIs, 38 stolen bases and a 154 OPS+. No Gold Gloves.

Player C: .313/.400/.565 slash line with 383 homers, 1,311 RBIs, 233 stolen bases, and a 141 OPS+. Seven Gold Gloves

Player D: .262/.356/.490 slash line with 563 homers, 1,702 RBIs, 228 stolen bases and a 139 OPS+. No Gold Gloves.

If you picked D, Reggie Jackson, come on down.

Gary Sheffield (A), Manny Ramirez (B) and Larry Walker (C) remain on hold.

Walker, a five-tool player and one of the best of his generation, crept up to 31.4 percent in Hall of Fame voting this year. He has two years remaining on the ballot.

If the best players are in the Hall of Fame, Walker belongs. So do Clemens and Bonds.

–Field Level Media