With the new Baseball Hall of Fame ballots announced Wednesday, some of the toughest decisions voters feared they would face have arrived in force: how to handle baseball’s steroid era.
Among the first-time candidates are such legends as Barry Bonds, Craig Biggio, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, and Curt Schilling. All put up great numbers, but the stain of baseball’s steroid issue makes looking beyond the numbers the issue.
Here’s a look at the six aforementioned candidates and their chances (according to this author) of making the HOF on their first try, partially based on how voters seem to be treating players of the steroid era. Remember, a candidate needs to be on 75 percent of the ballots to be inducted. Onto the list:
1. Craig Biggio. Accolades: Seven All-Star selections, five Silver Sluggers, four Gold Glove Awards and 3,060 hits, including 668 doubles—fifth-most all-time.
Chances for first-ballot induction: 80 percent. Biggio, who played all 20 years of his career in Houston, never won an MVP award or played for a World Series winner. But, in addition to winning Silver Sluggers at both catcher and second base, he reached the magical 3,000-hit mark in his final season. Of the 26 to reach that mark, only Pete Rose (still ruled ineligible for gambling) and Rafael Palmeiro have failed to be inducted.
2. Barry Bonds. Accolades: Seven MVP awards, 14 All-Star selections, 12 Silver Sluggers, 8 Gold Gloves, and more home runs (762) and walks (2558) than anyone who played the game.
Chances for first-ballot induction: 45 percent. Bonds actually won three of his MVPs in a four-year span from 1990-93—several years before the height of baseball’s steroid era. But his career ended with a cloud of suspicion over his head about whether some of his absolutely ridiculously dominant seasons from 2001-04, when he won four straight MVPs at the ages of 37-40, were a result of the steroid era or not.
3. Roger Clemens. Accolades: One MVP, Seven Cy Young awards, 11 All-Star selections and a career record of 354-184.
Chances for first-ballot induction: 40 percent. Clemens is in roughly the same boat as Bonds. Both had success before baseball’s steroid era, but a cloud of suspicion hung over them after a late-career rejuvenation. In Clemens’ case, the fire-balling right-hander won three Cy Youngs with Boston (1986, ’87, and ’91) and even an MVP award (’86) before winning four more Cy Youngs after the age of 35.
4. Mike Piazza. Accolades: 12 All-Star selections, 10 Silver Sluggers, as well as 427 home runs—including a record 396 hit at the catcher position.
Chances for first-ballot induction: 55 percent. Piazza was simply the best-hitting catcher of all-time. Though he never was named MVP, he finished runner-up twice (1996-97) and was in the top 10 of the voting seven times. Though he played in the steroid era, he wasn’t suspected as much of it as his hitting tailed off quickly in his early to mid-30′s—as it does for most catchers.
5. Sammy Sosa. Accolades: One MVP, seven All-Star appearances, six Silver Sluggers, 609 career home runs, and three 60-home run seasons—most all-time.
Chances for first-ballot induction: 35 percent. Sosa was quite the home run hitter, leading the league twice, although all three times he hit 60 or more either Mark McGwire or Bonds was there to best him. Sosa’s chances of induction though aren’t great with his achievements coming from 1998-2002—near the height of the steroid era. In addition, his corked bat incident—although a single occurrence—probably puts even more doubt into the minds of the voters.
6. Curt Schilling. Accolades: Six All-Star selections, 216 career wins, three runner-up finishes in the Cy Young Award voting, and one bloody sock.
Chances for first-ballot induction: 49 percent. Toughest call on the board. Schilling is best known for his performance against the Yankees in Game 6—with a surgically-repaired foot still bleeding—of the 2004 ALCS that propelled Boston to its first World Series title in ages. Playoffs were where Schilling was at his best with a career postseason mark of 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 starts. Giving him a slight disadvantage though is the fact that Jack Morris, despite his postseason heroics, has yet to crack the HOF.
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