Jacobson: Bagwell, Piazza deserve Hall nod

Published: Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013 5:30 a.m.CDT

(Continued from Page 1)

The most controversial Baseball Hall of Fame vote in recent history ended in a predictable result Wednesday.

For the first time since 1996, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America elected no players to Cooperstown.

Among those denied entrance was a player possessing undoubtedly the greatest offensive statistics in history for his position. A perennial National League All-Star during the 1990s, the only achievement missing from his baseball resume is a World Series title.

No, I’m not talking about Barry Bonds, although he certainly fits the above description. The player in question, for me, is Mike Piazza.

With a .308 average, 427 home runs and 1,335 RBIs, Piazza is the greatest offensive catcher in baseball history, yet received only 57.8 percent of the vote, far short of the 75 percent required for entry into Cooperstown.

For many, the next few Hall of Fame votes will be about Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire, all-time greats from the “Steroid Era” who were connected to performance-enhancing drugs.

In my mind, they will say more about what the voters have decided about their contemporaries – those who are apparently being punished only because they played during the same drug-infused era and are merely suspected of steroid use.

Piazza and former Houston Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell are obvious Hall of Famers. Their numbers put each of them among the all-time greats at their position. But because they played during a period of 20-plus years where baseball failed to deal with the problem of performance-enhancing drugs, enough writers decided they weren’t worthy of entry into Cooperstown.

Neither of them were named in the famed Mitchell Report in 2007. And neither of them failed a drug test. Take it for what it’s worth, but neither was named in any of Jose Canseco’s books. There has only been suspicion.

This isn’t to say that Piazza and Bagwell were definitively drug-free. More than likely we will never know exactly which players used steroids and the extent to which drugs were rampant during the Steroid Era.

But how can some voters claim to be consistent and fair if, in future years, they vote for other players from the same era in similar situations. Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina and Tom Glavine are all players who are perceived to have good chances of getting into the Hall of Fame in 2014 because they have never been suspected of steroid use.

How do Bagwell and Frank Thomas compare? According to baseball-reference.com, Bagwell is the No. 1 most similar player to the Big Hurt in baseball history. The two have almost identical career batting averages, runs scored, doubles and slugging percentages. They even won MVP awards in the same season (1994).

Yet because Bagwell is perceived as a potential steroid user, Thomas will likely be the only one of the two heading to Cooperstown next year.

The issue of how voters handle the legacies of all players from the 1990s and early 2000s is not going away anytime soon. The voters have two choices. Consider every player in the era and vote off their numbers, or vote for nobody at all. But arbitrarily deciding which players did or did not use steroids should not be an option.

• Ross Jacobson is the sports editor of the Daily Chronicle. He can be reached via e-mail at rjacobson@shawmedia.com and you can follow him on Twitter @RossJacobson.

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