The Class that Could Have Been
If the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot were instead a list for an upcoming high school reunion, we wouldn’t even need name tags for the top six players appearing for the first time this year.
The names are so big, in fact, that we can get by on a first-name basis, and you still know who they are: Barry, Roger, Mike, Sammy, Craig, and Curt.
Aside from that inaugural year back in 1936 in which other only-first-names-needed greats like Babe, Ty, Honus, Walter and Christy were up for consideration, the six above represent what might just be the best class of first-time eligibles for the Hall.
Consider that among them, we have arguably the best all-around player, power pitcher and offensive catcher in baseball history. That those three mark only half of the first-timers tells you more than you need to know about how ridiculously great — and deep — this batch is. That trio practically makes irrelevant the other three, one of whom hit 609 career homers, including 60-plus in a season a record three times; another who collected 3,060 hits across 20 seasons with the same club (and who, as a true leadoff hitter, understood the real value in getting on base by enduring a record 285 hit-by-pitches in his career, just for good measure); and the last one who owns the best strikeout-to-walk ratio ever among starters (4.38:1), proving just how dominant he was at a time when the game itself was actually dominated not by the guys throwing the ball but by those hitting it.
And yet, while the six best players who are first-year eligibles for the Hall this year — it’s even more impressive when you write their names out in full: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Craig Biggio and Curt Schilling — would typically expect to be voted in on this, their very first time, we know all too well that probably none of them will actually be inducted.
Think about that for a minute. Six no-doubt, shoo-in, money-back-guaranteed first-ballot Hall of Famers — and the big shock would be if even one makes the cut.
It’s not like it’s some big secret why. After all, five of the six have been rumored, linked or rumored to be linked to taking some form of performance-enhancing drugs during their careers. Sure, Biggio might skate through since he’s never really been tied to PEDs, but then again, he was teammates with Jeff Bagwell for all those years. And Bagwell was also never really tied to PEDs and as we know, he didn’t make it in on his first try — so well, guilt by association and all that. Sorry, Craig.
It’s hard to say who to be mad at in all of this. It’s not for lack of options, though: Major League Baseball, Bud Selig, the Players Association, the players themselves, the managers and coaches or even the writers who are saddled with the responsibility of playing gatekeeper to the Hall by casting their votes.
Regardless, in January, we’ll find out which players — including some who have been on the ballot and come close before, like Bagwell, Jack Morris, Lee Smith and Tim Raines — earn the requisite 75 percent to gain induction into the Hall. Then six months later, the induction ceremonies will be held, as usual in midsummer, on July 28, 2013, at a time when baseball is the lone active major sport, with no distractions from football or basketball or hockey, to ensure that as many eyes will be on the game as possible.
But when Barry, Roger, Mike, Sammy, Craig and Curt aren’t there to be inducted together — no name tags necessary — we’ll have to consider this not the Class of 2013, but the Class that Could Have Been.