Riffing and Ripping on Baseball Hall of Fame voting:

Ripping: No player was voted in. The 2021 ballot went hitless, 0-for-whatever. Voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America had misgivings on players linked to steroids, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. A percentage of the voters were turned off by Curt Schilling’s racist rage on social-media. Omar Vizquel lost support after his wife went public and accused Vizquel of committing acts of domestic violence against her. I gave up my right to vote a few years ago, simply because I didn’t like being put in the position of having to choose between a player’s baseball excellence and his moral imperfections. Why? Because it’s impossible to do so consistently and fairly. There’s too much hypocrisy and shifting standards. Too many unsubstantiated suspicions that could keep players out. And now the voters have to factor in track records of social-media misconduct.

Here is the key part of the Hall’s voting instructions that — if followed faithfully — all but eliminates most of the actual on-the-field baseball factors when reviewing candidates:

“Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

But it’s a bit hazy, right? Is this about character and integrity and sportsmanship during a player’s career? Is the player’s post-career conduct a part of deliberation? Is a player “guilty” of violating the character-integrity-sportsmanship standards if he used performance-enhancing drugs at a time when MLB had no official rules in place to prohibit players from tapping into chemistry?

Too many people want to blast the voters, the writers. But with the Hall of Fame board of directors stubbornly resisting to change or clarify the voting guidelines that illuminate character and sportsmanship and moral virtue, the writers are faced with a ridiculous assignment: judge a player on his baseball career, or throw that out and judge him as a man.

As Washington Post columnist Barry Svrluga wrote of the “morals” plank in the voting criteria: “Their inclusion doesn’t just give each voter the right to apply her or his own ethics to a candidate. It has seemed to require such an assessment. Given that, it would be easy for a particular voter to determine Schilling lacks both integrity and character and therefore he’s not worthy of a vote.”

In my opinion — and this is why I withdrew from the voting process — writers shouldn’t be put in the position of serving as arbiters on morality … or swaying back and forth in their decisions based on changing wind currents.

There are too many gray areas here. And oh, by the way: there are plenty of scoundrels, cheaters, and juicers enshrined in Cooperstown. Same with great players who had no hesitation about gulping amphetamines to maintain energy and stay sharp through the slog of a long season. Amphetamines are a PED. They weren’t outlawed in MLB clubhouses until a few years ago. Then again, MLB didn’t impose a collectively-bargained ban on steroids until 2002, and didn’t begin testing in earnest until 2003. And implicated players that lost this year’s election — Clemens and Bonds — never failed a PED test administered by MLB.

But we’re supposed to disregard all of that, right? Just cast the evil eye of skepticism on players with muscle who look like they could be juicers, or aging players who suddenly improve late in their careers. And keep the ears open for scurrilous rumors. Add in some righteous indignation — no matter what side you’re on — and this is how the process should work?

Um, no thanks.

If MLB and The Hall of Fame want to invalidate a player’s statistical record based on evidence or assumptions related to performance-enhancing drugs, fine. I wouldn’t agree with that — but at least the rulers in charge would take a strong stand instead of passing the responsibility down to the writers. The rulers of baseball would show actual courage instead of taking weasel-like actions such as gradually reducing the odds for suspected juicers (or bad guys!) by cutting the reducing the number of maximum years on the ballot to 10.

Just turn this thing over to a special committee that would have law-enforcement officials (to investigate players), clergy (to oversee the righteousness), scientists (to explain PED impact on performance and issue a finding on in individual player.)

Or … maybe just have the folks in charge step up and handle this themselves, instead of enlisting baseball writers to play the combined role of high priests and cops. Or hand this mess over to former baseball executives and players who should be the real guardians of the game — the group that sets the standards and delivers the final verdict on a case-by-case basis… for better or for worse.

Riffing: The voting shutout isn’t as bad as it could be. Not that anyone wanted our nation to suffer through a deadly, damaging pandemic. But the Cooperstown induction weekend was called off last summer, and that means (hopefully) that the 2020 class will get their day in the sunshine: Derek Jeter, Ted Simmons and Larry Walker. The late Marvin Miller will also be honored, and inducted.

Riffing: How many times has the BBWAA declined to vote a player into the Hall of Fame? The answer: nine. It happened in 1945, 1946, 1950, 1958, 1960, 1971, 1996, 2013 and now 2021. But there is a difference. As CBS Sports pointed out, the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of selection meetings by the Golden Days Era Committee and Early Baseball Era Committee in December. That means no one was voted into the Hall of Fame this year — modern-day player or historical player, manager or executive. According to CBS baseball writer Mike Axisa, “this is the first truly empty class since 1958.”

Ripping: For the record, I voted for Curt Schilling each year that he was on the ballot, until I decided to move away from the task of playing the role of Pope Francis in Hall of Fame voting considerations. And I would have voted for Schilling again this time. Why: Baseball. But the guy is a brazen jerk, and he isn’t very smart. Knowing that he already had a percentage of voters who were against him — or undecided — he continued to stir up more resentment and avoidable controversy by Tweeting vile comments and attacks. The most blatant, recent example: voicing his support for the invasion of The U.S. Capitol by a wave of unhinged and violent domestic terrorists.

I laugh at the imbeciles who rushed to comments sections (under stories) to accuse the “liberal media” of “cancelling” a player that has “conversative” beliefs. First of all, I wouldn’t insult genuine conservatives by lumping them in with insurrection-loving wingnuts. Second of all, Schilling did receive a 71.1% vote share, which was actually a bit more than his percentage in 2020. When a dude gets 71 percent support, this is hardly a cancel-culture thing.

Third, do these nimrods have any idea of how many “conservative” baseball writers cast votes? Believe me, there are a lot of them. But again, we’re talking traditional, honorable conservatives — not truth-denying loons. Fourth, the first and only Hall of Famer to receive 100 percent of the vote — Mariano Rivera — was an ardent and public supporter of President Trump. Other recent inductees — John Smoltz, Chipper Jones — are conservatives. And there are many, many more.

Again … I like to make baseball-award decisions based on baseball. And I would have voted for Schilling again. I’m not the cancel-culture team captain here. I’m not a member of that team, period. But Schilling is also a man who agreed to pay $2.5 million to the state of Rhode Island to settle outstanding claims of defrauding the state out of $75 million in loans for his failed video-game business. He can’t control himself on Twitter, and he’s given voters a reason to shun him, based on those outdated character clauses in the voting standards.

If a man is determined to be notorious and nasty on Twitter, and doesn’t take the potential repercussions of his toxic trolling into consideration, well, that’s his choice. Forget Schilling’s self-important, I-am-a-victim snowflake whining on Facebook Tuesday night … he will stay on the ballot for his 10th and final year (2022.) He still has a chance at being voted in. And he’ll undoubtedly come up with more ways to alienate voters … not to mention decent human beings who don’t have a vote … but do have a conscience.

At this point, I wonder if Schilling simply wants to be a martyr and is using the Hall of Fame controversy and increased notoriety as a way to launch a career in politics. If he fails to win election to the Baseball Hall of Fame, maybe he can convert the sound and the fury into a support for elected office. And he’s considered an entry into politics before. He can use the Victim Card to rev up those who exist in a constant state of arousal over mostly fake grievances.

Riffing: If you thought the post-voting agonizing was fun this year, just buckle up for the 2022 voting. We’re in for a Lollapalooza. Clemens, Bonds and Schilling are each back for their final appearance on the ballot. Joining them are first-time eligibles Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz. Two more (alleged) PED guys for the party, and Schilling will have more targets. (He didn’t mention their names, but the Schilling attacked Bonds and Clemens in his self-serving mewling on Facebook.) Omar Vizquel may be back in contention depending on the state of his marriage, or his potential legal problems.

Riffing: As you know, candidates must clear a 75 percent threshold in the balloting. The top 2021 voting percentages among of holdover candidates: Schilling (71.1), Bonds (61.8), Clemens (61.6). That’s followed by Scott Rolen (52.9), Vizquel (49.1), Billy Wagner (46.4), Todd Helton (44.9), Gary Sheffield (40.6) and Andruw Jones (33.9).

In addition to A-Rod and Ortiz, other notable first-timers on the ballot for 2022 include Mark Teixeira, Jimmy Rollins, Jake Peavy, Carl Crawford … and not so much: Joe Nathan, Justin Morneau, Prince Fielder, A.J. Pierzynski, Jonathan Papelbon

Ripping: I don’t like the voters who send in blank ballots. If you don’t think that any players are worthy of Hall of Fame entry, then just keep your ballot in your desk drawer, or shred it and throw it away. By sending in blank ballots, you’re just penalizing players who truly have a chance (and a case) for Cooperstown. Because a ballot that arrives with no checkmarks next to names only reduces the percentage of the votes received by legitimate candidates.

This kind of nonsense is another reason why the BBWAA needs to retire from voting.

Ripping: Oh, and thanks to the serious thinker that gave the one vote to Barry Zito. That makes the BBWAA look great.

Riffing: Former Cardinal third baseman Scott Rolen moved up again, and quite dramatically, receiving votes on 52.9% of the ballots. That was up from 35.3% last year. He’s tracking very well for Cooperstown, and has six years remaining on the ballot.

Here are the biggest “climbers” in percentage of votes received this year compared to 2020:

Rolen +17.2
Helton +15.7
Wagner +14.7
Andruw Jones +14.5
Sheffield +10.1
Jeff Kent +4.9

As for Rolen, let’s turn to the words of The Athletic baseball writer Jayson Stark:

“Scott Rolen should start writing his speech … Rolen has Cooperstown locked in on his GPS all of a sudden. It’s Rolen’s fourth year on the ballot. Two years ago, he was getting only 73 votes total. Now he’s the hottest candidate on this ballot, at least if you look at the rocket ship his candidacy has been riding since then … he has gained more than 50 votes in two elections in a row — 67 last year, 72 this year. And in the history of the modern election system, only 10 other candidates have done that. It’s absurd that we’ve elected only nine third basemen to the Hall whose careers began in the last 100 years. And if you don’t include Edgar Martinez and Paul Molitor, who were really just part-time third basemen, it’s actually only seven. But I think we’re now looking at a time, not too far in the future, when Rolen becomes the eighth.”

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

Listen to Bernie’s sports-talk radio show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS, Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. Listen online or download The Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com … the 590 app is available at your preferred app store.

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.