Skip to main content

A baseball game nobody wins

By Mike Downey, Special to CNN
January 9, 2013 -- Updated 2248 GMT (0648 HKT)
Barry Bonds, shown in 2007 when he played for San Francisco, hit 762 home runs, but was passed over for the Hall of Fame.
Barry Bonds, shown in 2007 when he played for San Francisco, hit 762 home runs, but was passed over for the Hall of Fame.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Not one of the 37 players on the 2013 ballot will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame
  • Mike Downey: "You cannot play baseball for a living without being good"
  • Downey says there is no proof Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens broke baseball's rules
  • Downey: "Baseball is not supposed to be a game in which nobody wins"

Editor's note: Mike Downey is a former columnist for the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times and a member of the Baseball Writers of America.

(CNN) -- I hesitated. I vacillated. I fluctuated. I scratched, spat, sucked on sunflower seeds, adjusted my cup (coffee), wiped dirt from my palms onto my pants, tried to do what a ballplayer would do. I dug in, waggled my pen, stared at my baseball Hall of Fame ballot like I'd like to kill it.

Do I vote for HIM? No, he cheated and got caught. Do I vote for HIM? I don't know .... he was just suspected of cheating. How about HIM? No, he didn't get enough hits. But what about HIM? He got a whole lot of hits, but was he as good as HIM?

This guy's on the ballot for the first time. Whereas that guy's on it for the 15th and last time. This guy's a jackass, a jerk. Oh, man, though, could he hit. This guy's a pleasure, a prince. But he sure couldn't hit like that guy. And, whoa, that guy could pitch. So could this guy, but sure wasn't that guy.

Controversy surrounds baseball ballots

I voted. I mailed it. I even stuck a Willie Stargell forever stamp on the envelope, although the postage was already on it.

I waited. I wondered. Who would make it? Barry Bonds, yes or no? Roger Clemens, yes or no? Mike Piazza? Sammy Sosa? Craig Biggio? Jeff Bagwell? Jack Morris? Maybe none? NONE??? Yes, I kept hearing as the December 31 vote deadline passed, very possibly not a one.

Wednesday, the news came. The non-news. Whatever you want to call it.

Yes, the answer was no. No to all.

No to the man with 762 home runs. No to the pitcher who won 354 games. No to the hitter who got 3,060 hits.

Bonds (762 homers, most ever) struck out. He needed 427 votes. He got 206. Eight other guys on the ballot got more votes than he did.

Clemens (354 wins) got lit up. He got 214. Three other pitchers got more votes than he did.

Biggio, (3,060 hits) came closest. He got 388, fell a mere 39 votes shy of a date in Cooperstown, New York, with a nice, bronzed bust and plaque. It was like he won all the electoral votes he needed except Florida and Ohio. He gave it a great shot. Maybe next time.

I could try to justify it. I could try to explain it. I won't. I can't. It is an election. Everybody has a right to be wrong. A total of 569 ballots were cast. Five were turned in blank. I guess those voters have their reasons, bizarre as they are. A total of 37 names were on the ballot. No one won. I don't know why. I can't tell you why one of those 569 voters gave a yes to Aaron Sele, a pitcher who won 148 games. I have no problem with Aaron Sele, but if he is a Hall of Famer, I am the husband of the Duchess of Cambridge.

Will I reveal my own vote? No, I won't.

Not even whether I voted for Clemens and Bonds?

OK, dammit, I did.

Baseball writers balk at Hall of Fame class of '13

I am not necessarily proud of it. I was not 100% sure which way to go. I crunched the numbers on a number of the candidates, tried to weigh their qualifications, make up my mind if a guy was a Hall of Famer or merely wonderful. No such crunch was necessary for Clemens or Bonds. Their stats were insane. Off the charts. I generally know a Hall of Famer when I see one, and whenever I saw those two guys, I saw two.

But each had an asterisk.*

* Not a real asterisk. A make-believe asterisk. Or more of a question mark, I guess. Cheater? Charlatan? Liar? Fraud?

Neither of them, in my opinion, were proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to have broken baseball's laws and rules. We can do the "you know and I know they did" thing all day long, but neither Barry Bonds nor Roger Clemens was ever banned, suspended or disciplined by Major League Baseball for being a steroids cheat.

Others got caught red-handed. Busted. Banished from the field for a specified period the way Hall of Fame candidate Rafael Palmeiro was and the way future Hall of Fame candidate Manny Ramirez was. I can't look the same way at the accused the way I do at the convicted.

I know, or know of, a lot of my brother and sister voters. I know they know baseball, love it, put a lot of thought into it.

Here is a partial list of Baseball Writers' Association of America members who publicly acknowledged that they did cast votes for Clemens and Bonds:

Barry Bloom, Jim Caple, Chris De Luca, Gordon Edes, Jeff Fletcher, Gerry Fraley, Paul Hagen, Tom Haudricourt, Mike Imrem, Bruce Jenkins, Richard Justice, Tim Kawakami, Tom Keegan, Tim Kurkjian, Carrie Muskat, Bob Nightengale, Ian O'Connor, Buster Olney, Rob Parker, Joe Posnanski, Ron Rapoport, Tracy Ringolsby, Henry Schulman, Claire Smith, Jayson Stark, Dave Van Dyck.

Now here is a partial list of BBWAA voters who said no to Clemens and Bonds:

Mike Bass, Michael Bauman, Hal Bodley, Murray Chass, Pedro Gomez, Mark Gonzales, Scot Gregor, Ken Gurnick, Jon Heyman, Phil Hersh, Ann Killion, Wallace Matthews, Bruce Miles, Scott Miller, Fred Mitchell, Terence Moore, Mike Nadel, Marty Noble, Mark Purdy, Phil Rogers, Ken Rosenthal, Bob Ryan, Dan Shaughnessy, Paul Sullivan, Rick Telander, Tom Verducci, Charlie Vincent.

They can't ALL be wrong.

I have been maintaining since I began voting in the late 1980s that there are three kinds of professional baseball players -- the good, the great and the immortal. You cannot play baseball for a living without being good. You can become great, or you can even become one of the greatest of all time.

Bonds and Clemens are among the greatest of all time, without a doubt. But they have extenuating circumstances. Biggio never seemed a mortal lock to be an immortal the way Bonds and Clemens do, but I cannot tell you in a million years why 181 voters did not put a check mark by his name. (I did.)

Nor do I have a clue where the Hall of Fame goes from here. It took Bert Blyleven and Jim Rice a ridiculous number of tries to become Hall of Famers, but they made it. It took 15 ballot failures and a couple of post-election rejections before Ron Santo made it, but he made it. Posthumously, but he made it.

I hear TV and radio announcers call a player "a surefire Hall of Famer" and I have no idea what universe they reside in that permits their mouths to form these words. There is no such thing as a surefire Hall of Famer any more.

Greg Maddux will be on the ballot next year. Frank Thomas will, too. If either of them fails, I will eat my cap. I will never, ever, ever refer to either as "a surefire Hall of Famer," however, because that ship has sailed.

The voters have spoken, as politicians have put it. I know there are millions of you who hate the way it came out. I do, too. Baseball is not supposed to be a game in which nobody wins.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mike Downey.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1516 GMT (2316 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1340 GMT (2140 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 2153 GMT (0553 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 2305 GMT (0705 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT