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
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT