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Area baseball coaches agree on Hall of Fame voting

Jan. 22, 2013

All of them have appeared in state finals, two have won state titles and all have claimed many conference titles.

All three of them run squeaky-clean exemplary programs known for their attention to detail and fundamentals and all three are certifiable baseball fanatics.

And area baseball coaches Ernie Millard of Homestead, Pat Hansen of Menomonee Falls and Scott Holler of Oak Creek are all sad in different ways at the recent decision of the Baseball Writers of America not to induct anyone into the Hall of Fame this year over concerns over the rampant use of steroids and performance enhancing drugs in the sport through much of the 1990s and the first half of this first decade of this new century.

It is only the eighth time since voting started in the 1930s that no one has been inducted.

Particularly at issue at the vehement "No, thank yous!" given to statistical monsters like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, whose numbers, in they were untainted and unassailable would have been first ballot shoo-ins, but they weren't because the circumstantial evidence about drug abuse against both players was so strong.

Same thing for Sammy Sosa.

"I'm conflicted about this," Millard said. "I'm something of a purist and kind of unforgiving of guys like Bonds and Clemens. Deep down, I don't want an apology from them. The way it went down this time around, I'm all right with them keeping Bonds, Clemens and Sosa out, but guys like (Curt) Schilling and (Craig) Biggio got caught up in the wash and that I don't like."

Biggio and Schilling have little to no taint of PEDs on their records. Biggio, with his career total of well over 3,000 hits, normally a first-ballot automatic qualifier, was believed to have gotten caught up in the wash with those who are believed to have poisoned their own wells.

"You got some writers saying 'I don't like voting for people in their first year,' " Holler said. "Well, if their eligible now and likely to get in anyway (it is widely assumed that Biggio will get in next year or the year after that), why not do it now," Holler said. "What does it matter? The man was an all-star at two positions (catcher and infielder)."

But all three coaches agreed about the "no" answers given to Bonds, Clemens and Sosa.

That trio came nowhere near the 75 percent needed for induction. Biggio (68 percent) in his first year of eligibility, came the closest while pitcher Jack Morris (67 percent) in his next to last year of eligibility was second.

The vote caught many in the baseball business by surprise, thinking that despite the widespread belief that Bonds, Sosa and Clemens used PEDs, enough writers would throw up their hands and elect at least one of them anyway.

"They might say 'Who am I determine their integrity?' " Millard said.

Not so the case.

Writers put in tough spot

It made for great hand-wringing among the writers, some of whom turned in blank ballots, some of whom, like the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Tom Haudricourt, detailed their reasons in writing. Haudricourt voted for all the top players, including the tainted ones, and tried to justify his rationale for doing so in a Jan. 9 column.

I don't agree with Haudricourt, but I give him a lot of credit for having the courage to put his ballot in the public air for a viewing. A lot of the writers didn't do that and people like Holler wouldn't mind it if all the ballots were made public.

"Innocent until proven guilty" was one rationale Haudricourt used and Hansen thinks that's way too low a bar for the Hall of Fame.

"Personally, I don't think there's any place for cheaters (in the Hall)," Hansen said. "The Hall of Fame is the ultimate peak of baseball success and in my mind and many others, these guys cheated.

"… It's not ever a good day when major players are found to have cheated and the BBWA recognized that fact."

The issue will get more and more complicated in the future. In the immediate future is a new class of eligibles that has little or no taint and a lot of star power including the Atlanta Braves twin pitching studs of Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and slugger Frank Thomas all of whom in normal times would be thought of as first ballot automatics.

But as noted, these are far from normal times for baseball.

And with those new candidates front and center and well-thought of near-misses like Biggio and catcher Mike Piazza also thought to make moves upward, where does that leave the tainted ones next year? Some writers will almost certainly change their votes and Holler worries a generational shift may allow people like Bonds and Clemens to get in in the future (Sosa's initial numbers were so low that no one gives him a chance at all).

"And that next generation (of baseball writers) might have a whole different view of the steroid era," Holler said.

It would be awkward to be sure, if an entire generation of players with enormous numbers were not placed in the Hall. In that case, future historians and fans would have many questions to ask of the writers who made those decisions.

Millard is just depressed in general, because like others have noted, Bonds and Clemens were well on their way to Hall of Fame careers before their numbers took surprising jumps very late in their careers, a clear indicator of drug use.

Didn't need to cheat

"I was a Pittsburgh fan when Barry was there and was a fan of his, too," Millard said. "He would have gone in anyway (without the use of PEDS). It's just sad. Same with Roger (Clemens), but Andy Pettitte (former teammate and fellow pitcher) says Roger used HGH (human growth hormone) and if Andy (who also admitted his own use) says he did it, then he (Clemens) did."

"Barry averaged something like that 32 home runs a year before age 33 and then he went up to 49 a year after that," Hansen said. "Where's the logic in that? If they didn't do it, why was there such a culture of secrecy surrounding it?"

Another factor playing into this is the often mean-spirited and pugnacious attitude that especially Bonds and, to a lesser extent, Clemens exhibited to the public. They were often unapologetic for their aloof and often-callous attitudes toward fans, writers and others.

That, said Holler, shouldn't play into the voting but may in this case.

"It's a Hall of Fame of ability," he said, "not a Hall of Fame for character. Everyone has heard of what a knob that Ty Cobb (a member of the original Hall of Fame class in the 1930s) was, but he did not cheat the game. He may have alienated a lot of people, but he did not alter the game."

The trio of coaches isn't sure what will happen in the future. Major League Baseball is doing well right now but is having a very hard time dealing with a very dark piece of its recent history.

"Cheating was so rampant back then," Holler said. "It colored a whole era. Everyone it seems is tainted."

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