MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Over-Hall? HOF voting process doesn't need it

Over-Hall? HOF voting process doesn't need it

There has been a lot of whimpering in recent years about how much more difficult voting for the National Baseball Hall of Fame has become.

Hey, it's supposed to be a privilege. Nobody said it had to be a day at the beach.

The problem is centered among the candidates who have numbers that would normally get them into the Hall, but also have clear connections with the use of performance-enhancing substances.

There are no specific Hall of Fame guidelines regarding the use of steroids, but this fundamental Hall of Fame voting rule tells you all you need to know on this topic:

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"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."

So the holdover candidates associated with PED use tend to be ballot-cloggers. They are present every year. They receive some support. But they're not coming close to receiving the 75 percent of the vote necessary for election.

Those would include Roger Clemens, who received 37.5 percent of the vote last year; Barry Bonds, who received 36.8 percent, Mark McGwire, who received 10 percent and Sammy Sosa, who received 6.6 percent.

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Hall of Fame voting rules allow the voters -- eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America -- to vote for as many as 10 candidates in a given year.

There have been suggestions that the number should be raised. At this point, why cheapen the product? One identifying characteristic of baseball's Hall of Fame is that it is the most exclusive gathering of its kind in all North American professional sports. The arguments about the Hall of Fame are typically not about which players gained entrance, but which did not.

For those people who say that the system is broken, the BBWAA elected four new HOF members last year. It marked the first time in 60 years that so many candidates had been elected in a single year.

There wasn't any quibble with the quality of the new members, either, not with Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio being elected.

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If the voters were to elect three or more players to the Hall this winter, it would be the first time in the history of BBWAA voting that at least three candidates have been elected in three consecutive years. This doesn't look like much of a drought for the Hall.

There is no question that voting for the Hall of Fame is more difficult than it was in the past. Voting now requires not just a happy stroll through some impressive statistics. It requires, in some cases, making what are essentially moral choices. In that way it is very much like a regular political election.

This year won't be notably different. I count 15 candidates who are worthy of serious consideration. Two of the newcomers to the ballot come with credentials that seem to demand first-ballot election. Those would be Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman.

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The top two returning vote-getters from last year's election are Mike Piazza (69.9 percent) and Jeff Bagwell (55.7 percent). Piazza is in his fourth year on the ballot, Bagwell is in his sixth.

Their careers appear to be fully worthy of election to the Hall. But there is reason to believe that both of their candidacies have been hurt by rumors of PED use.

I don't pretend to represent any other Hall of Fame voter, but for me the distance between rumor and fact is considerable. The fundamental American principle of the presumption of innocence is ever-present also. There have been no facts produced that clearly demonstrate that either of these men used PEDs. As in every other year they've been on the ballot, I will vote for Piazza and Bagwell.

The electoral process here has become more complex, and certainly even more open to second-guessing than it was in the past. But it is nothing like beyond repair. Voting for the Hall remains a rare privilege, even if it is not going to be a walk in the park.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.