Column: Will Selig’s entry crack open door to Hall of Fame?
Everything about baseball got bigger during Bud Selig’s reign as commissioner.
What’s important to remember is how. Because the same outsized contributions that earned him entry into the Hall of Fame should crack open the door wide enough for stars from the super-sized era to squeeze in behind him. It’s time.
One big reason attendance, TV revenues and franchise values all grew while he was in charge was that players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens — taking advantage of a lax drug policy and the see-no-evil administration Selig headed for years — bulked up even faster.
So now that the Hall of Fame voters put him in, how are they going to justify keeping those two, as well as a handful of others, out?
We’ll have a more definitive answer a year from now, when the Class of 2018 is announced and the 16-member veterans panel that elected Selig is done sifting through the game’s past to recognize other deserving candidates. But here’s how at least one member of the current veterans committee feels.
“I don’t believe any doors are open,” said Andre Dawson, Class of 2010. “I just don’t think this is the time that that should be moved forward. I can echo the sentiments of some Hall of Famers on that. It may happen in the future.
“As a committee,” he added, “we didn’t feel like we are the ones to make the decision at this time.”
At this time?
For the better part of three decades, Hall voters have tried to have it both ways when it comes to steroids. There’s almost certainly more than a handful of players who showed up for their induction ceremony in Cooperstown wearing a baseball cap a size or two larger than the one they broke into the big leagues with. Others were racist, drunks, abusers and worse.
Thus far, voters have had to sort through the names implicated in drug busts, whispering campaigns and supposedly “inside” information. Most of the time, they’ve made decisions based on their gut. The result is about as unscientific and hypocritical as you’d suspect.
While the totals for both Bonds and Clemens — by any objective measure, two of the most accomplished players ever — creeped up slightly the last few years, they’ve topped out at 45 percent (75 percent is required for induction). But just two years ago, Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell — both admitted using a since-banned substance during their careers — picked up more than half and nearly two-thirds of those same voters.
So if nothing else, Selig’s induction will remind us of something USA Today’s Bob Nightengale said to Hall voters ahead of the 2016 class announcement, “Come on, this isn’t the Sistine Chapel.”
The Hall will rightly celebrate Selig for all the good he’s done for the game. He was a patient, consensus-building boss who advocated tirelessly for small- and middle-market owners and always acted in what he genuinely believed were the best interests of baseball. If the bottom line was the only relevant consideration, Selig would have been carried into the Hall on the shoulders of all the owners whose pockets he lined with cash.
But being good for the owners also made Selig bad for the players more than once, too. He was involved in the collusion scandal as an owner and led the palace coup to dethrone Fay Vincent and erase any remaining notions that the commissioner’s office was even-handed. He proved that by becoming the public face and backroom leader of the owners’ cabal that forced the most destructive strike in baseball history and the only cancellation of a World Series.
But for all the pitched labor battles Selig waged, his biggest sin was turning a blind eye to the wave of PEDs that swept across baseball coming out of that 1994 strike. Remember, it was Selig who dispatched a team of scientists on a fact-finding mission — read: junket — to the Caribbean in 2002 to rummage through the factories where baseballs are made.
Even he must have suspected by then they were poking under the wrong hides. And to his credit, Selig spent most of his last decade in office trying to clean up the mess. The safeguards in place are better and baseball is arguably less doped-up than it’s been in a long time.
The veterans panel that put Selig in had all that information before casting ballots. The conclusion it reached is that, on balance, his record of service to the game outweighed those flaws. Bonds and Clemens and more than a few others who thrived during the steroid era — like Selig and nearly everybody else in his employ — deserve the same consideration.
(This version of story corrects Bonds and Clemens vote totals to 45 percent from one-third and that the next Hall of Fame class is 2018).
Jim Litke is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at email@example.com and https://Twitter.com/JimLitke