It was only last week that Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred dropped the hammer of justice on the Houston Astros for the cheating scandal that tarnished their 2017 World Series championship and left another permanent stain on the National Pastime.
The first two decades of the 21st century have presented MLB with a series of challenges to the integrity of the sport — from the steroid mess to the St. Louis Cardinals’ hacking scandal to the unsavory sign-stealing revelations that have drawn comparisons to the infamous Black Sox World Series fix of 1919.
That’s why it was refreshing to see the voters of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America get it so right when the results of this year’s Hall of Fame balloting were announced Tuesday night.
New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, whose exemplary 20-year career included five world titles and not a single reason to question his respect for the game, was elected overwhelmingly in his first year on the ballot. He fell just one vote shy of joining longtime teammate Mariano Rivera as the only unanimous selections in history.
The election of outfielder Larry Walker in his 10th and final year of eligibility only added to the much-needed feel-good nature of the night. The former Montreal Expos, Colorado Rockies and Cardinals star made a dramatic leap after being named on just 54.6% of the ballots last year, exceeding the 75% requirement for induction by just six votes.
Just as important, steroid-era superstars Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds were denied again in their eighth year of eligibility and have shown so little year-over-year momentum the past few ballots that their prospects for ever getting to Cooperstown seem dim.
While Manfred battles to rebuild the integrity of his sport, a large percentage of the voting body that serves as gatekeeper for the initial (and most important) phase of the Hall of Fame selection process seems steadfastly committed to making sure that the Hall of Fame remains the repository of its soul.
There is little question that Bonds and Clemens rank among the greatest players in baseball history, but they have not been able to escape the stigma of the steroid allegations that followed both to the end of their careers.
It’s difficult to pinpoint why Walker was considered a Hall of Famer by barely 10% of voters six years ago, but he always believed it was because he spent the bulk of his 17-year career playing his home games in the thin air of Coors Field.
“No needles went in my ass," he famously said in 2018, back when he was polling 20% less than Bonds and Clemens. “I played the game clean, but I played in the ballpark and it’s almost like Coors Field is my PED.”
Maybe the voters finally realized how unfair it was to penalize a guy more because of the ballpark he played in than the two players who became the poster boys of baseball’s disgraceful steroid era.
Whatever the reason, it was good to see Walker recognized for his achievements and Jeter placed on the same pedestal as Cal Ripken Jr. and so many of the great players who accomplished great things without cutting any ethical corners.
We live in a forgiving society, but MLB figured out a century ago that there could be no quarter given to those who act willfully to damage the integrity of the game. Manfred is just the latest commissioner to deal with a scandal the magnitude of the Houston sign-stealing scheme. He acted decisively to mete out stiff discipline on the Astros organization, even if some felt he should have gone further.
Perhaps a decade or two from now, we’ll be debating whether some of the great Astros players on that 2017 team should deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, but there wasn’t much to argue about after Hall of Fame president Tim Mead announced the baseball’s newest Hall of Famers.