They’re opening the back door at the Baseball Hall of Fame again this week.
The Contemporary Baseball Era Committee, one of several inventions by Cooperstown’s proprietors, meets now and then to consider candidates who passed through the regular electorate and offer them another chance.
The committee consists of 16 members – six executives, seven Hall of Famers, and oh, yes, three writers. Never mind that the original candidacy is judged by 400-or-so baseball writers. Three will do.
In their original Hall of Fame election, candidates need 75 percent approval or about 300 votes. The barrier remains at 75 percent for the committee election but with just 16 people voting, that means just 12 yes ballots sweeps a candidate into the baseball shrine. It is considerably easier to get 12 votes than it is to get 300.
This year’s ballot included three candidates with shadowy credentials. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro all have glittery statistical resumes but each has been rejected by the writers because of their brush with performance enhancing drugs.
Bonds and Clemens were turned away ten times by the writers. Palmeiro, famously suspended for a positive steroid test after pointing his finger at a congressional hearing and denying that he ever used that nasty stuff, never got that far. His 500 home runs and 3,000 hits notwithstanding, he was dropped from the ballot when he received less than five percent of the vote. That was proof that the writers take this PED stuff seriously.
Nevertheless, baseball forgives and forgets. So Bonds, Clemens and Palmeiro got a second chance to join the elite congregation of baseball’s greatest players in Cooperstown. So did Albert Belle, a surly slugger once caught with a corked bat, a minor misdemeanor.
The Hall of Fame has winked before at players with questionable credentials. When he was on the Oldtimers Committee, Frankie Frisch was famous for electioneering for his old cronies and helped usher George “High Pockets’’ Kelly into Cooperstown. David Ortiz, who tested positive in 2003, was a first ballot inductee last summer. Gaylord Perry, a 300-game winner thanks in large measure to illegal spitballs, is there.
One of Cooperstown’s myriad committees sent Harold Baines to the Hall a couple of years ago. Baines was a very good player but this is the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Very Good. The writers never gave Baines more than three percent approval and, like Palmeiro, he was dropped from the ballot.
Rejected once, but not forever. That seems to be the Hall of Fame’s approach with these committees.