As potential Hall of Fame classes go across all sports, I'm not sure that one city has more invested emotionally right now than the city of Houston does in balloting for this year's induction class into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
First baseman Jeff Bagwell is on the ballot for the third time, and joining the ballot for the first time are career Astro second baseman Craig Biggio and hired gun Astro starting pitcher
and Sugar Land Skeeter Roger Clemens. In a perfect world for most Houstonians, we would all convoy up to rural Cooperstown in late July wearing Astro rainbow jerseys and telling each other our favorite Bagwell and Biggio tales the whole way, then we would tearfully watch the two of them enter the Hall of Fame in the same class. Clemens making it in would be a very surprising bit of icing on the Hall of Fame cake.
The next class of Hall of Famers will be announced next Wednesday, and if polling numbers compiled by baseballthinkfactory.org (with a hat tip to Deadspin for posting) are any indication, Houstonians should be mildly encouraged, but anybody thinking about trekking to Cooperstown for the ceremonies this summer should think twice.
Let me explain.
According to the aforementioned compilation of a cross section of the voters (85 full ballots, about 15 percent of the total voter population) by baseballthinkfactory.org, the Hall of Fame approval rating goes as follows (Keep in mind, 75 percent is the required amount of votes for induction.):
Biggio 70.6% Bagwell 68.2% Piazza 64.7% Raines 62.4% J. Morris 62.4% Clemens 45.9% Bonds 45.9% Schilling 37.6% Trammell 37.6% L. Smith 35.3% E. Martinez 34.1% McGriff 17.6% D. Murphy 17.6% McGwire 16.5% Palmeiro 15.3% S. Sosa 14.1% L. Walker 14.1% Mattingly 5.9%
If you're wondering how accurate this compilation of voters has been in forecasting just who will be enshrined into the Hall, just know that BBTF correctly had Barry Larkin as last year's only inductee with a percentage of votes somewhere in the 80s. In other words, with a sample space much larger percentage-wise than actual election straw polls, this is a decently accurate exercise.
As for my observations on the numbers above, they go like this:
1. Craig Biggio will safely be in the Hall of Fame sooner rather than later. While the numbers above don't indicate induction this summer for Biggio and Bagwell (or for anybody for that matter, more on that in a minute), Astro fans have to be encouraged that things will work out positively for both in the very near future. While Astro fans are probably holding out hope for a first ballot induction, Biggio's eventual enshrinement has never really been in doubt. He will go in at some point.
2. Bagwell fans and supporters have to be thrilled. Like many power hitters from this era, Bagwell's candidacy has been somewhat sketchy. With Bagwell already an "on the fence" candidate for many voters, the doubts about his "cleanliness" in this performance enhanced age have hovered over him like a big black cloud (with a syringe sticking out of it). Fortunately, if the trend in the poll above holds, his voting percentage will have gone from 45.0 percent to 56.7 percent to 68.2 percent. Clearly, this type of positive trending would be indicative of eventual induction and not the "steroid rut" that other candidates (see McGwire, Mark) from the last several years have hit.
3. Fans of Bagwell and Biggio going in together have to be EXTRA thrilled. With these numbers indicating that both will likely get in at some point, the question now becomes would you rather see Biggio and Bagwell go in separately (and thus get to enjoy two summers of Hall of Fame talk), or would you rather see them inducted together (the sentimental choice)? My opinion? It's a no brainer, seeing them go in together would be not only incredibly cool (one of the last few sentimental moments available to a lot of baseball fans in this city), but hugely appropriate. In the overall landscape of baseball history, there are very few figurative "pages" dedicated to the Astros. Their comparative overall relevance along baseball's historical continuum is minimal. Most of the shreds of relevance the Astros have are wrapped up in the last two decades, and those decades were carried by Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell. Put simply, Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell were individually great players, but collectively they represent the only real "era" in Astros history. The Astros fan in me wants to see them go in together, the baseball fan in me thinks they should go in together. Hopefully, that makes sense.
4. Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds are viewed exactly the same. In their first cracks at induction, Clemens and Bonds, two alleged PED cheaters, each received 45.9 percent of the vote according to this group of voters. That number is frankly much higher than I thought it would be, especially when you consider that Mark McGwire has never cracked 24 percent in six years on the ballot, and is now going backwards with 19 percent last year, and 16.5 percent in this exercise. Me thinks....
5. Clearly, some voters are distinguishing certain alleged PED users from others. McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro (15.3 percent) continue to languish at around the same amount of votes they've been getting since appearing on the ballot. With 14.1 percent of the vote in this poll, Sammy Sosa is clearly grouped with McGwire (and to a much lesser extent, Palmeiro) as a guy who voters think built his legacy largely on the back of performance enhancers. Meanwhile, Clemens' and Bonds' voting numbers indicate a large faction of voters who feel like they would have both been Hall of Famers even without PED's, and therefore they should be voted in. To me, the interesting thing with Clemens and Bonds isn't necessarily their vote total this year, but what will it be next year? As I mentioned earlier, Bagwell is a guy who had PED clouds hovering over him (not nearly to the extent of Bonds and Clemens, but still) and his vote total percentage has gone from 45.0 percent to 56.7 percent to likely somewhere near 70 percent. Do the 45.9 percent voting for Clemens and Bonds (an eerily similar number to Bagwell's first year on the ballot) represent the extent of their supporters (current and eventual), or are some voters just "punishing" them by making them wait a few years. The correct answer just might be that some voters are holding off on voting for them to see how the baseball world -- fans, teams, other media -- accepts the confusing legacies of these alleged abusers going forward.
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6. Um, this could be the lamest Hall of Fame induction ceremony EVER. If these numbers hold up, we could be looking at a Hall of Fame class this year with no players voted in by the Baseball Writers Association and just three veterans committee selections, all of whom died over 70 years ago. That's the bad news. The good news is, if you've ever wanted to cross "Attend Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies" off of your bucket list, lots of good seats should be available! Also, Cooperstown is beautiful in late July. No joke.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.