I don’t know if Greg Maddux is the best pitcher in the history of baseball. He’s probably not, but I think pretty much anyone would agree he’s one of the best pitchers in the history of baseball. He won 4 CY Young awards. He led the National League in ERA 4 times. He won eighteen Gold Gloves, 355 games and one World Series. He’s twenty-fifth in career wins above replacement, and he was considered the best pitcher on one of baseball’s best teams for about a decade. He is a Hall of Famer by even the most stringent of definitions, and yet, when the voting totals are officially added up tomorrow, he will not be approved unanimously. Why? Apparently it’s because he had the nerve to be around during the steroid era.
In an effort to make the voting process more transparent and to offer fans a window inside, Major League Baseball decided to publish all seventeen of the ballots submitted by its employees on the company’s website in one fascinating article. As you would expect, almost all of the writers focused on the same group of names: Maddux (16/17), Tom Glavine (16/17), Craig Biggio (13/17), Jack Morris (13/17), Frank Thomas (11/17), Jeff Bagwell (9/17) and Mike Piazza (8/17), with various other players receiving 7 or less votes. Given the incredible wealth of talent, every single writer on the MLB.com staff voted for at least three names, except ex-Dodgers beat writer Ken Gurnick who voted for one: Jack Morris. Why? Well, I’ll let him explain…
”Morris has flaws -- a 3.90 ERA, for example. But he gets my vote for more than a decade of ace performance that included three 20-win seasons, Cy Young Award votes in seven seasons and Most Valuable Player Award votes in five. As for those who played during the period of PED use, I won't vote for any of them.”
Morris is a fine pitcher with some great moments on his resume, but is three 20-win seasons really a justification? Greg Maddux won 15 or more games seventeen years in a row. Are Cy Young votes in seven seasons really a justification? Maddux got Cy Young votes in nine. What about Morris’ Most Valuable Player Award votes during five seasons? Maddux got votes in six. Anyway you want to measure it, Maddux had a better career than Morris. He was apparently just unlucky enough to be born during the wrong era.
If writers want to punish guys who were caught using steroids like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, that’s fine. You won’t hear me complaining, but to blindly punish anyone who happened to co-exist with these guys is an absolute travesty. Even worse, it idiotically ignores the fact that baseball players have been cheating and using steroids for decades. Back in the day, pitchers used to spit on the ball and intentionally scuff it so it would curve in weird directions, but apparently, those eras of heavy drinking, uppers and World Series fixing were just more pure from certain perspectives.
What is the end goal? To leave a twenty-year gap in the Hall of Fame in which not one single player from that generation is elected? How does that benefit anyone? There has never been a single whisper about Greg Maddux using performance enhancing drugs. Not one. He was a skinny little kid when he first entered the league back in 1986. Damn near everyone else could throw the ball harder than him, and he had to survive by outthinking batters. Twenty-two-years later when he left the game, he was a chubby old man who threw even slower and battled with his mind even harder.
Tomorrow, Maddux will make the Hall of Fame with somewhere around 99% of the available vote. Chances are, at least one or two people other than Gurnick, will leave him off their lists as well. These contrarians seem to think they’re protecting the game, but really, all they’re doing is putting their own illogical biases ahead of their common sense. In doing so, they let down Maddux. More importantly, they forgot why the Hall of Fame exists in the first place: to provide a place for fans to pay their respects to the best to ever play the game, an honor that clearly belongs to the longtime Atlanta Brave and Chicago Cub.