--Rule No. 5, Voting Rules, Baseball Hall of Fame Election
For the last 25 years or so, between Christmas and New Year's, I have cleared off my desk (a blunderbuss has worked best) and begun the task of filling out two ballots, one for the Baseball Hall of Fame and the other for the Eclipse Awards.
But since the voting comes at the same time, I'm unable to separate the two, particularly with the arrival on the ballot of ballplayers who competed in the so-called Steroid Era. It was horseracing, I think, that actually invented the Steroid Era. Mr. Webster, please research that.
For the previous year's baseball election, Mark McGwire's first year of eligibility, I wasn't much aware of Rule 5, but left McGwire off my ballot anyway. I was very much in the majority: McGwire, who hit 583 home runs, polled 128 votes and finished in ninth place. To be enshrined, a player must be named on 75 percent of the ballots; McGwire's total amounted to 23 1/2 percent.
This time, Rule 5 hit me between the eyes--the integrity, sportsmanship and character part--and that gave me the ballast to more convincingly omit McGwire. Pete Rose, if Commissioner Bud Selig ever relents and allows him on the ballot, can be excluded for the same reason.
When asked during a Congressional hearing about his drug use, McGwire waffled bigtime and kept repeating some singsong about "I'm not here to talk about the past." That's an evasion that will follow him around forever. He should have said, "I used, it was the wrong thing to do, I'm sorry and I urge all the young players out there to avoid steroids and other drugs." If he had said that, his chances of getting in the Hall of Fame would have increased exponentially. This year he got 128 votes again, and although he's going to be on the ballot for 13 more years, the voters' memories won't be that short.
I've also decided not to vote for Barry Bonds or any other players named in George Mitchell's recent expose. Regarding Bonds, some voters will make the argument that he homered enough when he was skinny, before he turned to enhancers, but I say that he's still in violation of Rule 5. I know, I know, Ty Cobb and others from yesteryear may not have survived Rule 5, either, but I'm not old enough to have been there to consider Cobb.
You're allowed to vote for a maximum of 10 players, but I never have, and this time Jim Rice was the only name on my ballot (Goose Gossage, the only player elected, may have been deserving, but I still have trouble evaluating relief pitchers).
The baseball ballot completed, I turned to the Eclipse ballot and was hit by an epiphany. Catholics celebrate their feast of the Epiphany in early January; mine came on Dec. 27. My epiphany was that Rule 5 should apply to the Eclipse Awards as well.
Traditionally, the Eclipses have had no rules at all, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I'm suggesting that they add a version of Rule 5 from baseball and call it, for lack of a better name, Rule 1. Jumping the procedural gun, I am invoking Rule 1 this year, and accordingly this was my vote for trainer:
1. Kiaran McLaughlin
2. Bob Baffert
3. Bobby Frankel
When the results are announced at the Eclipse dinner in Beverly Hills on Jan. 21, Todd Pletcher should win, for the fourth straight year. I don't know how you can argue against him, based on the numbers and stakes wins he piled up, but there are colleagues out there, apparently bored with voting for Pletcher, who have opted for Steve Asmussen, who also had a bangup year. Asmussen will win one of those bronzes one of these years, but this is not the year he's supposed to supplant Pletcher.
My problem is that both of them started the year finishing up lengthy suspensions, because of drugged horses. How, I asked myself, can I bypass Mark McGwire and then vote for either Pletcher or Asmussen?
Jennie Rees, in a column in the Louisville Courier-Journal, said that she voted for Asmussen first, Pletcher second. It was a decision, she wrote, "that could have gone either way."
But Rees, like me, is troubled by voting for horsemen with serious violations on their records. She knows a voter who doesn't even vote for horses of trainers who have been suspended, which is a whole other intellectual issue. The National Thoroughbred Racing Association, one of the sponsors of the Eclipse Awards, may publish information about suspensions of candidates in future years.
Ed Martin is president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, which has a database that stores the licensing information of horsemen. "We're encouraged," Rees quoted Martin as saying. "This is the first year there's been an interest on the part of the industry to look at a person's record for adherence to the rules."
Baseball's Rule 5 becoming racing's Rule 1? It could happen.