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Jack McCaffery is the lead sports columnist for the Daily Times and He has spent several decades covering everything from the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers and Sixers, to college hoops, to high school sports in Delco.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


The most revealing ballot in the modern history of the Baseball Hall of Fame has arrived. Finally, those who have earned the honor of a vote will be able to make one fundamental revelation.
Do they punish a player for trying to win?
Or do they choose to punish a player for being OK with losing?
That’s all. That’s what the ballot that includes the usual steroid-era candidates and also one Gary Sheffield is about. It’s about that choice.
Already, the electorate has spoken about the steroid users. Barry Bonds has yet to be elected. He is the all-time leader in a particularly significant baseball statistical category. He belongs in the Hall of Fame. He should have been in on the first try. He could open his own Hall of Fame directly across the street from 25 Main Street in Cooperstown and it would be more legitimate. But it feels good to enough voters to penalize Bonds and Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Mike Piazza and anyone else thought to have used designer sports vitamins to become better players.
That’s the system. OK.
But into the ring now fly hats from the Brewers, Padres, Marlins, Dodgers, Braves, Yankees, Tigers and Mets --- those ball caps disgraced during what should have been the a tainted, rotten career of Sheffield. His 509 home runs, nine All-Star Games, one batting title and .292 career batting average normally would make him a serious contender. It’s just that while baseball was obsessed over imposing a lifetime ban on Pete Rose for trying to win, it pardoned Sheffield for the one misdeed that should have any athlete at any level banished from a sport. He threatened to fail.
This is what Sheffield once told the Los Angeles Times: “The Brewers brought out the hate in me. I was a crazy man. I hated everything about the place. If the official scorer gave me an error, I didn't think was an error, I’d say, 'OK, here’s a real error,' and I'd throw the next ball into the stands on purpose.”
That is the loser who is on the Hall of Fame ballot --- the one who would purposely “throw the next ball into the stands,” the one the Brewers once dumped into the minors for “indifferent fielding.” And what greater sin could there be against a sport and the customers who pay to watch it than to have a rat like that announcing that he would deliberately fail to perform? Yet that was fine with enough teams that Sheffield could earn more than $168,000,000 to play.
That he was loosely brought into the steroid coverage will not boost Sheffield's campaign. But it will be fascinating to see how many votes he receives from those rejecting players who tried only to strengthen their bodies in an effort to succeed. Sheffield may or may not have used performance-enhancers. That should not matter. But threatening to error is unforgivable. Once he did that, the perception had to be that he was intentionally failing every time he wandered near a ball in play. And, hey, isn’t that the leading argument against Rose, who only bet on his team to win games while a manager --- that it wasn’t necessarily the crime but the perception that most matters?
Those who tried to become stronger, better players should not be denied Hall access. Those who tried to manipulate the equipment in order to gain an edge, including the corked-bat-wielding Sammy Sosa, must be rejected. Those found to have used mind-altering drugs should be considered, but very carefully. And those who once threatened to fail, even if they would later claim to have been misunderstood, must be exposed until they vanish from the ballot.
The election is thick with worthy candidates this year. At least 17 could be Hall of Fame players. But a voter can only check 10 boxes. This, then, is my ballot for the 2015 induction class, in alphabetical order: Craig Biggio, Bonds, Clemens, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, McGwire, Piazza, John Smoltz and Alan Trammell.

And I scratched out Sheffield's name and wrote in Rose's in that precise spot. Because determined winners, not indifferent losers, belong in the Hall of Fame.


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