With the retirement today of Tony LaRussa, there’s lots of talk about the Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2014, which could (should?) include managers Tony LaRussa, Joe Torre, and Bobby Cox along with first-time eligible players Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas. Thanks to some interesting rules for managers, LaRussa, Torre, and Cox will all be eligible for the first time in 2014, alongside two 300-game winners and a 500 home run club member (not that 500 homers necessarily means Hall of Fame anymore). It certainly would be great to see Atlanta Braves stalwarts Maddux, Glavine and Cox enter the Hall together, and Torre’s body of work (both as a player and manager) deserves first-ballot induction beyond question. LaRussa’s 33 years of success as a manager are equally deserving.
But what about the potential Class of 2013? Here are some of the first-time eligible names coming that year: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Craig Biggio, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza.
This list will undoubtedly stir plenty of controversy. Bonds and Clemens were likely Hall of Famers before steroids ever entered the picture. Sosa seems to be a by-product of the steroid era (not to mention being caught with a corked bat on top of that). Piazza, an amazing hitter (especially in his Dodgers days) but by and large a mediocre defensive catcher, was subject to whispers but never any outright accusations. Schilling was a clutch performer but has borderline numbers (at best) and was one of the most outspoken players of his era – outspoken against the very thing his contemporaries on this list have been accused of using. And Biggio was a class act who excelled at multiple positions in relative obscurity in Houston, collecting 3,000 hits in a middling media market and appearing in just one World Series (a loss to the White Sox). He played 20 seasons but hit .264 or less in five of his last six years, finishing with a .281 lifetime average, and batted .300 or better just four times.
Get ready for a whole new wave of retrospective steroid stories as Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa become eligible for the Hall. Unlike Mark McGwire, whose candidacy (like Sosa’s) seemed clearly to be contingent on steroid use, Bonds and Clemens were superstars – with MVP and Cy Young Awards – before steroids took hold of the game. It’s safe to assume Sosa’s candidacy was derailed long ago, but does Biggio go in based on character, likability, and a presumption of being “clean” while Bonds and Clemens are denied? And what of Piazza? This should be quite a debate for sportswriters who have a vote…it’s too bad the Hall of Fame candidacies of those three stellar managers can’t be moved up a year so the Hall would have something to celebrate in 2013, instead of just a brewing voting controversy not seen since the height of the Pete Rose case.