By Rob Rains
Ozzie Smith did not spend much time in recent weeks worrying about whether Baseball Writers Association of America members would elect Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens to the Hall of Fame.
Smith might have to start thinking more about the issue in the months ahead.
When the results of this year’s Hall of Fame vote was announced last week, it ended the chances that either Bonds or Clemens would be elected by the writers. This was the 10th and final year for each on the writers’ ballot.
The next potential path for both players to be elected to the Hall of Fame could come from a select Hall of Fame committee assigned to evaluate and elect players, managers, executives and umpires whose primary contributions to the game came between 1988 and 2016.
Smith, the former Cardinals shortstop who was elected to the Hall of Fame 20 years ago, has been a member of that committee the last two election cycles. Even though Smith doesn’t know officially that he will again be on this year’s committee, it is a renewable appointment.
If Smith is once again part of the 16-member committee that includes Hall of Fame players, baseball executives, historians and veteran baseball writers, Smith could have to cast his vote saying yes or no to whether Bonds or Clemens should be elected.
“This will probably be one of the toughest ones (his vote) if I am on that committee simply because of the subject matter,” Smith told STLSportsPage.com. “It’s going to be real interesting.”
Smith has said publicly that he has opposed the election of players to the Hall of Fame who had their careers stained by performance enhancing drugs, even if they were among the best players ever to play in the major leagues.
In a 2010 interview Smith said, “From my perspective, if a guy tested positive or admitted using, he automatically eliminated himself from being part of the Hall of Fame.”
Following last week’s election results, Smith said his opinion on the issue has not changed.
“I still feel that way,” Smith said. “Now knowing that there are others who have made it who were associated with it, I don’t know if that changes other people’s views. It certainly makes me give it some second thoughts.
“It does become a very personal thing. Some people look at it and put more weight to it (the character issues) than others. There is a whole gamut ot things to think about as we go through the process.”
One of the primary arguments for including Bonds and Clemens in the Hall of Fame is their career accomplishments, and a belief that both still would have been among the greatest players in history even had they never been connected to the use of steroids.
Should the best players in the game be in the Hall of Fame? The easy answer is yes, but Smith says the question is not that easy to answer.
“I think our goal is that it (the Hall of Fame) should be something much more than that,” he said. “The real question is how much value do you put on the fact that there are already people there who you know were associated with it.
“From a traditional standpoint you say no, I don’t think those guys actually belong. I think that has actually stood up to this point but you never know until you get in there and sit down and hear the historians talk about it.
“I can’t sit here today and tell you that I’m going to say no. I can’t tell you I’m going to say yes.”
Smith said that in the last two Today’s Game Era committee votes in which he has participated, as well as earlier committees evaluating other players, some of the information he heard during the meetings led to him changing his position about how he ultimately voted.
“There have been times when I went into the meetings thinking one way and sitting down and listening to the historians talk, it changes your mind,” Smith said. “You never know when you go in there. You go in (thinking) one way and come out completely different.”
Before Smith will have to make that decision, there are two things which will have to happen. First, he will have to be asked by the Hall of Fame to once again serve on that committee. There will be at least two changes among the players serving on the committee because of the death of Joe Morgan, and Roberto Alomar being removed because of his own character issues.
Second, Bonds and Clemens actually will have to make it onto the 10-man ballot that the committee members will consider. Getting on the ballot might prove as difficult as actually getting the 12 out of 16 possible votes necessary for election.
A different committee of veteran writers will select that ballot of former players, managers, executives and umpires.
Expected to be on the ballot are former managers Lou Piniella, Bruce Bochy and Jim Leyland. The group of players – apart from Bonds, Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Curt Schilling – who will be considered by that committee includes Fred McGriff, David Cone, Carlos Delgado, Kenny Lofton, Johan Santana and former Cardinals Jim Edmonds and Lance Berkman. Executives and umpires also will be considered.
Once the ballot is finalized, the Today’s Game Era committee will meet and vote in December to select members for the induction class of 2023. Committee members can vote for no more than four candidates, and 12 votes are required for election.
“It’s going to be interesting to see who winds up on the ballot,” Smith said. “It all depends on the views of the writers who will pick the ballot.
“It’s real interesting being on the committee. It gives you a totally different perspective. It’s thought provoking. Sometimes you go in there with an idea and walk away with a totally different idea.”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports