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Friday, January 11, 2013

Essay: This Week In Baseball

Baseball fans call this time of year “the hot stove league,” because there’s nothing to do but talk about what your favorite team has or has not done during the off-season and watch the clock tick away the days, hours and minutes until spring training starts.

Well, there has been plenty to talk about this week.

On Wednesday the results of the Hall of Fame voting came out and for the first time since 1996, no players were chosen for enshrinement in Cooperstown.

Then on Thursday, Major League Baseball and its players union announced an expanded drug testing program that will include, for the first time, blood tests for human growth hormone during the regular season.

I was sort of feeling like this hasn’t been a great week for the sport because it seems like doping is dominating the conversation. After all, don’t you think the performance enhancing drug use shadow is what kept players like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds out of the HOF in their first year of eligibility?

Well, my go-to-baseball guy Joel Sherman begs to differ.

He tells Here & Now’s Robin Young, “I think it was a great week for baseball, I mean on the Hall of Fame, it’s a vote. The idea that someone has to go into the Hall of Fame is not written someplace in a Bible. And I do not see how the expanding of drug testing, which is an attempt to make sure this stuff doesn’t happen in the future, could be viewed as bad news.”

There were 37 players on the Hall of Fame ballot this year. A player needs to be named on 75-percent of the ballots cast by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Former Houston Astros star Craig Biggio came closest to getting in with 68.2 percent. Clemens and Bonds got 37.6 percent and 36.2 percent, respectively.

“It’s just hard to get into the Hall of Fame, even if you are a pristine player,” Sherman said. “It should be a tough standard.”

Besides Clemens and Bonds again, the 2014 Hall of Fame ballot will be stacked with even more players most of us would think are no-brainers for Cooperstown, including former Atlanta Braves pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, who both have more than 300 wins.

Former White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas, one of only 9 players with more than 500 home runs (521) will also be on that ballot.

None have the taint of steroids attached to their reputations. My favorite player, Pedro Martinez, will be on the 2015 ballot.

Even if you question the timing of the announcement of the expanded drug testing program, Joel Sherman said it should be read a sign of the positive relationship that exists now between Major League Baseball and the players union, especially in the context of the National Hockey League, which will only start its season next week after a long lockout.

“Major League Baseball and its union have the best relationship of any of the pro sports, league to union,” he said. “There was such war for so long that they finally got through all that and they’ve reached a – I wouldn’t call it peace, but it’s certainly not war. I think players generally want to get as even a playing field as possible and make it me against you and not me and my chemist against you and your chemist.”

Pitchers and catchers are due to start trickling into their club’s spring training sites starting February 10.

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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