It's a Hall of Fame day

It was a great day to celebrate the awesomeness of Greg Maddux, after a Hall of Fame election in which he reeled in a thunderous (but disappointing) 97.2 percent of the vote.

It was a fantastic day to ponder the coolness of two longtime teammates, Maddux and Tom Glavine, floating into Cooperstown on the same afternoon.

It was a perfect day to behold the remarkable career of Frank Thomas, and to wonder whether we might even have underrated him while he was making all that history.

It was an amazing day to see the Hall of Fame voting results come rolling in and be grateful that it's still possible for these voters to actually elect three players on the same day for just the fifth time in almost eight decades of balloting. What a concept.

But before we all start humming "Kumbaya," let's not book that vacation to Nirvana quite yet -- because it sure wasn't a perfect day in the life of Hall of Fame voting, either. Not even close.

It wasn't exactly a perfect day for Jack Morris, a man we put through 15 years of voting torture, dangled his election just 42 votes away as recently as a year ago, then told him this time around: "Hey, good luck with the Veterans Committee."

It wasn't exactly a perfect day for Craig Biggio, it's safe to say. There hasn't been a member of the 3,000-Hit Club who needed more than two ballots to get elected since 1952 (Paul Waner). But after falling two votes short, Biggio now knows precisely what that sort of rejection feels like.

And above all, it wasn't exactly a perfect day for any of us who care about this process, because it sledgehammered home this painful reminder of the enduring Hall of Fame crisis of the 21st century:

We still have no idea how to resolve the fate of many of the greatest players of all time. Now do we?

Barry Bonds, owner of seven MVP trophies and 762 home runs, got only 198 votes in this election. That's eight fewer than last year. Even if he doubled his vote total next year, he would still be more than 30 votes short of heading for an induction day I'd pay to cover.

Roger Clemens, a man with seven Cy Youngs and more victories (354) than all but five pitchers in the modern era, got 202 votes. He, too, lost 12 votes since last year. He'd need 227 more to get elected. Well, good luck to him.

But they weren't the only historic figures who were told Wednesday to stay the heck out of Cooperstown until further notice.

So was the greatest offensive catcher in the history of baseball -- Mr. Mike Piazza.

So was the man who broke Roger Maris' magical home run record -- Mr. Mark McGwire.

So were a 609-home run man (Sammy Sosa), and the only first baseman in the 400-Homer, 200-Steal Club (Jeff Bagwell), and a 3,000-hit, 500-homer hit machine (Rafael Palmeiro) who actually dropped off the ballot forever and ever.

Not that any of that was a huge surprise. But shouldn't we be looking at the continued exile of those men, and the magnitude of what they achieved, and asking this momentous question:

What kind of Hall of Fame is this?

Is this the Hall of Fame we want to see shining in the Cooperstown sun 100 years from now?

Is this what we want -- a Hall that attempts to pretend that players who just happen to hold some of the greatest records in the entire record book are now invisible to the naked eye?

If we do -- if that's what we really want -- OK, fine. But I, personally, am really uncomfortable with that. I know I'm not alone.

And I hope the people who run this sport and the people who run the Hall understand that one of these years, they're going to have to explain what happened in the PED era somehow. No matter which trail through the wilderness they blaze.

A century from now, aren't kids as likely to ask their dads why Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens (and Pete Rose, for that matter) aren't in the Hall of Fame as they would be to ask why they are -- if, by some miracle, those men are ever elected?

I'm sure it feels convenient now for everyone in Cooperstown to pull down the shades, hit the mute button and shovel some more snow off the front steps while the writers bear the brunt of this onslaught. But the Hall can't run from this topic forever.

Sooner or later, someone is going to have to deal with this issue in an honest, up-front sort of manner -- a manner that will allow future generations to comprehend the awkward way in which the Hall of Fame has dealt with this generation.

And you know what? Sooner would be a more excellent choice than later.

A year ago, after a very different election, I wrote a column pleading for a long, serious, national conversation about the Hall of Fame. I'm still waiting for my invitation to that chat-fest. But while I wait, the defining questions remain:

What do we want the Hall to become -- a museum of history or a shrine only to players who we'd love to pretend were both icons and saints?

What should we do about what is becoming the Lost Baseball Generation -- the greatest stars of a tainted era? Don't we need to figure out, sometime soon, where they fit in the real story of baseball history, as opposed to some make-believe narrative that erases them from JumboTrons everywhere, only to have them keep lurching back to life?

I'm as grateful as MLB commissioner Bud Selig is that we've just had an election that ensures that Induction Day 2014 will be a lot more fun-filled than Induction Day 2013. But that doesn't mean there aren't staggering issues that someone needs to deal with.

This just in: Ballot gridlock doesn't only take its toll on this sport's favorite outcasts -- Bonds, Clemens, Sosa and Palmeiro. If that's what the pooh-bahs-that-be believe, they haven't thought this through.

There is another group of players who have become the unintended victims here. We're talking about men like Edgar Martinez (who lost 60 votes in this election) and Fred McGriff (who lost 51).

We're talking about Curt Schilling (who watched 54 votes disappear) and Alan Trammell (who plummeted by 72).

We're talking about Larry Walker (who took a 65-vote fall) and Lee Smith (who endured one of the most precipitous tumbles in history -- 101 votes).

Ten years ago, players like them -- players who dangled on that fine line between Hall of Famer/not Hall of Famer -- had enough breathing room on this ballot to get the serious look they deserved.

Now, they just get swallowed up by all those bigger, more complicated, more controversial names. Names that never get elected. Names that never go away. Names that dominate the conversation and trample everyone else in their path.

And, most importantly, names that take up just enough space on a 10-line ballot that Those Other Guys are now losing votes, losing momentum, at a time when some of them need to be gaining steam if they're ever going to get elected.

Don't believe that? It's right there in the hard numbers.

Smith has gone from 290 votes to 161 in just two years.

Trammell has careened from 211 to 119 in those same two years.

And men like McGriff (11.7 percent) and Walker (down to just 10.2 percent) are now in danger of dropping off this ballot completely next year, as Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Gary Sheffield and Nomar Garciaparra parachute into this conversation.


So yessirree, it sure was a beautiful day for Cooperstown on Wednesday, as Maddux, Glavine and Thomas smiled for the cameras and started working on their induction speeches. And July 27, Induction Day on the shores of Lake Otesaga, will be more beautiful still.

But that doesn't mean the clouds won't still be hovering over this picturesque scene. This sport may be trying its best to lock all those Hall of Fame unpleasantries in a dark closet. But then, every winter, the ballot arrives -- and here they come again.

The only way we can ever solve this mess is by talking about it. Honestly. Openly. And immediately. I'm ready. Is anyone else out there?