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2014 Baseball Hall Of Fame - A Broken Puzzle
What Should We Think of the Hall of Fame voting?
To be honest with you, I can’t argue with the results this year. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas gained election to the Hall and they all deserved it. I congratulate them just as everyone else does.
That does not take away from the fact that the Hall of Fame voting is becoming quite the messy situation. I am not sure how to solve the issues but I do think it’s time the Hall of Fame Board of Directors steps up and makes some decisions instead of letting the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America take the beating they will continue to take for the next few years.
They Were Great, But......
Issues of Interest
Managers of Steroid-linked Players got in – Why not the Players?
So Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa and Bobby Cox get into the Hall of Fame based, at least in part, on the merits of steroid-linked players on their rosters but the players themselves don’t get in? Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre for sure benefitted from guys like Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens. Nothing against the managers but that just goes completely against the regular voters “thinking on steroids” and it makes no sense. If the players are kept out as “tainted”, surely the records of their teams and managers are “tainted” as well.
The Sportsmanship Integrity Clause
This is a nice idea that is being used in a very poor way. If this clause meant anything to anyone then a guy on the fence like Dale Murphy would have been enshrined years ago. He wasn’t and nobody ever used this clause to push him in but many voters used the negative part of this clause to keep the steroid-users out. Either use it both ways or don’t use it at all.
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
You read that correctly. That’s what’s happening in the voting. Many voters are not voting for players that might have taken steroids. They call this “steroid suspicions”. Of course, with no proof and no further testing of these players being done, there is no way to actually label them as steroid users. But players like Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio are somehow suspicious. If there isn’t a failed test or some reasonable evidence, then I don’t know how these voters can come up with that distinction. It isn’t right in court, and it isn’t right in any other situation either.
Two Votes Shy? Really???
Other Issues to Deal With
Round Number Standards
For most of my life (until recently), there were major milestones that were hallmarks of the greatest baseball players. We used 500 Home Runs, 300 Wins, 3000 Hits as the bar. If you got there (or even reasonably close), you were in. So Craig Biggio has 3060 hits and is still waiting. He was an All Star at 3 positions, won gold gloves at two of them (I believe) and hit more doubles than any other right handed hitter in history, that includes Aaron and DiMaggio.
Maybe we need to make automatic enshrinement for certain statistical benchmarks (that’s not a great solution either but it would ease the burden on voters). The easy ones are 300 Wins, 3000 Hits, 500 Home Runs. Then it gets difficult – 1500 RBIs, 400 Saves, 800 Stolen Bases. For the New Stats: Offensive WAR of 70+, Defensive WAR of 25+, could be anything really.
The Baseball Writers as Voters
I can understand this better in the context of the Hall’s beginnings. How many baseball writers were there in 1936? The first ballots were cast by 226 voters. Now there are 576. I’m not sure that works well in this context. I also believe they are a completely conflicted bunch of voters. They get paid to cover baseball as a job. They interact with players on a daily basis and get paid for reporting on their exploits. How can these people give a fair, unbiased view so many years later? Any baseball writer who was employed in 1998 made a mint reporting on the Home Run Chase (as did baseball in general). There are writers who wrote books about it (Mike Lupica here in NY for one). How can he now vote against McGwire and/or Sosa and not be completely at a conflict of interest?
What about the insane lunacy of some of the beliefs being used this year? This year, an MLB.com reporter who covers the Dodgers decided to only vote for Jack Morris citing that he wouldn’t vote for any player who played in the Steroid Era as they are all suspicious. Not only is that an incredibly stupid thing to say, indicting a whole era of players you’ve been making money off of for at least ten years, but the guy he voted for also played for some time in the Steroid Era. I don’t think Jack Morris did steroids but if you are going to indict everyone, then do it – not just the guys you feel like indicting.
Fernando Vina - 1999 - PED User but not a Hall Of Famer
And Then We Have PEDs
PEDs in General
Well, after all this time looking into the PED issue, we can conclude one thing -we don’t know anything. Yep, that’s right. We can prove absolutely nothing. What we can surmise is that players who were already the cream of the crop, got better. Players like Bonds, McGwire and Palmeiro were great hitters to begin with and certainly benefitted from getting stronger – but they could already hit. The majority of the players we know did something didn’t benefit at all. The fact is, if you couldn’t hit to begin with, getting stronger didn’t help much. And that makes sense. Simply being strong, or even incredibly athletic (a la Michael Jordan), does not make you a great hitter (again, see Mr. Jordan’s attempt at playing baseball in the middle 90’s). Players have to learn how to hit and even the best aren’t that great at it (remember that a .300 hitter still fails 70% of the time).
Anabolic steroids have always been illegal whether they were banned from baseball or not but other things like Androstendione and ephedra were not. Where is the line drawn on what constitutes a PED? When do we start to think straight about these drugs? If they are the “magic pill” everyone thinks they are then why aren’t we considering players like Fernando Vina and Chad Allen (both in the Mitchell Report) for the Hall of Fame since they were so awesome while playing on steroids (tongue in cheek there)? The fact remains, you still had to PERFORM and most of those players didn’t – only the best got better, not the whole pool of players.
Sorry all you long-time voters. You’ve already put a colossal amount of cheaters into the Hall of Fame. The widespread use of amphetamines throughout the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s has been completely ignored but can’t be anymore. If you are all going to cite taking PEDs as cheating then so was taking amphetamines and it wasn’t a secret. They affect you in different ways, true, but they were performance enhancing nonetheless.
Now I'm not saying that if you do something wrong, it's OK to keep doing it wrong. But lets be honest here - the Baseball Hall of Fame has some pretty nasty people enshrined here and cheaters already exist here too. Any writers who have been active for more than 20 years turned a blind eye before. What's changed besides more public scrutiny?
To be fair, I don't have a good solution. Too many top flight players on the ballot truly did hurt many of the players on the ballot and that will happen again next year when Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez are eligible. The writers didn't necessarily get it wrong this year, but they either need clearer standards for the Hall of Fame voting process, or the Hall's directors need to come up with a different system for enshrining great players. If they had a special section for PED-linked players, maybe that would make sense - I really don't know.
Just One More Point
There was only one player on the ballot who actually failed a test, Rafael Palmeiro. He of the 3000 Hit Club AND 500 Home Run club fell off the ballot at 4.4%. What in the world is this messy voting system coming to.