Archive for the ‘Hall of Fame’ Category

rj2004

This wasn’t my intention, I assure you. When I set out to write this post, I was trying to cleanse the Hall of Fame palate with some idle speculation. Some innocent thought experiments. “Will we ever see another 300 strikeout pitcher?”, the headline was set to wonder.

There would be pseudoscience and bad projections and all sorts of fun. “But YU!”, they’d shout. “Max effort!”, others exclaimed. Good clean fun. Just what we all need.

But a cursory look into 300 strikeout seasons lead me down a dark path. It sent me to a dangerous place – Randy Johnson‘s baseball reference page.

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BRAVES MADDUX FIRES A PITCH AGAINST EXPOS.

The Hall of Fame still matters. It matters to the players and it matters enough to create an inordinate amount of chatter during the slowest time of the baseball year.

Last year was the darkest days of the darkest time in Hall history. No players elected, acrimony between writers, fans, and those caught in between. The lack of a no-doubt “first ballot” guy (free of PED baggage, that is) made it easier to split the vote and splintered the electorate as well.

If there is one thing all baseball fans can agree on, it is Greg Maddux. Even the most ardent skeptics cannot deny Maddux’s place in baseball’s shrine.

With Maddux goes his teammate Tom Glavine, an uncommonly durable and gifted pitcher who may have earned a some “Maddux shine” from pitching beside his brilliant teammate for so long but, at the end of the day, belongs in Cooperstown all the same.

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MLB: ALCS-Boston Red Sox at Detroit Tigers

The Baseball Hall of Fame announcement comes, mercifully, tomorrow. The Hall of Fame gets discussed ad nauseum during this slowest time on the baseball calendar. It’s all push and pull and outage cycle and groupthink and, more than anything, it’s tiring.

After last year’s solemn silence on announcement day, this year looks like a lock for at two inductees. The oft-reference Baseball Think Factory HoF vote collecting gizmo has four players getting in, but the diligent work of ballot tabulating only counts those publicly available before the official announcement.

This ignores the lunatic fringe – the former writers who maintain their right to select players for the Hall of Fame in perpetuity. Those long retired from the beat grind and those moved on to other challenges in life.

It isn’t that the game passed them by and their insights are valuable…it’s just that a few voices opt for volume instead of insight. For grandstanding instead of celebration. For pointing fingers instead of clapping hands. It’s a damn shame and does all baseball fans a disservice.

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117304775JM042_2011_BASEBAL

Over the last few years, a sizeable subset of the internet baseball community has come to the conclusion that the problem with the Hall of Fame is the Baseball Writers Association of America. The BBWAA is too old, too filled with people who no longer cover baseball, too conservative, and too willing to punish over dubious claims of steroid use. I generalize, of course, but such opinions are not hard to find among baseball fans who publish their thoughts on the internet, whether in full articles or in a microblog.

And, basically, I agree with all of those thoughts on some level. But I take issue with anybody who suggests these issues are only an issue within the BBWAA, and that a different group — say, a group of internet baseball writers — would make a significant difference. And thanks to the IBWAA — the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America (note: I’m not a member) — we know that isn’t the case. Observe, their 2014 Hall of Fame voting results:

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Braves v Dodgers

It is hard to be fair around Hall of Fame debate time. It is hard to see through the frustration with a broken system that allows legacy voters to dilute the pool deciding one of baseball’s highest individual honors.

It is hard not to judge somehow who, after a minimum of 10 years as a paid baseball correspondent, believes Lee Smith is a transcendent figure in the history of the game. It is hard to find the balance between disagreeing with a position and the recoiling with an odious, self-interested “position” that is just straight-up wrong. Too often, one bleeds into the other and value judgments are made based on the marginal difference of opinion of a baseball player’s career worth.

At the same time, the arguments made by voters in favor of their selections are often specious at best. Showing willful disregard for their own actions and beliefs that throws the entire process into question.

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Yankees pitcher  Mussina pitches against Toronto in New York

Hall of Fame ballots, hypothetical or otherwise, are subjective by nature. The list of ten players from this year’s ballot who I deemed, in my infinite wisdom, to be worthy of Hall support was subject to my own whims and shifting criteria.

As has been discussed ad nauseum, there is 15 pounds of Hall of Fame meat on this year’s 10 pound ballot. Multiple worthy candidates will find themselves off the ballots of many voters, who take the seemingly clear edict from the governing body and twist and contort it to their own agenda.

Or maybe different people just value the contributions of given baseball players differently. Using what I believe to be important indicators of pitching prowess, I arrived at a slightly controversial conclusion that Mike Mussina was a better pitcher than Tom Glavine. This aspect of my personal (fake) ballot attracted its fair share of attention.

Mike Mussina has become something of a cause célèbre among baseball writers of a certain vintage – and rightfully so. Mike Mussina is a Hall of Famer. Full stop. And here is why he looks better than a player sure to far more support from the voters at large.

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San Francisco Giants v Milwaukee Brewers

The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York is a wonderful museum and cherished time capsule of the grand old game. The story of baseball is told inside those hallowed halls, with keepsakes and mementos from time immemorial.

Telling the story of baseball seems, to me, like the real purpose of the Hall of Fame. The enshrinement process exists as an extension of the same ideal: these are the great players without whom the game would not be the same.

Over time, of course, the idea of baseball’s Hall of Fame came to mean different things to those who provide entry to the game’s greatest individual honor, the Baseball Writers Association of America.

The simplistic criteria used as the basis of judgment for Hall of Fame eligibility shifted in recent years, as many fans and writers took up the causes of overlooked but otherwise worthy candidates. Careers and statistics were scrutinized in different ways in attempt to put achievement into context.

This shift in priorities reshaped the Hall of Fame debate, especially as the cloud of drug use and steroids settled over the proceedings. Former clear cut Hall of Famers were cast aside, while other players received additional support as their eligibility waned.

The result, after five or ten contentious years, is a mess. The 2014 Hall of Fame ballot is a disaster after years of special pleading (“he’s a Hall of Famer but NOT a first ballot guy”) and steroid suspicion culminated with no players receiving sufficient support to enter the Hall last January. Two of the greatest players in the history of the game did not garner enough votes last year, so we end up with gridlock that would make Mexico City blush.

The best way to start the healing process? Send an extra large contingent this season. With “messages sent” and so many excellent players on this year’s ballot, there is a great opportunity to both elect deserving players and cut a lot of dead wood from the bottom of the ballot. Maybe a few casualties on either side but all hope is not lost.

The full ballot is found here but this is how I would vote, had I the honor.

  1. Barry Bonds
  2. Roger Clemens
  3. Greg Maddux
  4. Frank Thomas
  5. Mike Piazza
  6. Curt Schilling
  7. Mike Mussina
  8. Alan Trammell
  9. Tim Raines
  10. Mark McGwire

There is room for debate on a few of these names but all ten men have tremendous Hall of Fame cases. All ten names on this list could well be lined on a humid afternoon in July, celebrating their careers with their peers – baseball’s true elite.

It won’t work like that, of course. But it should. The list of deserving players only gets longer as the years go by. The also-rans and stat compilers will fall by the wayside as the men who shaped the game for a generation step forward to receive their final acknowledgement.

Baseball’s story since the last work stoppage in 1995 cannot be told without Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza or Tim Raines. Hopefully the BBWAA stops trying to scrub the parts they don’t like from the annals of the game and let history speak for itself.