Monday, January 5, 2015

A Lousy Hall of Fame Argument

UPDATE JANUARY 6: Yes, I know that four players got in. No, it doesn't change anything I say here a bit.

I don't like writing about the Hall of Fame. First, it's not, referring to the title of this blog, on the field of play. Second, the arguments about the Hall get so pitched that I'd rather not pile on. This year, as in every year, members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) will vote for up to ten candidates. This year, as in every year, some BBWAA members will vote idiotically, and many more people will write or say idiotic things about the balloting. I'd rather just avoid the idiocy. It'll end, or at least settle down, starting tomorrow, when the results are announced.

BBWAA members can vote for, at most, ten candidates. In recent years, some BBWAA members and others have lobbied for expanding that figure, allowing members to vote for 12, 15, or even 20 candidates. One of the reactions to that proposal has been, "Voting for ten players has been good enough for for the Hall since its inception, so why change it now?"

That's a lousy argument. Let me explain why.

First, until the American League expanded from eight teams to ten in 1961, and the National League followed suit in 1962, voters were selecting from a pool of players derived from 16 teams. That total has expanded over the years to 30 teams starting in 1998. So the Hall of Fame electorate is voting on a pool of players that has expanded by 87.5%--from 16 teams to 30--from 1960 to today, yet its voting capacity has increased by 0%. Even if you believe that there's been a falloff of talent (a questionable proposition, given the expansion of talent pool to include Latin America and Asia, combined with US population growth of 75% since 1960), it's pretty out there to suggest that the talent's diluted by 87.5%.

Second, and more importantly, in my view, is performance enhancing drugs. There are three prevailing attitudes about PEDs from Hall of Fame voters:

  1. Nobody who used PEDs, or is rumored to have used PEDs, belongs in the Hall.
  2. We can't quantify who was using and who wasn't, nor the related impact on performance, so allegations (or proof) of PED use should be ignored.
  3. Something in between.
Look at this year's ballot. Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez are no-brainers, it seems. That's two votes. How is a voter going to fill out the rest of his or her ballot?

If the voter belongs to the first camp, they are not going to vote for the following players, who have been associated with PED use, either by their own admission, various reports, or innuendo: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Mike Piazza, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa. There is no way voters in the first camp will vote for those guys.

For voters in the second group, the first six players have a pretty rock-solid case. You can make a case for Sheffield and Sosa as well. 

So the first group will vote for Johnson, Martinez, and none of the eight players I mentioned. The second group will vote for Johnson, Martinez, and all of the eight players I mentioned.

Granted, most voters are somewhere in between. But with such a large minority of players who will appear on absolutely none of the ballots of one group of voters and every ballot for another group, how are (in my opinion) deserving players like Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, and Alan Trammell supposed to get 75% of the votes? The answer is that they can't.

There are some who will say that this problem is the players' fault for bringing the scourge of PEDs into the sport, but I'm sorry, that's ridiculous. Tim Raines shouldn't get elected because Barry Bonds was juiced his last few years? 

I point the finger of blame at the Hall. It has allowed BBWAA members to make their own rules regarding voting. The Hall, it seems to me, has three options:
  1. Instruct its members that they should not vote for any player whom they believe took PEDs. 
  2. Instruct its members that should not take PED use into consideration when voting for the Hall.
  3. Expand the number of players for whom electors can vote.
The first two are entirely unenforceable. So the only option is the third. The Hall refuses to do it, keeping great players on the outside looking in.

That's all I'm going to say about the Hall. But if you want to read a couple very smart takes on this, though, I recommend William Juliano at The Captain's Blog and Buster Olney at ESPN (Insider subscription required). William's analysis of this year's ballot is spot-on, and Olney lays out the problems with the Hall of Fame electoral process.

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