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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Knee-Jerk Reactions: The Hall of Fame Hopefully Sets Off Down Road to Ruin

Well, I can’t say I didn’t see this coming. Baseball Think Factory’s Vote Counter predicted no one making it, but there was still the off chance of Craig Biggio sneaking in. But it’s official. No one is in the Hall of Fame.

Really, in a way, this was probably the best case scenario. The Hall of Fame is just speeding up the timeframe until they can be considered irrelevant. They’ve been struggling with budgets for some time, and a summer in which the marquee draw is Deacon White (died 1939) won’t do them any favors. If this election didn’t convince you that the Hall is fast approaching irrelevance, maybe the Hall shutting down will do it.

Even as a fan, I’m wondering why I care. There’s really only one player in the Hall I have any sort of emotional attachment to (Cal Ripken). Heck, Only ten players in Cooperstown even played a game after I attended my first baseball game. Half of those were out of the league within three years of my first game. I care more about the players not in the Hall yet. If the voters are just going to ignore every player from my era, why do I care about their Hall? It isn’t going to get much better.


Let’s start with the obvious; this may have been the most talented ballot in the history of the Hall of Fame. I mean, the one-two punch of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens is almost unbeatable, but when you add a supporting cast of Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Curt Schilling... it’s almost a bad joke. Like someone was making a parody of how stuck up Hall voters were. And yet, that’s the case.

Let’s start with the most obvious problem; there were something like 14 players on this ballot you should have voted for, if you had a vote. They include:

Barry Bonds: All-time Home-run leader; arguably best player in the history of the game
Fangraphs has him second in WAR to Babe Ruth, Baseball-Reference has him third to Ruth and Cy Young. I think it would be interesting to argue that baseball had it’s best player ever play retire during the Great Depression and the athletes have only been worse since then, but nostalgia is powerful.
Even looking at his pre-steroid numbers (the earliest accusation against Bonds comes from after the 1998 season) leaves him well-clear of the mark.

Roger Clemens: Arguably best pitcher in the history of the game
Again, just by WAR, he was topped by only Cy Young (Fangraphs, which has Young with a 2.3 WAR lead in over 2000 extra innings), or Young and Walter Johnson (B-R). And both of those retired before the Stock Market Crash that led to the Great Depression.
Like with Bonds, his numbers prior to steroids alone (the earliest accusation against Clemens comes from the 1998 season, still leaving him 4 Cy Young Awards and an MVP).

Craig Biggio: 3000 hit club member
It’s not like Biggio was just some compiler (70.5 fWAR, 62.1 bWAR). And even if he was, he’s still the first 3000 hit player to not make the first ballot (non-steroid division) since Paul Waner...who was inducted in 1952. Other players who were first-balloters in that time include Eddie Murray (62.4 bWAR), Dave Winfield (59.4), and Lou Brock (42.8). You have no reason to vote those three in on the first ballot, then exclude Biggio as a “compiler”.

Mike Piazza: the best hitting catcher of all-time
Even if you think his defense was lacking, with as good of a hitter as he was, he would have had to be fielding with his bat to make up for it.

Jeff Bagwell: Arguably the best first baseman in NL history (it’s between him, Albert Pujols, Johnny Mize, and some 19th century players)

Tim Raines: The second-best leadoff man ever.

Edgar Martinez: The best DH ever (and if you’ve voted for any closer ever, you lose the ‘it’s not a position’ argument)

Curt Schilling: Arguably the best postseason ptcher ever, also the best control pitcher of all-time (leads all players in Major League history in K:BB ratio...with the exception of Tommy Bond, who pitched way back when the mound was 45 feet away from the plate).

Mark McGwire: The best home run hitter ever (no one else is even close to him in plate appearances per home run)

And those are just the ones who have an argument as “best” of something, not counting players who have easily cleared the Hall standards like Alan Trammell, or Larry Walker, or Sammy Sosa, or Rafael Palmeiro, or Kenny Lofton.

Even if you think steroids are an automatic disqualifier, that should leave you with Biggio, Bagwell, Raines, Piazza, Martinez, Schilling, Trammell, Walker, and Lofton, as well as borderline players like Dale Murphy or Fred McGriff. So with this wealth of candidates, what did the voters do?

Not only did the elect no one, they averaged 6.6 players per ballot (3756 yes votes, 569 ballots). According to Wikipedia, that’s the highest it’s been since 2003. Last year, it was only at 5.1. In a year that added Biggio, Piazza, Schilling, Bonds, Clemens, Lofton, and Sosa, voters only nominated one and a half more players, on average.

Heck, the best players left on this ballot are better than any class ever. Even if you kept it to non-steroid players-the sheer volume of a Bagwell/Biggio/Piazza/Raines/Schilling/Trammell/whoever else class would outweigh it. Even limiting it to the best two or three non-steroid players (Bagwell/Biggio/Piazza? Bagwell/Piazza/Raines? Schilling/Raines/Trammell? Take your pick) would outdo almost every class in history, let alone recent memory.

I mean, Kenny Lofton is arguably one of the top ten center fielders ever (if not now, then certainly when he retired), but he couldn’t even pull in the 5% needed to stay on the ballot!

And this problem won’t be going away. Just using the thirteen I mentioned as clearly Hall worthy who will be back next year, and remembering that there’s a ten player limit on the ballot (even though voters seem more than content to keep it to seven or below), Hall-worthy players coming up includes:

2014: Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina, Tom Glavine, and Jeff Kent
I would say Maddux is the only lock of those five; Thomas and Glavine might make it, but after this year, I'm not sure about them as locks anymore. Either way, that’s 18 players on the ballot, with between 15 and 17 not making it. Heck, I would probably leave Maddux off a ballot next year so that I could better spread my votes around to deserving players.

2015: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Gary Sheffield (I’d also throw a vote Brian Giles’ way, if there were an unlimited number of votes)
Again, best case scenario, you start the year with 20 worthy players. Worst case, 22. By the end, you’re somewhere probably between 18 and 21 votes (assuming Johnson, then Pedro, make it that year).

2016: Ken Griffey, Jim Edmonds, Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner, depending on how you view closers

In three years, there could be over 25 worthy players, just hanging around on the ballot. The sheer number of options might prevent anyone from getting in, no matter how worthy. That might be the best option, though, as it would hasten an end to the Hall.

As it stands, I’m seriously considering paying minimal attention to the Hall next year. Maybe I’ll just focus on the Hall of Merit, or the Hall of Stats (although the latter is formula-based, so there's less room for discussion). I mean, the Hall of Merit’s discussions actually look fun, and make sense. There’s no one claiming that amphetamine users were lovable scamps unlike those mean steroid users, or that you can tell who used steroids by their stats (or worse, bacne), or that Biggio wasn’t a Hall of Famer because “I didn’t think he was a Hall of Famer”, or that Jack Morris was a Hall of Famer because he had “intestinal fortitude

I mean, look at their vote this year. The top players not in? Schilling and Sosa...because they limit the inductees per year to four. The next best player not in? Looking down the list...Maybe Buddy Bell? Kenny Lofton? Luis Tiant? I would much rather have that than a Hall that’s missing Barry Bonds but has High Pockets Kelly.

In the end, I’ll get over this year’s Hall results. I’ll stop feeling strongly about it in time. But I’m not sure I’ll ever feel strongly about it, good or bad, ever again.

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