The Hall of Fame Debate Has Grown Tiresome

Barry Larkin was the only player elected by the writers.

Jack Morris’s percentage has risen to 66.7%.

With two years left on the writers’ ballot, Morris might get enough support to make it in by conventional vote. If not, he’s got a great shot on the Veterans Committee.

The debate will rage on until then.

You can make an argument for Morris (post-season hero; innings-eating winner and one of the dominant pitchers of the 1980s) or against him (high ERA; stat compiler).

Nothing’s going to change the minds of those who are for or against him.

Tim Raines received 48.7%.

Raines is seen as a no-brainer by stat people; others think he became a part-time player from his early 30s through the end of his career and he’s a “floodgate opener” whose election would necessitate the serious consideration of the likes of Johnny Damon and Kenny Lofton which would diminish the specialness of the Hall.

Lee Smith received 50.6% of the vote.

I don’t think anyone with an in-depth knowledge of baseball and from either faction whether it’s stat-based or old school thinks Smith belongs in the Hall of Fame.

No matter how convincing or passionate an argument made for the supported players, the other side is unlikely to put their prejudices, personal feelings, stereotypes or ego aside to acknowledge that they may be wrong; and they’re certainly not going to change their votes.

So what’s the point?

What’s made it worse is the proliferation of the younger analysts who may or may not know much of anything about actual baseball, but think they do based on calculations and mathematical formulas who are so adamant that they’re right, it’s impossible to even debate with them.

Bert Blyleven made it to the Hall of Fame, in part, because of the work by stat people clarifying how he deserved the honor and wasn’t at fault for a mediocre won/lost record because of the teams he played for. Another part of his induction, I’m convinced, is that a large chunk of the voters were tired of hearing about him and from him—Blyleven was an outspoken self-advocate and it worked.

I’m wondering what’s going to happen with a borderline candidate like Curt Schilling. Blyleven had likability on his side; Schilling doesn’t; and it’s going to be hard for Schilling to keep his mouth shut if he doesn’t feel he’s getting his due in the voting process. He’s not going to get in on the first shot.

Short of Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Ty Cobb and the other luminaries, you can make a case against any player no matter how great he was; on the same token, you can make a case for a player like Bobby Abreu, who is not a Hall of Famer.

Even Greg Maddux went from being a dominating pitcher from age 22-32 and became a durable compiler with a high ERA who begged out of games after a finite number of pitches and benefited from pitching for a great Braves team to accrue wins.

Of course Maddux is a first ballot, 95+% vote getter when he becomes eligible, but could a motivated person come up with a case against him? How about “he only struck out 200 batters once; he had superior luck with amazingly low BAbip rates; he only won 20 games twice; his Cy Young Awards all came in a row and he never won another; and he pitched for a great team in a friendly pitchers’ park for most of his career.”

It can be done for and against anyone.

Does Tommy John deserve recognition for the surgery that bears his name? I think he does. Others don’t.

Then there are the PED cases like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds—Hall of Famers both—who are going to have trouble getting in because of the writers’ judgments that they “cheated”.

At least they were implicated. Jeff Bagwell never was and he’s on the outside looking in with 56% of the vote this season. (He’s going to get in eventually.)

So which is it?

What makes a Hall of Famer?

Is it being “famous”? (Reggie Jackson)

Is it a long and notable career? (Don Sutton)

Is it the big moment? (Bill Mazeroski)

Is it being great at a particular part of the game? (Ozzie Smith)

Is it numbers? (Hank Aaron)

Is it propaganda? (Blyleven, Phil Rizzuto)

Is it the perception of cleanliness? (Al Kaline)

Is it on-field performance? (Carlton)

Is it overall comportment? (Stan Musial)

Is it domination over a time period? (Sandy Koufax)

There’s no specific criteria, so there’s no single thing to put someone in or keep them out.

But the back-and-forth has become vitriolic and dismissive with eye-rolling and condescension. If you even dare to suggest that Jim Rice is a Hall of Famer, your case is automatically ignored regardless of how organized and intelligent it is.

That’s not debating. That’s waiting to talk.

Simply because you disagree with someone doesn’t make the other side “wrong” especially in a judgment call like the Hall of Fame.

But there’s not much hope because few—especially in sports—are willing to listen to the other side, let alone allow themselves to be persuaded.

This is where we are and there’s no use in fighting it.

So why try?

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  1. #1 by Jeff on January 10, 2012 - 3:38 pm

    I agree that this debate has grown tiresome, but when you say “nothing’s going to change the minds of those who are for or against him” I have to disagree. Obviously Morris has gained votes for, as did Larkin, as did Bagwell. What frustrates me is that none of these players’ careers have changed since they retired. I understand the whole “first time ballot” mystique and all, but after that, why is a guy not worthy one year but he is the next?!? Makes no sense to me.

    • #2 by admin on January 10, 2012 - 3:48 pm

      I truly think that a large segment of the “mind changers” have to do with not wanting to hear about the player anymore as was the case with Blyleven. The first ballot stuff is absolutely relevant. Should a borderline candidate like Morris be mentioned in the same breath as Tom Seaver? No. The first ballot guys would be the “small hall” advocates automatics; after that, come the players who have to either wait awhile for one reason or another or are teetering on being in or out.

  2. #3 by Tony Esolen on January 11, 2012 - 2:44 am

    I think that if you are among the top 10 or 12 players at your position in the history of the game, you’re in. I would like somebody to name for me 10 or 12 first basemen greater than Jeff Bagwell. It can’t be done. Or 10 or 12 shortstops greater than Barry Larkin. Same thing. There are one or two shortstops who are obviously greater: Wagner, Vaughan, maybe Ripken. Then Larkin is in a nice bunch with guys like Boudreau and Cronin (and Reese, though he was a much better offensive player than Reese). If you’re as good as Lou Boudreau (Larkin was better with the glove and much better on the bases), then you’re in.

    The same reasoning should go for other players. Tim Raines — what the heck does a guy need to do, that he didn’t do? He hit a ton of doubles and triples, and more than 150 HR; not bad for a leadoff hitter. He walked all the time. He stole 800 bases and was better than 5 to 1 in succeeding at it. He hit for average. What difference does it make if he played only part time after age 32? There are plenty of guys in the Hall who played hardly at all after that age (Koufax, Dean, DiMaggio), and guys who clearly saw their best days, by far, before they were 30 (Banks, Winfield, Jackson).

    • #4 by admin on January 12, 2012 - 4:03 pm

      It’s so arbitrary that I don’t like coming to a specific benchmark for a player to be in the HOF or not, but with Bagwell his numbers speak for themselves and that he was never implicated in PEDs other than through circumstantial evidence, it’s hanging him without a trial. And I say this personally believing that Bagwell did use PEDs.
      Larkin waited a few years to get in; Raines is waiting as well. Given the fleeting nature of the voting and the reasons that are given, is there any point in debating with people anymore? The only thing we can do is present our cases based on what we believe and move on from there.

  3. #5 by Mike on January 11, 2012 - 7:57 pm

    I think it’s funny to use Maddux as a “poster child” for contrarian HoF arguments. Only a true idiot (e.g. the one guy who voted for Eric Young) could come up with an argument for leaving Maddux off of his ballot. The examples you offer to support that argument are funny as well. 4 straight CYAs is a bad thing? Relative to what, winning two fifteen years apart? Anyone who would offer that argument is baseball-retarded. Strikeouts are nice, but they represent only one type of out – and occasionally they are worse than another type of out. An illustrative fact: a ground ball to SS is vastly superior to a K when there is a runner on 1st base and there are less than 2 outs. As for Maddux’s perceived “soft” strikeout totals: Walter “Big Train” Johnson is considered one of the greatest strikeout pitchers EVER, and his career K/9 is LOWER than Maddux’s. A statisically significant “low” (or high) BAbip over a single year IS often attributable to luck. Having one year after year for a career is no longer LUCK, but is instead definitive. The voter who “blames” Maddux for being pulled out of games, is a doofus. Maddux knew better than his manager or pitching coach just how many pitches he had in his arm during any given start. To suggest that by turning a game over to a relief specialist he was harming his team’s chances of winning runs counter to statisical fact. Finally, I wonder if the same voter who would “punish” Maddux for being a member of a “great team” would also punish Ron Santo for never playing in a single postseason game?

    • #6 by admin on January 12, 2012 - 4:00 pm

      I can’t tell if you’re attacking me or agreeing with me. But the entire idea of using Maddux was to exemplify the point of how stupid it is to try to search for reasons to keep a qualified candidate out. If you’re searching for reasons, then they’re more than likely Hall of Famers.

      • #7 by Mike on January 13, 2012 - 4:33 pm

        I absolutely wasn’t attacking you. I understand that you were raising a point about the seeming intractability between statheads and “old-timers” when it comes to HoF evaluation. I was an “old-timer” long before I was introduced to SABRmetrics in the early 1990s. But then again, I realized that Branch Rickey understood the value of OBP when the rest of the baseball intelligensia was still stuck on BA. As Rickey showed (and as my conversion to SABRmetric analysis demonstartes) there shouldn’t be such a gulf between the two PoVs…
        Your “Maddux” example (and my rebuttal) actually left out the only plausible argument I could see coming from an “old-timer.” To wit: Maddux had only marginal success in “big games” during his career – he wasn’t an all-time-great in the clutch. They’d point to his losing record in postseason games. They’d argue that Smoltz (his teammate for most of those postseasons) was superior because he always won in the big games. I’d just point out that Maddux’s postseason stats/rates are pretty close to his regular season career rates – with the glaring exception of W-L%. I’d say that this is illustrative of the uselessness of isolating W-L% in judging how good/bad a pitcher is. I’d also argue that Maddux’s postseason stats were accumulated against the best opposing teams on the biggest stage. The fact that he maintained something approximating his career rates under those circumstances spread out over all those years only reinforces just how great a pitcher he was…

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