The MLB Hall of Fame Rules Cultivate Randomness

Award Winners, Hall Of Fame, History, Media, PEDs, Players, Politics, Stats

Whenever you get into the vagaries of voting—for anything—the reaction to the result is contingent on the individual. If, for example, you’re a Republican you were no doubt pleased with the Supreme Court deciding that George W. Bush won Florida and the presidency in 2000. Al Gore supporters, on the other hand, were crestfallen. Both sides had a foundation for their position. Both sides could have been judged as “right.” The bitterest blamed Ralph Nader for siphoning votes away from Gore. Others held the state of Florida responsible for their confusing butterfly ballots. Many blamed Gore himself as he wasn’t even able to win his home state of Tennessee.

For whatever reason, Gore lost. There may have been a basis in all claims for why it happened even though he won the popular vote. It could have been a confluence of events that led to Bush’s presidency. At any rate, the rules were in place and up for interpretation to make it possible. No amount of anger and second-guessing will change that.

When members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) cast their votes for the Baseball Hall of Fame, they have met the criteria to be eligible to vote. That includes being active baseball writers for ten years. There are no other rules they have to adhere to to be deemed eligible. That means they don’t even have to know much of anything about baseball to cast a ballot.

As for the players they’re allowed to vote for, the rules are the following:

A. A baseball player must have been active as a player in the Major Leagues at some time during a period beginning twenty (20) years before and ending five (5) years prior to election.

B. Player must have played in each of ten (10) Major League championship seasons, some part of which must have been within the period described in 3 (A).

C. Player shall have ceased to be an active player in the Major Leagues at least five (5) calendar years preceding the election but may be otherwise connected with baseball.

D. In case of the death of an active player or a player who has been retired for less than five (5) full years, a candidate who is otherwise eligible shall be eligible in the next regular election held at least six (6) months after the date of death or after the end of the five (5) year period, whichever occurs first.

E. Any player on Baseball’s ineligible list shall not be an eligible candidate.

4. Method of Election:

A. BBWAA Screening Committee—A Screening Committee consisting of baseball writers will be appointed by the BBWAA. This Screening Committee shall consist of six members, with two members to be elected at each Annual Meeting for a three-year term. The duty of the Screening Committee shall be to prepare a ballot listing in alphabetical order eligible candidates who (1) received a vote on a minimum of five percent (5%) of the ballots cast in the preceding election or (2) are eligible for the first time and are nominated by any two of the six members of the BBWAA Screening Committee.

B. Electors may vote for as few as zero (0) and as many as ten (10) eligible candidates deemed worthy of election. Write-in votes are not permitted.

C. Any candidate receiving votes on seventy-five percent (75%) of the ballots cast shall be elected to membership in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

5. Voting: Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

6. Automatic Elections: No automatic elections based on performances such as a batting average of .400 or more for one (1) year, pitching a perfect game or similar outstanding achievement shall be permitted.

7. Time of Election: The duly authorized representatives of the BBWAA shall prepare, date and mail ballots to each elector no later than the 15th day of January in each year in which an election is held. The elector shall sign and return the completed ballot within twenty (20) days. The vote shall then be tabulated by the duly authorized representatives of the BBWAA.

8. Certification of Election Results: The results of the election shall be certified by a representative of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and an officer of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc. The results shall be transmitted to the Commissioner of Baseball. The BBWAA and National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc. shall jointly release the results for publication.

9. Amendments: The Board of Directors of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc. reserves the right to revoke, alter or amend these rules at any time.

You can read all the rules here.

It seems that every time there’s a vote of some kind in baseball, there’s an visceral reaction from those who don’t get their way; whose judgment of what makes an individual “worthy” isn’t adhered to. As with the MVP, Cy Young Award and Rookie of the Year voting, it turns into a “right” and “wrong” argument based on personal beliefs as to what the winners should have accomplished.

Here’s the problem though: the rules dictate that there is no right and wrong. So if there’s no specific right and wrong and the voters are sticking to the parameters they’re given, how can there be so vast a reaction when preferred candidates of a certain faction lose or are excluded?

The players who “should” be elected is irrelevant once the baseline rules are understood and accepted. The rules are the stop sign. If a voter chooses to place Jack Morris on his or her ballot for any reason—whether you agree with it or not—it is protected by the fact that Morris fulfills all the rules of eligibility.

Every person who responds with a rage bordering on murderous religious fanaticism at the voting decisions of the likes of Murray Chass, Ken Gurnick and anyone else is missing the foundational point that the rules listed above are the rules that the voters go by. So if Chass chooses not to cast his vote for a player who he suspects as being a performance enhancing drug user, he can do that. The context of baseball itself winking and nodding at the PED use and tacitly encouraging it from the commissioner’s office on down has nothing to do with that reality. Chass thinks they cheated and he’s using that as justification not to give his vote. If Gurnick votes for Morris and refuses to place Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and any of the other candidates who are considered no-brainers on his ballot, he can do that as well.

Are they doing it with an agenda? Yes. Are those saying Morris doesn’t belong doing the same thing? Yes. Is it allowed? Going by the rules of the voting, absolutely.

Until those rules are changed—and they won’t be—the Hall of Fame will not have a statistical standard. Nor will it fit into the conceit of those who think they have the key to unlock what makes a Hall of Famer. The Hall of Fame was once a fun debate as to who belonged and who didn’t. Now it’s just a contest as to who can scream the loudest, make the snarkiest insults and indulge in a dazzling array of childish name-calling. “Disagree with me and you must be an idiot. It’s innate.”

There are still those who believe the Hall of Fame is for the best of the best meaning Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Tom Seaver, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams shouldn’t be sullied by having to share their eternal baseball resting place with the likes of Bill Mazeroski. Others voted players in when they hit the so-called magic numbers of 3,000 hits, 300 wins and 500 home runs. It didn’t matter if they were stat compilers who hung around long enough to accumulate those stats. They hit the number and the doors magically opened. Now it’s gotten more complicated with the alleged PED users like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds being eligible for election and falling short for allegations that have not been proven. Is it wrong to exclude them? Is it right?

Before answering, refer to the rules again. It is up to the voter to decide what’s important. Nothing trumps that. Yankees fans lobbying for the election of Mike Mussina don’t want to hear that Phil Rizzuto was elected in spite of him being a good but not great player who benefited from the support of Williams and Mantle and an extended campaign from Rizzuto himself to be inducted. In his later years, Rizzuto was known as a goofy and affable broadcaster, but his failure to be elected as a player earlier was hallmarked by a self-righteous and apoplectic response from Rizzuto himself. There are many cases like that of Rizzuto with players who were borderline getting in because of likability and a convincing argument lodged by close personal friends.

Other players who were disliked or had off-field controversies found themselves left out. Did Steve Garvey’s hypocrisy and womanizing hurt his candidacy in the immediate aftermath of his career as the life he’d spent being the epitome of the goody-two-shoes, America, mom, apple pie and Dodger Blue was found to be a carefully calculated series of self-promotional lies? As a player, Garvey had credentials for serious consideration, especially back then before the Hall of Fame argument turned into a holy war between stat people and old-schoolers. He hit 272 career homers, had a .294 career batting average, won four Gold Gloves, an MVP, played in 1,207 consecutive games and, in perhaps what would’ve gotten him over the top, had a post-season batting average of .338 with 11 homers and the 1978 and 1984 NLCS MVPs. Yet he fell far short of enshrinement.

Should Rizzuto be in and Garvey not? Rizzuto, who has as one of the players in his Baseball-Reference similarity scores Jose Offerman, is a Hall of Famer. Garvey, who has Orlando Cepeda as one of his “similars” is out. Rizzuto’s supporters will reference that he was the linchpin of the Yankees championship teams from the 1940s and 50s. His detractors will look at his numbers, roll their eyes and wonder why he’s there. That’s the Hall of Fame.

Go through the entire roster of Hall of Famers and with every player not named Ruth, Seaver, Cy Young, Ty Cobb and a few others, they will have a question mark next to them as their frailties are pointed out as reasons not to have them with the best of the best. Then go back to the rules and understand the randomness. Voting is as expansive as staring out into space. You can see anything you want and justify it because there are no fundamental principles other than what the rules entail. Therefore, no one can be called wrong.




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The Hall of Fame of Apathy

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It’s a byproduct of the times we live in that not only does the vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame have to be counted, but we have to endure the detailing of the vote like the slaughtering and cleaning of a chicken before it winds up on our plate, grilled and placed over salad with a nice vinaigrette.

Or like a sausage. Sausage is a good analogy. The Hall of Fame voting exemplifies why, prior to choosing to eat it, we don’t want to see how sausage is made because if we did, we wouldn’t be able to take a bite. But combine the sausagemaker and the chef being careless about hygiene—disgusting even—and showing the world step-by-step why and how they’re coming to the conclusion that being filthy is the logical progression and for the diner, the response degenerates into an immense powerlessness and disinterest that, in the final analysis, will make us sick.

The noxious process of voting for the Hall of Fame might always have been as it is now, but we didn’t get to watch it and hear it ad nauseam until reaching this inevitable end.

I used to care about the Hall of Fame. As a kid, I wanted Phil Rizzuto to be inducted. It was mostly because others told me he should be inducted without providing viable reasons for this position, but what was the difference? Rizzuto and Pee Wee Reese were contemporaries and inter-city rivals of New York, it suited the narrative if they went into the Hall together. They didn’t and that served the clashing of civilizations even more. Ted Williams supported Rizzuto’s candidacy. Writers didn’t. Eventually, the Rizzuto supporters—many of them friends on the Veterans Committee—let him in. Whether or not he “belongs” became irrelevant. Today would either Rizzuto or Reese have a chance of getting into the Hall? No. But that argument was part of what once made the debate interesting. It’s no longer so.

The dirtiest aspect of a conspiracy are those who are left to take the punishment after the fact while others walk away and join the chorus to punish the “guilty” for acts they made possible and participated in by direct involvement or by looking the other way. There are the disposable minions whose job it was to run interference for their charges (Greg Anderson for Barry Bonds; Brian McNamee for Roger Clemens) and take the legal consequences while the people they worked for walk away free.

And there are the players. The players who allegedly used the drugs or are suspected of using the drugs are serving the sentences for the people who were running baseball, allowed and cultivated the performance enhancing drug culture in the interests of making themselves more money and reviving a game that was on life-support after the canceled World Series of 1994 and evident avarice that led to that cancelation.

The media voting for the potential inductees? They’re showing a combination of righteous indignation and contemptuous dismissal of dissent that can only stem from an out-of-control egomania. As self-appointing “protectors” of the game, there’s an unstated similarity to what Max Mercy said in The Natural that his job as a reporter is not to tell the story of the game, but by creating an image that he—in an unabashed treatise of omnipotence—deems as proper and salable. We’re now getting a Hunter S. Thompson, “gonzo” voting bloc. Every reporter feels as though he not only has has to cast his ballot, but get in on the action and make public his choices, explaining why he did or didn’t select a certain player.

Mike Piazza didn’t get votes not because he was caught in a PED drug test in any context other than rumor, but because of the era in which he played and that he had acne on his back. This is presented as a reason. Not “feeling” that Jack Morris is a Hall of Famer, or that Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio don’t pass the smell test as PED suspects (Bagwell) and stat-compilers (Biggio) is equated as an excuse of why they’re not garnering support.

There’s no more conversation. No altering of hearts and minds. Perhaps there never was. But today, there are battle-lines and no hope for settlement, so the fight rages on without end in an immovable object vs. irresistible force aura of uselessness.

Like a Tim Tebow pro-life ad, each side sees it their way and takes it as a worthwhile cause to promote or an infringement on the liberty of others to behave in accordance to the laws of the land. Rather than accept it for what it actually is, a commercial, and understand that because Tebow took part in the ad and it was shown during a football game that it’s not an insult to the beliefs nor a threat to the freedoms of those who disagree, there’s a lunatic stimulus reaction. All this while no one says a word if they don’t have the money or the inclination to run out and purchase a Lexus when those commercials run non-stop during the NFL playoffs. There’s truly no difference.

Until a Hall of Fame voter has the supposed epiphany that George A. King of the New York Post claims to have had when he decided that Pedro Martinez wasn’t a worthy candidate for MVP in 1999 and hears from “people he respects” justifying the exclusion with the argument that pitchers have their award and the MVP should go to an everyday player, this will not stop. And that’s the point. As much as we can argue that King, as a Yankees beat writer and resident apologist, was simply punishing a reviled member of the arch-rival Red Sox, nothing can stop it from happening. The votes are what they are; the voters are who they are.

There’s not going to be a Skull and Bones society of enlightened and objective stat people with impressive degrees from Ivy League Universities, meeting in far off lands to determine the fate of the baseball universe, deciding that the logic of keeping Bonds, Clemens, Sammy Sosa and anyone else from the Hall of Fame is a travesty considering who’s in the Hall of Fame and what they did to get there. Nor will there be a return to the old-school and how things were before Twitter, Facebook, blogging, glory-hunting, attention-seeking, and making a name for oneself by being outrageous as per the mandate like Rob Parker did with Robert Griffin III and lost his job at ESPN because of it.

There’s no going back.

Gaylord Perry cheated and everyone knew he was cheating. He admitted it. He wallowed in it. As a journeyman whose stuff wasn’t quite good enough, he extended his career by 20 years because of it. He’s in the Hall of Fame and there’s a smirk, wink and nod as to how he accomplished the feat of gaining enshrinement. There are drunks, recreational drug users and wife-beaters in the Hall of Fame. There are racists, gamblers and individuals who would accurately be described as sociopaths in the Hall of Fame.

None of that waned my interest in the proceedings as much as having to view the sausage being made; to endure the media throwing themselves into the fray as if they were just as important to the process as the process itself.

I paid attention to the election results in a vacuum of neutrality. That is not attached to an affiliation or deep-seated belief as to whether the players should or shouldn’t be elected, but because of pure apathy that has accumulated over a number of years as a side effect of the arrogance inherent with the doling, reporting and counting of the Hall of Fame vote. It grows exponentially with each writer who not only feels he has to vote, but feels the need to explain the vote as he makes it in the me-me-me self-involvement that’s become prevalent. It spreads with every player whose public agenda and lies insult my intelligence; with every owner or baseball official who crusades against that which they allowed and encouraged to happen.

No one was voted into the Hall of Fame for 2013. And I just don’t care.

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