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 Big One: Trout vs Cabrera for AL MVP

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Exemplifying the polarization of old schoolers vs stat guys, Mike Trout vs Miguel Cabrera for the Most Valuable Player has become a territorial tug-of-war for the hearts and minds of the rank-and-file baseball fan. What’s missed amid the visceral anger, grumpy tantrums, and condescending pomposity is that the MVP is not the WAR (Wins Above Replacement) Award; nor is it the Triple Crown Award. There are criteria for the voter to follow when selecting his MVP and they follow (taken directly from the Baseball Writers Association website):

Dear Voter:

There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.

The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:

1.  Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.

2.  Number of games played.

3.  General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.

4.  Former winners are eligible.

5.  Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.

You are also urged to give serious consideration to all your selections, from 1 to 10. A 10th-place vote can influence the outcome of an election. You must fill in all 10 places on your ballot. Only regular-season performances are to be taken into consideration.

Keep in mind that all players are eligible for MVP, including pitchers and designated hitters.

This leaves such room for interpretation that it’s inevitable that stat guys whose lives are based in WAR (baseball’s version of the military industrial complex) are going to ignore any dissenters as to other factors and look at WAR and WAR alone to make their decision. It’s also inevitable that the voters will do what they want regardless of said criteria and, as George A. King III did in 1999, will omit a deserved candidate (in this case Pedro Martinez) due to ludicrous partisanship disguised as an epiphany.

Murray Chass rants about what Chass rants about; Mike Francesa demands to “see” the number of catches Trout made to increase his defensive value past Cabrera’s offensive numbers; Jeff Passan shakes his head disapprovingly with a disconsolate, “I think that’s sad” that he thinks Cabrera’s going to win; Keith Law tweets in Latin.

Chaos ensues.

None of this helps. If anything, it forces the open-minded to pick a side among the entrenched with few understanding exactly what they’re advocating or why. The proper method to convince the undecided (or even the decided) is to provide a cogent, understandable, and palatable point-of-view without rancor, arrogance, or perception of force. The argument has to be shifted from where it is to where it should be.

So let’s examine the MVP race in the American League and decide who should win. I’ll play Abraham Lincoln to provide the foundation to end this destructive and pointless civil war.

WAR vs the Triple Crown

I listed the players in MLB history who have won the Triple Crown and whether or not they won the MVP here, along with the circumstances of their winning or losing the award.

The Triple Crown is not the deciding factor for the MVP. It is part of the decisionmaking process and has to be placed into proper context. The same can be said for WAR. WAR is a formula designed to evaluate how much better an individual player is than the baseline Triple A player that you can find anywhere for nothing—basically, a ham-and-egger—and it adds in defense, baserunning, and offense. Based on WAR, Trout (10.7) is the MVP over Cabrera (6.9). But it’s not that simple.

That the feat of winning the Triple Crown hasn’t been accomplished in 45 years does matter. Cabrera’s offensive slash line was .330/.393/.606 with an OPS of .999 (leading the majors), and an OPS+ of 165. Trout’s slash line was .326/.399/.564 with an OPS of .963 and an AL leading OPS+ of 171. Cabrera hit 44 homers; Trout 30. Cabrera isn’t a baserunner; Trout is a great baserunner who stole 49 bases in 54 attempts. Trout’s presence is seen as having saved the Angels’ disappointing season from an utter disaster as he arrived with the club at 6-14 and immediately provided a cleansing spark to a toxic atmosphere. Cabrera was the linchpin of the Tigers offense.

Calculating the OPS is also misleading because Cabrera’s walk total declined from 108 in 2011 to 66 in 2012 because he had Prince Fielder hitting behind him. Cabrera doesn’t strike out (98); Trout does (139). Cabrera is a double play machine (28 to lead the majors); Trout grounded into 7.

Where does the dissection stop and the diagnosis begin?

Because Cabrera had Fielder hitting behind him, his old-school offensive stats were bolstered as teams had to pitch to him, and hindered as his new-school stat of OPS was lowered because he walked 42 fewer times. Had he walked 20 more times in 2012, how much would that have increased his OPS and decreased his RBI/HR totals? We don’t know because, like WAR, it’s speculative.

Trout’s WAR was driven up by his defense and speed; Cabrera’s was dropped because he didn’t add anything on the bases and was a below average defender. Does that tally up to Cabrera being deprived of the award?

Defense, speed, credit, and punishment

Did Muhammad Ali become the legend he is because he was great at beating on a punching bag? No. It was because of his work in the ring. Taking points away from Cabrera because of his poor defense at third base is the same thing. He’s not a good third baseman and Trout is a great defensive center fielder. Is it fair to punish Cabrera because of what he can’t do? It’s like refusing a great novelist the Pulitzer because he’s not a poet; depriving an actor the Oscar because he can’t sing. Why should he have to justify what he can’t do and have it reduce the impressiveness of what he did do?

Cabrera was the epitome of the team player by accepting the shift to third base to accommodate Fielder and losing weight to improve his range. Not every star-level player of Cabrera’s caliber would do that. When he got hit in the face by a ground ball in spring training, the easiest thing for Cabrera to do would have been to toss his infielder’s glove on manager Jim Leyland’s desk and say he’s not going back there—and he could’ve done that and gotten away with it putting the team in an awful position right before the season started. But he didn’t. He moved to third to help the team and, defensive metrics aside, was actually far better than anyone could have expected given that he hadn’t played the position in five years.

Does he get credit for that?

Trout’s defense is absolutely a factor in the MVP voting, but calculating the runs he supposedly saved statistically is ignoring the number of runs the Tigers added by their addition of Fielder and Cabrera’s selflessness in moving to a position he wasn’t good at playing to accommodate that signing. Does WAR account for the team-oriented move? No. Because it can’t since it’s not a number in a calculator.

Much like depriving a pitcher of the MVP because he’s a pitcher, you cannot logically take away the MVP from Cabrera because Trout had a higher WAR due to his basestealing and defense when, at the plate, Cabrera was the bigger threat.

Team results

Where would the Tigers have been without Cabrera?

Where would the Angels have been without Trout?

The Tigers would have been in the situation where they had to find a third baseman and a middle of the lineup masher to replace what they would not have had without Cabrera. Could they have done that? And where would they have finished in the AL Central without Cabrera?

They could, I suppose, have traded for the available at the time Chase Headley or could have made the Mets an offer they couldn’t refuse for David Wright, but that would’ve gutted the system of the players they eventually used to land Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante, effectively rendering their acquisitions as a net loss. The Tigers would not have made the playoffs without Cabrera, Sanchez, and Infante.

And the Angels?

They were 6-14 when Trout was recalled in what was labeled as a desperation move for a fractured and shocked team and the Angels went 81-58 with him in the lineup. Would they have righted the ship without him in time to end up at 89-73 and out of the playoffs? Given the star power of the club, their pitching, and willingness to make mid-season deals for the likes of Zack Greinke, it’s not much to expect that team—without Trout—to have righted their ship to the mediocre degree that they did. Trout is given the credit for the club getting straight, but they probably would’ve gotten straight anyway and finished in third place with Trout or anyone in center field.

The “value to the team” argument goes to Cabrera because his team made the playoffs and Trout’s didn’t and because the Tigers had no options at third base and the Angels did in center field.

The winner

This is a landmark case in the extreme wings of baseball. Extremities win on occasion, but for the most part, it’s nuance that rules not by force and not by transformative thinking, but by reason and reality. And by reason and reality, the AL MVP is the Triple Crown winner, Miguel Cabrera.

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