Maybe Indy wouldn’t be so upset about the Baseball Hall of Fame insanity that we’re subjected to in the new millennium, but I’m growing very weary. Today, around ten players who are obvious, no doubt, sure-fire first-ballot hall of famers were given the shaft by the collected baseball writers of America, most of whom were left out in the cold because they are proven/admitted/suspected steroid users and a few because the voters have no understanding of how to measure greatness.
To the latter point first, let’s take Tim Raines. Raines was stupendous at the single most important aspect of offense – reaching base safely. He did it superbly throughout his career, as evidenced by his .385 lifetime OBP. He also stole just over 800 bases at an 85% clip, both truly exceptional marks. Only four players, including Ty Cobb and Lou Brock, have ever stolen more and none of the three in the modern era did so with as high a rate of success. He hit only 170 home runs, but his .810 OPS tells us about his above-average power to go with the exceptional on-base-percentage.
He was a dominant player in his era, and one of the best leadoff hitters of all time. And he didn’t even come close to making the cut. The only reason I can see to punish him is for not being Rickey Henderson, clearly the best leadoff hitter of his era, and one of the greatest players ever. But not everyone can be Ted Williams, and what is the hall of fame for if not to honor all the great players in the game?
Raines isn’t alone on being slighted for no cause. Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling didn’t even clear 40% of the vote, and they’re both obvious hall of famers. Craig Biggio is another perfect example, a player who overwhelmingly deserves to be in the hall of fame, without a whiff of steroid scandal, but who missed for the second straight year. Biggio has over 3,000 hits, amassed over 400 stolen bases, hit over 668 doubles (5th on the all time list, just ahead of George Brett and right behind Ty Cobb) and clubbed just shy of 300 home runs. This guy isn’t good enough to be in the hall of fame?
Perfectly indicative of the absurdity of the voting process is Greg Maddux, who was elected but was not a unanimous inductee. Maddux, for those who have no interest in baseball statistics, is one of the greatest pitchers in the almost 140 year history of major league baseball. Not just a great player, mind you, but categorically and undeniably one of the absolute greatest of all time.
Depending on how you value certain statistics, compare the different eras, rank peak vs. career performance, Maddux fits somewhere between the single greatest pitcher of all time and the sixth greatest of all time, give or take a spot. I’m using the phrase ‘all time’ a lot to try to reinforce a simple point, that a player who had such a tremendous career, one that dwarfs the tens of thousands of other pitchers to pass through major league baseball’s history, was left off some ballots for the hall of fame. Who are these people and how are they allowed to cast a ballot?
Well, one such voter is Ken Gurnick, who declined to vote for Maddux because he pitched during the steroid era. Earlier this week, Gurnick said that he intentionally excluded “everybody from the steroid era.” He did, however, vote for Jack Morris. Why is this last point significant? Because Morris pitched in the steroid era!
“I just don’t know who did and who didn’t,” Gurnick said. “Some people quibble over when the era starts, but the bulk of [Morris’] career was in my opinion well before all of the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs.”
It’s an arbitrary distinction based on nothing but conjecture and sanctimonious soap-boxing. The steroid era as we know it likely began in the late 80’s, probably 1987 to be exact. Jack Morris pitched through the 1994 season, posting 110 wins during this eight-year period of time. How is he not part of the era? I would list the total number of players who indisputably used steroids who played during this period of time but I don’t have enough storage space on the blog. For Gurnick, Morris is worthy, but Maddux, who began his career in 1986, isn’t? How exactly is this idiot allowed to get a vote?
The hall of fame is a museum, not a platform to piously lecture the world on the evils of moral transgressions, especially when it’s done in arbitrary fashion similar to a dart-throwing contest just before last call.
The voting process itself is hugely problematic, and has become increasingly frustrating. Only 10 names are allowed per voter, 75% is necessary for induction, 5% is needed to stay on the ballot for the next year, and players have a maximum of 15 years to achieve induction. This is dangerous because many deserving players are being left off ballots entirely because voters are dramatically split on whether to allow known and/or suspected steroid users entrance to the hall.
In years past, 10 spots was more than sufficient, but there’s a backlog in place now of players who are clearly worthy of induction but have the taint of steroids. While many will never be in favor of admitting these guys, lots of people will continue to vote for these players. We’re going to have fifty some odd voters putting Roger Clemens on the ballot for the next dozen years, but without any chance of him getting in, which consequently means some other candidate is left off the ballot entirely. This directly leads to more marginal cases getting the shaft through no fault of their own, minimizing their careers and accomplishments.
All of this is easily fixed, but because it’s so simple, there’s no chance it will happen any time soon. At a minimum, there should be no minimum of players allowed on a ballot, this is blatantly obvious. Second, the steroid era debate needs to come to a consensus, and it’s really not all that difficult to resolve. Simply affix a note to players who played in this era, the same as those who competed in the deadball era. This helps explain the discrepancy in numbers and appropriately explains the time without passing finger-wagging judgment. Those who loathe steroid users must stop proselytizing to the masses, which won’t be easy for them, but let everyone with the numbers commensurate with enshrinement enter the museum, and call it a day.
It’s the only way. Then, the Baseball Hall of Fame can do what all good museums do – let visitors make up their own mind on the comparable greatness contained within.