Baseball’s Hall of Fame Voting System Needs a Reboot
Hall of Fame voting is moronic.
It’s a flawed system that gives a select group of writers the majority of control over a player’s legacy. Writers who could have at one time had a contentious relationship with a great player, or just didn’t like the “way” those players played the game, or writers who just don’t believe in the position that player played have almost complete control on how the game of baseball is remembered. It’s not right.
As a San Diegan I’m obviously partial to the last argument listed above based on the recent weeks of the Trevor Hoffman debate mysteriously helmed by Keith Law. He’s come out of the gate in 2017 as the anti-Jonah Keri. Instead of being hell-bent on an overlooked player who deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, Law wants to keep one out: Hoffman.
Keith Law essentially feels that the role of Closer should not be included in the Hall of Fame, and even got into an argument with me on Twitter about the merits of the position. Law, an analyst and senior baseball writer for ESPN, took the time out of his day to make fun of Padres fans and belittle those who want great players to be included in a building of great players. You might think this is something that should be “below” Law or even ridiculous for him to get involved in. Perhaps even mean. But, it’s not and I’ll explain.
Law is a genius. I don’t mean that in a sarcastic way. The guy is a very smart individual who has certainly found his niche in the world of baseball journalism and script. His approach matches his intellect, which is analytic, economic, mathematical and smug. I imagine hanging out with Law would be about as fun as hanging out with a lamppost. However, he is very smart. He even wrote a book. But, see Law is a fan. That’s it. Just like you and me, Law is a fan of the game and it’s players. Why do you think he started writing about baseball to begin with, because there were job openings in the field? Trust me, there are not.
Like normal every day diehard baseball fans guys like Law, Bob Nightengale, or Buster Olney have spent a lot of time being around baseball, arguing and debating with friends about baseball, and cultivating opinions based on their personal beliefs and romantic experiences with the game and it’s players. The biggest difference between those guys and us is that at some point they were able to articulate their opinions and feelings in a way that garnered them employment in different arenas in and around the professional game.
They are professional baseball writers and analysts who get paid to have opinions. And, that is rad. The little money I have made over time writing about sports is an added bonus to my life I could have never expected. However, I’m just a blogger. I’m not a professional, and even though that distinction is blurring more and more every day, people will still take a guy like Keith Law’s word over mine. I don’t blame them. He wrote a book. I wrote a song called “Party In My Tummy”. We’ve both won awards. Whatever.
Law, Olney, and even heroes of the genre like Peter Gammons have all moved to the Internet to find a voice. Starting podcasts, websites, and pay walls all to try and continue their dominance as thee voices and judges in the world of what is and isn’t good baseball. However, at this point we both have .com (or .org) at the end of our paychecks. Those guys are glorified bloggers. They’re super fans with a talent for analysis. That’s it, and that alone does not warrant one the right to decide how someone who did what they can’t do should be remembered. Would writers be okay with Trevor Hoffman being the main decision maker on who gets to be in the baseball writer’s hall of fame? I doubt it.
I’d venture to say over 90% of baseball writers, and most likely 98% of baseball fans have never played the game professionally. They have absolutely no idea what it actually takes to get on the field and perform at a high level. They can sit around, crunch numbers, debate athletic merits, and score tests, but they can’t physically play. This fact alone makes it strange to me that they’ve been able to position themselves as the judge and jury delivering verdicts on the legacy of an actual professional baseball player.
The only people who should be able to vote on Hall of Fame inductees are the players and managers who actually spent time in the game. The ones who succeeded or failed, and know exactly what it takes to hit .210 or .310, to throw 200 innings or 40. They know what the individual players and managers meant to the sport, city, and team on a day in and day out basis. They should be the sole panel allowed to decide who will represent them for eternity.
And, if we are gonna continue with the charade of letting BlogSpot overlords and kings of a dying industry be the end all be all of baseball’s fame then let’s examine two quick things that illustrate just how unqualified they are:
In my argument with Keith Law it was revealed that he places little value on a player’s individual talent. This makes sense given his precise numbers driven way of thinking. He leaves little or nothing to the imagination, and in fact I’m not sure if he even has one. The fundamental difference between Law and I is that he believes managers are responsible for making Closers and situational players good, and I believe the players are.
He believes, I’m assuming because he’s crunched numbers down to a sliver of a fraction, that managerial decisions outweigh whether a player is good or not. By his standards ANY base stealer could’ve changed the tide of the 2004 World Series, not JUST Dave Roberts. I maintain only Roberts and maybe like two other guys could have pulled off that stolen base. Roberts’ individual knowledge of the game, his experience, his personal struggle and motivation led to that success, not a managerial decision based on a mathematical likelihood. The same goes for the role of a Closer. Law argues that sans Mariano no Closer should be inducted, and I can see the point of Mariano being the greatest of all time. He definitely made the biggest impact on the largest stage, but how would he be remembered if he was a Padre? Now imagine how good Hoffman had to be to play in San Diego and STILL be considered the second greatest Closer of all time. Again, Law says his greatness was determined by Bochy and Black, but I have a hard time believing Donne Wall would have shared the same fate as Hoffy given the same situations.
Law and I can argue back and forth and neither one of us are actually right or wrong because we are both fans who lack the fundamental understanding of what it takes to be a player and to be a player facing Hoffman, or trying to throw out Roberts, or pitch to Edgar Martinez.
Secondly, look at how the BBWAA treats players like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. Now, it’s widely believed that both Clemens and Bonds started taking steroids later in their careers: When Clemens went to Toronto in 1997 and Bonds in 1999 six years after joining the Giants. It is also widely known that these guys were actually taking steroids. Of course when the truth came out executives and writers and managers wanted to play the dumb card, but they all knew. They ignored it and the BBWAA voted Barry Bonds the MVP from 2001-2004. They gave Clemens the Cy Young in four of his juiced years. They willfully and gleefully celebrated two players in advanced years doing things no human had done before. For all their brilliant opinions and number crunching they couldn’t see the forest for the trees or just chose to ignore the lumberjacks.
Now, in their sixth year of eligibility, Bonds and Clemens sit on the ballot ignored and passed over, paying for a crime the very writers who ignore them help to perpetuate.
It’s childish, stupid, hypocritical and moronic.
Players knew what was going on. They knew how it affected the game, the players, and teams. They and they alone should yield the power to choose how it is remembered. Maybe every veteran agrees that Dave Roberts belongs in the Hall because of that one stolen base. It certainly meant a whole hell of a lot to modern day baseball. Maybe the players want to vote in Edgar, because for all your advanced stats you still can’t quantify what his plate presence meant to the runner on second base, or the shift it caused the outfield to take, or the fear it struck in the pitcher who unintentionally walked him loading the bases and now creating an RBI opportunity for A-Rod, or Griffey, or whoever. You can present cases that help you understand these things, but you never will. Neither will I.
We like to guess, and fight, and debate, but what the hell do we know? Who watched Barry Larkin play in more games – Peter Gammons or my Dad who watched every Cincinnati Reds game from 1985-1997? Who would have a better opinion on what Barry Larkin meant to the game? I would bet my Dad, but it doesn’t matter because my Dad’s opinion would be biased based on his loyalty and love for the Reds. Gammons would be biased based on his assessment of the Reds organization from an outside perspective that probably doesn’t place a premium on a semi-relevant Midwest team that hasn’t won anything in quite a while.
That’s why only the guys who played with or coached Larkin knew how good or bad he was based on talent.
We’ve let these writers yield so much power that they think they’re above the game. They think they’ve solved it. They haven’t. No one really has. Ted Williams was close, but that was about it.
I realize that Eras Committees have always been established and can help right the wrongs of the BBWAA, but there shouldn’t be wrongs. There shouldn’t be mistakes. It shouldn’t have taken the Modern Era Committee to get Jack Morris and Alan Trammell in the Hall of Fame. They were both great players who deserved it long ago. Trammell’s numbers were never considered Hall of Fame worthy, but the man played incredible defense, with an above average bat for twenty years on one team. And Jack Morris who had what they call “fringe” Hall of Fame numbers, should have been inducted years ago but during his career he hurt writers feelings by being a bit gruff once or twice.
I realize the argument would be that letting the players decide could result in too many fringe players or role players who didn’t have the same career as a Gwynn or an Aaron in the Hall – but what does it matter? It’s not for us. It’s for the players. If they want to elect Mike Mussina or Larry Walker or Billy Wagner or Donne Wall then they should and no one should care.
Only the players and managers know who was truly worthy, and we should leave up to them.
[Editor’s Note: Keith Law has blocked us on Twitter for questioning his judgement.]
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