It’s been a very long time since I blogged, but I couldn’t avoid it today. I have a mostly-written Hall of Fame post in the vein of those I’ve posted for the last several years saved to draft, but I never got the time to finish it and it will now live in the purgatory of ‘saved drafts’ forever. I had no plans to write at all, but I needed a forum in which to complain about an article I just read and this one was available and as good as any.
The muse for my short post tonight is ESPN New York writer Rob Parker, who said this in his Hall of Fame column today:
I didn’t vote for Blyleven. I don’t believe you can be a Hall of Famer after nearly 15 years on the ballot. Jim Rice didn’t deserve it last year, either. These are now sympathy votes. Writers are now trying to fill spots and punish players from the steroid era. It’s all wrong. If you’re not a Hall of Famer the first year, you’re not one 15 years later. The numbers and standards haven’t changed. This trend is disappointing to me. It simply makes no sense. Either you’re a Hall of Famer or you’re not.
My disagreement with Parker’s piece isn’t about his view that Blyleven isn’t a Hall of Famer – I’ve said many time before that I think Bert clearly DOES belong, but people are free to disagree on that point and Parker lost the argument anyway. Whatever the reasons, nearly 80% of Parker’s peers disagreed with him and (properly) voted Blyleven into the Hall. My problem with Parker’s piece is his view that “Either you’re a Hall of Famer or you’re not”.
Parker’s not alone; I’ve heard plenty of people say when discussing the Hall voting process that 15 years is too long to stay on the ballot and that the eligibility period should either be shortened or changed to just one year. Usually they give some version of the “Either you’re a Hall of Famer or you’re not” argument. But of course players don’t come with labels that clearly identify them as such. In fact, if there are 500 voters for the Hall then there are almost certainly 500 different definitions of what being a Hall of Famer means.
The great part about the process that we currently have is that it provides plenty of time for a community-wide discussion to take place. Bert Blyleven received just 17.55% of the vote in 1998 when he was first eligible and just 14.1% in 1999. The writers of the time rather clearly felt that Bert didn’t belong. A remarkable thing then happened – the larger baseball community, including writers who weren’t eligible to vote, stat-heads, his peers as players, and just plain fans of the game (and, in more recent years, bloggers) made a strong push for his candidacy. In other words, there was a civil, community-wide discussion of his candidacy. Isn’t that what this whole process is all about? Is there anything better for a baseball fan that digging into the intricacies of a really good and maybe great career and parsing it to determine if it’s Hall-worthy?
Parker’s desire to cut this process off is short-sighted and misplaced. The discussion generated by the current system is worthwhile, meaningful, and enjoyable (unless, like Bert or Jim Rice, you have to wait forever to get the call). Cutting it off after 5 or (heaven forbid) just 1 year would do a disservice to players who have a legitimate case that might not immediately leap out to some of the . . . shall we kindly say “slow-witted” voters. It gives those other than mere writers a chance to get involved in the discussion. Simply put, it should not change.
Finally, I think it’s remarkable that Parker could make the claim that Blyleven is getting votes to “punish” the people from the steroid era and to “fill slots”. Could this be happening for some voters? Possibly. But it’s remarkably dismissive of the deep thought and excellent justifications put forward by a great many voters who bothered to look closely at Blyleven’s career and vote for him – not to mention remarkably dismissive of Blyleven himself.
A few other Hall-related ramblings:
* I don’t think Barry Larkin will gain the 12.9% of the vote he needs to be elected next year, but I think he’ll come close – quite possibly 70% plus. With a huge number of worthy (but PED-plagued) candidates coming to the ballot in January 2013, next year might be Larkin’s best year for awhile, but if he gets close enough he might squeak by in 2013 anyway.
* If Rafael Palmeiro gets only 11% of the vote, where on earth will Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens wind up?
* Could players like Tim Raines and Fred McGriff end up benefitting as more and more PED-implicated candidates join the ballot? If Parker’s theory is right than you would expect them to start gaining votes. So far there’s no evidence its happening.