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HoF Post mortem/Is the Hall in trouble?


Biggio has to wait for enshrinement to the HoF. Photo Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle

Obligatory HoF Reaction post.

I wasn’t going to write one.  But email/text conversations later I thought it may just be easier to write a thousand words on the topic.

As the front page of the BBWAA site says, “No players elected for the first time since 1996.” Also for only the 8th time in the history of balloting, no player was elected this cycle by the electorate.

We all knew this day was coming.  You can google articles from nearly 5 years ago when the whole slew of these first time players were first known to all be eligible on this ballot and know this day was coming.  And now here we are.

My interpretation of the results for the major players kind of goes like the following:

  • Craig Biggio was “penalized” by some voters for not being a “First Ballot Hall of Famer” calibre player.  Therefore lots of voters who have annointed themselves the keepers of this title skipped voting for him this year.  Much like what happened to Roberto Alomar (who went from 73% to 90% from 1st ballot to 2nd) we probably see Biggio get > 90% next year.  He’s clearly a hall of famer, but clearly not a first balloter in some eyes.
  • Jack Morris is screwed.  He only rose from 66% to 67%, indicating to me that enough people have bought into the anti-Morris narrative that has been so fully expoused by sabre-tinged writers to outlast the old-school guard of baseball writers who covered Morris and remember him as I do.
  • Piazza and Bagwell both are side effects of the PED argument, but clearly get more credit for possibly being clean than the next two names.  But enough people are believing that “back acne” proves PED usage for Piazza, and “muscles” proves PED usage for Bagwell, so both will likely struggle to get to 75% for a few years.
  • Clemens and Bonds: both getting almost identical vote totals in the 36-37% range despite both being amongst the best who ever played indicates a clear statement being made by the older voters, who clearly are penalizing these guys for their alleged/accused/leaked grand testimony involving PEDs.  I’ll bet though that both players will get significantly more votes in subsequent years and probably eventually make it.
  • Sosa and McGwire: probably both never get in, since both are in the 12-16% range.  Writers clearly believe both guys were 100% the product of andro and steroids, and thus artificially gained their accomplishments.
  • Bernie Williams and Kenny Lofton both amazingly will fall off the ballot.  I don’t think either are HoFamers but I also thought they deserved to hang around on the ballot for a while (kind of like a Dale Murphy or a Don Mattingly) to discuss.
  • Tim Raines and Lee Smith are probably never getting in; their vote totals don’t seem to be changing much, and a slew of more deserving names are coming in the next 5 years.
  • Edgar Martinez, TrammellMcGriff, Walker, Mattingly: they’re all marginal candidates for different reasons, and they all seem likely to die on the ballot in the 30-40% range.  I like Martinez for the Hall; in a sentence if you elect the best relief pitchers, how can you not elect the best designated hitters?
  • Palmeiro sealed his fate the moment he tested positive.  It doesn’t matter if he broached magical barriers of 500 (homers) and 3000 (career hits).  He’ll never get in.
  • Lastly, the interesting case of Curt Schilling.  38.8% on the first ballot.  What does this mean?  He’s definitely never been accused of PEDs, had a great peak, was absolutely one of the best pitchers in the game for at least a short amount of time, has 3000 Ks but not 300 wins (or close to it), had an iconic moment in the bloody sock game, and was on two different WS winning teams.  A 127 career ERA+ puts him career 48th, even or ahead of plenty of hall of famers.  Why so few votes?  What statement is being made here?  I’m not sure entirely.  Maybe this is a combination of the “not a first ballot hall of famer” denials AND some sense of outrage against the outspoken Schilling from older media members who covered him and still vote primarily with their egos.

Back to the question of the article; is the HoF in trouble?  Well, yes and no.

No because I think Biggio will be elected next year, along with two more big names who have never had a schred of PED accusations (Maddux and Glavine).  And you can see guys in each of the subsequent years easily being elected (Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez in 2015, Ken Griffey Jr in 2016, Pudge and Manny in 2017 unless there’s still PED outrage at that point.  And that ensures there’s ceremonies with who should be absolute no-brainer electees each year for the next few years.

But, Yes because Cooperstown and the Hall itself are not always profit making endeavors, and having an election year without any recently retired players is going to mean a massive drop in income for the town and the hall.  Reportedly the museum has lost money in 8 of the last 10 years.  That coupled with the continued recession, and we could see some serious financial hardship in upstate New York in 2013.  Will it be enough that the BBWAA agrees to one of the litany of election system changes being proposed on the internet?  Maybe, maybe not.  But if this continues into 2013, yeah we may see something change.  Perhaps a panel of judges versus the BBWAA electorate (similar to what the NFL does) makes sense in the long run.  The point is that the HoF NEEDS to have a compelling election class in order to stay profitable, and may change its entry mechanisms to guarantee attendance (and thus revenues) each year.

One thing I do agree with; I think writers who purposely send in a blank ballot should be removed from the voting system.  You just can not look at this list of players and tell me there’s not at least ONE deserving candidate.  A blank ballot does nothing but hurt the chances of legitimate players to be honored and should be interpreted as a writer who does not take the process seriously.

Murkier are my thoughts on entrance requirements to the BBWAA in general.  Should we allow in all these internet baseball writers?  I think that a lot of the moral outrage and indignance expressed by frequent baseball bloggers over the BBWAA and the “old school” writers is simply mis-placed jealousy that they (the internet blogger) are not eligible to vote.    There is a section of the BBWAA constitution that talks about internet writer acceptance and the requirements don’t seem that unfair.  The intent of the organization is to find people who “cover the game” but also people who actually “attend the games,” interview players and coaches, and are generally members of the traditional media.  People who have access and who understand more than the average baseball blogger, who interprets box scores and statistics websites to pass judgement.  I’m ok with the limitations set out as thus.

Two other quick thoughts:

  • Yeah, we should probably increase the 10-player limit.
  • Yeah, we should probably force writers to reveal their ballots (much as the major awards now do).

Until next year.  One thing is certain; much like relief over the end of the election news, I’m relieved that no more HoF articles will be appearing.

13 Responses to 'HoF Post mortem/Is the Hall in trouble?'

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  1. Raines was robbed. And Biggio may be too. Their problems stem from playing in Montreal and Houston.

    Sec 314

    10 Jan 13 at 2:10 pm

  2. Todd – nice post. I found myself having a much more vigorous reaction to these results than I thought I would. I mentioned in an earlier post that I have never really cared much about the HoF, but this whole thing yesterday was just bulls!@#t. Barry Bonds was the best baseball player that 95% of current, living baseball fans have ever seen (live), perhaps the best of all time, and to not acknowledge him for what he so clearly was, I think that it essentially says that those games don’t count. Since it will never be known who did or didn’t use and what effect it had on baseball overall, I think that they are basically saying ‘thanks for watching and paying for baseball for 15 years but we aren’t going to count anything that happened during those games’. I find that insulting.

    I also think that a writer who takes a ‘no’ position on a Piazza or Bagwell solely because of PEDs suspicion should be ashamed of himself. It is about as un-American as most things that I can think of, and thankfully would not be allowed in any official manner because of due process. If they could show me that they did some independent investigation into the matter, that might be different, but I strongly suspect that the vast majority just read a few articles and tweets, and maybe a summary of Canseco’s book. I simply wouldn’t give them the benefit of the doubt that they did more.

    MLB needs to fix this mess, and soon, because I do think it renders the HoF irrelevant. I think that the only thing that they can do is to issue a statement that says all stats and records should count as is, and should be used as is for all purposes. I love baseball, and my 6 year old is starting to get into it. I’d love to take him to Cooperstown at some point, but just think about the conversation. ‘What is this Dad?’. ‘Its a museum of the best guys ever to play the game’. ‘Where is the guy with the most HRs?’ ‘Uh, he isn’t here’. ‘How about the guy with the most single season HRs?’ ‘Well, the top three guys who had the most HRs in a season aren’t here’…. At some point, it doesn’t matter if the self-righteous dopes who submit blank ballots are right or I am, that kind of museum isn’t worth going to.


    10 Jan 13 at 2:24 pm

  3. Good thoughts, Todd. I too feel for the town of Cooperstown. Their typical induction influx of people and (more importantly) money is going to hurt. I’d like to visit sometime, but if it’s losing money each year, it might not be around for too much longer. That’d be a shame for baseball lovers everywhere.

    I think I’ve come around in my thinking a little more with these discussions with you. Guys like Bonds & Clemens were locks before PEDs & BALCO were household names. I hated Clemens as a kid, but mostly because he won so many Cy Youngs & my idol Nolan didn’t win any. When Bonds was a Pirate, he was still a fantastic hitter & player. Had he stayed there, he might not have gotten the big press, but he might’ve avoided BALCO suspicion too. I agree Sosa & McGwire have little shot of getting in now.

    Let’s hope MLB finally does something about the legacy these guys have left: strike their records, leave an asterisk, or plead mea culpa. Let’s be done with it so we can take our sons & ladies on a road trip to Cooperstown in five or six years.


    10 Jan 13 at 3:55 pm

  4. Here’s what I think Tim Raines’ problem is: he was really good in the early part of his career (ages 21-26). Then, starting at age 27 he played another 16 seasons where he was injured every year, rarely playing more than 100 games a year, and while his numbers were ok while he wasn’t hurt he was never again relevant as a star of the league (never again made an all star team, nor did he get a single MVP vote after age 27). So by the time he retires at age 42 and 5 seasons pass …. you just don’t have enough writers who remember how good he was in 1981. He never had that late-career swoon or special mid 30s season to “refresh” people’s memories.

    I think in a certain extent Vladimir Guerrero may have a similar issue eventually. He’s out of baseball by age 36, just a couple years removed from a 3rd place MVP season … but yet i’m left with this enduring image of Guerrero hobbling around the bases and unable to play the field (he was 100% a DH in 2011). I still can’t believe nobody picked him up for 2012. Now imagine in 2017 … what’s the Guerrero narrative going to be? He’s got a career 140 OPS+ and a career 55 war. Is he going to be similarly forgotten?

    Biggio: I dont’ think playing in Houston hurt these guys (him or Bagwell). The Astros were in the playoffs 6 times in 8 years between 1997 and 2005. That was a pre-eminent franchise in the game for a long time.

    Todd Boss

    10 Jan 13 at 4:03 pm

  5. I’ve often said (perhaps not in this space but elsewhere) that my stance kind of goes along the lines of, “well the deadball era happened, as did 1968 and all the one-off pitcher records, and the late 90s happened, and expansion happened, and the shrinking of parks happened, and 154->162 games happened.” All these eras happened, and baseball has evolved as a sport, and the numbers have stayed in context. We don’t strike Bob Gibson’s 1.12 ERA from the record just because it happened the year before the mound was shrunk. We acknowledge it and understand it.

    I try not to be indignant about what these writers are doing. I understand it. And I think that if the voting were not “secret ballot” we would see a LOT different voting patterns. Because there’d be accountability and every writer who witholds a vote for a legend would have to answer for it. But until that day, you’re going to see writers secretively vote their own personal agendas year after year.

    As for the Hall of Fame …. I was surprised after visiting it how little the actual “hall” of enshrined players meant to the whole experience. I hate to say it, but MLB has so watered down that hall of idols with veterans committee inductees and obscure Negro league players that I would challenge that you don’t recognize nearly half the damn plaques in there. As others have pointed out … you spend hours upstairs going through the museum portion, where there is no distinction between a player who is “banned” from the Hall of Fame and one who isn’t. Pete Rose is in the museum. Shoeless Joe Jackson is in the museum. As are all the home run kings of the 90s. So for me … the only thing that becomes diluted is the hall of plaques … which is already ridiculously diluted.

    I’m goign to work on my hall of fame blog posting from my visit a couple years back. Lots of pictures.

    Todd Boss

    10 Jan 13 at 4:10 pm

  6. If the museum ever really started to falter, i’m sure MLB could find a few of the multi millions of dollars it earns to make up the difference. Hell Bud Selig makes north of $20M a year; just tell him to take a pay cut. All things considered the one time we visitied I was kind of disappointed that there wasn’t MORE stuff on display.

    There’s quite a few people who make the same distinction you do (Bonds/Clemens were good enough pre PEDs while Sosa/McGwire were not): you can see it in the vote totals.

    Todd Boss

    10 Jan 13 at 4:28 pm

  7. Good article Todd. Writers who submit blank ballots should be removed as voting members and others should reveal their choices or resign as voters. Also, players should be judged on their stats alone for HOF entry. The HOF is full of unsavory characters and we know who they are. Same as PED infested players, we know who many of them cheated but, more important, we don’t have a complete list, and we don’t know to what extent PED helped. There are many good players who used PEDs that have remained unknown, and some of these will be voted in. Vote them in and move on.


    10 Jan 13 at 4:30 pm

  8. Biggio & Raines were robbed big-time.
    Biggio gets in next year, but whoever doesn’t vote for Raines has a fundamental lack of understanding of the game.
    Todd, you seem to have forgotten the Hall of Fame ballot has a ‘character’ clause, or you’re just ignoring it. Great stats are good only if they’re authentic. There’s nothing authentic about Clemens and Bonds stats. Hell, Clemons was a complete mediocrity until he started juicing when he got to Toronto.
    There is a Hall of Fame where there is no character clause, where scumbags & criminals get in without any trouble. It’s located in Canton, Ohio.

    Me, I’m looking forward to next year where 2 or 3 guys get in pretty easily. Actually, if you go to the dictionary and look up ‘First Ballot Hall of Famer’ there’s a picture of Greg Maddox.

    Mark L

    10 Jan 13 at 7:26 pm

  9. I think the “character clause” is bullsh*t, and is used opportunistically by writers looking to draw attention to themselves with their holier-than-thou attitude.

    What’s the fundamental difference between what Gaylord Perry did for most of his career and what Barry Bonds did? Perry played for years in open defiance of clearly stated rules of the game. Bonds allegedly (remember, no positive tests!) abused a drug which was not explicitly banned nor was it being tested for at the time he used it. Why is one form of cheating considered “ok” but the other is the scourge of the game?

    If you want to use that character clause explicitly, then you have to explain why spit ballers, racists, adulterers, felons, alcoholics, and rampant amphetimine abusers have been welcomed with open arms for years.

    As others have said; for me the Hall of Fame isn’t some moral high ground where only the nicest men who played baseball get to be honored. No; its SUPPOSED to be a historical account of the game. The PED era happened, just as the deadball era happened. We don’t discount Cy Young’s 511 wins because they happened in a completely, vastly different era of the game; no we understand how the game has changed and understand that we may struggle to get another 300 game winner for his career, let along a 500 game winner.

    One last thing; isn’t it also a fact that this ballot decision and the very loud and wide ranging argument over the Hall of Fame worthiness of these players is nothing but a benefit to the Hall and to baseball itself? I’m almost to the point where I’m beginning to believe that the BBWAA is purposely keeping the vague character clause and purposely keeping the voting standards secretive and uber restrictive entirely to keep themselves in the national media. And I’m just another sucker continuing the argument by posting about it.

    Todd Boss

    11 Jan 13 at 9:06 am

  10. There’s a huge fundamental difference between Gaylord Perry & Barry Bonds. It’s called the law.
    Taking steroids has and is against the law!

    There is no ‘allegedly’ with Barry Bonds. An entire book was written about everything he did and he couldn’t sue because it was all factual.

    Maybe we could agree with a separate wing in the Hall for people like that. You could include Bond, Clemons and add other people where it’s also relevant like Shoeless Joe Jackson & Pete Rose. I could live with that so long as their not inducted at the same time as the others.

    Mark L

    11 Jan 13 at 4:33 pm

  11. “Against the Law” doesn’t have any place in baseball though, does it? Because if you want to talk about hall of famers who should be banned for doing things “against the law” then as I mentioned, shouldn’t we be talking about drunk drivers, or people convicted of crimes, or Eddie Murray (insder trading), or people of that ilk?

    If we’re taking this path: Where do you stand on Tim Raines? He was an admitted user and possesser of cocaine, a felony. Is he therefore out of consideration?

    If I throw a baseball at someone’s head in retaliation for something he did on the baseball field … i’m not getting arrested on the spot for assult with a deadly weapon am I? Even the baseball player who hurled the bat at another player didn’t have any legal ramifications to his actions. Therefore, I don’t think “steroids are against the law” has much credence here because there is a difference between “baseball laws” and “legal laws.” How come none of these alleged steroid users were ever charged with possession of a controlled substance, if steroids are illegal and they all seemingly have been “proved” to have used them?

    And here’s the other problem I have generally with steroids. They’re completely legal with a prescription. As are cortisone shots and HGH. Each substance inarguably helps people recover from injury/illness and improve their performance. So why is one illegal but the other legal?

    Thats why i still think my Perry versus Bonds arguments holds weight; one type of “cheating” was acceptable, almost admired. The other reprehensible.

    Todd Boss

    11 Jan 13 at 5:12 pm

  12. I agree with you on this. Gaylord Perry shouldn’t have been elected for the same reason.
    Love to read the logic back then of people who voted for him.

    Mark L

    11 Jan 13 at 5:20 pm

  13. I’m not saying I think one way or the other necessarily on Perry or Bonds. I just want consistency. And I feel like there’s no consistency here. You can’t be all holier than though with the character clause now and possibly explain how Perry gets elected.

    Todd Boss

    11 Jan 13 at 5:23 pm

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