Home > Uncategorized > Fixing the MLB Hall of Fame

Fixing the MLB Hall of Fame

The Major League Baseball Hall of Fame is broken.

Everyone has their own system when it comes to selecting players to be inducted.  Some believe in a larger Hall, allowing players who were among the better players of their era to be inducted.  For others, a small Hall of Fame, where only a very few elite players are allowed induction, makes sense.

Each person must decide on their own what they want the Hall of Fame to be.

It used to be that certain benchmark numbers meant automatic admission.  If a player had 3,000 hits, 500 home runs, a career batting average of .300, 300 wins, or 3,000 strikeouts, they were in, no questions asked.

But recently, many of those statistics have been marginalized, and for good reason.  Getting 3,000 hits requires as much luck as it does skill.  Batting average is also a statistic that requires a lot of luck.  A pitcher’s win total is more of a team statistic than an individual one.  And RBIs and runs scored also require a generous contribution from teammates more than the individual player.

That’s not to say there isn’t value in those statistics, because there is.  But it’s no longer a slam dunk that a player who reaches those milestones automatically gets in.  It’s very likely, but not a certainty.

Statistics like on-base percentage, slugging percentage, WAR (in all its various forms), xFIP, and other sabermetric stats, are starting to work their way into the voting process, although at a snail’s pace for many Bill James disciples.

Currently, the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWA) is responsible for electing players to the Hall of Fame.  Many (if not most) of these writers have been covering the game for decades, yet possess a stunning lack of understanding and recognition of who the truly deserving players are.

Just because a player accumulates 254 wins (Jack Morris, I’m looking in your direction), doesn’t mean he should get in.  Longevity should definitely be a factor, but simply piling up numbers doesn’t tell all of the story.

If I were to have a vote, the first thing I would do is look at the numbers.  Not necessarily the totality of the numbers, but the yearly averages.  How good was this particular player every year?  Was he a perennial All-Star?  How many times did he finish in the Top 5 or 10 of the MVP or Cy Young Award voting?  Was he a good all-around player, or did he only excel at one particular thing?  If so, how valuable was that thing he was great at?  Was he great enough at it to warrant consideration?

Perhaps the most important question I would ask is… was this player one of the best two or three players at his position for a period of 8-10 years?  If the answer is yes, and his numbers are comparable or better to players already elected at his position, as well as the numbers of his contemporaries, he gets in.

That may not be the way you look at it.  Everyone has a different standard, and it’s virtually impossible to make that standard uniform across the board.  We used to have those benchmark statistics to do that job for us, but no longer.  Baseball writers used to have the crutch of asking, “Did Player A get 3,000 hits?  Did Player B get 300 wins?”

Many, but not all, writers are still stuck in their lazy ways of judging.  They fail to do the real research and come up with their own ideas of who really merits consideration.

And now, writers are about to be confronted with the most challenging era to evaluate.  Players who played during the steroid era are becoming available for Hall entrance.

For instance, Jeff Bagwell is up for election this year.  More than likely, Bagwell will not get in again this year (he only got 41.7% of the vote in his first year of eligibility last year).  Even though he was easily one of the best two or three offensive first basemen during his career, and even though his numbers warrant admission (449 career HRs, 1529 RBIs, career .408 OB% and .540 SLG%, 6 Top 10 MVP finishes, including an MVP Award in 1994), and his defense was among the best in the game, many suspect Bagwell of PED use, and will refuse to admit him for that reason.

Now, Bagwell has never even been so much as implicated in steroid use, let alone tested positive or admitted using performance enhancers.  He is as squeaky clean as it gets.  Yet, many writers will refuse to vote him into the Hall because they suspect he was using.

Friends, that is completely idiotic.

Yet many players, like Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez and, of course, Barry Bonds, will likely be on the outside looking in for a long time.

Which is why the baseball world needs to decide what the Hall of Fame truly is.  Is it a museum, or a holy place of admission where only the most pristine and virtuous of players shall reside?

I think the Hall of Fame should chronicle and admit the very best players of their era.  Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame.  It’s a travesty that the Hit King isn’t in, and yes, I know he broke baseball’s cardinal rule.  He bet on baseball, there’s no denying that.  But there’s no proof he ever bet on his team to lose, and there is certainly no proof that he rigged games so that he would win the bets he placed.

In much the same way, steroid use was rampant from the early 1990s to the late 2000s.  It’s likely there were hundreds of players using steroids and PEDs that weren’t caught, including many pitchers.  How do we decide who was virtuous and who wasn’t?

If the Hall of Fame is a museum, every deserving player should be admitted, and their misdeeds should be plastered all over their induction plaque.  Perhaps a special wing can be created for inductees who cheated the game, or for the known steroid users.  It seems impossible that the Hall of Fame would not have the game’s all-time leading hits leader, the game’s all-time leading home run hitter, and the game’s only seven-time Cy Young Award winner as inductees in their museum.

Is this rewarding bad behavior?  Perhaps.  But I would think stipulations could be put in place to punish these inductees that would make it a deterrent for other players to follow in their footsteps.  Perhaps they could be refused the opportunity to speak at their induction ceremony.  Perhaps they could even be banned from attending.  But a plaque with their names and their statistics should be a part of the Hall.

However, if the Hall of Fame is a shrine, then ultra-strict rules should apply.  No one ever found to have cheated or gambled on the game should ever get in, no matter what their careers looked like before they were found to have cheated.

For instance, no matter what Ryan Bruan does from here on out, provided his appeal is turned down, he can never be eligible for the Hall of Fame.  Bonds and Clemens were Hall of Fame players before they started using steroids, but that shouldn’t matter.  Everyone, from A-Rod to Andy Pettitte and all the other steroid users should be banned for life.

Were that to happen, virtually all of the game’s record holders would be nowhere to be found in Cooperstown.

To me, that just doesn’t make sense.  But, that’s my standard.  Everyone has a different standard.  And that’s the point.  The BBWA, with Major League Baseball’s input, should clarify just what the Hall of Fame is supposed to be.

The voting structure needs to be changed.  The BBWA has been getting it wrong as much as they’ve been getting it right, lately.  Other voices need to be heard.  Taking the vote away entirely from the BBWA is too harsh, however.  And, turning the vote over to the fans has its drawbacks too.

If fans were given the sole vote, every decent Yankee who ever played would be in the Hall.  And the chances for a Milwaukee Brewer or Tampa Bay Ray would be to make the Hall would be much less likely, mainly because of the size of the fan-base.

My idea is a shared vote.  Let the BBWA account for 40% of the vote.  Allow the fans an online vote that would account for 40%.  And give the final 20% to MLB executives, players and coaches.

This would give many different voices, some more and some less informed than the BBWA, an opportunity to make the induction process a more democratic process.

The MLB Hall of Fame can be saved.  It just needs to be defined, and the voting process needs to be changed.  It’s all fixable.  And if we can fix it, we can make the Hall of Fame relevant once again.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. George Hebben
    January 29, 2013 at 11:43 pm

    Mr Felske:
    Firstly: Why should the BBWA have a voice at all? If “stunning lack of understanding” among “many (if not most)” is the standard, why allow such ignoramuses a vote? Secondly: how is Tommy John surgery any less performance enhancing, and therefore as much as a disqualifier as, PED?

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