The Baseball Hall of Fame is a Museum, Not a Shrine

With the Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2016 set to be announced tomorrow, there are many questions surrounding the announcement.

1. Will Ken Griffey Jr. be a unanimous vote and will he break Tom Seaver‘s record for highest percentage of 98.8%?

2. Will anybody else get in? Mike Piazza or Jeff Bagwell? How about Tim Raines?

3. Will Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens gain support?

4. Will players like Sammy Sosa, Gary Sheffield, Billy Wagner and Larry Walker even get the 5% needed to stay on the ballot?

There are so many questions, and with nearly 500 voters across the country, many people are answering those questions all sorts of different ways.

Thanks to @NotMrTibbs Baseball Hall of Fame Tracker, we do know how players have fared on 163 ballots so far.

One of the problems with the voting process is the sheer nature of voting in general. If I am given a vote, I can essentially vote however I want. The Baseball Hall of Fame gives every voter guidelines, but those guidelines are looked at differently by each person.

Players are not viewed based simply on statistics. We cannot just look at a player’s Wins Above Replacement and determine whether or not they are above the Hall of Fame line.

If that were the case, deserving players like Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell would have been elected long ago, and Bill Mazeroski, Roy Campanella and Lloyd Waner among others wouldn’t have plaques. That’s not how it works.

So let’s look at these questions to figure out why we have more Hall of Fame worthy players than we have spots for on a 10-man ballot.

First, we look at a player like Griffey. He’s going to be elected on his first ballot, just like many great players before him. For a ballot filled with question marks, there is no question. Griffey was an all-time elite player.

More importantly, his skinny and frail looking frame that consistently got banged up and injured in the latter stages of his career proved to voters that he couldn’t possibly have taken performance enhancing drugs. That’s a much bigger reason for his first ballot status than any accomplishment. In the world we live in right now, players like Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, Sheffield and others are losing votes because of reports of their cheating baseball by taking PEDs.

So why would someone still leave Griffey off a ballot? Well, for one, no player in baseball history has ever been voted unanimously. Second, some voters feel that because nobody ever has, nobody ever should. Third, some voters have sent in blank ballots to protest the cheaters of the “Steroid Era.” And finally, some have left obvious Hall of Famers off their lists in the past to try and help a player they feel deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, but would be their 11th choice on a 10-man ballot.

In 1936, five legendary players were inducted into the Hall of Fame. Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson. Many voters have referenced this group as a Mount Rushmore of sorts for baseball, and because none of them were unanimous, nobody should ever be unanimous. The major flaw in this logic is that this was the first ever ballot for the Hall of Fame. There were literally hundreds of names to choose from on the ballot. Legendary players like Cy Young and Tris Speaker and legendary managers like Connie Mack and John McGraw weren’t elected in 1936, and neither were so many other deserving candidates. There was also no set ballot initially. For quite some time, writers simply submitted their own list of names. That’s what happens with a first ballot for any sport, there’s confusion and the process evolves. The fact that players have suffered from this logic makes no sense to me. And this is also why Seaver has the highest voting percentage in baseball history despite not being the best player in baseball history.

So will Griffey be the only one elected? Maybe. Piazza, Bagwell and Raines all have a legitimate shot at election. Piazza has the best shot, having received nearly 70% last year and only needing 75% for induction. The question remains though whether or not any of the three will join Griffey in 2016. The knock of Piazza and Bagwell, from some voters, is simply they were power hitters during the steroid era which makes them subject to PED accusations. Whether they used drugs or not, the fact that they are connected to them by hearsay has hurt them almost as much as if they had come out and said they used drugs. The court of public opinion may finally lose the case of Mike Piazza and soon after the case of Jeff Bagwell. It is possible we will see both sent to Cooperstown tomorrow.

As for Raines, the biggest knock on him is he wasn’t Rickey Henderson. This is what Trammell has dealt with among others. In his case, it was for not being Cal Ripken Jr. or Robin Yount. Raines was one of the greatest leadoff hitters of all-time, one of the games greatest base stealers and his numbers stack up better than many Hall of Famers, including Lou Brock, who is considered the greatest base stealer not named Henderson. Although, as baseball statistician @theaceofspader points out, “Rock” is better than Brock in several key categories.

So what about Bonds and Clemens? The seven-time Most Valuable Player and the seven-time Cy Young Award winner are both on the outside looking in despite multiple years on the ballot. Arguably the greatest hitter and pitcher to ever play the game and certainly of their generation and so far, they are both several votes short. Nearly every voter has either voted for neither or both, as if they are the same person.

Ultimately, they may never get in. John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote today that if and when Piazza gets in, he could see other voters decide to start voting for Bonds and Clemens. Because none of these players were ever suspended during their careers for any PED use, the argument could be made that since Piazza has rumors surrounding him, how can we deny the greatest hitter and pitcher of a generation anymore? Will that convince 75% of the voters? That answer might take a few years.

And finally, will deserving players like Wagner, Walker, Sheffield and Sosa even be on the ballot next year? With so much of a logjam on the ballot because voters were hesitant to elect players they suspected could have done steroids or other PEDs, the ballot has been crowded. Rafael Palmeiro, despite being one of only five players in baseball history with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, was removed from the ballot for not receiving the minimum 5% of the vote. Carlos Delgado, despite 473 home runs and eleven 30 home run seasons, is also no longer on the ballot. There are many other examples of great players being removed from the ballot altogether for not receiving the minimum.

What is so frustrating about this 5% rule is that many voters have changed their minds over the years on players. Jim Rice, Bert Blyleven and Goose Gossage are some of the most recent examples of players who had to wait many years, but finally earned induction. Despite not hitting a single home run or striking out a single batter during their retirement from the game, voters continued to change their minds on these players. Ultimately, after 15 years on the ballot, more than 75% of the voters finally agreed that they were Hall of Famers. So what changed? Why did voters say no for so long, and then suddenly decide they were worthy of the Hall of Fame? Ultimately, this takes me back to the 5% rule. Would any of the players who have been removed from the ballot in the past because of this rule have had a similar fate as Rice, Blyleven or Gossage?

There must be two major changes to the voting rules as far as I’m concerned.

Rule #1: No limit. Vote for however many players you choose to. We have seen several voters not vote for 10 despite the 10 limit rule. And we have also seen many voters say they would have voted for more than 10 had they been given the chance to. So why is there a limit? Either a guy is a Hall of Famer or he isn’t. Despite the changes in opinions of voters throughout the years, the same question is asked of them: Is this player a Hall of Famer? If the answer is yes, there shouldn’t be any other barriers for that particular voter.

Rule #2: No 5% rule. If a player receives a vote, a player gets to stay on the ballot. It seems to me that the only reason for the 5% rule as far as I can tell is to limit the ballot to one sheet of paper. I really can’t see how it would hurt the voting process to keep players on the ballot who voters deem worthy of election. Yes, we have seen ridiculous voting in the past of average players getting a single vote, but that same voter may not vote for that player the following year. Players like Whitaker, Palmeiro, Delgado and others who have been removed from the ballot may never get in to the Hall of Fame. I don’t see any reason why keeping them off the ballot is necessary.

As a life long baseball fan, I grew up watching every player on the current 2016 ballot. I want to be able to take my son to Cooperstown someday and show him the plaque of the greatest swing I ever saw in person in Bonds or one of the greatest pitchers I ever saw live in Clemens. And that despite mistakes Bonds or Clemens made, that they were still two of the greatest players this game has ever seen. After all, the Hall is a museum, not a shrine and I want to be able to teach my son about the greatest sport there is and everything about it.

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