Maybe It’s Not the BBWAA’s Fault

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance today released the results of its annual Hall of Fame vote. Take a look.  I’ll wait.

Ok, nice to have you back.  Now, I see some of you aren’t weeping.  Is it possible that you neglected to follow the link and just kept reading past my imposing ellipsis?  Fine, I’ll copy and paste the voting results here:

Jeff Bagwell 76%

Craig Biggo 69%
Mike Piazza 69%
Barry Bonds 62%
Tim Raines 62%
Roger Clemens 56%
Edgar Martinez 41%
Alan Trammell 40%
Mark McGwire 35%
Curt Schilling 34%
Dale Murphy 32%
Larry Walker 32%
Jack Morris 32%
Lee Smith 25%
Kenny Lofton 21%
Sammy Sosa 21%
Don Mattingly 18%
Fred McGriff 15%
Rafael Palmeiro 15%
Bernie Williams 4%
David Wells 4%
Sandy Alomar 3%
Julio Franco 1%

Yup.  One guy gets in.  And 24% of the bloggers who voted wanted to keep Bagwell out too.  Last year, 79% of us voted for Bagwell.  So in the interim, either a few of us decided the fourth-best first baseman ever was no longer Hall-worthy or the electorate changed and the new writers are anti-Bagwell.

Mike Piazza hit 427 home runs and once hit .362/.431/.638 over a full season as a catcher.  31% of us decided the best-hitting catcher of all time is not a Hall of Famer.

Bonds, perhaps the best hitter ever, missed 38% of ballots, while Clemens, perhaps the best pitcher ever, missed 44%.  Those two come with asterisks, of course, but what about Curt Schilling and Larry Walker, two players not only well above the established Hall of Fame baseline, but better by most measures than the average Hall of Famer at their position?  Neither garnered close to half the vote.

Craig Biggio had 3,060 hits and reached base 4,475 times.  That wasn’t enough to impress 31% of us.  To be fair, I thought Biggio was the eleventh-worthiest player on the ballot and wouldn’t have voted for him under the BBWAA’s rules.  But the BBA graciously dropped the rather pointless cap and told us we could vote for as many players as we wanted (I know I wasn’t alone in picking 14).

Many writers have written more eloquently than I could about the problems with the restrictions placed on the BBWAA and about the suitability of the writers, many of whom haven’t covered baseball in decades, to elect Hall of Famers.  I’ve bemoaned these same sad truths, but having seen the results of this vote, I’m starting to wonder if it’s time to let the BBWAA off the hook.

Add the percentages above and we get 767%, which tells us that the average voter named more than 7 1/2 players on his/her ballot.  The problem here isn’t curmudgeonly writers turning in blank ballots in protest that the game isn’t played the way it was when they covered it.  It isn’t the ten-player cap keeping worthy players like Biggio and Trammell off ballots because of the unusual depth this year.  The problem is that 75% is an unreasonable threshold for consensus.

If 62% of voting Americans think Barack Obama should be President, he’s the President.  If 62% of whoever votes on American Idol thinks Phil Phillips should win, he does.   So if 62% of bloggers think Tim Raines should be in the Hall of Fame (and I think he’ll come close to that level of support among the BBWAA as well), why isn’t he a Hall of Famer?  Should he really have to convince the voters that care about the game and do their homework and the voters who refuse to vote for anyone whose teammates allegedly used steroids and the voters who only vote for Dale Murphy to make some ridiculous statement about the character clause?

I’m stereotyping groups of BBWAA members because I’ve seen articles making these statements from that group, and because it’s become chic to bash the BBWAA for the backlog of all-time greats they continue to create by ignoring them year after year.  But the Baseball Bloggers Alliance is full of people who write about baseball now.  These aren’t people who were so sickened by the steroid culture that they stopped paying attention to the great players of subsequent generations.  They’re people who love their teams and want them to sign guys like Edgar Martinez and Kenny Lofton.  They’re people who use today’s advanced metrics to make their baseball writing come to life in exciting ways. They’re people who love the history that ties Cap Anson’s generation to Lou Gehrig’s to Willie Stargell’s to Fred McGriff’s.  And these people can’t agree that Mike Piazza, who earned exactly as many rWAR as Yogi Berra, meets the Hall of Fame standard.

I won’t defend the BBWAA as a whole.  I’ve seen several great ballots, including this one by Larry Stone of the Seattle Times, with which I agree entirely, and this one by Jayson Stark of ESPN, who has his hits and misses, but at least he put some thought into it.  I’ve also seen more than a few bad apples.  But maybe it’s time to stop calling for a new electorate and start calling for some rule changes.  The first one I’d like to see is a more reasonable threshold for election- maybe 60%.  The ten-player cap, of course, should be removed entirely.  And there’s no reason for a player to stick around on the ballot for 15 years.  I think Alan Trammell should have gone into the Hall on the first ballot, but if he hasn’t convinced the voters he belongs yet, he shouldn’t be clogging up a spot on the ballot, cap or no cap.  If two years can’t get a player to 60%, let the Veterans Committee decide someday.

I think there are 14 Hall of Famers on this year’s ballot.  You may think there are only seven or eight.  You may even think there are 16 or 17.  But if you have any sense of the accomplishments of the players currently in the Hall, I don’t see how you could argue that only one player from this group is worthy of enshrinement.  Yet a bunch of reasonable people just put their reasonable heads together and came to that unreasonable conclusion.

And this time, it’s not the BBWAA’s fault.

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9 Responses to Maybe It’s Not the BBWAA’s Fault

  1. Theo says:

    Well, there’s always the more positive possibility of people deciding it unnecessary to vote someone in twice. Not that it’s a huge consolation. But I would agree with the main issue.

    Maybe a bigger problem is that too many people have built up an unrealistic expectation of what the Hall of Fame actually is? I feel like I see too many people criticize a player by saying things like “It’s the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of ” without actually looking at the player’s career, or the context of the Hall.

    • Bryan says:

      Thanks for the comment, Theo. That’s a fair point on electing Bagwell twice, but it would get confusing to repopulate the Hall of Fame based on a series of mock votes, so if Bagwell’s on the ballot, people should vote for him unless they think he’s unworthy.

      And I completely agree that the average person has little context for what the Hall of Fame means. People refer to themselves as “small hall” people, which I appreciate, but that doesn’t change the fact that Lloyd Waner and Jesse Haines and Catfish Hunter are in the Hall. A lot of players far better than those three are on the ballot this year.

  2. Dan says:

    So, this was just a roundabout way to argue that Jack Morris should already be in the Hall of Fame?

  3. Dan says:

    Seriously, this is a fantastic piece. I was starting to think the same thing somewhat recently. I know we should place too much stock in what readers over at ESPN say, but 20,000 people voted there to elect nobody:

    A few oddities there, like Bagwell as low as 54%, Raines at 33%, and Schilling at 51%, surprisingly much higher than the BBA vote (is it BBA or BBBA? Christ, I don’t know).

    So, it seems, really, that the BBWAA is just echoing the sentiments of the general public. Not exactly, of course, but if 20,000 people are only 45% in support of Clemens and Bonds, you’re right. It’s not the BBWAA’s fault.

    • Dan says:

      I meant to say “…shouldn’t place too much stock in what readers over at ESPN say,” of course.

    • Bryan says:

      You’re going to the bottom of the barrel with this one, Dan. I wouldn’t trust ESPN readers to vote for the least talented Beatle, let alone the Baseball Hall of Fame. I think the devil’s advocate argument here is that the writers are being asked to know more than the average fan. All fans need to know about Curt Schilling is that he’s an insufferable blowhard who pitched a game with a bloody ankle once. The writers should know that he’s perhaps the best pitcher ever from a fielding-independent standpoint and one of the 25 or so best ever by any measure even before we account for his postseason heroics, and that there are scores of lesser pitchers enshrined already.

      But then, shouldn’t bloggers know that too? Schilling pitched in both leagues for a long time, pitched in some of the most memorable postseason games of our generation, and was putting up historic numbers just a decade ago. How that doesn’t translate to Hallworthiness in the eyes of a bunch of people who think about baseball all the time is beyond my comprehension.

      None of my suggestions above get Schilling elected this year, unless 2 of every 5 bloggers who didn’t vote for Schilling left him off because they wanted guys like Trammell and Murphy to get in first and would have voted for him if only two classes of players were on the ballot. There are problems with the Hall beyond the electorate and the criteria.

  4. Chris Ross says:

    It’s going to be very interesting and possibly frustrating over the years I think to see other guys get voted in. This debate is going to be never ending for as long as baseball is around whether they get in or not. There is a right answer in my opinion and I think they shouldn’t get in. I don’t see why they should and I know they were such a big part of baseball history but it doesn’t seem fair to let them in. Really intrigued to see what happens over the next 5 to 10 years surrounding this. Also, you think you could check out my blog cuz I’d love to hear what you have to say

  5. Theo says:

    Well, having seen the BBWAA results, I guess it could very much be worse. Clemens and Bonds couldn’t even break 40%? Ridiculous.
    Not that this absolves the BBA. But I was expecting to be disappointed by the BBWAA, not disgusted.

  6. HI Bryan ~ For your information, I just posted an article about some of my favorite baseball writers in my latest blog ~ and it includes a note about you. Ronni Redmond, Santa Cruz CA

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