Baseball Hall of Fame voting is screwed up, steroids or not

10 01 2013

Baseball Hall of Fame voting is even more screwed up than voting in real elections.

OK, I get why Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa didn’t make the Hall of Fame. There’s the drug thing (though a jury actually acquitted Clemens of perjury when he denied use).

Jayson Stark wrote a good piece for ESPN about how baseball needs to come to terms with the steroid era and how that should be represented in the Hall of Fame. But I think yesterday’s vote showed how screwed up Hall of Fame voting is, period. Even the votes on people not tainted with drug suspicion make no sense.

The Baseball Writers Association of America and veterans committees have made the Hall of Fame selection a laughingstock for generations. The football and basketball Hall of Fame selections always make more sense (though there’s always room for argument in any such voting). But baseball voting is a head-shaker every year.

For this post, we’ll set aside Bonds, Clemens and Sosa, along with Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. Whether you agree or not, everyone understands why baseball writers vote against people who are tainted with suspicion of using performance-enhancing drugs. If the voting did make sense, you could certainly understand a few years of “no” votes for suspected cheaters (character and integrity are among the voting criteria).

And, for this post at least, we’ll mostly set aside my own usual rants about the voters’ prejudice against Yankees. Other than Clemens and the usual dissing of Don Mattingly (13 percent this year), players who played their great years for the Yankees don’t figure in this year’s voting. So I’ll note the ridiculous votes on other candidates who fell short of the 75-percent vote needed for induction (all stats from Baseball Reference):

Craig Biggio, 68 percent

Biggio is going to be in the Hall of Fame. He has 3,000 hits. You have to bet on baseball or be suspected of taking performance-enhancing drugs to not make Cooperstown with 3,000 hits. He is the only catcher with 3,000 hits (he caught for four years before moving to second base).

But the almighty Hall of Fame voters have some magical notion about first-ballot Hall of Famers. It’s a club that Kirby Puckett (whose career was nearly identical to Mattingly’s) made, but not Joe DiMaggio. (OK, time for an aside about the anti-Yankee bias: DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford were not first-ballot Hall of Famers. I rest my case.)

Paul Molitor was a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He and Biggio both were seven-time All-Stars. Molitor was a mediocre fielder who started at second base and moved down the defensive scale to his natural position, designated hitter. Biggio was a four-time Gold Glove winner at second base. Molitor had a few more hits (but he played longer) and a higher batting average and more RBI, but Biggio had more homers and scored more runs. They had similar careers. But the all-knowing Hall of Fame voters decided Molitor was first-ballot guy and Biggio wasn’t.

Biggio, of course, will get in, probably next year, even though he won’t do anything more to enhance his qualifications in the next year.

Jack Morris, 68 percent

Jack Morris is following in the footsteps of Bert Blyleven, Jim Rice and other Hall of Famers who have to wait till their last year or two of eligibility to get voted in by the baseball writers. That’s just nuts.

Morris and Ron Guidry were the best pitchers in the American League in the late 1970s and early 1980s and neither of them is in the Hall of Fame. He was the ace of the starting rotation on three different world champion teams (1984 Tigers, 1991 Twins, 1992 Blue Jays).

Morris was clearly a better pitcher than Blyleven. Morris won 20 games three times, Blyleven one. Morris won 17 or more games eight times, Blyleven did it seven times. Morris. Blyleven was good in the post-season (5-1), but Morris won more games, seven, and pitched maybe the greatest post-season performance since Don Larsen (Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, when Morris matched John Smoltz with for more than seven shutout innings, then, after Smoltz gave way to the bullpen, Morris kept throwing goose eggs through the 10th to get the win). Morris was the World Series MVP in 1991 and could have been in 1984, when he won two games.

From 1979 to 1990, Blyleven and Morris were both full-time major league starters. The only year that Blyleven clearly had a better year was in 1989. In 1984, you could call it a push (Blyleven at 19-7 probably had a better year than Morris at 19-11, but Morris did win three post-season games.

Morris didn’t win 300 games but he won 254 games. More than 20 starting pitchers are in Cooperstown with fewer wins. And with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine on the ballot for the first time next year, his 15th and last year on the BBWAA ballot, Morris might have to wait another five years for consideration by the Veterans Committee. Everyone knew Jack Morris was a Hall of Famer when he played. He should be in and he shouldn’t have to wait.

Jeff Bagwell, 60 percent

This was his third year on the ballot. He’ll get in, but they’ll make him wait a few years for reasons that escape sane people. He had 449 homers and 1,529 RBI. I don’t remember anyone ever making a credible accusation that he used performance-enhancing drugs, and his vote total is way higher than the candidates tainted by drug suspicion (though like perhaps all sluggers of his time, Bagwell suffers by from guilt-by-era with some voters). He’ll make it in a few years.

Mike Piazza, 59 percent

Again, it’s the first-ballot nonsense, or maybe speculation about a newspaper column that never ran about acne on his back.

Piazza was not great behind the plate. But he hit like no catcher ever. Johnny Bench maybe had better power (adjusting for their eras), but Piazza hit .308, with three seasons better than .340, and Bench never hit for average.

Carlton Fisk played 24 years, compared to just 16 for Piazza. Different eras, though they overlapped by two years (1992-3). Piazza had more homers than Fisk (427-336) and more RBI (1,335 to 1,330).

Even allowing for his era, Piazza was the best-hitting catcher ever, a 12-time All-Star. That doesn’t merit first-ballot election?

Tim Raines, 52 percent

Raines actually was a Yankee for three seasons toward the end of his career. Was that enough to invoke the anti-Yankee bias?

He wasn’t as great a leadoff hitter as Rickey Henderson, a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But they stood above everyone else of their era. If you’re linked with a Hall of Famer that often, aren’t you a Hall of Famer?

Raines led his league in stolen bases four times, in batting once and runs scored twice. The people with more than his 808 stolen bases are already in the Hall of Fame: Henderson, Lou Brock, Ty Cobb and Billy Hamilton, who benefited from 19th-century rules, counting stolen bases when base runners took an extra base on a hit. They’ll make Raines wait, but he’ll make it eventually.

Lee Smith, 48 percent

Four relief pitchers of Smith’s era — Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage — are already in the Hall of Fame. Smith has more saves than any of them, 478 (third all-time; he retired with the record). Smith led his league in saves four times, more than all of them but Sutter. His best season, 47 saves, was better than any of the Hall of Famers’ best except for Eck (he got 51). He saved 25 games in a season 15 times. None of the Hall of Famers saved 25 in a season even 10 times. Neither Sutter nor Eck matched Smith’s seven All-Star selections (Fingers also had seven selections and Gossage had nine). The others all had post-season success that Smith did not (overlooking Gossage’s epic surrendered homers), and Sutter won a Cy Young Award and Eck and Fingers won Cy Youngs and MVPs in the same seasons. But clearly, Smith belongs in this group.

I cannot understand why voters have not elected Smith to the Hall of Fame. I really think we are past racism in baseball voting. Maybe it’s because he played eight games for the Yankees in 1993? Or maybe it’s because Hall of Fame voting simply makes no sense.

Curt Schilling, 39 percent

OK, I’m a Yankee fan and Schilling beat my team in two of the best post-season series of all time. And he’s a jerk. But do 61 percent of baseball writers really think this guy wasn’t a Hall of Famer?

Like Morris, he’s a three-time 20-game winner (more times than recent Hall of Fame inductees Blyleven, Don Sutton and Nolan Ryan and as many as Phil Niekro). He was an All-Star six times and had seven different seasons when he won 20 or led his league in wins, strikeouts, winning percentage or complete games. He was 11-2 in the post-season, 4-0 in the World Series, for three different teams.

Some pitchers who didn’t have a prime as good as Schilling padded their career win totals with mediocre seasons early or late in their careers. Schilling didn’t become a starter until he was 25. After two good seasons for the Phillies in 1992 and 1993, he had three seasons when he started 26 or fewer times and didn’t get double figures in wins. Then, at age 30, he started a decade when he was as dominant as anyone in baseball. And that was in the heyday of Clemens, Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez. Those guys all won more games than Schilling (except Smoltz, who had 213 wins and 154 saves). And they all won Cy Youngs and Schilling didn’t (he was third three times). But Smoltz is the only one you might pick over Schilling to pitch a big post-season game. And this era clearly had more than six Hall of Fame starting pitchers. At least nine Hall of Fame starters were in their primes in the 1960s, and several more pitched in the ’60s. Schilling’s era will have at least seven starters in the Hall of Fame, and he’s no worse than No. 7.

More than a dozen Hall of Fame pitchers won fewer games than Schilling’s 216, including Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax.

As I’ve noted many times in this blog, longevity is way more important than actual greatness in Hall of Fame selection. I’m not saying that Don Sutton and Blyleven don’t belong in the Hall of Fame; they do. But Schilling’s prime was far better than theirs. We shouldn’t keep a guy out of the Hall of Fame because he didn’t pad his win total with a half-dozen seasons of 10-12 wins.

Dale Murphy, 19 percent

Murphy didn’t come close in his final year on the ballot, proving once and for all that character and integrity — which are specified as voting criteria — aren’t as important as longevity, which isn’t in the criteria, beyond the minimum career length, which Murphy exceeded. He’ll be eligible for consideration again in five years by the back-door committee, whatever they’ll be calling it then.

Etc.

I might do a separate post sometime on Bernie Williams and I’ve written plenty about Mattingly already. The others who didn’t make it don’t have as strong cases as those I’ve mentioned. Some may make it someday, but they really are borderline. The other players mentioned here aren’t borderline. They are Hall of Famers just awaiting recognition from writers who don’t deserve the power they hold.

Overhaul the selection process

Joe Posnanski wrote a great post about how players who don’t make the Hall of Fame in their first year work their way up the percentages to eventually make the 75-percent threshold. If you read that and think that Hall of Fame selection is rational, you must be a life member of the BBWAA.

The baseball writers have screwed up Hall of Fame selection for too long. The ritual of deciding who’s worthy of first-ballot selection, whatever that means, is ridiculous and the results are mystifying. The ritual of waiting till your 15th year of eligibility is demeaning. The baseball writers have abused their privilege of Hall of Fame voting. Baseball needs to take that privilege away and come up with a new process of honoring its greatest.


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4 responses

10 01 2013
UmpireErnieBrown

I typically don’t engage in conversations of what if. .. but what if the Yankees had not concealed from Roger Maris the nature of his injury. . . would he he have produced the numbers. . . . I believe he produced the only number that matters to this child of the 70’s. . . 61 in 61 and the only drug he used it appears were Camel cigarettes!

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10 01 2013
Steve Buttry

He belongs in the Hall of Fame, period. As I noted here before, he’s way more famous than most of the guys in the Hall of Fame.

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31 12 2013
Reviewing 2013 on my blog: lots of leadership and ethics posts | The Buttry Diary

[…] was a down year for the blog as well as the team, but I did blog about this year’s Baseball Hall of Fame snubs, Kevin Youkilis joining the Yankees (and others who have played for the Yankees and Red Sox), how […]

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9 01 2014
Ron Guidry and Don Mattingly’s best years compare well to new Hall of Famers | Hated Yankees

[…] three were elected on the first ballot and rightly so (to the extent that the screwed-up Hall of Fame selection processes have created this stupid first-ballot-election […]

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