Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Hall of Fame Ballot Oddities

I think every BBWAA member who didn't vote for the PED era players should have to go back and re-read what they were writing in the 90's (if they were even writing about baseball then) to see how well their current version of history matches up with what was really going on in the baseball world at the time.

Today 569 10-year members of the BBWAA put their collective brainpower together and came up with absolutely nothing. This wouldn't be so bad if you're a fan of a small Hall or if there were no good candidates. Unfortunately the greatest power hitter in the history of baseball an the all-time leader in Cy Young awards were making their first appearance on the ballot.

It's a shame really. It's a shame that traffic to the induction ceremony at Cooperstown this year will be slim. It's a shame that we're going to have to continue the PED era debate for at least another season. It's a shame that with players like Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Mike Mussina, Jeff Kent, and Frank Thomas being added next year that the ballot will become even more crowded and vote-splitting may cause some deserving members to fall below the 5% threshold.

It's a shame that some voters choose to make the ballot more about themselves than about the Hall of Fame. Five members submitted blank ballots which to me seems thoughtless and selfish. Was there really not one deserving member on the ballot, or was the vote returned blank as a form of protest?

I can complain forever about the results though, instead I thought I'd point out some things that jumped out at me as really not making any sense. This year the BBWAA has published  the ballots of 108 (at the time of writing) of their voting members, some with links to the justifications for their ballots. Although I don't agree with the mental gymnastics some members of the morality police are doing to keep the likes of Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, and Sosa off their ballots, I at least understand the position that they're coming from. On the other hand, some ballots just made absolutely no sense at all to me.

Barry Bonds won 7 MVP awards. Roger Clemens won 7 Cy Youngs. Both of these totals are completely unprecedented. If it wasn't for the PED issue I don't see how either of these players wouldn't be unanimous selections. It shocks me then that Clemens got 8 more votes than Bonds did. None of the 108 published voters contained a ballot with only one of these names so I can't read any justification, but I fail to understand how someone could vote for Clemens but not Bonds. Is it because Bonds was convicted on one count of obstruction of justice while Clemens was not? I'm really grasping at straws here.

Let's make a quick comparison:

Jeff Bagwell2150231444915171529202.297.408.540.40576.7
Edgar Martinez205522473091219126149.312.418.515.40564.4

In addition to both spending their entire careers with the same team their stat lines are pretty similar. One big difference is that Bagwell spent 2112 of his 2150 games in the field while Martinez spent 1463 games at DH. Throw in an MVP award for Bagwell with three top-three finishes, compared to only one for Martinez, and Bagwell definitely has the better Hall of Fame case. Given that the only connection either of the have to PEDs is the era in which they played, I don't understand how a voter could put Martinez on his ballot without putting Bagwell on as well. However there are five incidents just on the published ballots (three of which come from Honorary voters). I'll defer to Paul Gutierrez to explain the rationale:
Jeff Bagwell, he's the wild card. His stats jump out at you now, but he never really jumped out at me as a player. The steroid suspicions on him are strong, but that's not what's keeping him off my ballot.
I don't know what that means. Maybe try some research, figure out why that discrepancy exists between your recollection of him and the stat sheet.

Jack Morris. Ace. Stud. Work Horse. A man so great, that three voters felt it would be an insult to crowd a ballot with any other names. Of the three men, two are now Honorary voters, and two actually work for Ken Gurnick makes it simple, "As for players from the steroid era, I won't vote for any of them." Glad he put so much thought into that one, pretending a couple decades of baseball never happened. Marty Noble is "not comfortable with the suspicions" he has so he's not voting for the PED era players either. Instead, he's voting for Morris for the first time because he's "been swayed by evidence presented this year about his complete games and innings." It's shocking that it took until Morris' 14th year on the ballot for that evidence to become available. Whether I agree with Noble's vote for Morris or not, it shouldn't take 14 years to look up some of the most basic stats. Murray Chass was the third voter to only vote for Morris, but he's basically a professional troll.

I'm reminded of a story from Barry Stanton from 2011 when he was explaining his vote for BJ Surhoff (I don't have the link to the original):
In 1976, I was just out of college and working my first job at the Port Chester (NY) Daily Item, covering a Babe Ruth 13-year-old tournament. The starting pitcher for the team from Rye was supposed to be their star, a big kid named Rich Surhoff, whose father Dick had played for the NY Knicks in the 1950s. Surhoff did, in fact, make it t the major leagues, spending nine games with the Philadelphia Phillies. But that day, the pitcher's younger brother was the one who caught my attention. He was only 12 years old and playing with the older kids, playing shortstop. On consecutive plays, I saw him range behind third base to the left field line and throw out a runner, then range the other way all the way behind first to catch a tricky pop that eluded a teammate. 
After that game, I told BJ I thought that someday, I'd be watching him in the major leagues. For the next few years, I watched BJ become a local star at Rye HS, covering his games occasionally. And I remember telling him then that someday, I'd be voting for him for the Hall of Fame. Surhoff, went on to a career at UNC, became the No. 1 pick of the draft, played on our first Olympic baseball team. He had a very good (though not great) career for 18 years in MLB. And then there he was on my ballot (I've been a BBWAA member since 1985 and have had a Hall of Fame vote since '95). So I remembered that promise (though I honestly can't say if BJ does) and checked the box.
I'm reminded of this whenever I see that a couple people ended up voting for someone who has absolutely no place in the Hall of Fame. Sometimes there's a nice personal story, so if the voter took the rest of their ballot seriously and had room beneath the 10-player maximum for the token vote, I don't really have a problem with it. Unfortunately sometimes you start seeing ballots with a few too many of these guys and it starts to raise some flags.

Yasushi Kikuchi voted for Biggio, Schilling, Julio Franco, and Bernie Williams. I can't find an explanation from Kikuchi to justify this.

In her first HoF vote, Jill Painter voted for Craig Biggio, Shawn Green, Kenny Lofton, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, and Bernie Williams in one of the more confusing ballots I've seen. The only information I've really been able to get from her is off her tweets in which she isn't a fan of PED users and that Bagwell and Raines may have been using. This is a mess.

I wouldn't have voted for Lee Smith. He was a very good reliever early in his career, then rode his closer reputation to rack up saves for many more years when his numbers just weren't the same. I don't view his save total too impressively but I do understand how some voters do. What I can't understand is how on a ballot with Clemens, Morris, and Schilling, that Smith would be the only pitcher that a person would vote for. The starters on the ballot were far superior players that are much more deserving of a vote. I can't access any good explanations from Michael Knisley, Paul Sullivan, or Ann Killion though.

The entire voting process is a mess and it's only going to get worse and more cluttered in the coming years. A major cause of the problem is on the voters. Whether I agree with them or not, many put a lot of work into their ballots, which to be fair is often the most we can ask from the writers. However many are careless, or use the opportunity to get up on their soapboxes and deliver the message on steroids that they forgot to give 15 years ago. Worse still are those voters that clearly don't follow or care about baseball anymore. I don't think it's a coincidence that many of the strangest ballots I saw belonged to Honorary members. The process needs to be cleaned up.

We should also stop pretending that the last couple decades never happened. Steroids were institutionalized by baseball just like amphetamines were in the decades before, or racism and blacklists in the decades before that. It's not a good thing, but neither is a vote for the PED players an endorsement of the use of steroids. We have to acknowledge what the era was and that everyone was a part of it, not just the players who were juicing. Players have to be evaluated in the proper context. It's the same reason magic numbers like 500 home runs aren't as magical anymore. Numbers were inflated in the 90's which resulted in players like McGriff or Palmeiro putting up outstanding numbers while never being close to the best first basemen in the league. Context is everything.

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