The Sorry State of the Baseball Hall of Fame

Well, that was that. Amidst barely any fanfare and mired in the depths of a downright stupid voting system, yesterday saw four new players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. The four inductees are, of course, uniformly deserving. Randy Johnson might be the greatest left-handed pitcher who ever lived, and certainly was the most terrifying. Pedro Martinez might have had the two greatest seasons by any pitcher ever, factoring in the era in which he played. John Smoltz made history as dominant starter, became a dominant closer, and then, in an outrageous third act, became a dominant starter again. And Craig Biggio, who last year was just two votes shy of being elected, will enjoy his long-awaited induction as one of the finest all-around position players of his era.

So what is it about this year’s election that leaves me so unsatisfied? Well, as you can probably guess if you read my posts on last year’s stacked ballot, it’s the fact that, yet again, far too many worthy candidates weren’t elected. Last year, I wrote than no fewer than 14 players were Hall-of-Fame worthy, only to see three eventually get elected (Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, and Greg Maddux). This year, I stand by my arguments: there were no fewer than 10 players on the ballot whose baseball achievements deserve enshrinement in Cooperstown, but who once again got the short end of the stick. What’s more, due to a dumb voting system and some of the unluckiest timing in baseball history, many of these greats will never live to see their place in the Hall made a reality.

Before we get to the snubs, though, let’s talk about that voting system. Others have criticized it more eloquently than I ever could, but in sum, the main systemic problem comes down to the fact that voters can pick no more than 10 players each year. So, no matter how many qualified potential inductees are actually on the ballot, there is a built-in ceiling to the total number of votes that can be distributed. (Remember: a player must be named on at least 75% of all ballots to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.) From a fairness standpoint, this just doesn’t make sense. Why would you put an arbitrary limit on the number of votes with no regard to the worthiness of the players you’re voting on? The effect of this system—illustrated by this year’s and last year’s vote totals, and illustrated at various points throughout baseball history—is that a player’s chances of getting elected are drastically decreased if there are large numbers of other worthy players on the ballot. This is unfortunate because it penalizes a guy like Mike Mussina for pitching in an era when he had to get out guys like Edgar Martinez, Frank Thomas, and Derek Jeter. It is a hindrance unrelated to the player’s value. Why not just have a straight yes-or-no ballot? Beats me.

Then there’s the issue of the voters themselves. A lot of people remember that it took Joe DiMaggio three years on the ballot before he was finally elected to the Hall of Fame. It is a puzzling case. DiMaggio was then, and still is today, considered one of the greatest players ever. He was a superstar. He was a Yankee. He was classy, he was cool. And yet…his first two years on the ballot, a majority of voters decided that he wasn’t Hall of Fame material. Why? What factors went into such a large group of baseball “experts” giving the thumbs-down not once but twice to a legendary, and legendarily excellent, ballplayer?

The DiMaggio example gets at what Joe Posnanski calls the “make them wait” tendency of Hall voters—the idea that it’s somehow OK to not vote for players who everybody agrees are worthy of Hall of Fame selection just…because. This phenomenon plays out every year, in ways that are impossible to justify. It’s why 16 people voted ‘no’ to Greg Maddux last year; why 8 people voted ‘no’ to Cal Ripken, the Iron Man, when he came onto the ballot in 2007. You will never see a player, no matter how great, get unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame. This is not new; it’s the way the system has always worked. And you know what?—it’s stupid. It should be fixed.

* * *

For those who are curious, I discussed my ideal 2014 Hall of Fame ballot at length in the two posts I linked to above. This year, many of these same players failed, once again, to achieve the required 75 percent. Rather than rehash my arguments, here’s a list of the eligible players I believe should be voted into the Hall of Fame but were not voted in this year:

Jeff Bagwell
Barry Bonds
Roger Clemens
Edgar Martinez
Mark McGwire
Mike Mussina
Mike Piazza
Tim Raines
Curt Schilling
Larry Walker


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