"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Thursday, January 10, 2013

On the Hall of Fame Vote

Regular readers (that's right, I mean you, Mom) will know that the Regular Guy is a big baseball fan.   I've been a lifelong Cardinals fan ever since my Dad took me to my first game in the 1964 World Series, although my real fandom didn't begin until I spent a glorious summer at age 9 in 1968 listening to Jack Buck and Harry Caray call 3-hit shutout after shutout for Bob Gibson on his way to the miraculous 1.12 ERA season.

So I was interested in the Hall of Fame vote that came out yesterday revealing that no one had been elected.   Not one player.

Not Barry Bonds, the all-time home run leader.

Not Roger Clemens, who won seven Cy Young awards.

Not Craig Biggio, who had 3,000 hits.

Not Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa or Rafael Palmeiro, all of whom had well over 500 home runs and, in the case of Sosa, is one of only six players with more than 600 (Ruth, Mays, Aaron, Rodriguez, Bonds are the others).

Why?   How can this be?

Steroids.   It's the steroids era.   Pasty-faced baseball writers who never played sports on the major league level, who never had the competitiveness or the will or the talent or the body to play major league baseball, are punishing everyone who played during the era.   Cheaters, they say.

Well, here's what I say.

Why do we hate cheaters?   Because they gain an unfair advantage over other players and distort the statistics by which we measure greatness in the game.

OK, but weren't the statistics in the 1920s and 1930s and on through most of the 1940s distorted by the fact that African-Americans weren't allowed to play in the major leagues?   Didn't those white players like, oh, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby gain an unfair advantage because they didn't have to play against great Negro League pitchers in their prime like Satchel Paige?   Didn't Walter Johnson or Christy Mathewson have an unfair advantage because they didn't have to pitch to Josh Gibson?

And which is a worse sin, the tolerance of performance-enhancing drugs by baseball in the 1990s, or the tolerance of institutional racism in the 1920s and 1930s?

And, while I'm on the subject of performance-enhancing drugs... should colleges ask prospective students whether they have taken performance-enhancing drugs to combat attention deficit disorder (since we drug our young at an alarming rate)?   Aren't their grades "distorted" because of those performance enhancing drugs?

And, of course, consider the irony that nearly every sports broadcast features advertisements for performance-enhancing drugs.   "Sports Center, brought to you by Cialis!"   How many of those fat, pasty-faced sportswriters finish their column lamenting performance-enhancing drugs in baseball and go home and take a Viagra tablet to enhance their own performance?

And, if it's distorted statistics that bother us, shouldn't we discount the statistics from the past 20-30 years because of advances in medicine?   Don't modern players get an unfair advantage when their knees or elbows or shoulders can be surgically reconstructed to prolong their careers and improve their performance?   Do you think it's by accident that some high school kids have allegeldy had elective Tommy John surgery to improve their velocity on the fastball?  

How is that fair to Mickey Mantle, whose career was debilitated by knee injuries?   Or Sandy Koufax, who retired at 30 because of elbow pain?  Or others you haven't heard of who might have been great but instead left baseball because of injuries that couldn't be fixed at the time?

The upshot is that, once you start down this road of punishing certain people because they had an unfair advantage at a particular point in time, there's no end to it, and no consistent rationale for doing so.

What I would do is simply use my own judgment to answer this question....

Was the player one of the greatest players of his generation, whatever the particular aspects of that generation might be that we would consider unsavory?   Was he great for an extended period?   Was he great on the biggest stages, in the playoffs and the World Series?   Was he in the argument for "best player in baseball" for a number of seasons?   Was he in the argument for best pitcher in baseball for a number of seasons?   If he was, then I vote for him for the Hall.   If not, I don't.

These were the players who were up for the Hall and who received votes.   A baseball writer would get a maximum of ten votes.   The ones I would vote for are in bold.

Craig Biggio
Jack Morris
Jeff Bagwell
Mike Piazza
Tim Raines
Lee Smith
Curt Schilling
Roger Clemens
Barry Bonds
Edgar Martinez
Alan Trammell
Larry Walker
Fred McGriff
Dale Murphy
Mark McGwire
Don Mattingly
Sammy Sosa
Rafael Palmeiro
Bernie Williams
Kenny Lofton
Sandy Alomar Jr.
Julio Franco
David Wells
Steve Finley
Shawn Green
Aaron Sele

Note that I only voted for eight.   Bonds and  Clemens have to be in -- they were the greatest player and the greatest pitcher of the past 25 years.   Piazza gets in as the greatest hitting catcher of all time.   Morris and Schilling get in as the best big-game pitchers of their era who performed on the biggest stage, the World Series.  

That leaves McGwire, Sosa and Palmeiro.   Were their home run totals inflated by steroids?   Yes, I believe they were.   But the totals are what they are, with each having numbers either in the high 500s or in the 600s (Sosa).   Those HRs were hit.   We saw them.   Others of the same era who perhaps also did steorids might have hit that many but didn't.   There is no question that they were great players without steroids -- McGwire hit 49 HRs as a rookie, Sosa was highly touted from the get-go, Palmeiro had maybe the sweetest swing ever, etc.   The steroids issue should be mentioned on their plaques.   But they have to be in, or else what's a Hall of Fame for?


Some notes on who I left out.   Biggio has 3,000 hits and SABRmetricians love him because he worked a lot of walks, got hit by pitch a lot, and didn't hit into DPs.   All right.   But I don't remember anyone in the late 1990s talking about how Craig Biggio was one of the greatest players in baseball.   He's just a guy who hung around a long time and got his hits.   Maybe he gets in some day.   But not against this group.

Others?   Bagwell, Raines, McGriff, Walker?   Close, but not quite HoF material.   Dale Murphy and Don Mattingly?    Careers were too short.   Bernie Williams?   He was the CF on on one of the great teams of all time, the Yankees of the late 1990s, and his stats from those years were terrific, but he was probably the 4th or 5th best player on those teams.   Alan Trammell?   A good shortstop who played a long time.   But he's no Ozzie Smith, and no one thought he was at the time either.   Lee Smith?   I don't vote for relief pitchers unless their name is Eckersley, Sutter or Mariano Rivera.  

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