Columns/Features / Sports

If It’s Broke, Should We Fix It?

The politics of the Hall of Fame voting have created a situation where obviously worthy candidates are being passed over. Baseball fans can blame this on a set of rules (or lack of rules) that makes the voting entirely subjective and seemingly random.

For those readers who don’t know about the Hall of Fame voting system, here it is: The voting is open to hundreds of sports writers across the nation, most of whom are very familiar with Major League Baseball. Notice that is “MOST,” not ALL. Sports writers who know nothing about the game or its history are still included. Players need a 75 percent vote to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and they have a 15-year window to be inducted, given that they receive at least the 5 percent needed to stay on the ballot. However, writers can only vote for 10 players on any given year, even if there are more than 10 worthy nominees.

This is where I take issue with the Hall of Fame vote. Even though baseball is, by its nature, a competitive sport, there does not need to be any sort of competitive element to the Hall of Fame voting. Baseball has one winner and one loser. There is only one championship and players will take their at-bats for 30 innings or more to decide a game.

However, there is no limit on the number of players that can be inducted into the Hall and the standards of excellence have been established and have evolved for over 100 years. Upon retirement, players should not still be needlessly competing. Let the Hall of Fame stand to honor and immortalize the greatest players of all time, not create drama and debate based on some sports writers’ agendas.

The weight that has tipped the scales toward the side of flaw is the issue of performance-enhancing drugs. Players who have been caught using steroids and other substances are still included on the ballot with their career numbers intact. They are not even approaching the numbers needed to be inducted, yet they stay on the ballot year after year, stealing votes away from clean players who might otherwise be inducted. While one could make an argument for steroid users being inducted in the Hall of Fame, one must agree that they are being evaluated differently.

A player who hits 763 home runs should not be receiving 35 percent of the Hall of Fame vote. Intuitively, he should be receiving near 100 percent or 0 percent, depending on whether or not steroid users deserve induction into the Hall of Fame. Of course, everyone has a different opinion on this, which is why the voting numbers come up somewhere in between. But a debate such as this should not interfere with the voting process of clean players. Something is wrong with the system.

Steroid issues aside, there are players who are obviously being excluded who need to be in, and if a change in the system is necessary, it should be implemented next year. Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux were all locks and rightfully inducted in their first year of eligibility.

But what about Craig Biggio? The Houston Astros legend recorded 3,000 hits in his career while playing Gold Glove defense and holding three of the most demanding positions in baseball: catcher, second base and centerfield. Those numbers, combined with his impeccable baseball character, make Biggio’s Hall credentials undoubtable, yet he fell two votes shy of induction. Common sense says he’ll make it next year, but what happens when another crop of bonafide legends (Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Gary Sheffield and Nomar Garciaparra) come up on the ballot? The steroid issue will surely not be resolved by next year, and the field will remain crowded.

And that doesn’t even consider the other 2014 snubs. Mike Piazza of the Dodgers and Mets is the greatest offensive catcher of all-time, yet he fell 13 percent shy of induction this year. Piazza seems like a surefire Hall-of-Famer, yet he was excluded this year because certain baseball writers thought that even though he was worthy, he wasn’t “first-ballot” worthy. Politics like this have skewed the voting for far too long.

Jeff Bagwell teamed up with Biggio in Houston for years and was one of the best first basemen ever, every bit the equal of his teammate. Curt Schilling of the Phillies, Diamondbacks and Red Sox has the numbers and career success, if not the popularity. Edgar Martinez of the Mariners revolutionized the designated hitter position and with Thomas’ induction this year, the anti-DH argument is now dead.

Former Tigers pitcher Jack Morris has accumulated over 250 wins, nearly 2,500 strikeouts, all while keeping an ERA at 3.90. He is not a Hall of Fame lock by any means, but his candidacy is overshadowed due to the abundance of worthy nominees created by this logjam. In his last year of eligibility, his vote percentage actually fell 6 percent. If not for the issue of steroid users on the ballot, Morris likely would have been inducted years ago when he wasn’t going against such pitching locks as Maddux and Glavine.

Lee Smith is one of the greatest closing pitchers of all-time and, after receiving 48 percent of the vote last year, saw his numbers fall below 30 percent this year. Granted, the “saves” statistic and the role of closers in general is controversial, but if a player was a pioneer of the role and is also one of the top five ever at their position, doesn’t that warrant a spot in the Hall?

Poor Larry Walker of the Rockies and Cardinals is one of the greatest hitters of his generation, accumulating 383 home runs while maintaining a .313 career batting average and a .400 on-base percentage over his 17-year career. Oh yeah, he also garnered seven Gold Gloves and an MVP award. Considering he was never linked to performance-enhancing drugs in the era where they were rampant, at the surface he seems destined for Cooperstown. But Walker struggles to get 10 percent of the vote. Instead of having Hall of Fame goals, he is proud just to be on the ballot year after year.

This doesn’t even consider worthy candidates with solid credentials like Tim Raines, Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina. These three have also fallen victim to the Hall of Fame problem, failing to get even 50 percent of the vote even though their numbers stack up with previous Hall of Fame players.

The only reasonable solution is to eliminate the 10-vote limit. This would eliminate the issues of steroid-linked players on the ballot and allow players to be inducted purely based on their baseball merit. Voters who choose to include the likes of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens can do so without excluding the likes of clean Hall-worthy players whose numbers aren’t quite as flashy.

Furthermore, it wouldn’t split the vote among worthy players, thereby eliminating the stalemate that has occurred in recent years. The vote would come down to, “Who is worthy of the Hall of Fame?” a must less subjective question than “Who is most worthy of the Hall of Fame?”

 

A version of this article appeared on page 10 of January 15th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.

Art by Vicky Kohatsu of the Daily Nexus.

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