An ill timed post about the Baseball Hall of Fame

Every year, there is much talk about the Hall of Fame ballot, and who should, or shouldn’t get in. Baseball’s Hall of Fame is a small one. Not physically small, but the concept of how elite a player needs to be to get into the Hall is very strict. There have been exceptions, and strange selections, but, generally the BBWAA has felt that less players is the way to go.

There are 297 inductees into the baseball Hall, only 207 have been former MLB players. With over 130 years of professional baseball to select ‘worthy’ candidates from, this amounts to about 1.5 guys per year. To think of that another way, Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Yu Darvish, and Matt Moore debuted this year. One of them might make the Hall, if everything works out perfectly. The rest will likely only get in there the way you and I will…. by buying a ticket. The other one hundred or so rookies out there? No such luck.

There has been much made of the 2013 HoF ballot, because as it now stands, there will be a lot of players suddenly together who have A) Reached a lot of the traditional ‘benchmark’ numbers for HoF voters to put them in and B) Played during an era where any good performance has had the shadow of performance enhancing drugs cast over it.

I’m here to tell you, it isn’t really a big deal. Why? You may have asked me after reading that sentence? It is because the voting process has made very little sense up to this point, and since we have no reason to expect that will change, you can relax, and let the Baseball Writers induct whomever tickles their fancy this year. Just like they always have.

Which brings me to the point that I really wanted to illustrate. There are some in the Blue Jays mainstream media who would have you beilieve Omar Vizquel is a future Hall of Famer. There are some in the Blogosphere who would tell you that putting him in the Hall is highly doubtful.

I’m here to show you that neither group has any real idea whether or not Uncle Omar will get in. And I’m not even going to use one stat or story about Omar Vizquel from here on out.

First, a graph, courtesy of Fangraphs WAR Graphs pages. I have deleted the names to make sure you keep reading this post for a while longer. If I withhold the right information for just the right amount of time, we both leave happy.

Those are four very famous shortstops. Three of them are retired, one is still a full time player. Two of them were sure shot, first ballot Hall of Famers. The current player projects as a first balloter too, unless he gambles on baseball or something crazy and/or stupid like that. The fourth guy? His votes have floated between 13 and 36% of the BBWAA vote. If you aren’t into WAR, here are some traditional stats for all these guys.

I will disclose that one of these guys was a ‘glove first’ shortstop. All four played at SS for most of their career, though, and none were considered enough of a defensive liabilityto move them to another position. The lowest career WAR belongs to the defensive specialist, and that line gives him more career defensive WAR than any other player. For what it’s worth, all four players have won Gold Gloves. Sometimes with their bat, if you catch my drift, but they continue to play at short.

So, four mystery players, all shortshtops. All played, or play in the modern era. None of them have been rocked by a scandal or personal troubles to soil their good name in the voters eyes. Why are three in the Cooperstown comfortably, and the fourth is hanging around the ballot box with his fingers crossed? Because the BBWAA has no interest in fair or equal treatment for candidates for the Hall of Fame.

Each voter on the regular ballot votes however he feels like in any given year. There is no narrowing down of the list of candidates, no way for a player or organization to campaign to the BBWAA as a whole for better consideration. There is no need for them to induct any candidates at all.

How small do they want the Hall to be? From 1957 to 1967, the regular ballot writers inducted 5 players into Cooperstown. Total. They found only 5 major leaguers who retired over a 25 year span (10 years voting, plus 15 year eligibility) to be worthy of enshrinement. Every ballot contains slots for 10 names, with a 75% election threshold, meaning more than 10 worthy players can be selected every year. What’s the most that’s ever been inducted by the voters in one year? After the first 2 years (five player eachyear) the answer is three, in 1999.

Those three were Brett, Ryan, and Yount. Kind of a no brainer, in retrospect.

Before I continue to talk about the voting process, let’s reveal our shortstops. Player A is our unlucky outsider, Alan Trammell. Player B, The Wizard, Ozzie Smith. Player C is the Iron Man, Cal Ripken Jr. Yes, he was that good. Player D is Mr. November,
Derek Jeter. Turn the stats upside down and backwards. Trammell vs. Jeter, and it’s clear the legend of Jeter and his playoff magic have a lot to do with why he’s ‘automatic’. Still, Trammell isn’t even close to being considered, and yet Jeter, and even Ozzie, seem like obvious choices. Why? Well there’s a good explanation, and it has to to with that last guy on the start list.

So, in the next few years you are going to hear a lot about a very awkward period in Hall of Fame voting. Not only are there questions about the way in which the PED scandal affected the game, there are a number of other factors that the voting process has made no adjustments for.

This has been a 30 team league for the entire career of most of the retiring players. There are 3 rounds of playoffs each year. The schedule is unbalanced. All of these factors affect the level of competition, the opportunities to continue employment, and the time spent in the limelight for the modern player. The BBWAA does the same thing it always has done. It does whatever it feels like. The ballot is going to start to look a bit silly, and it will become apparent that there is a lot more activity centered around keeping players out, rather than honouring them by letting them in.

Another quick example, this time with four modern era second basemen. 

Two of those lines belong to Hall of Famers, and two do not. Kent is not eligible until 2014, but his name hardly comes up in the discussion on a very crowded ballot. Sandberg was in on his third ballot. Alomar went in on the second try. Whitaker? Didn’t even get the 5% qualifying vote to stay on the ballot for a second year. Why?

Because the BBWAA spends most of its time trying to find a way to keep players out of the Hall of Fame, rather than thinking of the merits of having someone in. I don’t know how many players will go in on the next few ballots, and I don’t know which ones. I do know that if the BBWAA continues to follow the historical trend, the best bet is that a lot of deserving players will have to wait a long time before they get consideration.

Is Omar Vizquel a deserving player? By WAR, probably not. By reputation? Probably yes. Will he be voted in by the BBWAA? Who knows? They are unpredictable, always.

I have a feeling though, that the Hall of Fame itself, which is not the same thing as the BBWAA, will continue to find ways to put more players like Vizquel into the Hall. If they want to bring the public out to their museum, they have to continue to stay relevant, and that has a lot to do with having players that younger people have seen playing in their youth. Next time you think about the Hall of Fame, remember that the BBWAA vote isn’t the end of the line for the museum itself. They’ve added players on their own many, many times before. They surely will have to again.

1 thought on “An ill timed post about the Baseball Hall of Fame

  1. lee smith is definetly gonna be one bceuase he has the second most saves behind trevor hoffman then the next one is either don mattingly or mcgwire bceuase hes gotta get the someday

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