The last post had some facts in it; this one has a lot of opinions. If you are not interested in my opinion, or don’t think that I should dare comment on your blessed Hall of Fame, then save yourself the aggravation and don’t read it. It’s not worth getting your blood pressure up.
First I will attempt to explain the viewpoint expressed in the title. Why don’t I care about the Hall of Fame? First, it should be noted that a better title would have been “Why I Don’t Care About the HOF as it is Currently Constituted” or “Why I Don’t Care Who the HOF Elects, Only Why It is Broken”, as writing a couple thousand words about something is generally inconsistent with not caring about it at all. Touche. Also, by HOF I am referring to the player inductions, not to the other functions of the institution (museum, research library, etc.)
I should really make this a permanent disclaimer for every post on this blog, but again, let it be noted that: the opinions and ideas expressed in this post are not necessarily new, I do not claim to have thought of them independently of reading the work of others, and even if I don’t explicitly state that something was proposed by someone else, it very well may have been.
One of the issues I have with the Hall of Fame, albeit not one that diminishes it for modern players, is the overlook of nineteenth century players, particularly from the 1870s, 1880s, and the pre-professional days. The
In saying this, I realize that the VC is taking a vote on ten pre-1943 players, including Bill Dahlen and Deacon White. However, I do not expect that the volume of nineteenth century players that will eventually be picked is sufficient, nor does it result in the candidates being evaluated by those best suited for the task.
However, the primary reason I view the
However, I think that the Hall of Famers themselves, as well as the casual baseball fan, do not fully understand the number of players who are in the HOF who simply did not have the impressive careers that one would expect.. They are trusting, and assume that every body that has been empowered to induct players has done so responsibly.
Perhaps I am off base. Perhaps they know more about the players than I am giving them credit for. I doubt it, but I am open to being persuaded otherwise.
The fact that Lloyd Waner is in the Hall of Fame is not in and of itself damning to the ability of the institution to honor great players any more than that Jeff Burroughs won the AL MVP award means that Alex Rodriguez was unable to be sufficiently honored last year. However, the
To belabor the MVP comparison a bit (and this was actually discussed a bit in the BTF thread linked in the comments for the last post--although I had written the preceding paragraph before that discussion), while a poor MVP selection can indeed set a precedent and lead to more selections in the same vein, at least each year’s crop is not being compared to Jeff Burroughs. The selection of Justin Morneau in 2006 may have been similar in some way to that of Burroughs, but at least he was not being compared directly to Burroughs--he was being compared to Jeter, Ortiz, Hafner, Mauer, etc. In the case of the Hall of Fame, the most important comparison is not between the candidates on the ballot (after all, you can choose up to ten of them), but between the candidates and the precedent that has been set by those inducted before them. Thus the mistakes made by the
Furthermore, if Lloyd Waner was the only questionable player in
One thing that was misunderstood in the last post was my comment that the primary standard I am interested in is career value. I did not mean to (nor did I) suggest that any other viewpoint was invalid, only that the discussion was grounded in that perspective. The relevance here is that I don’t believe that Sandy Koufax belongs in the Hall of Fame. However, if you come from a peak-centric viewpoint, Koufax is very much a defensible choice, maybe even an inner circle HOFer. Selections like Koufax, which are defensible from one point of view but questionable from another, are not the problem. The problem is those choices that make very little sense from any point of view. If there is a rational, fair definition of what a Hall of Famer should be that would include Rube Marquard, I am not aware of it.
Getting back to Hooper, Hafey, et al., I don’t even mean to suggest that those guys shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame. Maybe they should be. After all, the Hall of Fame has done very little to formally define what the standards should be, so everyone is free to make their own judgments. And if you feel that there should be 300 or 500 Hall of Famers, who am I to tell you you’re wrong?
However, at that point, I believe that the ability to honor the great players is gone. A Hall of Fame with Waner, Combs, and company can honor Kenny Lofton, Brett Butler, or Tim Salmon, but it cannot truly honor Tony Gwynn or Gary Sheffield, at least for my money.
Of course, if Gwynn chooses to be honored by it, that’s fine. Some people are naturally humble and will take any sort of accolade as an honor, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, I personally do not celebrate (nor condemn) false modesty or condemn realism about one’s accomplishments.
Some people, in defending the ability of the Hall of Fame to honor players, point out that the writers have enforced a much higher standard than the Veterans Committee has. The data presented in the last post demonstrates that this is the case. However, any distinction between which body votes you in is solely in the eyes of an observer. All of the inductees have their plaques hanging on the same wall. The only real difference that it makes is that the probability of a vets choice being present and able to enjoy their accolades is lower.
Therefore, I don’t see any good argument for the writers continuing to uphold a higher standard, independent of the inherent problem of having two groups choosing from the same players at different times. If there is a player, let’s call him Alan Trammell, who for whatever reason has been rejected by the writers, but is a very good bet to be chosen by the vets down the line, what good does it do to deny him the honor now? The only good reason for the BBWAA to reject eventual Hall of Famers is to prevent a further decay of the
If the BBWAA selects Trammel, then the Vets Committee might induct a lesser player like Omar Vizquel in thirty years, since they can’t induct Trammell. If the BBWAA lowers its standards, and the Vets maintain a mandate to elect somebody, then eventually the Vets’ standards will probably become lower as well, and the standards will be trapped in a downward spiral.
However, this is a problem that is irrelevant to the question of whether Trammell himself does or does not deserve to be in
How does the Hall of Fame get out of this mess, and escape the mistakes of the past? I believe that it could be done very easily by adding tiers to the Hall (obviously not a unique suggestion on my part). Some would argue that the writers/vets breakdown already constitutes a tiered Hall, but again, to the extent that there is, it is in perception only and not reflected in how members of the two groups are treated by the Hall.
I would propose a three-tiered Hall, for players only. The managers, executives, pioneers, etc. would remain in just one group which would be independent of the player tiers.
I would envision the tiers being voted on in a way not unlike what the Hall of Merit at BTF does. Instead of setting a minimum percentage of votes for a player to be elected, there would be timed elections that would result in a fixed number of honorees.
For an example of how this might work, the players currently in the Hall would all begin in the first tier. The second tier could be filled by an initial election of some sort that would put in 25 players (it doesn’t have to be 25). Then, every year there would be a second-tier vote for which all first-tier members would be eligible in perpetuity. One player would be selected per year. The third tier could be started with five of the second tier members, with an additional player chosen every three, five, or ten years depending on just how exclusive one wants this level to be.
I don’t have a proposal for the precise format of the elections, because 1) that’s not as important to me as the concept and 2) it’s not like it’s going to happen anyway, so what use is there in getting into specifics? I would like to think that the voting for the higher tiers could be done by a group of experts rather than the BBWAA or the former players (I do not mean to imply that writers or players could not be “experts”, just that qualified people are by no means limited to those two groups). Perhaps there would be a run off vote, or a MVP-style rank order ballot.
A not necessarily obvious positive about a tiered Hall would be that it would keep debates about past players in the forefront of baseball news for one day a year, rather than being the sole domain of small groups on message boards. It might serve to educate casual fans about baseball history and players of the past. If you consider the precedent of the All-Century Team, in which a special panel had to be added in order to honor obvious selections like Musial and Wagner, the historical knowledge of that voting base (which admittedly may not be reflective of casual fans at large) is quite poor. I doubt that the one day of coverage would lead to any sort of sea change, but it couldn’t hurt.
Do I expect that such a scheme will ever be adopted? Of course not. The Hall has changed its procedures a number of times throughout its history, but these changes have been mainly cosmetic and have done precious little to address the underlying flaws in the process. Am I saying that they must adopt the ideas here? No. What I am saying is that they should do something to correct the fundamental flaws in the system, and this is just a potential remedy that I would find palatable. However, since I doubt the Hall will reform its election process, I will continue to be disinterested in the debates about who should be inducted.