Have the writers gotten too tough?

January, 9, 2013
1/09/13
7:45
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As you probably realize, there are really two Hall of Fames: There is the one elected by the Baseball Writers Association, which consists of all the big names we usually think of when we think of the Hall of Fame; then there is the one elected by the Veterans Committee, which consists of many deserving candidates and many players only the most diehard of diehards have heard of.

In the past 10 elections, the writers have elected just 14 players -- and three of those have been relief pitchers. It's not that the voters don't believe there are qualified candidates. This year, for example, the average ballot contained 6.6 names. Yes, the whole PED mess complicates things, but I think the voters want to see players elected; they just can't agree on which ones.

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Ignoring (or trying to) the PED issue, do you think the BBWAA is too tough?

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    65%
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    35%

Discuss (Total votes: 997)

I want to go position by position and see who the writers have elected through the years. I have a theory on what's happening here. More on that later.

Catchers
1. Gary Carter (1980s)
2. Carlton Fisk (1970s)
3. Johnny Bench (1960s)
4. Yogi Berra (1950s)
5. Roy Campanella (1950s)
6. Gabby Hartnett (1930s)
7. Bill Dickey (1930s)
8. Mickey Cochrane (1920s/1930s)

Players are listed in order of election, most recent to least recent and I've assigned each the general decade they are associated with. For catchers, we basically get one elected per generation. The 1990s candidates would be Mike Piazza (who just hit the ballot) and Pudge Rodriguez (coming up). Both have PED rumors attached to their names, although Piazza fared fairly well in his first year with over 50 percent of the vote.

First basemen
1. Eddie Murray (1980s)
2. Tony Perez (1970s)
3. Willie McCovey (1960s)
4. Harmon Killebrew (1960s)
5. Hank Greenberg (1930s)
6. Bill Terry (1930s)
7. Jimmie Foxx (1930s)
8. Lou Gehrig (1930s)
9. George Sisler (1920s)

Similar thing here: We're getting about one per decade, with Jeff Bagwell, Mark McGwire, Fred McGriff and Rafael Palmeiro being the 1990s candidates and Albert Pujols the eventual 2000s guy.

Second basemen
1. Roberto Alomar (1990s)
2. Ryne Sandberg (1980s)
3. Rod Carew (1970s)
4. Joe Morgan (1970s)
5. Jackie Robinson (1950s)
6. Charlie Gehringer (1930s)
7. Frankie Frisch (1920s)
8. Rogers Hornsby (1920s)
9. Eddie Collins (1910s)
10. Nap Lajoie (1900s)

Are you seeing a trend? Craig Biggio would become another 1990s guy. Carew played a few games at first if you'd rather list him there. Who would be the 2000s guy? I guess Jeff Kent (on the ballot next year) or Chase Utley.

Third basemen
1. Wade Boggs (1980s)
2. George Brett (1980s)
3. Mike Schmidt (1970s/1980s)
4. Brooks Robinson (1960s)
5. Eddie Mathews (1950s)
6. Pie Traynor (1920s/1930s)

Hall voters have been very tough on third basemen, electing only the five obvious guys plus the overrated Traynor. Chipper is the 1990s/2000s guy, perhaps leaving Scott Rolen and Adrian Beltre out in the Cooperstown cold.

Shortstops
1. Barry Larkin (1990s)
2. Cal Ripken (1980s)
3. Ozzie Smith (1980s)
4. Robin Yount (1980s)
5. Luis Aparicio (1960s)
6. Ernie Banks (1950s/1960s)
7. Lou Boudreau (1940s)
8. Luke Appling (1930s/1940s)
9. Joe Cronin (1930s)
10. Rabbit Maranville (1910s)
11. Honus Wagner (1900s)

[+] EnlargeEdgar Martinez
Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesEdgar Martinez got 36 percent of the vote this year.
The pattern basically holds here, although we have three 1980s guys, all first-ballot Hall of Famers. That's why Alan Trammell, despite very strong credentials, has failed to get enough support. There are already three shortstops from his generation already in. Barry Larkin, by arriving a few years after Trammell, gets the "Best shortstop in the National League" label in the 1990s, and thus gets in. Derek Jeter is your 2000s guy -- perhaps hurting Omar Vizquel's case -- and Alex Rodriguez carries the PED stink.

Left fielders
1. Rickey Henderson (1980s)
2. Jim Rice (1970s/1980s)
3. Carl Yastrzemski (1960s/1970s)
4. Willie Stargell (1970s)
5. Billy Williams (1960s)
6. Lou Brock (1960s/1970s)
7. Ralph Kiner (1950s)
8. Stan Musial (1940s/1950s)
9. Joe Medwick (1930s)
10. Ted Williams (1940s/1950s)
11. Al Simmons (1920s/1930s)

Tim Raines draws the short straw since he loses the "not as good Rickey Henderson" argument. Of course he's not as good as Rickey Henderson. Few were ... or will be. The 1990s guy would be Barry Bonds, of course. There isn't really a strong recent candidate, although Ryan Braun is starting build an impressive résumé.

Center fielders
1. Kirby Puckett (1980s/1990s)
2. Duke Snider (1950s)
3. Willie Mays (1950s/1960s)
4. Mickey Mantle (1950s)
5. Joe DiMaggio (1940s)
6. Tris Speaker (1910s)
7. Ty Cobb (1910s)

As I wrote earlier, the writers have been lethal in their treatment of center fielders (you can include Andre Dawson here if you want, although he played more games in right field). Dale Murphy lost the 1980s race to Puckett (and Dawson). The 1990s guy will be Ken Griffey Jr., one reason Bernie Williams and Kenny Lofton just got booted off the ballot. For the 2000s, we have Carlos Beltran, Andruw Jones and Jim Edmonds.

Right fielders
1. Andre Dawson (1980s)
2. Tony Gwynn (1980s/1990s)
3. Dave Winfield (1980s)
4. Reggie Jackson (1970s)
5. Hank Aaron (1950s/1960s)
6. Frank Robinson (1960s)
7. Al Kaline (1950s/1960s)
8. Roberto Clemente (1960s)
9. Paul Waner (1930s)
10. Harry Heilmann (1920s)
11. Mel Ott (1930s)
12. Willie Keeler (1900s)
13. Babe Ruth (1920s)

We have four right fielders from the 1950s and 1960s, but how could you deny any of those four the Hall of Fame? Larry Walker has a higher career WAR than Reggie Jackson, Tony Gwynn or Dave Winfield, but hasn't yet received much support. Your other 1990s guy is the tainted Sammy Sosa, leaving Ichiro Suzuki or Vladimir Guerrero for the 2000s.

Designated hitter
1. Paul Molitor (1980s/1990s)

Frank Thomas joins the ballot next year and Edgar Martinez got 36 percent of the vote this year. Will David Ortiz have a shot?

Starting pitchers
1. Bert Blyleven (1970s/1980s)
2. Nolan Ryan (1970s/1980s)
3. Don Sutton (1970s)
4. Phil Niekro (1970s)
5. Steve Carlton (1970s)
6. Tom Seaver (1970s)
7. Fergie Jenkins (1970s)
8. Gaylord Perry (1960s/1970s)
9. Jim Palmer (1970s)
10. Catfish Hunter (1970s)
11. Don Drysdale (1960s)
12. Juan Marichal (1960s)
13. Bob Gibson (1960s)
14. Bob Lemon (1950s)
15. Robin Roberts (1950s)
16. Whitey Ford (1950s)
17. Warren Spahn (1950s)
18. Sandy Koufax (1960s)
19. Early Wynn (1950s)
20. Red Ruffing (1930s)
21. Bob Feller (1940s)
22. Ted Lyons (1930s)
23. Dazzy Vance (1920s)
24. Dizzy Dean (1930s)
25. Herb Pennock (1920s)
26. Lefty Grove (1920s/1930s)
27. Carl Hubbell (1930s)
28. Pete Alexander (1910s)
29. Cy Young (1890s/1900s)
30. Walter Johnson (1910s)
31. Christy Mathewson (1900s)

The BBWAA hasn't elected a starting pitcher who began his career after 1970. Generally speaking, there are many pitchers from the 1960s and 1970s -- no surprise since offense was lower in that era and innings pitched totals at their highest since the dead-ball era prior to 1920. We have few pitchers from the high-scoring 1920s and 1930s and then nobody from 1980 and on, when offense started rising again.

That will change next year with 300-game winners Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine joining the ballot, and Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez after that. Jack Morris has one year left and Curt Schilling just began his slow climb. We'll see how other strong candidates -- but not 300-game winners -- Mike Mussina and John Smoltz fare in the future.

Relief pitchers
1. Rich Gossage (1970s/1980s)
2. Bruce Sutter (1970s/1980s)
3. Dennis Eckersley (1980s/1990s)
4. Rollie Fingers (1970s)
5. Hoyt Wilhelm (1950s/1960s)

Sutter's election opens the door for many closers, although Lee Smith has topped out at around 50 percent. Mariano Rivera will be a lock and Trevor Hoffman presumably sails in someday.

* * * *

OK, so you've seen the basic pattern for every position: One guy per decade, barring an extra obvious candidate like the Ripken/Young/Ozzie shortstop trio in the 1980s. Great players like Lou Whitaker and Bobby Grich get knocked off the ballot because Ryne Sandberg is your second baseman. Bernie Williams gets tossed aside because he wasn't Ken Griffey Jr. And so on.

To me -- and I'm admittedly in favor of MORE Hall of Famers -- the problem is twofold:

1. Starting in 1961, we had expansion. We now have twice as many teams as the first 60 years of the 1900s. Thus, logically, we should be electing about twice as many Hall of Famers. But that hasn't been happening; the voters are still following the general "one guy per decade" rule. Whitaker should be in as another 1980s second baseman. Trammell certainly deserves election. Tim Raines deserves to head to Cooperstown. Even leaving out the PED guys, there are many strong candidates from the 1970s, '80s and '90s. We'll catch up a bit in upcoming years with the likes of Maddux, Glavine, Griffey and others, but that will still leave the past 30 years underrepresented.

2. The other problem is more complicated. As the quality of play improves over time -- and it has -- it becomes more difficult to flourish above and beyond your peers. Basically, there were more "bad" players in the old days than now, thus easier for Ty Cobb or Babe Ruth or whomever to put up their numbers. Just look at the career leaders in WAR on Baseball-Reference. Does it make sense that many of the very greatest players of all time were born in the 1800s or before World War II began? As Joe Posnanski just wrote:
Yes, baseball is the only sport going where people honestly believe (and desperately want to believe) that good players today might not match up to good players 75 of 100 years ago, that numbers when the game was all white and all-American are every bit as viable (if not more viable) as numbers after Jackie Robinson and the world joined in.

Baseball is the only sport where anyone would say, with a straight face, that the best player of all time stopped playing during the Great Depression and the best pitcher of all time retired before the Great Stock Market Crash.

So if the quality of play becomes more even, you end up with clusters of players with the same ability or same value, however you want to define it. How do you separate Edgar Martinez from Tim Raines from Larry Walker from Fred McGriff from Alan Trammell? That's what the voters haven't been able to figure out. Sometimes, what we'll call a non-certain candidate like Jim Rice or Bruce Sutter or Jack Morris will pick up momentum -- and it usually has nothing to do with their on-field value -- and get in. More often, those players are left with their various supporters flailing against each other, unable to reach a consensus.

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