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Monday, January 7, 2013
Hall of Fame links: Nobody may get in

By David Schoenfield

Some stuff out there on the Internet, Hall of Fame related …

1. Joe Posnanski with a fun post on the Topps numbering system -- if you collected cards, you remember the best players would get card No. 100 or 300 or whatever, stars would get No. 250 or 450, and minor stars would get the other cards ending in 0. And Mario Mendoza would always get No. 78 or No. 253 or the like. So Joe checked all the big names -- I have no idea how long this took him -- and awarded points each time a player got a card ending in 0, with more points for a "prime" card (ending in 00 or 50). Jack Morris, as it turns out, appeared only once on a "prime" card -- No. 450 in 1982. That's it. So Topps definitely didn't view Morris as a Hall of Famer.

(Here's Joe's Hall of Fame ballot.)

2. OK, OK, maybe that's not the most scientific analysis. But it is one argument that contradicts the view that many are now holding that Morris was viewed as a huge star while active. You can argue that Morris was more widely respected by those in the game than outside, but that doesn't make him a better pitcher than he was. ESPN Insider Dan Szymborski compares Morris to first-time ballot guy Curt Schilling. The Morris-Schilling comparison is an interesting case study, because there will be many voters who will vote for Morris but not Schilling (largely because Morris had 40 more wins), but as Dan points out, Morris' "edge" in wins isn't that valuable -- Schilling would have to go 38-40 to match Morris' record. And if Morris' trump card is his Game 7 performance, Schilling can counter with the fact that he's one of the greatest postseason pitchers of all time, with an overall record far superior to Morris' (11-2, 2.23 ERA in 19 starts versus 7-4, 3.80 in 13 starts). Basically, there isn't a rational reason for voting for Morris but excluding Schilling.

3. Joe Sheehan had a strong take on the Hall of Fame in one of his recent newsletters (subscribe here):
What we've seen is that Hall voting in the modern era has moved away from the stats -- because when the voters made arguments about the stats, they got crushed by the outsiders -- and towards the narrative, because the writers could make up whatever they wanted. So Bruce Sutter wasn't a guy with five good years and just eight in which he did anything, with 23 WAR and a save total that wasn't at all impressive just a few years after he retired … no, he was a split-fingered pioneer who revolutionized the closer role and was a critical piece on a World Champion, and look at that beard!

[snip]

Now, we have Jack Morris, and once again, the statistical case for Morris was tried and found lacking a decade ago, from his postseason work to his "best pitcher of the 1980s" to "pitching to the score". The traditional voters were beaten on the stats, so they brought in the stories of him being a bulldog, of Opening Day starts (a stat that has never before and will never again be part of a Hall of Fame case), of one night in October, and they created a legend, and that legend -- that narrative -- is what will be elected to the Hall.

Joe's point is that on his first five years on the ballot, Morris never received more than 26 percent of the vote. The rejection of his 3.90 career ERA, at that time, was pretty sound. You can argue that this is why we give players 15 years on the ballot. But those 15 years also allow narratives -- like Sutter, like Morris, like Jim Rice -- to build momentum.

By the way, you knew who else was a World Series hero? Mickey Lolich, who won three games for the Tigers in 1968, beating Bob Gibson in Game 7. He was a good pitcher as well: 217 wins, 3.44 ERA, career WAR a little higher than Morris', had a season in which he started 45 games and pitched 376 innings (the first of four straight 300-inning seasons). In his fourth year on the ballot, he received -- get this -- 26 percent of the vote. But that was it. He declined thereafter, oddly falling from 26 percent to 11 percent in one year. His narrative never developed, and memories of him faded away.

4. Tim Marchman of the Wall Street Journal says it's time to give the vote to ... the fans:
The problem is simple: The elections are carried out by writers who have been members of the Baseball Writers Association of America for at least 10 years, and consequently, the debates aren't about baseball or ballplayers but about sportswriting and sportswriters -- much less interesting subjects.

An obvious solution -- one so elegant it's surprising it wasn't put in place decades ago -- is to simply strip writers of the vote and give it to the public. Writers and traditionalists would cry to the heavens, and all would fret over the perils of mass democracy, but we'd at least be rid of an inherently toxic structure.

[snip]

The worst element, though, is that the writers debating all of this have the franchise even though there's no real reason for them to have it: They have no special knowledge of the game relative to anyone else, and they've never done a good job.

I will say this: Based on voting results I've seen on the past on ESPN.com, fans would be tougher than the writers. Many think giving fans the vote (or part of it) would lead to more absurd selections or fan favorites. Actually, the opposite is true: It would lead to fewer selections. The fans, for example, certainly wouldn't have voted in Sutter or Rice. Put it this way: It's hard enough getting 75 percent consensus from 500-plus writers; it would be near impossible getting 75 percent consensus from an even larger bloc of fans, excepting only the obvious candidates.

5. Somebody has been counting published ballots, and as of Dec. 27 (and 114 ballots, or 20 percent of last year's total), NOBODY will make it in this year. That early roll call had Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza and Tim Raines all over 60 percent, but nobody at 70 percent. Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds were both at 44.7 percent. I predicted the other day that Biggio and Morris would make it, but I won't be surprised if neither does.

Giving us a Hall of Fame ceremony this summer of Jacob Ruppert (owner, died 1939), Hank O'Day (umpire, died 1935) and Deacon White (played when catchers caught the ball barehanded, died 1939).

Can't wait.