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Tuesday, November 12, 2013
The Hall of Fame mess gets messier

By David Schoenfield

Buster Olney wrote about the Hall of Fame in his Monday blog, pointing out a big problem many of the BBWAA voters will have in filling out their ballots next month: not enough room. Buster would like to vote for at least 16 players, but the voting rules call for a maximum of 10.

Buster mentioned that Tyler Kepner of The New York Times is another writer with the same dilemma:
He responded that the use of 10 spots has "always seemed like an arbitrary cut-off point, and strikes me as unfair to both the voters and the candidates. It's true that only 22 percent of the voters used all 10 slots last year. But think about it -- since nobody made it last year, that means at least 22 percent of the voters will have to drop someone they deemed worthy of the Hall of Fame last year in order to accommodate any newcomers."


Those newcomers include Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent, all with solid or lock credentials, so one in five voters are going to leave a previous candidate or candidates off their ballot whom they otherwise would vote for. Consider that Hall of Fame election is often about momentum -- a player's vote usually increases through the years, often starting well under 50 percent and climbing until he reaches the 75 percent needed -- and some players might lose that crucial step forward needed to put them on a path to election.

The overcrowded ballot is just one ongoing Hall of Fame mess. Here's another one. Consider these two lists. Which one do you like better?

Hall of Famers elected since 2000
C -- Deacon White (45.4 career WAR)
1B -- Tony Perez (53.9)
2B -- Bill Mazeroski (36.1)
3B -- Ron Santo (70.6)
SS -- Barry Larkin (70.2)
OF -- Jim Rice (47.2)
OF -- Andre Dawson (64.4)
OF -- Kirby Puckett (50.8)
SP -- Bert Blyleven (96.5)
RP -- Bruce Sutter (24.5)

Not in the Hall of Fame
C -- Joe Torre (57.4 WAR)
1B -- Keith Hernandez (60.1)
2B -- Lou Whitaker (74.8)
3B -- Edgar Martinez (68.3)
SS -- Alan Trammell (70.4)
OF -- Larry Walker (72.6)
OF -- Tim Raines (69.1)
OF -- Dwight Evans (66.7)
SP -- Curt Schilling (80.7)
RP -- Dan Quisenberry (24.9)

The players on the second team have the higher combined wins above replacement, 645 to 559.6. Some of them are still on the writers' ballot (Martinez, Trammell, Walker, Raines and Schilling) and might make it someday via the BBWAA, although the crowded ballot again makes that less likely. Torre probably will get elected this year as a manager. But you get the point: From a standpoint of value, there isn't a lot to choose from between the two lists (note that the second list doesn't include players whose votes have suffered because of PED allegations or suspected use, such as Barry Bonds or Jeff Bagwell).

Now, all of the players on the first list weren't inducted by the BBWAA (White, Mazeroski and Santo were elected by the veterans committee), but the Hall of Fame doesn't distinguish between how a player was elected; BBWAA honorees don't get a bigger plaque.

That gets to the bigger mess: What is the Hall of Fame? Is it a place to honor the best players? The most famous players? Those -- players, executives, managers -- who had the biggest impact on the game's history? I suspect the BBWAA, if polled as a group, would say it's trying to elect the best players, not just the most famous ones, although in reality it's some intricate combination of the two.

With its tough threshold for election and continued division on how to handle PEDs, the BBWAA elected no players last year. It has elected one starting pitcher in the past 13 years. Some of its recent selections make sense from a nonstatistical point of view -- Rice was more "famous" than Evans, Dawson more "famous" than Raines, Puckett more "famous" than Martinez. But why Larkin and not Trammell? Sutter but not Quisenberry? Perez but not Hernandez?

So we have this weird Hall of Fame where great and deserving players aren't in but Jacob Ruppert is in, and Hank O'Day and Joe Gordon and Bill Mazeroski, not to mention the 17 players and executives from the Negro Leagues elected in an overreaching nod to political correctness in 2006.

The mess will only grow deeper this year. As Buster points out, the logjam means strong candidates might get booted off the ballot after failing to receive 5 percent of the vote. Mussina and Kent deserve to get their Hall of Fame case debated -- this year and in ensuing years -- but there's a good chance both will end up Whitaker-ed before their candidacies have time to start building momentum (as happened with Blyleven and Rice and now Jack Morris).

What to do? Expanding the ballot to allow for more than 10 selections is just the logical start.