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Jayson Stark makes a damn good point about the Hall of Fame ballot

Jan 4, 2011, 2:36 PM EDT

Jeff Bagwell

Today Jayson Stark makes a point about the Hall of Fame ballot that I hadn’t even considered: writers leaving suspected PED users off their Hall of Fame ballots are, perversely, making it harder for the suspected non-users like Fred McGriff and Dale Murphy to make the hall. How is that? Because not everyone thinks like they do, they’ll still vote for the Jeff Bagwells and Rafael Palmieros of the world, and thus you end up with a huge backlog of candidates:

For the first time ever, 10 slots weren’t enough for me to vote for all the players who fit my definition of a Hall of Famer. For the first time ever, I had to leave off the names of players I’ve voted for in the past — not because I’d changed my mind, but because that 10-player limit got in the way.

Because I wanted to vote for three first-timers — Jeff Bagwell, Rafael Palmeiro and Larry Walker — I had 12 names for 10 spots. So after agonizing for two weeks about how to deal with that challenge, I decided the fairest way was to rank them from 1 to 12.

That meant eliminating, with a case of massive heartburn, the two guys I ranked 11th and 12th — Fred McGriff and Dale Murphy. And so, because I’d voted for them in the past, that meant abandoning a voting philosophy I believe in. That truly stunk. But it also meant penalizing two players I firmly believe were clean, in large part because the Hall of Fame has no idea how to handle the guys who weren’t. That stunk even more.

Bagwell and Palmiero will still be on that ballot next year, and voters like Stark who don’t believe, regardless of what the PED evidence says, that McGriff or Murphy were better than them, will be obligated to vote for them lest they twist themselves in knots.  And just imagine what happens in a few years when Clemens, Bonds and a ton of other inner-circle talents enter the conversation.

Stark aims his ire at the Hall itself, believing that they need to do something with the ballot. It seems he’d have them take the character and morality clause out of the equation.  That may help, but I suspect that the current electorate would still vote against the PED users, believing that their newfound morality on the steroids issue outweighs the criteria set forth by the Hall.  Just a guess, though.

That stuff aside, Stark’s ballot is a good one and his reasoning — even when it comes to players I wouldn’t support — is sound.  Especially good stuff: his evisceration of the view that, on his merits as a player, Bagwell is not Hall of Fame-worthy.

  1. natedawg321 - Jan 4, 2011 at 2:59 PM

    The obvious simple solution is to remove the 10-person limit.

  2. Jonny 5 - Jan 4, 2011 at 3:05 PM

    The problem is we’ve come to a point where talent levels have raised to a point that maybe we need to become more selective with who gets in. Sure the numbers of these guys are better than some already inducted. But couldn’t we raise the bar some? Shouldn’t we raise the bar some? Like I said earlier, we’re far removed from the days where drunkard farmhands with winter jobs make MLB rosters. The bar has been raised within baseball itself, significantly. Men are being judged on the same scale as those from the 30’s. Should the HOF follow suit by raising the bar as the quality of player has risen? I’m thinking yes.

    • billtpa - Jan 4, 2011 at 3:32 PM

      The numbers that make these guys Hall of Famers, though, already account for the fact that the quality of player has risen — they’re just that much better than their better-than-ever-before peers. If anything, it’s unfair to modern players.

      I don’t think that many more players are worthy of induction now than at most other times (slightly more just because there are almost twice as many teams), it’s just that we’re more aware of who those players are, right now, and don’t feel the need to wait for a future veterans’ committee or something.

      • Jonny 5 - Jan 4, 2011 at 4:23 PM

        What’s your best guess as to why we have more HOF worthy candidates now? I know, you know baseball inside and out. And it doesn’t really seem to allow for large groups of talent all at once to spring up without a reason, by law of averages. So what do you think caused this issue where it seems too many guys are qualified to make it now, even beating out former men on the ballot previously? Without admitting it you sound as you think the steroid era did have a real impact on player performance. And Stark does as well.

      • okobojicat - Jan 4, 2011 at 5:28 PM

        There is a lot more teams, and thus a lot more players. and thus a lot more players putting up HoF quality stats.

        That said, I disagree about the Fred McGriff, Larry Walker, and Dale Murphy vote. I would put Kevin Brown ahead of any of these guys, but I wouldn’t put him in either.

  3. Panda Claus - Jan 4, 2011 at 3:28 PM

    A case for the reverse could also be made. Assuming many writers will leave possible PED users off their ballots, if those same writers still fill all ten slots on their ballots, those marginal guys might actually get more votes until the PED dust settles.

    • tigerprez - Jan 4, 2011 at 5:29 PM

      This seems just as likely, doesn’t it? Voters see a ton of candidates they don’t want to vote for and pick the few borderline guys that they do just so they don’t have to turn in a blank ballot. Perhaps that will pull guys like Trammell and Raines up enough to make it in. Or it could split the voters so much that no one gets in. I just can’t see it making it all that much harder for already marginal candidates who aren’t likely to get in otherwise.

      I also think the pre-steroid guys are going to start looking better and better if homerun totals fall all the way back to pre-steroid standards. As much as anything, those monstrous seasons by Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa are going to confirm everything a suspicious voter needs to vote againt them.

  4. stevejeltzjehricurl - Jan 4, 2011 at 3:41 PM

    Craig, wouldn’t a really good solution to this be for some body (MLB, the BBWAA, the Hall of Fame, SABR) to convene some sort of conference to discuss PED use and its impact on the game and try to provide some real information to the voters and possibly even develop some standards? They constantly change the composition of the Veterans Committee — is there something sacrosanct about the way the standards are spelled out on the HoF ballot? Please, make the call — or get someone like Neyer or Stark or Kurkjian or even Heyman to make the call for it.

    I’m guessing none of those organizations (save maybe for SABR) will be proactive enough to take such a step, but Stark has a great point regarding the likelihood of empty podiums if the holier-than-thou crowd of writers who put on blonders during the 1990’s but now choose to act as the morality police apply their standards evenly (which none of them do, of course). Can anyone really justify leaving Bagwell off the ballot and then voting for anyone in the 1990’s? Biggio was in the same clubhouse, wasn’t he? I seem to recall Maddux and Glavine extolling the “chicks dig the long ball” philosophy that dominated the game, so they probably need to be held guilty purusant to the Jeff Pearlman Non-Whistleblower Standard. Pedro played with Manny, Jeter played with Clemens, Ichiro probably ahd a locker near Big Papi at an All-Star Game… all of this crap isn’t a real standard, but there’s nothing preventing some writer from deciding that it will be his standard for judging PED use.

    To me, the Hall and/or BBWAA could tell writers not to consider the issue when voting on the HoF, since PED use in the non-steroid context was never considered a problem. Or they could at least take the time to engage people in dialogue about the issue, which is happening in fits and starts now but would be significantly jumpstarted if there was an official meeting to discuss this. No, it’s not that important in the big scheme of things, but if the Hall of Fame is important to baseball, it’s important to make this effort if you love baseball.

    Last thing — I think part of the reason the Hall of Fame drives so much blogging from Craig is that he’s a lawyer. I am as well, and I share Craig’s frustration with the voters. I don’t mind people who disagree on the Hall of Fame merits of Tim Raines or Jack Morris or whomever, but I find quite a bit of the reasoning offered by writers for their votes to be shoddy and easily picked apart. I know sportswriting isn’t done by Rhodes Scholars most of the time, but it would be nice if the folks voting on the awards could provide sound justification for their decisions.

  5. JM Lattanzi - Jan 4, 2011 at 3:58 PM

    The only weakness, in my opinion, of Stark’s balloting is his support for Morris, although he isn’t a smartass about it and puts in Blyleven as well. He cites Morris starting 14 opening day games – which isn’t exactly a blow-away, slam dunk reason, all the while he is sort of apologizing to those who don’t support a Morris induction. Just another ‘you had to be there’ rationale, I guess.

  6. JM Lattanzi - Jan 4, 2011 at 4:01 PM

    Damn, it posted for me before I could get the rest of the comment in….

    All that being said, I like that Stark breaks out the hammer and pounds the fact that something needs to be done. Other writers with ballots just sort of hem and haw along, but Stark wasn’t afraid to put his name on the line and shout out that the Hall of Fame ought to re-examine the issue here.

  7. Lukehart80 - Jan 4, 2011 at 4:14 PM

    For what it’s worth, Jim Caple made this point a few days ago too. He probably wasn’t the first guy to make it either, but he beat Stark to it. In any case, I agree that it’s a problem.

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