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The Hall of Shame: Why the MLB HOF Voting System Doesn't Work


Another year, another explosion of debate about the Baseball Hall of Fame. This year’s entries are Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and the Frank "The Big Hurt" Thomas, all of whom are more than deserving of enshrinement. But this article is not about who made the Hall of Fame—it’s about who didn't make it, and the travesty that Hall of Fame voting has become. I’m going to break it down based on subject for clarity’s sake.

 

1. Defining a Hall of Famer

20060825 Barry Bonds follow throughA Hall of Famer used to be easy to define, when baseball was comprised of heroes, gods among men who were head and shoulders above their contemporaries. Names like Ruth, Cobb, Wagner, Foxx, Gehrig, Dimaggio, Mantle, Musial, Ford, Berra and Williams were revered, whether children were swinging a stick pretending to be one of them or grown men were weeping at their retirements.

The virtues of yesteryear were swiftly replaced by the disgrace of the so-called "steroid era." Hall of Fame ballots began to fill with names tainted by PED speculation and perjury—Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Palmeiro and Clemens, to name a few. None of the aforementioned has been elected to the Hall, and generally the percentage of votes each has received has gone down annually, which does not bode well for their future prospects.

I am going to take a somewhat controversial stance on this and say that these players should be allowed into the Hall. I base this claim on my definition of what makes a Hall of Famer a Hall of Famer—in a word, dominance. Each Hall of Famer was a player who was dominant in his time, and that’s the key: in his time. We don’t hold players of the Deadball Era in higher esteem than those who came after them, or those who played before the MLB allowed African-Americans and minorities. The same should hold true for those of the "steroid era."

Let’s face it: we’re never going to forget that certain players are associated with steroids, and from where I stand, that’s enough of a stigma. I’m not saying records shouldn’t be asterisked or anything like that-- that’s an entirely different argument. These players were still head and shoulders above their competitors, and while perhaps their numbers wouldn’t be as ridiculous as they are (*cough*Bonds*cough*), these guys were still far, far superior to the thousands of players who were their contemporaries. In other words, they were flat-out DOMINANT in their era.

 

2. The "Steroid Era"

Speaking of their era, can anyone tell me when it begins? When it ended? DID it end? There is no cut-and-dry timeline for the steroid era, so it's nearly impossible to determine which players are part of it.  There were plenty of players who used PEDs and simply didn’t get caught. We can’t even speak about players from the early- and mid-1900s, because we don’t know exactly what they were doing to themselves, although we can guess there were chemical enhancements in regular use long before the introduction of anabolic steroids.

Ken Gurnick of MLB.com only offered up one vote this year (Jack Morris). Gurnick explicitly refuses to vote for anyone from the so-called steroid era, and yes, that includes Maddux, Glavine and Thomas. This is one of the most misguided opinions I have ever encountered, and the source actually receives a Hall of Fame vote. I’d ask Mr. Gurnick one question: what happens when Derek Jeter is Hall of Fame-eligible? Cal Ripken Jr.? Mariano Rivera? Get real, Gurnick.

 

3. Craig Biggio

Gurnick also didn’t vote for Craig Biggio, who was eligible for the Hall of Fame for the first time this year. Biggio, who finished his career with 3,060 hits and as one of the most renowned Astros of all time, missed the Hall by just two votes, tying for the smallest margin in history.  3,000 hits is typically a milestone statistic, one that is widely recognized as a symbol of a Hall of Fame career (like 500 homers and 300 wins). I recognize that these numbers shouldn't automatically get a player into the Hall, but I would classify Biggio as a dominant player in his time. I deem him a bona fide snub, and I firmly believe that it is due to his having played in the steroid era. Biggio will eventually get in, but it’s the principle that matters here.

 

4. The Failure of Democracy

The BBWAA has become a joke. Exhibit A: Dan Le Batard of the Miami Herald and "Numbers Never Lie" fame, sold his vote to the sports website Deadspin. How in the name of all that is holy does a person who thinks it’s okay to do this have a Hall of Fame vote? There are over 550 ballots counted every year, which is far too many. It should be much harder to earn a vote, with only the most well-respected and established writers getting a say in who goes to the Hall of Fame. Jackasses like Le Batard should barely be allowed to write, much less determine the fate of potential Hall of Famers. Democracy means everyone has a say, but in this case "everyone" shouldn’t include quite so many people.

 

*Special thanks to Chuck Speaker (@CJSpeakEasy) for chewing this one over with me.

Agree with me? Disagree? I want to hear about it. Comment or hit me up @Roto_Dubs on Twitter. 

 

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