BOSTON (CBS) — Maybe I’m just getting old, stodgy, stubborn and bitter. But what we’re doing to the Baseball Hall of Fame now is diluting it.
If somehow you missed it, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez were voted into the Hall of Fame early Wednesday evening when the most recent voting results were announced. But before we get to the particulars on those candidates, let’s get to a far more important statistic as it pertains to voting trends in general and the overall looseness of present-day balloting.
This year, there were nine players – count ’em, nine – who were named on better than 50 percent of all ballots cast. There was a 10th, Curt Schilling, who dropped below 50 percent, presumably because some voters (citing the infamous “character” clause) removed Schilling from their ballots thanks to his ill-advised antics on social media.
Add it all up and what you get is this: more than half the voters believed there were 10 truly worthy candidates on this year’s ballot. Ten. And that is, in a word, ridiculous.
Now know this: in voting history, only three players have ever eclipsed 50 percent and failed to ultimately end up in Cooperstown – Gil Hodges, Jack Morris and Lee Smith. That’s it. No one else.
Remember: there have been just under 19,000 players in major league history and a mere 220 have now been elected into the hall at Cooperstown. That’s basically 1 percent. That suggests that there are, on average, no more than seven or eight Hall of Famers in the major leagues at any one time, which should give you an idea of the standard that has been set over time. One percent means that for every four teams in the big leagues at the moment, there is one Hall of Famer among them.
Translation: if you think Craig Biggio was a Hall of Famer – and he was elected in 2015 – well, congratulations. You’ve just turned Cooperstown into Springfield, where the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame might as well be a homeless shelter. Everyone gets in.
Look, I get it. Every voter is entitled to apply his or her own standard. But people get terribly confused about the process. Schilling and Mike Mussina are perfect examples, and it has nothing to do with their behavior on social media (again, Schilling) or their general arrogance (Mussina). At the end of day, the only question is whether Schilling and Mussina were among the top 1 percent (or thereabouts) at their specific job during their careers and – this is important – in their era. There is simply no point in comparing Schilling and Mussina to Christy Mathewson or Catfish Hunter when they didn’t face the same hitters, in the same ballparks, with the same equipment, using the same drugs. Apples to apples, folks. Or at least as close as we can get.
So here’s the problem: Schilling and Mussina both pitched in an era with, among others, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez, among others. Combined, those pitchers won 21 Cy Young Awards, including at least two each. Together, Schilling and Mussina won zero. In 18 years, Mussina led his league in wins and innings once, and never in ERA. Schilling pitched 20 years. He led in wins and innings twice each, but never in ERA.
Both were very good pitchers. Schilling gets bonus points for postseason dominance. Any team would have been fortunate to have had either. But they weren’t the cream of the cream, which is what the Hall is supposed to be.
At least in the eyes of some of us.
In the interest of disclosure, I voted for five players on this year’s ballot: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Pudge Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Edgar Martinez. Pudge and Manny were the only new additions on my ballot and I included them because they were the rarest of the rare. Pudge was a defensively dominating catcher (13 Gold Gloves) who was a significant asset on offense; on Wednesday, he became only the second catcher ever elected on the first ballot, joining … Johnny Bench.
As for Manny, well, we know the negatives here as well as anywhere. But we all watched him hit, too. Ramirez was a centerpiece of high-powered offenses for essentially his entire career. During the 15 years in which Ramirez played at least 100 games, his team made the playoffs a whopping 10 times. That’s 67 percent. And that’s hardly a coincidence.
The others? Bonds and Clemens were among arguably the best one or two players at their respective positions in the entire game and truly the rarest of the rare, the kind of players that could be dropped into any era and dominate. (Again, if you watched them, you know.) Only Edgar is a relatively borderline case, and on that one I admit to something of a crusade.
To this point, Edgar Martinez is the greatest, pure designated hitter ever to appear on the Hall of Fame ballot. I have always felt there was a discrimination against the DH for defensive reasons, even though the DH has been in existence for nearly a half-century. Edgar changed the position.
For those of you throwing your hands up in frustration at the moment, here’s the good news: I probably won’t be voting much longer, anyway, and it’s not because I’m forfeiting my vote while citing some self-righteous copout. I stopped covering baseball regularly a few years ago, and new voting rules have placed an expiration date on my voting eligibility. For two primary reasons, this is a good thing, the most obvious of which is that I shouldn’t be voting 20 years from now on players I did not watch or cover on a regular basis.
The other reason?
I’m not sure anymore that I want to be connected to a Hall of Fame that now throws open its doors to welcome the hordes as if it were Black Friday.
I mean, if we’re going to do that, what’s the point?