Which way to Cooperstown?
I was sitting with my good friend Skunks Mergatroid the other day, watching some WWF and talking about the recent Hall of Fame inductions...
"It sure was an impressive class going in this year, wasn't it", I said.
"Yep. The best in quite a while, but it could've been a lot better", he replied.
"What!? There were three first timers. First time that's happened in 60 years. What do you mean, 'coulda been better'?"
"Well, the writers and the Veteran's Committee don't do a very good job of figuring out who should be in and who shouldn't."
"Oh... what should they do?
"Well in a perfect world, the BBWAA would name me presiding autocrat, giving me carte blanche power to restructure the method of induction and the current membership of the Hall of Fame. I'd get things cleaned up in a heartbeat. As the King of the HOF, the first thing I'd do is add broadcasters, analysts, ballplayers and the fans to the voting population. Then I'd remove George Kelly, Jess Haines, Rick Ferrell, Rube Marquard, Phil Rizzuto and Charlie Comiskey from the Hall and replace them with Ron Santo, Bill Mazeroski, Maury Wills and Marvin Miller. Hey, I'm not without a heart... I'd let the guys I kick out keep their plaques."
I sat for a moment staring incredulously at my friend, who's opinion I value as highly as that of Bill James, Peter Gammons or Pete Van Weiren. But as I snapped my gaze back to the tube upon hearing the announcement that Jeff Jarrett and Deborah were making their way to the ring, I asked, "You would actually trust the fans not to turn it into a popularity contest?"
"Like it isn't now?" Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his brow become furrowed as he continued. "How does one explain Phil Rizzuto being in the Hall and Bill Mazeroski not? A compelling argument can be made that Mazeroski was the best defensive infielder ever. He was a clutch player and literally won a World Series. Those who argue for Rizzuto state that he was an important cog in the Yankee championship machine... as if guys like DiMaggio, Berra, Ford and Mantle didn't play huge roles in the Yankee's success. The reason Rizzuto is in and Maz isn't is because three of Scooter's buddies are on the Veteran's Committee. But it's not just the VC who are guilty of making it a popularity contest.
Rogers Hornsby was the dominant player in the NL in the 20's. Only Babe Ruth had a greater impact on his team's chances of winning over that period. But because he was surly to the writers, they didn't vote "Rajah" in until 5 years after he became eligible. Five years wait for a guy who was one of the 10 best players ever! Pretty ridiculous, if you ask me.
Then there's Maury Wills, He revolutionized the National League game back in the 60's, resurrecting the stolen base. Both Lou Brock and Joe Morgan credit him as being very influential in shaping their own careers. Wills was a gold glove shortstop on a championship winning team and a 5-time All Star who's career started late because he was stuck behind PeeWee Reese, another Hall of Fame shortstop. But is Wills in the Hall? nope. Why not? Probably because Wills was outspoken on sensitive topics such as race. The writers weren't very comfortable with that and their vote showed it.
So, no, I don't mind the fans making entry into the Hall of Fame a popularity contest. That's what it has been in varying degrees for as long as the Hall's been around. And as long as their gonna continue making it that, I, and everyone else should have a part in it."
I sat for a moment, ruminating over his rant as I watched Big Boss Man pummel Viscera into unconsciousness with his knight stick. "I don't know, Skunks. The current system seems just fine. Sure, they miss a couple and put some guys in that are questionable, but I just don't trust the fans to do the right thing, although I'm OK with adding the broadcasters to the voting pool."
"The current system is just fine? What's the point of having a Hall of Fame to honor the greatest players in a sport if all the greatest players aren't in it? Worse still, what's the point if guys who clearly aren't deserving, ARE in it? There are 10-15 guys who deserve to be in and aren't. There are another 10-15 who clearly don't meet any criteria for which to be honored with induction, and yet there they are. So we're talking about a margin of error of around 10%. That's not good."
I paused as the Big Show and The Undertaker made their way to the ring with Paul Bearer. Man, those are some big guys. "So what would be the best system? Who in all America can you pick to select candidates in a completely un-biased way? The current system isn't perfect, but I still feel it is the best one."
"You missed my original point. The more people you have involved, the less bias plays a factor in the candidates selection. My recommendation would be to hand out ballots at every ML ballpark every Opening Day. Hand one ballot to each person at each ballpark, with each ballpark getting the same number of ballots. That way, you'd avoid much of the bias in cities where baseball draws well. And after all, every team draws well on Opening Day. That'd be the fan vote. Then I'd give a ballot to each sportswriter, broadcaster and contributing member of SABR. That would make up my "expert" vote. And lastly, I'd give one ballot to each GM, manager and coach, and any ballplayer, past or present, who qualifies for the ML pension, which I believe is 6 years of ML service. Then I'd weight the totals evenly, so that the fans vote counted for 1/3, the ballplayers 1/3, and the guys who cover the game 1/3. I haven't figured out how people could circumvent that system, but I'm sure fairly simple solutions could be implemented should any "cheating" occur. The bonus is that this system would be far less involved than that of the current voting process for the All Star game. It's not perfect, but then again, this is just off the top of my head. I haven't really sat down and put a whole lot of thought into it."
I thought to myself, I can't believe Governor Jesse Ventura is gonna' ref one of these matches. Unbelievable. Focusing back on Skunks, I retorted, "Well, players and fans cannot be trusted to vote for the Hall. Players would vote for their friends and fans would vote for favorites. The media is the closest thing to a fair vote. Perhaps some 'committee' can be appointed, with representatives from all the factions."
Skunks smiled. "Yo, Gandhi... They already have a committee like the one you are suggesting - the Veteran's Committee. And it's allowed in a good number of the guys who don't deserve to be there. Like I keep saying, the more people you have involved, the less bias and personal preference will decide who gets in. Think about it... if everyone is voting only for their favorites, then the only guys who get in are the guys who're everyone's favorites. It still works.
What doesn't work is what they have now. The media, the same people you have entrusted for this honor has never elected anyone unanimously to the Hall. Not Willie Mays, not Ted Williams, not Walter Johnson, not Ty Cobb, not even Babe Ruth. The writers couldn't all agree that Babe Ruth deserved to be in the Hall of Fame. How ridiculous is that? Here's a guy who started his career as a pitcher and was a very good one at that. He held the World Series record for most consecutive shut out innings for close to 50 years. He led the league in shutouts and ERA one year and in complete games another. But after 4 1/2 years of pitching, he became outfielder and produced the some of the most astonishing batting statistics in the history of baseball. His teams won championships and he himself single-handedly saved baseball after the Black Sox scandal. And this guy can't get elected unanimously? What the hell are the writers looking at? If a body of voters is so galactically stupid that they can't see that guys like Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Ted Williams and Lefty Grove deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, then they don't deserve the vote. Each of those guys deserved unanimous election and not one of them got it. That's pretty embarrassing.
And the Veteran's Committee doesn't work that well either. Because it's such a tiny committee, it's pretty easy for unqualified candidate to slip in. Also, it's become increasingly difficult for recent players to be eligible for VC consideration. Dwight Evans didn't get enough votes in his first year of eligibility to be on the ballot again, and he didn't get enough to garner VC consideration, so, barring a rule change, has no chance whatsoever of entering the Hall. But all the older players who were eligible a few years ago when the rules changed were grandfathered, so a ton of players from the 30's are still eligible, even though that's already the most OVER-represented era of baseball history.
I'll take my chances with the fans and the players. I mean, it's not like their gonna be able to push Shooty Babbitt or Kurt Bevaqua through."
Vince McMahon uttered something unintelligible as they went to commercial. "Y'know, you might have something there. You may be right."
"As sure as the Tombstone will make you nap."