The Man Who Broke the Hall-of-Fame

December 4, 2018
 
This year’s HOF ballot is impossibly crowded.
 
Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, and Roy Halladay are all eminently qualified starting pitchers. Mariano Rivera is as sure-fire as a closer can be.
 
Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, and Gary Sheffield hit more than 1800 homer between them. Todd Helton and Edgar Martinez were terrific hitters. Larry Walker, Scott Rolen, and Andruw Jones were nearly as terrific at the plate, and a lot better on defense and the bases. 
 
That’s thirteen players.
 
Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt aren’t staggeringly qualified, but their careers were noteworthy enough to deserve a conversation. The same holds for Billy Wagner.
 
Sixteen. We’re at sixteen.
 
Sammy Sosa hit 609 homers…that’s more dingers than Manny or Sheffield. Jeff Kent hit more homeruns than Todd Helton, and he did it as a second baseman in San Francisco, not a first baseman in Colorado.Adjust for park differences, and Lance Berkman doesn’t look all that different than Helton. And Fred McGriff hit a lot more homeruns than Berkman and Helton, while playing in a less dinger-friendly era.
 
Twenty players.
 
Omar Vizquel collected more hits than anyone on the ballot except Barry Bonds, and he has more Gold Gloves (11) than anyone else on the ballot, though Andruw Jones (10) is close. Miguel Tejada’s most similar batters, according to Baseball-Reference, are Robinson Cano, Ryne Sandberg, Ted Simmons, Alan Trammell, Carlton Fisk, Yogi Berra, Joe Torre, Jeff Kent, Scott Rolen, and Joe Cronin. That’s a pretty good list of comparables for someone who might not get a single vote.
 
That’s twenty-two players. Not all of them are sure-fire Hall-of-Famers, but all of them deserve to have their careers considered for baseball’s highest honor. That won’t happen: many of them will drop off the ballot, joining the likes of Kenny Lofton and Jim Edmonds and Jorge Posada and Johan Santana and Nomar Garciaparra as recent drop-offs from the BBWAA ballot. The rest will straggle on for a couple years, but the only candidates who are likely to get elected in coming years are the no-brainer candidates like Rivera and Jeter and Beltre and Ichiro, and the occasionally player (Edgar Martinez) who generates, through luck or good manners, enough support to cross the 75% threshold.
 
The 2019 HOF Ballot is loaded with more talented players than the structure allows voters to consider, and it forces a very obvious question: who is responsible for this mess? Who is the architect of this disaster?
 
I have an answer. But before we can get to that answer, I need to lay out a few pet theories.
 
 
*             *             *
 
Pet Theory #1 is that the ramifications of our actions have a longer life than we typically imagine, and a broader reach of consequences than we can guess at.
 
The consequence of this is that we have a hard time seeing the true causes for the world we exist in. We will ascribe cause to events and decisions that are close to the outcome, either in time or subject, but we have trouble seeing how actions made further back in time, or actions that seem tangential to the subject, can influence our current moment.
 
That’s Pet Theory #1. You can take it or leave it.
 
 
*             *             *
 
Pet Theory #2 is about interpersonal relationships. It is something I’ve been thinking about and reflecting on for a good portion of my adult life, one of those weird notions that has helped me find some order in this complicated thing we call our lives.
 
The theory is this: all interpersonal conflict is a result of one person changing an established pattern.
 
We are creatures of habit. In our lives we create and maintain thousands of small rituals and patterns that we do not recognize, but that provide order and structure for the bonds that connect us. We do this in big and little ways, and frequently we don’t realize we’re doing it. My partner brings me coffee most mornings; I do dishes in the evening. We haven’t even said those are the rules of our lives together. We haven’t written them down. it’s just what has happened.
 
Conflict arises when patterns like that - patterns that govern our relationships - are broken.
 
One way to illustrate this is to imagine a husband who buys his wife jewelry on their anniversary. I apologize for the predictably gendered role of this story, but I want to get this out fast, and it’s easier to write it in a conventional way.
 
So our husband gives his wife a necklace on their first anniversary. He gives her earrings in Year Two. Year Three is a bracelet. Year Four: another necklace. Year Five: more earrings.
 
Then, in Year Six, he gives her a sweater. What happens?
 
She will notice the change, and she will react to the change. She might like sweaters, and she might not care anything about jewelry, but she will notice the change in pattern, and she will react, in some way, to that change.
 
She might not get upset, of course. But let us imagine, for the sake of our story, that she does get upset. Let’s imagine that she gets ticked off. Who is in the wrong?
 
No one is in the wrong, of course. The husband isn’t wrong for not buying her jewelry. A sweater is a perfectly acceptable gift, and the rules for gift-giving on their anniversary weren’t written in stone. And the wife isn’t wrong for coming to expect the same gift that she had received every anniversary of their marriage: she expected what he set her up to expect, and was disappointed. No one has acted in malice. No one has acted badly.
 
But one party has caused the conflict: the husband. He is the person who has changed a pattern. That he didn’t recognize the pattern as existing doesn’t fully get him off the hook. He changed things, and there was an onus on him to recognize that a change had occurred, and acknowledge that change directly.
 
One thing I’ve come to understand, in seeing this pattern happen time and time again, is that it is very easy to figure out who has broken the pattern in an interpersonal conflict, and who has had the pattern or routine broken on them.
 
-          The person who has had a pattern broken is the person who is showing an extreme emotional response.
 
-          The person who has broken the structuring habits or rituals of a relationship is the person who is utterly confused: s/he is person who has no idea what happened to set the other person off.
 
If you’ve even been in a relationship and you’re even slightly empathetic, you know this sensation. It’s any of the small moments when your partner is suddenly standoffish, or acting differently, for reasons that you cannot understand. You ask ‘what’s wrong?’ and they don’t really say anything. They cross their arms and tell you it’s nothing. They shrug.
 
Why are they shrugging? Why don’t they say anything?
 
Because they’re just as unaware of the way that we create patterns as you are. All of us are oblivious to patterns, because that is the point of patterns: patterns exist to allow us to think about other things.  
 
If you think through any interpersonal conflict you’ve had with a friend or partner, and if you think through that conflict deep enough, you can actually figure this out. Work it backwards: ask yourself who brought the emotional energy into the conflict, and who was defensive, or blindsided. The person bringing the heat was the person who experienced a pattern being broken. The other person…the calmer person or the startled person…was the one who actually started it. 
 
And you can fix interpersonal conflicts, of course. Fixing them requires a) identifying the relationship pattern that has been broken, and b) agreeing to either maintain the earlier pattern, or recognize the change and adapt to a new one.
 
 
*             *             *
 
Which brings us back to baseball.
 
Let’s work the crowded Hall-of-Fame ballot backwards.
 
We have dozens of names of baseball players who would have been slam-dunk candidates in previous generations either lingering on the ballot or getting booted. Five hundred homers was a surefire way to get into the Hall-of-Fame, until Mark McGwire showed up. 3000 hits was a slam dunk,until Rafael Palmeiro blew that one. Three MVP’s was a marker of inner-circle talent, and then Barry Bonds doubled that count, and added one more. 300 wins? Not enough, Rocket.
 
These players have been all been kept out because they took performance-enhancing drugs to help improve their appearance.
 
Is this an appreciable ‘break’ in the pattern of baseball players?
 
Of course it’s not. Baseball players have been using any and all avenues to gain a competitive advantage since people started making money playing the game. Pud Galvin drank potions made from dried monkey testicles in the 1890’s. Players during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s popped amphetamines like they were candy: a writer for Sports illustrated called the 1968 World Series a battle between the pharmacies of Detroit and St. Louis. Players during the 80’s worried about breaking vials of crack cocaine when they slid into bases. And the steroid epidemic didn’t begin with McGwire: pitcher Tom House said that he used ‘steroids they wouldn’t use on horses’ during his playing career, one that started in 1971 and ended in 1979.
 
The players of the steroid era didn’t break any pattern: they did exactly what baseball players have always done.
 
And baseball players don’t have any say in the process of electing players to the Hall-of-Fame, at least not in the initial round of voting. That responsibility rests with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
 
So let’s go there. Has the BBWAA changed their pattern?
 
Certainly, they have.
 
The voters for the Hall-of-Fame showed no inclination to hold a generation of players accountable for excessively using amphetamines, and they showed no inclination to hold a generation accountable for using cocaine. They showed no moral panic when steroids entered baseball in the 1970’s, and they turned a blind eye to the possibility that any stars from the 1980’s might have been using steroids to enhance performance. It is only with players from the 1990’s that the BBWAA has decided to draw a line in the sand on the issue of performance enhancing drugs.
 
And they haven’t merely drawn a line. The BBWAA voters…mostly the older ones…have spent the last twenty years grandstanding about the issue of steroid abuse. They have hemmed and hawed about the moral failures of a generation of players, and have shouted enough to make an entire era of baseball seem tainted. They have kept the very best players of a generation out of the Hall-of-Fame, and have so blurred the line so much that the casual baseball fan can no longer see the difference between, say, the obsessive pursuit of chemical enhancement chased by Barry Bonds, and the lesser lapses in judgement credited to Roger Clemens. Everyone has been tarred with the same brush.
 
It’s gross and immature and small. The legacy of two decades of baseball, and the careers of some of the finest players in history, have been forever tarnished by a generation of sportswriters who decided to get on a moral high horse to gripe about a problem that they had known about and ignored for the better parts of fifty years.
 
The sportswriters changed. The BBWAA changed.
 
But they brought, in that change, a high level of emotional intensity. They were the scorned wives of our story, unhappy about their sweater. They were acting with passion, and anger…except the reality is they were reacting. All of the articles complaining about the steroid era were articles of reaction. They were a response to a broken pattern.
 
So what pattern was broken? What caused the change?
 
I’m going to posit an answer that I haven’t heard anyone ever suggest. I’ll hazard that 95% of you are going to take one look at it and shake your heads and decide that I’ve gone off the rails. That’s fine, of course.
 
For the rest of you, I want to take a moment to reiterate the two pet theories: 
 
1.       The ramifications of our actions extend further than we imagine, and in more dimensions than we recognize.
 
And
 
2.       All interpersonal conflict occurs when one person changes an established pattern.
 
 
*             *             *
 
Okay.
 
The person who broke the Hall-of-Fame ballot was A. Bartlett Giamatti.
 
Giamatti broke it when he convinced Pete Rose to accept a permanent place on baseball’s ineligible list.
The Baseball Hall of Fame made the break permeant when their board voted to formally commit to a policy that players on the ineligible list couldn’t be considered for the election by the BBWAA.
 
A. Bartlett Giamatti had no idea that he was breaking a pattern, and his actions weren’t undertaken with any ill intentions towards baseball writers. It is unlikely that Giamatti, dealing with the intense attention and furor over the Pete Rose case, gave more than an iota of thought to how his decision might feel like a slap in the face to the BBWAA. And he didn’t get the chance to recognize it: he died eight days after the decision, felled by a heart attack.
 
The Hall-of-Fame, in voting to support Giamatti, weren’t acting to cut the legs of the BBWAA out from under them: they voted to support Giamatti’s decision. They wanted to honor his decision, and they imagined that that was the best way to ensure that his decision would be protected. It is doubtful that they gave much thought to what the decision meant to the BBWAA, to how the writers would react.
 
But a pattern was broken. Until the Pete Rose case, the established pattern was that the writers would choose who deserved enshrinement into the Hall-of-Fame. The established pattern…the pattern that Giamatti inadvertently broke, was that writers were the gatekeepers to baseball immortality.
 
Giamatti took that from them, and the board of the Hall-of-Fame codified that theft. There would be no trial of Pete Rose by the writers: no earnest editorials about his candidacy, and no vote on the case. The executioner had swung an axe as the jury was sitting down for opening arguments.
 
Giamatti changed the pattern.
 
And the writers reacted. Boy, did they react.
 
Baseball writers were furious that they had been denied The Trial of Pete Rose. They were furious that after sixty years of sound judgement, the powers that had always granted them the sacred trust of deciding what players deserved enshrinement weren’t going to trust them to make a fair decision about Pete Rose. They had made the Hall-of-Fame, after all: they had granted the institution legitimacy and importance, and now they were being told, ‘Thanks for the hard work, but we’ll tackle this one. We’re worried you might screw this one up.’
 
You can read articles about this. You can put ‘1991 decision to uphold the Rose ban’ into your search engine and find troves of articles about writers threatening to submit blank ballots for the Hall, about protests over the decision, and about write-in efforts to get Rose to be considered.
 
It is crucial, in understanding what happened, to understand the nature of the violation. The decision to make a decision on Rose ahead of the writers communicated…unintentionally and indirectly…that the writers could not be trusted to uphold a standard of ethics.
 
And maybe they couldn’t have been trusted. The writers liked Pete Rose. The sportswriters on the BBWAA in 1989 or 1991 had written more collective words praising Pete Rose than they had written about anyone else from his era. He embodied all of the values that they cared about: hustle and grit. Effort. Dog-headedness, and an obsession to play, just as long as he was able to do it. And he embodied something else: in an era where athletes were starting to use ‘professionalism’ as a shield, Rose never seemed hidden. He was exactly who he was, and the writers loved him for it.
 
But I think the writers wouldn’t have voted for Rose. I think, if he had shown up on the ballot, Rose wouldn’t have come anywhere near 75% in the vote. He certainly would’ve lingered on the ballot for fifteen years, but I don’t think he’d have gotten in. He was a gambler, and everyone knew it. His personal life did not reflect a high moral standard, or a fear of risk: it wasn’t much of a leap to think that he was putting money on baseball games. It wasn’t a far leap to think that he was betting on his team.
 
It didn’t matter. The writers weren’t (and haven’t been) given the chance to pass judgement on Rose. In the most significant moral debate that most of the BBWAA members had ever encountered, they were forced to watch from the sidelines.
 
And, from those sidelines, they decided to prove their ethics. Confronted with a fifty-year history of performance-enhancing drugs being swallowed and snorted and syringed in the clubhouses, the writers decided to show just how good they could be at gatekeeping. And they chose, as their targets of condemnation, the lumbering sluggers of the 1990’s and 2000’s. In 1998, as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa made their assault on Roger Maris’ record, AP reporter Steve Wilstein noticed a bottle of androstenedione in McGwire’s locker. The stuff was sold over-the-counter to body builders, and though it had been outlawed by the Olympics and the NFL, it was a legal substance in baseball.
 
It didn’t matter. The fuse was lit. In a few months the whole thing exploded.
 
The ramifications of that explosion bring us to 2018, and a Hall-of-Fame ballot that is staggeringly over-crowded with qualified players. The best pitcher in baseball history has been made to wait. So had the best hitter. The impact of those waits is now trickling down to contemporary players: Roy Halladay, the best pitcher of his generation, collected 64.3 WAR over his career. That is enough to put him ahead of his peers, but he trails Clemens (139.6), Mussina (83.0), and Schilling (79.6). Who is a voter supposed to side with?  
 
The BBWAA has lost a good portion of its legitimacy in the process. Once upon a time, the annual Hall-of-Fame ballot was a chance for writers to reflect upon and argue about who belonged in, and who didn’t make the cut. For the better part of the last twenty years, that conversation has been shunted to the side, in favor of a morality play.
 
To fix this, the BBWAA culled their ranks, striking off inactive writers, and allowing a new generation of writers, many indoctrinated in the language and codes of sabermetrics, to take over. But they’ve taken over a broken system: it is impossible to form a consensus of seventy-five percent when there are twenty-five possible candidates, and ten slots on the ballot.
 
 
*             *             *
 
You want to know what the solution is?
 
Of course you do. If you’ve made it this far, you want some kind of conclusion. How do we fix the Hall-of-Fame?
 
I think there are two steps. First, the BBWAA should lift the cap on votes. Let voters vote for as many players as they want. Or if that’s too dramatic, make everyone who has a vote list ten players: if you don’t pick ten, your ballot is ineligible.  
 
The second thing that should happen is that Pete Rose’s name should be added on the ballot, so that the writers can decide his fate. Giamatti and the Hall-of-Fame made an error in judgement when they took that decision from the writers, and the way to fix that mistake is to give the decision back to the writers. Let them hash it out, and honor the decision they make.
 
 
Dave Fleming is a writer living in western Virginia. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions here and at dfleming1986@yahoo.com.
    
 
 

COMMENTS (32 Comments, most recent shown first)

MarisFan61
Thank you.

I'm not an.....what you said :-) but I was pretty sure they don't.
2:17 PM Dec 7th
 
GuillermoMountain
As an ophthalmologist I can say with certainty that amphetamines do not improve vision.
11:49 AM Dec 7th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Several fundamental issues here, Dave. In order:

1) Issue with Pet Theory #1, and the analogy used therein: I simply can’t accept the broad conclusion that you reach, that “the ramifications of our actions have a longer life than we typically imagine, and a broader reach of consequences than we can guess at.” They MAY have longer lives, but they may not—sometimes they have much shorter lives than anticipated, and occasionally no life at all. All the evidence I’d need to support my thesis here is the gross number of crimes that are committed every day that, for whatever reason, result in no arrests, no trials, no ramifications at all (for the perpetrator). If you accept that even one crime has ever been committed in world history that has gotten the perpetrator off “SCOTT FREE,” (copyright Unhinged Genius) then this declarative statement is severely undermined. Actions may, or may not, have far-reaching ramifications. I have no choice other than to “Leave it” as a compellingly true statement.

2) Pet Theory #2 is similarly off base. To use your marital analogy, what if the husband gives the wife a piece of jewelry on their anniversary, and every time it’s a necklace costing between $1000 and $2000, but one year he decides to up the ante and gives her a $5000 bracelet, which she hates. “I want one of those beautiful necklaces!!” she complains. Has he really “changed an established pattern” in giving her a more expensive bracelet this time? If your answer is “yes” (which would seem to me to broaden out “changing an established pattern” to almost anything one could ever do in life), then I’ll give you another closer example: how about if she receives another $1000-2000 necklace, only this time she rejects it because he’s making so much more money than he was when they first married and she wants something a lot nicer than another crappy $1500 necklace that shows no imagination and no growth and no respect for her as a vibrant, changing human being, etc.? Seems to me that in this not-implausible scenario, there is indeed “interpersonal conflict” but one that is caused by something other than “one person changing an established pattern.” In fact, as I have spun it, the cause is one person NOT changing the established pattern. Unless you want to argue that the established pattern changing here is now the wife’s response, not the gift itself, which suggests to me that maybe the concept of “established pattern” here is simply broad enough to include anything and everything that might occur in life. “All interpersonal conflict is a result of shit happening or not happening,” perhaps?

Another example of interpersonal conflict having NOTHING to do with one person changing an established pattern (I can think of hundreds, but you’d have to pay me to write them out in detail) might be a couple who allow their young child to play on the front lawn unsupervised (I could use their pet dog as my example , but I don’t want to upset the pet lovers here) and a car drives up on the lawn and runs over the child, killing him. The parents, who had agreed that playing on the front lawn was fine, and who had been getting along perfectly well until that point, each get understandably upset and depressed and angry and, after the child’s funeral, decide to divorce. Is this divorce (certainly a type of “interpersonal conflict”) the result of “someone changing an established pattern”? You could struggle to define it that way, but I think you’d have to posit the divorce as far more substantially resulting from the accident of the car running their child over.

So I think you’re basing your premise on two Pet Theories that don’t really hold up for very long upon moderate scrutiny. Now, to baseball:

Your opinion as to “Rose wouldn’t have come anywhere near 75% in the vote,” is just that, an opinion, completely unsupported (and in fact efficiently contradicted by your previous paragraph.) The writers liked Rose. A lot. An awful lot. And Giamatti could not take the (IMO, rather substantial) chance that the writers’ affection would result in a blatant gambler being elected to the HoF. At this point, I must wonder if you’re simply fond of Rose yourself, a partisan of his election to the HoF—may I ask if, in fact, you support Rose’s election on any grounds besides the ones you lay out here? Because I think that what happened (to assume your faulty premises for a moment) was that Rose changed the established pattern, by getting caught gambling, and that therefore his ineligibility for election to the HoF is completely just and needs to be made into a permanent ineligibility, irrevocably incapable of being overturned by future Commissioners. I’d prefer it if he were to know as an absolute fact that not only will he not elected to the HoF, but that he will never get elected to the HoF. I think the cold comfort of thinking that he may get in after he dies is about 35 degrees too warm for me (Fahrenheit, of course). I’d like him to end up a Place about 35 degrees too warm for him.

The overload of worthy candidates for the HoF has clearer fixes, some suggested by Bill himself, but of course expansion alone will explain most of the more obvious bases for the overload. 400 active MLB players turns into 750 active MLBers, whaddaya think is going to happen? Slow to recognize that change, the BBWAA keeps electing the same number of HoFers through the 60s and 70s and 80s, so of course you build up a backlog. We need to change the number of players voted in every year or else we need to ratchet up our definition of HoFer. Instead we’ve just made things worse by continuing the 1930s standard into the 2010s.

Maybe we should look, not only at smashing past-established of statistical achievements, so that 3000 hits or 500 HRs or 300 wins is no longer a clear standard of excellence, as has happened in a very limited number of HoF candidates, but also ratchet up the “character” standard so that the mere suspicion of violating norms (PEDs, poor sportsmanship, gambling) becomes the new norm for election to the Hall. Ratcheting up both the standards of performance and of character SHARPLY will eliminate some candidates who might seem to be no-brainers, and would have been in the past. Perhaps we can also expand the numbers of candidates elected as well. I think your solution of giving the vote to the writers (who have been thoroughly exposed as fully capable of making dumb decision after dumb decision) is simply your backdoor method of trying a different body of voters after the ones now charged with voting on the Rose matter have given you a result that you don’t like.

9:16 AM Dec 7th
 
MarisFan61
I never heard that about amphetamines helping vision, and I wouldn't assume it's so; I'm very skeptical that it's so. But glad that you mentioned it. Always good to know about anything like that, and heck, maybe it is true....
4:02 PM Dec 6th
 
George.Rising
Thought-provoking article. Thanks!

You may all know this, but I just recently learned that hitters used greenies because it helped their vision, making it easier, for example, to distinguish a curve from a fastball. I believe I heard this in a 30 for 30 documentary on Darryl Strawberry.

Growing up, I had always assumed that greenies were just meant to fight fatigue. For pitchers (and maybe catchers), that probably was the main reason. But hitters apparently believed greenies helped them hit.
1:37 PM Dec 6th
 
GuillermoMountain
I realize I'm echoing what others have already said, but when the all-time top six single season home run totals all fall within a four year time window, it's a bit disingenuous to claim that there hasn't been a break in any pattern. Of course there's a break in the pattern. Although the reasons for the home run surge may be incompletely understood, fans and writers who make the connection between a concurrent major pattern-break (i.e. baseball players suddenly resembling the Incredible Hulk more than their old baseball cards) are merely making a logical (albeit debatable) connection.
11:01 AM Dec 6th
 
FrankD
Interesting article that stirred up a lot of discussion - isn't that what good articles are supposed to do? I don't agree with the Giamatti conclusion. Giamatti didn't due anything different than Landis did, i.e., banning members of MLB who gambled on baseball games on which they personally could influence the result. So the writers decided that Shoeless Joe is out of HOF, just like they decided Rose is out. If you want Rose on the ballot then you should be arguing for Shoeless Joe on the ballot, too. PEDs is a separate but interesting question. I agree with most commenters here that you can't conflate usage of speed or coke or ground up monkey balls with the effects of modern PEDs on athletic performance. And I don't know how you can determine how much PEDs altered a users performance nor how can we properly judge a supposed non-user's career when compared to the stats of that era. I guess the best solution is to not have any people proscribed as off the HOF ballot and then have BBWAA argue and vote - and that includes all the bad boys from the past like Jackson, Chase, Rose, whomever. And adjust the size of the candidate pool by normalizing the size of the list with the number of MLB players playing as of 5 years ago (size when newest candidates are eligible. They can always add to an individuals HOF plaque that they threw games, took PEDs, were serial abusers .... etc
5:55 PM Dec 5th
 
tigerlily
Dave - Why are you apologizing for the example you used (see below)? There's absolutely nothing to apologize for that I can see.

"One way to illustrate this is to imagine a husband who buys his wife jewelry on their anniversary. I apologize for the predictably gendered role of this story, but I want to get this out fast, and it’s easier to write it in a conventional way."

As to your article - I disagree with the premise that the Hall is broken. My thoughts on this are similar to those of gendlerj who posted earlier, and also to those of evanecurb.

Regarding the PED issue, I don't think it's entirely fair to blame the BBWAA for their actions. There is serious disagreement across the baseball community regarding this topic and so it should be unsurprising that there have been and will be disagreements and inconsistencies in how the BBWAA handles the situation. The BBWAA is juggling at least three balls - assessing each player's playing career as to their HOF worthiness, assessing a character issue that has come into play due to the PED's and also attempting to assess how the PED's affected each player's playing career and their (PED usage) overall impact on the game. My problem with the BBWAA is not how they are dealing with this issue now, it is their failure (as sports reporters) to investigate and discuss the problem when is was occurring.​
4:03 PM Dec 5th
 
LesLein
Another alternative: Take the HOF vote from the BBWAA. Use a mix of media, players, fans, executives, etc. Bill recommended this in his HOF book.
4:02 PM Dec 5th
 
wilbur
Just wanted to chime in: Very well-written and thought provoking.
1:53 PM Dec 5th
 
nettles9
Ok.
1:39 PM Dec 5th
 
MarisFan61
I like there being a limit. It helps reinforce, for 'perpetuity,' the idea of the Hall being special, and helps toward the idea of some high standard.

I agree that it doesn't have to be 10. I think I like 12, although with such things you never know.

It seems like there would be no problem about increasing it, and we know that many voters would use the extra slots if they were there, and I think we pretty much know that this wouldn't result in bozos getting in -- now, and for some foreseeable future. But we don't know how an increased limit would play out over a period of time.

Most new things, of any kind, have unintended and unanticipatable consequences. I can well imagine that if there were no limit, before long the HOF standard would get eroded. I know that many people think it is eroded, and many others would say there's never been any clear standard, so there was never anything in the first place to get eroded, so there's no standard to be talking about.... But however you want to put it, I can well imagine that the .....um..... bar would become lower. If there were no limitation at all on how many candidates could be listed, I think this would be likely to happen before long -- not right away, but before long.

P.S. Chuck: I have no idea why your intended italics didn't work, at least some of the time, since it looks like you did it right. That sometimes happens. I can't be sure it won't happen on this post, it's happened to me....
12:39 PM Dec 5th
 
matt_okeefe
Great, thought-provoking work—Bill-level stuff. In fact, I’d love to hear what the boss thinks of it.
12:37 PM Dec 5th
 
chuck
p.s. ... and I agree that the limitation on ten names per ballot should be dispensed with. Why 10 as opposed to, say 9 or 12? It's arbitrary... just a nice round number seemingly without a lot of thought behind it. Open the process up so that if a writer thinks someone should be in the Hall, they're allowed to vote for them, whether it's only 1 guy, none, or however many. If it's important to the Hall of Fame to keep the number each year low, I'd rather see an unlimited number of slots with a higher percentage threshold to get in- say, 80% (that is, if the Hall were to want to keep the number each year low)- than to see players not receive votes due to the arbitrary limit of 10.
12:00 PM Dec 5th
 
chuck
I agree with Bruce- a thought-provoking (and enjoyable) article, Dave.

Yes, players throughout history have been willing to take things (or alter equipment) to perform better. But I think the main thing that was [i]changed[/i] and which was a major contributor to the recent overstuffed ballots was that the people taking the performance enhancers were breaking and [i]shattering[i/] the record book. 61 had stood for 37 years, longer than 60 had stood. We'd seen guys hit 50-some here and there, but then to have not one but TWO guys hit 60+ in one season, and one of them 70?! The change was in the seemingly ridiculous, cartoonish aspect of how badly the home run record was shattered, as well as the inflated physiques of the people doing it. McGwire was already large and got larger, but Sosa's body exhibited an obvious contrast to what he'd been a few years prior.

THAT was a change also. So you had the two changes working together- the stats being blown out of the water along with the physical changes. At first, the writers ate it up- the excitement of the home run chase- but when the realization came that 1) at least a part of the performance was due to simply being injected with a syringe, and 2) that this was now going to be the new norm- crazy home run totals for hitters with previously marginal power, 60 home runs now possible for a number of players, the all-time record now in line to be broken- the writers as keepers of the history of the game were offended on behalf of that history- of those players- and also, I think, took out on the players their own self-shame at having been part of the hoopla to begin with. The monstrous home run numbers were now sitting there in the record books, atop those of the great players of these writers' childhoods.

What the writers DIDn't consider- or had forgotten about due to the strike- was that another change had occurred a few years prior that had a LOT to do with the records being shattered: the institution of a livelier baseball. The baseball that came to be used in the 1993-94 seasons and which continued from then on had a marked effect on home run rates. This then snowballed into hitters changing their approach to take advantage of this: standing more on top of the plate to drive the ball out to the opposite field, swinging harder and swallowing the strikeouts, shaving down bat handles and going to harder bats, as well as increasing their muscle mass via the extra workouts the syringe permitted.

That change in the baseball... CT scans comparing the mid-to-late 1990s ball with those from earlier eras showed a change in the density of the core. But also, a recent article on the subject points out that perhaps more liveliness could also be gained by simply producing balls with better balance within the core. Whatever the case, this change, whether purposeful or not, had a profound effect on the hitting numbers. The home run record- I believe- would not have been broken, or if so just barely with the ball of, say, 1992. Players of moderate power would not have been hitting 50 home runs, and Bonds, McGwire, and Clemens at least, would now have plaques in the Hall. This hidden and/or forgotten change is the one that the writers should have objected to, if the game's history was important to them. But for the strike, they might have, had Matt Williams broken the record and others come close to doing so in 1994.
11:40 AM Dec 5th
 
Gfletch
Dave, I really enjoyed the article. Your take was interesting, unique even, taking things that we have all known, adding them together to arrive at a surprising and logically defensible conclusion.

But beyond that, the writing was really good, really entertaining. Without that, none of it would matter. So...thanks.
11:12 AM Dec 5th
 
KaiserD2
I think there is a dimension to the PED issue which this article does not address. There are a few players whose stats are Hall-worthy by any reasonable definition, but whose career path suggests that they needed PEDs to get them to that level. (I reject the comparisons to amphetamines and cocaine, by the way, because I'm not aware of any evidence that they could turn an ordinary player into a star or a star into a superstar, which PEds obviously did.) The hardest cases are the ones who used PEDs to rewrite the record book even though they were obviously already great players who would go to the hall. I'm glad I don't have to vote for the Hall in this era.

I have analyzed this year's candidates based on my own methods here:

www.baseballgreatness.com/2018/12/the-hall-of-fame-ballot-for-2019.html

and would welcome comments either here or there.

David Kaiser
10:49 AM Dec 5th
 
gendlerj
Interesting article, but I completely disagree with the premise. I am a "small Hall" person, but I do not think that is why I think Rose and the most obvious PED users should be excluded. I see a difference between using greenies to stay alert after a night of partying and using steroids to let you do things you would not otherwise be capable of doing. I would be willing to exclude A-Rod under that same criterion. We don't know how long he was using.

I qualify as a grumpy old man, but I would keep the obvious cheaters, or those who were not clever enough to avoid being caught, out of the Hall. I also do not see the case for Omer Vizquel any more than I did for Andre Dawson.
10:36 AM Dec 5th
 
MarisFan61
Pbspelly mentions another respect in which the article seems to assume a thing which is not uniformly true and which may well not be largely true: that failing to vote for a player due to PED use is based on morality.

For me, morality has absolutely nothing to do with it, absolute zero, and based on what I've read and heard from others, I am not alone.
As I said below, if I had a ballot I'd vote for Bonds and Clemens -- because I'm enough convinced that they were great players, notwithstanding their PED use. The reason I wouldn't vote for others is that at best, I simply don't know, which to me already isn't good enough to give someone a yes, and in some cases, Palmeiro being the clearest example, I feel that I know they weren't. And, if we read a lot of sabermetrics, which most of us do, we know that even pure analysis shows some of those players with eye-popping bare numbers, like Palmeiro, not to have been outstanding.

I'm sure that for some voters, morality is in there. But any time you start building any edifice on the foundation that morality is what it's just about, you're mistaken.
10:07 AM Dec 5th
 
pbspelly
I think this is a good article, and raises interesting points. I don't know if it is correct that the main reason writers got so high and mighty about PEDs is that they consciously or subconsciously resented being denied the opportunity to weigh in on Rose, but it is an interesting premise. One problem I have with the article, though, is that I really don't think the steroid era is comparable to the cocaine and greenies eras, because I don't believe that cocaine and greenies had anywhere near as dramatic an impact on the game itself, and on the numbers that writers and others have traditionally looked at to evaluate player ability. I have never heard anyone say that Keith Hernandez's remarkable ability to field bunts and start double plays was due to his coke use. I don't think you can look at stats for the greenie era and see a marked change like you can for the steroid era. Steroid use distorted the traditional stat lines, so that one looks at Sosa's homer totals and wonders (a) how many of those homers were due to chemicals, and (b) whether 600 homers means what it used to when so many other players are hitting more homers than players used to. So steroid use is not just a moral issue, but rather a distortion issue that makes it harder to tell how good a player really was. And I think that is a fair justification for not voting someone in. But that said, I do feel it is ridiculous to ban players on moral grounds if that is your only reason not to let them in. Because obviously, player ethics has not always been the highest priority.

7:11 AM Dec 5th
 
DavidTodd
Excellent article
12:42 AM Dec 5th
 
MarisFan61
On second thought.....

The article is A VIEW.
As a view, it's more than fine. To that extent, my comments were unfair.

But, if you're a certain kind of 'sensitive' to how things are put, it perhaps takes bending over backwards to see it that way.

When something begins with something like "This year’s HOF ballot is impossibly crowded," flat-out, and goes on to say something like "Is this an appreciable ‘break’ in the pattern of baseball players? Of course it’s not," flat-out -- it can be hard to see it as a presentation of a mere view. It's not like I think everything that's just a view needs an explicit "IMO" on it, but.....

And really, even after trying to see it in a better way, and recognizing that it can be and even maybe that it should be, I can't tell how Dave meant it -- whether he realizes those things are just views or whether he really thinks those premises are close to givens....
11:21 PM Dec 4th
 
MarisFan61
I agree about the thinking in much of the article, but when it rests on some false or at least highly highly highly debatable premises, I don't know.....

Besides what I said below, there are a couple of other such highly debatable premises, both of which I also think are simply mistaken, although those are debatable premises on my part too.

The article's view on PED's vs. other drugs is one such premise. The article assumes there's an equivalency between them. Omitting the reasons why one might disagree (and I do), suffice to say that many, many people see them as significantly different. The article doesn't seem to recognize that there's any such legitimate view about the substances; it assumes that there has just come to be a different view about substances. That's highly debatable, and I think it's wrong.

The article assumes also that there's no reasonable argument that baseball was well justified in taking a new and extremely strong stance against Rose and against what he did.

To say that the article's view on that is at least debatable would be an understatement. For example, I feel pretty sure that I'm far from the only one on this site who feels that not only was Giamatti justified in taking such a strong stance, to "break a pattern" (if you will), but indeed that baseball had to.

Dave has felt at times that I go around giving him a hard time. Dave, all you need to do is look at what I say about what anyone else writes too. :-)

I've commended very much of what you've written, likewise what almost all the other writers here have written. But when there's stuff like this, I'll say it. It's nothing personal; it's about the material.
9:49 PM Dec 4th
 
BlueRulez
Beautiful article Dave, beautiful article.

Whether one accepts the thesis that there are or aren't too many qualified candidates for the Hall of Fame, what I really like, here, is exactly why I like to read Bill --- the quality of the thinking.

8:53 PM Dec 4th
 
MarisFan61
....Continuing:

I don't think I've ever seen any year's list of eligible candidates where I felt I'd run into the "10" limit -- and I've never thought of myself as unusually "Small Hall."

We have a thread on Reader Posts where people list what their ballots would be, if they were BBWAA voters. Yes, most people listed 10 candidates, but several of us listed fewer.

I listed just 7 -- and that includes saying yes on Bond and Clemens:
Barry Bonds
Roger Clemens
Roy Halladay
Edgar Martinez
Mike Mussina
Mariano Rivera
Scott Rolen

Tell me, Dave or anyone: Did I omit anyone who's a clear Hall of Famer? Did I omit anyone that you really feel strongly SHOULD get in, besides just pointing out that they're reasonable candidates?
(Not unlike Hodges, Minoso, Evans, Evans, Bob Johnson, Nettles, Freehan, etc. etc.)

The only one besides who I listed that jumps out at me is Schilling. Vizquel, maybe him too, maybe not. Both very arguably aren't Hall of Famers.
But, for the heck of it, let's say we add those in.

That would make 9, which is still less than 10 (and surely less than 11).

Does it omit anyone else who any of y'all regard as a clear Hall of Famer, who you feel definitely SHOULD get in?

This article is based on a very flimsy premise -- looking for an underlying reason for a problem that doesn't exist.
8:20 PM Dec 4th
 
shthar
I don't see a not secret ballot fixing this.
8:02 PM Dec 4th
 
OwenH
Wait, WHAT did Pud Galvin do?
5:25 PM Dec 4th
 
MarisFan61
I think the article take too much for granted the idea that the ballot is overcrowded.

First of all it rests way too much on the idea that the PED folks are qualified, or at least overestimates the degree to which they're qualified.

Secondly it lists a bunch of players who are (IMO) no more qualified than dozens and dozens of players who were also-rans in the past.

For fun, I'll start listing such players and will keep going till either I run out of ideas, or the person I'm waiting for right here shows up. :-)

Roger Maris
Graig Nettles
Bill Freehan
Elston Howard
Frank Howard
Thurman Munson
Don Mattingly
Keith Hernandez
Ron Guidry
Dan Quisenberry
Bob Elliott
Willie Randolph
Gil Hodges
Dwight Evans
Darrell Evans
Darryl Strawberry
Dwight Gooden
Sparky Lyle
Jim Wynn
Vada Pinson
Dale Murphy
Minnie Minoso
Babe Herman
Bob Johnson
Del Ennis
Rocky Colavito
Reggie Smith
Roy Sievers
Boog Powell
John Callison
Carl Furillo
Tony Oliva
.....I guess that's enough guys....
5:12 PM Dec 4th
 
evanecurb
One of the 1980s players suspected of PED use: Pete Rose.
5:04 PM Dec 4th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Rose broke the HoF. The writers would have voted him in overwhelmingly. He was good copy, and a good ballplayer. It's the Commissioner's job to enforce rules against gambling, not theirs.
4:28 PM Dec 4th
 
evanecurb
Very good piece, very thought provoking. I disagree with the premise that 1990s PEDs are simply another example of substances for the purpose of gaining an advantage, or the natural successor to greenies, cocaine, and 1980s PEDs. The reason PEDs became a big deal was that there were multiple credible sources that reported on their use and named names: Game of Shadows, Juiced,, The Mitchell Report, positive tests for Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, and Palmeiro, the Clemens investigation, the BALCO scandal, and the South Florida PED ring. It is noteworthy that only one of the recent HOF inductees (Ivan Rodriguez, who was named in Juiced) was named in any of these sources regarding PED use. The writers have drawn a line between those whose PED use is documented (Bonds, Clemens, Ramirez, Palmeiro, Sheffield, Sosa, McGwire) and those whose use is merely rumored (Piazza, Bagwell). I Rod probably got a pass because many writers don't consider Juiced to be a credible source. It will be interesting to see what happens with Big Papi when he's eligible.

There was also a public outcry about PED use among 1990s players. This didn't happen with greenies, cocaine, or pre-1990 steroids. The absence of public outcry and the absence of documentation have kept 1980s PED users and 1960s greenies users in the clear.
4:18 PM Dec 4th
 
bearbyz
Good article and it is about time for Pete to be on the ballot anyway.
3:59 PM Dec 4th
 
 
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