Hall of Fame 2013: Did the voters get it right?

What if they held an election and nobody won? And the electors were so angry they voted with pitchforks? And if next summer’s Induction Day is now reserved for an umpire, owner and player who all died before World War II started? And a writer? (One of the knights of the keypad, Ted Williams would call him today.)

That means Induction Sunday sounds about as exciting as a Brendan Ryan at-bat. If you want to go to Cooperstown for Induction Day but don’t like crowds, this is your year.

If Induction Day 2013 were a MLB team, it would be the Royals: it started out with so much promise before the voters voted.

The Hall of Fame voters had an angry tone this year, as if they had adopted Roger Clemens’ persona. Barry Bonds got 206 votes, or just one for every 3.7 home runs he hit. Roger Clemens got 214 votes, or 140 less than games he won. Craig Biggio came closest to induction with 388 votes, but he was hanging out with the wrong crowd.

For the eighth time, no player was voted in (the seven previous years were 1945, 1946, 1950, 1958, 1960, 1971 and 1996. If you want to guess who the leading vote-getters were those years, all of whom eventually entered the Hall, look below for answers).

The outcry was as swift as Michael Bourn legging out a triple. Jayson Stark said the system isn’t working. David Schoenfield said the process is “broken.” Of course, both work for ESPN, where every action deserves an overreaction.

The system worked, and the “process” doesn’t need fixing. Voters voted. Players struck out. You may not like it, and you may think the voters are self-righteous, moralizing hypocrites, a press box full of Elmer Gantrys at a computer.

And you may be right. But none of these players — with the exception of Dale Murphy and all those who failed to receive five percent of the vote — is off next year’s ballot. Voting for the Hall isn’t a one-time thing, it’s a 15-year commitment. And then a review by the Veterans Committee (which has done far more damage historically, than the writers ever have. Think Ray Schalk.)

We can only guess at voters’ motivation — and they may be legitimate and many — but I’ve got mine. I wonder how many voters covered the home run race of 1998, hyped it, and ultimately, felt betrayed by it. I wonder how many were deceived when they learned 1998 was also about drugs, and not just home run hugs.

That some of the voters’ motives may not have been altruistic? I know. Say it ain’t so.

A few other observations from this year’s voting:

  • I’d like to hear the rationale from the person who, out of all 37 candidates, cast a vote for pitcher Aaron Sele. There weren’t 10 more qualified candidates than Sele? And if you voted for Sele, how did Woody Williams get shut out? (For point of reference, Woody Williams and shutout were only in the same sentence twice in 15 years) There are frequently outliers — a vote for David Segui in 2010, Walt Weiss in 2006, Terry Steinbach in 2005; thankfully Lanny Harris and his career 0.7 WAR were shut out in 2011 — but I’m guessing it’s been a while since a pitcher with a 4.61 career ERA got a vote. Did he earn it with his career .782 OPS against? The six seasons out of 15 his ERA was greater than 5.00? The 2,413 hits he gave up in 2,153 innings? Or all of the above?
  • The New York Times sports front on Thursday was suitable for its own plaque: a banner headline Welcome to Cooperstown and then 75% of blank space.
  • Rogers Clemens (37.6%) and Barry Bonds (36.2%) didn’t receive enough votes combined to earn induction.
  • Rafael Palmeiro — 569 home runs, 3.020 hits and one PED suspension — was close to falling off the ballot. He received 50 votes; 22 less and he’d have a long wait for a hearing with the Veterans Committee. Wonder if he wishes he’d pointed his finger more at himself and less at representatives in his testimony before Congress.
  • Kenny Lofton deserved better than to get just 18 votes and picked off the ballot. You can argue that Lofton isn’t a Hall of Famer — I would agree, though I think he’s close — but Tim Raines got 279 more votes and they’re comparable players: Raines hit .294, stole 808 bases and had a 66.2 WAR; Lofton hit .299, stole 622 bases and had a 64.9 WAR. And played centerfield. Leadoff men bore the anger of voters, too.
  • One knowledgable friend/fan theorized that Wednesday’s vote was a repudiation of the stars of the 1990s. Not yet. Next year Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine are on the ballot; 2015 brings Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez; 2016 Ken Griffey Jr.; 2017 Ivan Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez. It’s safe to say the 75% threshold will be crossed. Let’ see how voters treat Frank Thomas (521 career homers, .301 average, .974 OPS) next winter. Presumably, Thomas was PED free; he came to the big leagues big after attending Auburn for football. In normal circumstances, he seems like a first-ballot pick. Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent, who also debut next year, should take a lesson from Wednesday’s results, which might be particularly unfair to Mussina.
  • Shawn Green got two votes, both of which drew ridicule. Fair enough. Green had three Hall of Fame years — 49 homers with the Jays and again with the Dodgers — but was otherwise good, not great. He retired as he turned 35 with 328 career home runs, having hit 10 and .291 in 2007. There’s no telling how many more home runs he would have hit — his season totals were declining — but it’s safe to say four wasn’t out of reach. That’s how many he needed to surpass Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg, the all-time Jewish home run hitter. Green said he retired because of the travel and the expiration of his contract. I’ve always wondered if Greenberg had anything to do with Green’s decision. If so, it was a Hall of Fame gesture. If not, a Hall of Fame coincidence.
  • There is nothing wrong with a blank ballot. Protecting the so-called sanctity of the Hall isn’t only about who gets in, but who doesn’t. I’m just as much for throwing people out of the Hall as putting more in.
  • Which brings us to a final point. Jack Morris is not a Hall of Famer. Dale Murphy is not a Hall of Famer. I saw countless endorsements on social media from casual fans — and even some serious ones — about both. I get that Morris pitched one of the great World Series games ever. I get that Murphy must have been everyone’s favorite player when TBS was on cable nationwide. This no more qualifies either for the Hall of Fame than Chip Caray doing Braves games vets him for Meet The Press. If you can believe everything you read on the Internet, then you can agree with every opinion on social media. Evidently, Idiocracy is closer than you think.
  • The leading vote getters in the seven previous years no player was elected: 1945-Frank Chance, 72.5%, picked by Old Timers Committee; 1946-Frank Chance, 71.3%; 1950-Mel Ott, 68.5%, voted in in 1951; 1958-Max Carey, 51.1%, picked by Veterans Commitee in 1961; 1960-Ed Roush, 54.3%, picked by Veterans Committee in 1962; 1971-Yogi Berra, 67.2%, voted in in 1972; 1996-Phil Niekro, 68.3%, voted in in1997).

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    2 Responses to Hall of Fame 2013: Did the voters get it right?

    1. Mike says:

      While I suspect Maddux gets in next year, I think the 90’s smackdown will continue on a few of the other names you mentioned. Frank Thomas (spent more than half of his games as a DH; ask Edgar how that worked out) and Tom Glavine (not nearly as good as Maddux; just look at his total body of work – it’s not even THAT close) would do well to wait until next January before making hotel reservations in New York for the summer of 2014. Let’s face it, the term “first ballot Hall of Famer” has become nonexistent. Because we just cannot say that about anyone, anymore.

      And while I agree (and liked) with your line about the ESPN overreaction, I too would like to see some changes made to this process. The idea that Bill James doesn’t have a Hall of Fame vote doesn’t seem fair. I don’t know what the precise criteria should be, but I do believe the process should be opened to more than just writers who have managed to avoid layoffs in a dying industry.

      • Interesting points, as always. However:

        1. Greg Maddux is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. So we can say that about somebody. If he’s not, I’m buying.

        2. Glavine is not as good as Maddux, but excluding Clemens, who is? Glavine won 305 games, and while he may be hockey tough, he wasn’t very big. If he was on anything, it was vitamins. Kids’ vitamins. He may not be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but he might be. And if not the first ballot, he won’t have to wait like Jack Morris.

        3. Thomas played 400 more games in the field than Edgar. Not well, admittedly. But that’s two-and-a-half more seasons. And Thomas was a better hitter than Edgar, by 41 career points of OPS and nine points of OPS+. Thus he had the higher WAR by 5 points. You can argue that Edgar is a Hall of Famer, but if you do, Thomas is one, too. You can argue that Thomas is a Hall of Famer, and that Edgar is not. That’s my take, that the line is somewhere between the two. We’ll see how he’s treated — I would agree with you that he’ll be a much meaningful test case of the mood of voters.

        4. I’m open to suggestions on how to change the process. And I certainly agree with James having a vote (his book on the Hall is well worth reading). But if not the writers, who votes? The players? They play baseball, but they don’t follow it (see the Veterans Committee). The fans? Middle-school elections are better grounded than the fans’ All-Star voting. Sabermetricians? That’ll go over well. Saying the process has to be changed is one thing. Changing it is another.

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