Mess in the Hall


Pedro Martinez only won 219 games. He had a short peak of seven seasons and retired at age 37. He won 20 games only twice, threw five complete games or more only three times, and pitched 200 innings only seven times. He hit 141 batters because his self-control wasn’t as good as his control; he led leagues in that category as many times as he did shutouts or complete games.

And he was better from April to September than he was in October — his career postseason ERA was half a run higher than his regular season one, and if you exclude his Madison Bumgarner-like 1999 (17 innings, 5 hits, 0 runs, 23 strikeouts, six no-hit innings in the deciding game of the ALDS with a bad back), his postseason ERA was 4.17.

That’s the case against Martinez for the Hall of Fame. It’s flimsy — most of us can reasonably agree to affirm Martinez’s candidacy in less time than it took Grady Little to remove Pedro from Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS — but somebody believes it. We know that because the partial returns, according to chatsports.com, show Pedro Martinez at 98.2%. Someone didn’t vote for him, either because they think Pedro’s not a Hall of Famer or because they think there are 10 better candidates, or they believe Pedro doesn’t need their vote.

What is there to make of Pedro’s reported no vote (somehow Randy Johnson has one, too)? Is the voter wrong? Irresponsible? Misguided? Did he/she not vote for Pedro because of the low win total? Or because of the headlock Pedro put on Don Zimmer in the 2003 ALCS? Did he/she not vote for Pedro because of a presumption Martinez will get in anyway? Or because he/she thinks Pedro is a prima donna worthy of a Yankees-like Game 7 comeuppance? Or because they vote with their heart instead of their head? Or because they’re idiotic?

Bill Conlin didn’t vote for Nolan Ryan for induction, though there were 5,714 reasons why he should have, all of them strikeouts.

We won’t know unless the voter in question explains (as Conlin did), which might yet happen. These days Hall of Fame voting results drip out like an infield single rolling down the third-base line, a voter at a time, because many voters reveal their ballots as if the process is a confessional on Montel. That’s good for accountability, if not so much for melodrama.

At least two writers this year have said they won’t vote because of the Hall’s limit: 10 players to a ballot. ESPN.com’s Buster Olney said he didn’t want to omit Mike Mussina from his because he thinks Mussina is a Hall of Famer, but he couldn’t vote for him because he had so many other players to vote for, and he didn’t want to hurt Mussina’s chances (he may be right about Mussina, who has an unappreciated case).

Last year Olney said he had 17 players to vote for; if so, you might want to double-check your standards. Seventeen yes votes is a ballot on PEDs; no Hall is that big.

And not to worry on Mussina. He deserved far more than the 20.3% of votes he received last year, but it’s pretty sure that Olney’s ballot without Mussina wouldn’t have been the one to keep him from the Hall this year. There will be plenty of others, and that’s not just because of the 10-vote cutoff.

Abstaining from casting a ballot isn’t some great principled stance, and columns espousing such aren’t Dr. King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail. Refusing to vote because of the 10-player limit only makes you a humanitarian in search of a cause. Are the protesters out for reform? Or clicks (and who among us isn’t)? Or both?

Much has been made of the backlog of worthy candidates for the Hall, and while it’s easy to blame it on the voting rules, that’s not the whole reason. There’s a backlog because there’s an absence of consensus on how to view the stars of the steroid era, to say nothing of Pete Rose. And there’s a backlog because of a generation gap. To some, 300 wins, 3,000 hits or 600 home runs are the benchmark; to others, it’s OPS+ or ERA+ or WAR.

We can decry the backlog, and we can accept the difference of opinion behind it. Does anyone really think doing away with the 10-player maximum will make the backlog disappear like the Nationals in October? Is Tim Raines unable to maintain even majority approval because of the backlog or his association with another drug? Are Mussina and Curt Schilling unable to gain a foothold because of the lack of an unlimited ballot, or a lack of appreciation?

Five-hundred-sixty-nine ballots were received last year, and not surprisingly, a lot of variance was returned with them. Is it more of a travesty that Raines can’t get more than 52.2%, or that someone voted for Aaron Sele? Do we need to do away with the 10-vote limit, or the 16 voters who thought Sandy Alomar was worthy of induction? Only half of the voters even used all 10 spots on their ballot last year, so at least half the electorate doesn’t need an unlimited ballot.

It’s not supposed to be easy to get into the Hall, which is why it takes 75%, not 51%. And there’s a backlog because there’s a difference of opinion on borderline candidates, PED abusers and PED suspects. And there’s a backlog because how we define players changes as how the game is played evolves. Lee Smith had 478 career saves, but has topped 50% of the vote only once in 12 swings at the Hall. How many saves equal 3,000 hits?

The backlog is as natural as the Cubs not winning the World Series. It may seem as if the rules have to be changed, but maybe it’s perception that has to be. Who said disagreement is disorder?

Backlogs to enter the Hall of Fame aren’t new. Joe DiMaggio waited until his third election to enter. On his first try in 1953, he received 44.3% of the vote and finished eighth. Only Dizzy Dean and Al Simmons were voted in that year; yet 40 more players and managers from that election were eventually inducted, including the top 13 vote-getters and Arky Vaughan, who got one vote, and Bobby Doerr, who got two (No. 14 Hank Gowdy, a WWI vet, 1914 World Series hero and ’24 Series goat, is still waiting for the call despite receiving votes 17 times). Somehow, the Hall survived (and yes, voting rules were changed).

When the votes are announced next month, Martinez and Randy Johnson will be elected, and maybe John Smoltz and/or Craig Biggio and/or Mike Piazza will, too. When they count up the votes, nobody will be asking how, just how many.

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