Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Hall of Fame? No, Hall of Blame

      This is perhaps going to surprise my baseball-loving friends and even certain members of my family ... but I am very disenchanted with the Baseball Hall of Fame.
       I no longer consider it a holy place, a shrine. It's just another museum, that's all. It's not that "romantic" to me.
       In fact, I have re-thought some future plans. (If you want the quick version, save yourself some time, go to the bottom of the piece and see what I'm talking about.) Hint: Don't send me directions on how to get to Cooperstown, N.Y.
       For those who aren't baseball fans, who don't care, stop here. That takes care of 95 percent of my readership. For the remaining 5 percent, bear with me as I lament and vent.
       I don't relish writing this because baseball remains my favorite sport. Not my original favorite; that was soccer (yes, Jerry Barnes, that's right), the No. 1 sport in my home country.
       But when it's not baseball season, when the Yankees aren't playing, I'm a little lost in the sports world. (Go ahead, make your little jokes about how they didn't play in the 2013 season.) I don't really
       Maybe it's because I'm older, or more cynical, or jaded, or just worn out. But to me, the Baseball Hall of Fame -- or perhaps voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame -- has become a joke. This year it was worse than ever. It's turned into a Baseball Hall of Blame.
       Two voters, or non-voters if you will, were the brunt of the joke this year.
       -- Dan Le Batard is a longtime columnist for the Miami Herald and an ESPN talk show host who, anonymously at first, turned his ballot over to Deadspin.com to let readers make his choices for him. That was his protest about the selection process.
       -- Ken Gurnick, who has covered the Los Angeles Dodgers for years and years and now works for MLB.com, voted only for Jack Morris -- the former Tigers/Blue Jays pitching ace in his 15th (and last) year on the ballot. Gurnick point-blank wrote that he would not vote for any player in the PED (performance-enhancing drugs) era.        
       The steroids/PED has gummed up all the voting. More on that later.
       I believe what Gurnick did is ridiculous, a real copout. If he cares that little, the Baseball Writers' Association of America -- which always has set the rules and conducted the voting for the Hall of Fame -- should take his vote away.
       Which is exactly what it did to Le Batard -- stripped him of his vote, took his BBWAA membership away for three years. Think he cares?
       In researching this piece, doing some reading and talking to current or former baseball beat writers and columnists who are friends, it's unanimous they think that Le Batard's giveaway of his vote was wrong.
       "He's a very talented guy who has made a career out of shtick," one of my friends said.
       My viewpoint: He did a good thing. Outlandish, outrageous ... sure. But, in a very pointed way, he called attention not only to himself but to a fouled-up voting system.
       The BBWAA, the Hall of Fame officials and Major League Baseball's powers-that-be -- hello, Bud Selig, Rob Manfred and one of my favorites, Joe Torre -- should consider these flaws.
       "I wasn't reckless or flippant about this; I thought this through," Le Batard explained last week on the air with ESPN show hosts Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic. "For 10 years, I've been on my platforms trying to instigate change here, and have done so unsuccessfully. I haven't attracted the amount of attention in 10 years trying this than I did just yesterday."
       The BBWAA, in its admonition of Le Batard, issued a statement saying it considered having a vote for the Hall of Fame "the ultimate privilege."
       Oh, holy eye roll. It's baseball, for Babe Ruth's sake. Let's put this in context. Ultimate privilege? I consider that to be alive on this earth, to be a husband, and father, and grandfather. I just cannot take it that seriously.
       But so many people do. ESPN hosts Mike Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser called Le Batard "sanctimonious." I would counter by saying the BBWAA powers also are "sanctimonious." Just depends on how you look at it.
       I don't have a vote, never have, never will. I'm just interested in the game and in the Hall, or I wouldn't be writing this piece.
      Now, what changes need to be made? Le Batard and my friends all have their ideas; one is  obvious to me:  The voting membership needs an overhaul.
       There were 571 voters this year (those who are BBWAA members for 10 consecutive years, at any point, are eligible). Many of those no longer cover baseball regularly, or never did (they were columnists); they're not in tune with today's game; they don't study the players or the statistics closely. Le Batard said that even he shouldn't be one of the voters.
       For instance, there is no provision for the many knowledgable and experience broadcasters to have a vote, nor is there any former players/managers/general managers input ... except on the Oldtimers' Committee.
       One of Le Batard's suggestions is that a voter should be able to vote for as many people as they want; the current limit is 10. I don't agree; I like a limit of five, which I think is the ideal number for induction in one year.
      But the greatest issue today is the refusal of many voters to vote for the admitted or accused PED users. That, Le Batard said, "bothers me." He would vote for them because his reasoning is that it was part of the game, just as alcohol was over the years or "greenies" or amphetamines in the '60s, or cocaine in the late '70s and '80s.
        The list of players and the supposed links to PEDs, with their vote totals this year (none got really close to election): Jeff Bagwell (310), Roger Clemens (202), Barry Bonds (198), Mark McGwire (63), Sammy Sosa (41), Rafael Palmeiro (25, and off the ballot because he received less than 5 percent of the votes).
         A couple of my friends did not vote for these guys. One said he would.
         I was asked by a buddy recently what I thought about the issue. I said I would vote for McGwire, Clemens, Bonds and probably Bagwell -- who many believe was not a PED user -- because they were exceptional players, period, even before PED use. A lot of us didn't like Clemens and Bonds because of their arrogant, I-didn't-do-anything-wrong attitudes. But they were the best pitcher and hitter of their time.
          Sosa, I believe, was pumped up and helped by PEDs. Many suspect that of Mike Piazza. Palmeiro? Don't know. I want to believe he was tricked into a booster shot.
           Alex Rodriguez? Gosh, who can believe anything this guy says or does. Hard to imagine anyone voting for him when he gets on the Hall of Fame ballot.
            One of my friends says he can't get past the "integrity" part of the qualification process. I would remind him that Leo Durocher is in the Hall of Fame; "integrity" was not much of his makeup. George Steinbrenner, twice suspended from the game for illegal/unlawful/unethical acts, remains a candidate.

How did 16 people not vote for Greg Maddux? In
fact, he did anyone fail to vote for him?
(photo from bleacherreport.com)
          I am of the opinion that MLB should reconsider its banishment of Pete Rose for Hall of Fame eligibility. He has paid his price; almost a quarter-century of ineligibility for gambling on the game. But at least, finally, he owned up to it. That should count for something. Certainly he's a lock based on playing achievements.
          But then I also think Shoeless Joe Jackson long ago should have been released from baseball's Hall of Sin. Bad deal, but MLB rulers have never wanted to overrule Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. 
            Finally this -- there were 16 voters this year who failed to vote for Greg Maddux. To me, that's as much a protest as Le Batard's. They should have their votes taken away. Only Clemens was better than Maddux in their time.
            But no one has ever been selected unanimously to the Baseball Hall of Fame. If that's not a joke ...
           Think about it. Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio, Mike Schmidt, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Tom Seaver, Cal Ripken Jr. ... and on and on and on. 
           Some voter is always going to say, "No one should be unanimous; not voting for him this year." When you have so many voters, there's always going to be a Ken Gurnick-type protest vote.
           But how in the heck does someone vote for Armando Benitez and Jacque Jones and Kenny Rogers and J.T. Snow; all got at least a vote this year? Those guys shouldn't even be on the ballot.
          Back to the unanimous selection. Makes me wonder how many voters will omit Mariano Rivera four years from now? Don't send them my way.
           Speaking of Mariano Rivera (and Derek Jeter); one of my "bucket list" items was to attend their inductions at Cooperstown, which I've never visited. I don't think I'm going to do that; I just don't have a good feeling about the Baseball Hall of Fame anymore. But maybe I'll feel differently in four or five years.  


  1. From Beverly Denver: I've been to Cooperstown, and it is still hallowed ground, a very special place. I do hope you will put it back on your bucket list and go there, and stand in awe of those who played the game sans drugs and weight rooms.

  2. From Chuck Baker: Having been, I say you owe it to yourself to go. And since you are such an avid reader, visit the James Fenimore Cooper attractions, and just enjoy upstate NY. Amazing place.

  3. From Don Landry: Lucille and I are going to be attending the Hall of Fame ceremonies in July.

  4. From Sandi Tison Atkinson: I have been to Cooperstown because I wanted to see names I knew from my childhood. My dad was a huge baseball fan and, like with my son, I watched the Saturday games (remember Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese on the black and white TV sets with the rabbit ears?). My dad was a fan of Duke Snider, Whitey Ford, Ted Williams, and anyone in a Milwaukee Braves uniform. Guess I’ve always been stuck with the Braves. Anyway, there were those "old timers" whose plaques I wanted to see and, of course, Jerry wanted to see Stan Musial’s plaque. We went to Cooperstown a few days after visiting Canton, Ohio, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It was quite a vacation that year.
    So, while I mentioned in a previous e-mail that I was not a fan of your baseball blogs … I stuck with you and I agree with everything you said about the PEDs and most of all about Pete Rose. The first professional baseball game I ever saw in person was with Jerry on one of our vacations and Pete Rose played and hit a homer. In fact, until I moved to Texas and went with some of my coworkers to a Rangers game, that was the only MLB game I had ever seen.

  5. From Jim Robinson: Being lifelong Yankees fans as we both are, and growing up with the Game of the Week, not the third game of the day like it is now, you know I agree with your blog. I love the song "I saw it all on my radio" because it reminds me of many Saturday mornings out in the workshop with my Dad, and listening to those Yankees games on the radio. I agree that the voting for the Hall is a sham, today. When a writer simply says that no one should be a unanimous selection, it tells me that the writer has no respect for the game, or its history. History is who we are, and in most cases who we will be. Some players are just simply the best.

  6. From Danny Horne: Count me among the Five Percent, as well as the portion of your readership that is surprised about what you wrote. ... You're right. The voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame has become a joke. The BBWAA is a joke. I don't know that there is an argument against that idea. But I think the voting process and the Hall itself are separate issues.
    You probably know how I feel about Maddux. When I played, Maddux was the guy I emulated. I actually had a college coach tell me once that I reminded him of Maddux. I didn't throw terribly hard. I wasn't a big kid. I wasn't blessed with being left-handed. But I knew how to pitch and I could put the ball where I wanted to put it. I got that from watching Maddux pitch. There was no better pitcher. Roger Clemens? Nope. Sorry. Not a better pitcher. He probably had better stuff ... better physical gifts...but he wasn't a better pitcher. If anyone was going to be a unanimous selection, it should have been Greg Maddux. That goes back to the need for change in the voting process. There needs to be turnover.
    The silliness that is connected to the voting process should not change your feelings for the Hall of Fame. I've been saying for 10 years that I will be there when Greg Maddux gets inducted. ... I'll be there in July to watch two guys (Maddux and Tom Glavine) I grew up idolizing. That's what the Hall of Fame is about. In the end, it doesn't matter that Maddux was short-changed on the chance to be unanimous by an idiot faction of writers. It really doesn't matter that LeBatard made a spectacle of himself. It doesn't matter that certain guys' votes should be revoked. The Hall and the experience of visiting (I've never been, either) are separate from the nonsense that accompanies the voting process. I hope you'll change your plans. When Mariano and Jeter are elected on the first ballot, albeit probably not unanimously, I hope maybe you'll make the trek in a few years to see one or both of them inducted.