I’m sorry if I sound like a heretic. (a person holding an opinion at odds with what is generally accepted). However, I am not a fan of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. I have lots and lots of reasons.
If you like, admire, or you are a fan of the Cooperstown institution, I value and respect your opinion. But I’m not a fan. I see lots and lots of problems.
Today’s edition of the WORLD is not meant to be a history lesson or a primer on the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Rather, I want to share why I am disappointed with that particular institution. Frankly, I think baseball players, fans and the game itself deserves better.
Without a doubt, I do think there should be a Baseball Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it is not the institution we now know as the Baseball Hall of Fame.
First, please tell me what the performance criteria are for one to be even considered for election to the Hall of Fame? Or, tell me even one performance criterion that is required for consideration? What would a player have to achieve to be considered for election? What are the standards? Does he have to have played X number of games? Did he have to hit X number of home runs or have X number of hits? Did he have to pitch X number innings or have X number of wins? Did he have to have X number of saves? There are no performance standards in writing. None. Consideration and election standards are in the minds and the eyes of the voters, few as they may be.
Nope, there are no performance criteria. There is not even one performance criterion. However, there is a length of service criteria, which I will explain below.
Yes, some writers have said 500 homers or 3,000 hits will get a player in the Hall. Where is that written? Where is that stated? Are 300 wins enough for a pitcher? Will that ever happen again in baseball?
Please tell me what the personal character and ethics standards and criteria are for consideration for Hall of Fame membership?
An institution without standards for memberships leaves itself open to criticism. And that’s what I’m doing. If the public has a list of standards upon which a player’s performance is evaluated it will certainly go a long way to clarifying qualification standards for election to the Hall. It will help us understand why or why not player X has been elected or not elected. Now, as things stand, we are left to wonder.
If the public has a list of character and ethics issues that would disqualify a player from consideration, that list should be known. It can’t be… “we’ll know it when we see it.” And it can’t continue to be an arbitrary decision based upon conjecture or even on personal relationships.
In reality, it is possible that any baseball player can be voted to the Hall of Fame with mediocre career statistics. In reality, it is possible that any baseball player can be excluded from the Hall of Fame with outstanding career statistics. Both have happened. Both will continue to happen. I will illustrate what I consider to be some examples later in this piece.
WHO OWNS AND RUNS THE BASEBALL HALL OF FAME?
I would venture a guess that most baseball fans believe Major League Baseball owns and runs the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. That is incorrect.
Cooperstown hotel owner Stephen Carlton Clark established the Hall of Fame and Museum in 1939. He opened the museum to bring tourists to town. His granddaughter, Jane Forbes Clark is the current chairwoman of the Board of Directors. I don’t want this to drag into a history lesson, but MLB does not own or run the Hall of Fame. However, there are numerous baseball related officials and past players that are on the Board. Most are iconic names in baseball and/or in business. But all the regulations, policies, procedures and whatever standards exist are governed by a non-Major League Baseball affiliated Board of Directors.
WHO ELECTS THE PLAYERS TO THE HALL?
Players are elected in one of two ways. The most common is through selected members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Five years after retirement, any player with ten years of major league experience is eligible for consideration.
Specifically, the player must have been active as a player in the major leagues at some time during a period beginning 15 years before and ending five years prior to election.
Those are the only real criteria I can find regarding Hall of Fame consideration and eligibility. Neither deals with performance or character. The player must have been out of playing the game for five years and the player must have had ten years of major-league experience.
A screening committee among the Baseball Writers Association of America members reviews the candidates and removes those players it deems to have lesser performance qualifications. Again, that is a totally subjective evaluation by a limited number of individuals.
Once the eligibility list for the year is produced, Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) members with ten years of experience and who have been covering MLB at any time in the previous ten years prior to the election receive final voting ballots. That last part is a new requirement since 2016, and a good one I might add.
The final ballot includes anywhere from 25-40 candidates. Eligible members may vote for up to ten players from that eligibility list.
A player named on 75% of the ballots cast is elected to the Hall of Fame. A player named on fewer than 5% of the ballots cast is removed from the future ballots and is dropped from future election consideration by the BBWAA.
However, the Veterans Committee may evaluate and elect that group of players. It makes baseball personnel not elected by the BBWAA eligible for election after their eligibility years have been exhausted/or they have been dropped from the BBWAA elections. That is a totally different process and it won’t be part of today’s BERNIE’S BASEBALL WORLD article. It is, however, the second way to be elected to the Hall of Fame. That form of election is by a very small group of veteran players and baseball personnel with a much smaller vote requirement.
MY QUESTIONS AND CONCERNS:
The issue of having ten-year veteran baseball writers who have seen baseball games in the previous ten years is fine. However, there are many, many more individuals very well qualified to cast a Hall of Fame ballot. For example, what about broadcasters of major-league baseball games? Why don’t those media personnel that have been in the booth for at least ten seasons get to vote? They are very knowledgeable and would add a terrific dimension to the system. They know baseball.
What about front office executives and baseball scouts that have been in their roles for at least the previous ten years? Perhaps they aren’t with the same team for ten years, but baseball writers are not all with the same media corporation for every one of those ten years, either. Baseball scouts and front office executives know player production inside and out.
What about writers like myself who attend countless games every year but may not have ten years as a member of the BBWAA? Many writers in the BBWAA watch more baseball than many, many of the individual writers who currently vote. I am in the BBWWA but I don’t have ten years with the organization. Why can’t every active BBWAA vote for the Hall of Fame?
In short, I think the election process is flawed. In essence, I believe individuals in and around the game of baseball that are associated on a daily basis with Major League Baseball at the player development; player evaluation or media level should be given a Hall of Fame vote.
Why is there a ten-vote limit for those who are voting? What if the voter finds 11 worthwhile players on his or her ballot? The voter is restricted to ten votes. That makes no sense whatsoever. It is quite possible a worthy player may be kept from being in the Hall of Fame because an eligible writer had to choose between the No. 10 and No. 11 player (or more) on his or her ballot. What is magical about the number ten? A Hall of Famer is a Hall of Famer, whether the number in a given year is none, one or 13.
TRACKING SOME RECENT RESULTS
By my calculations, 442 ballots were cast by qualified BBWAA members in 2017. Jeff Bagwell received 86.2% of the vote, or 381 votes. That was the most by any eligible player.
Tim Raines also entered the Hall due to his 86% total, or 380 votes. It was his 10th and final year of eligibility. Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez entered the Hall based upon his 76% or 336 votes cast.
Trevor Hoffman, a terrific relief pitcher received 327 votes, or 74% of the total, 1% shy of election in his 2nd year of eligibility. Maybe he was person No. 11 on a few ballots.
Vladimir Guerrero was eligible for the first time. He received 71.7% of the votes, falling a bit shy of election. The next highest mark was 259 votes received by Edgar Martinez. That was 58.6% of the vote in Martinez’ 8th year of eligibility. And he, Edgar Martinez is one of my biggest gripes about the Hall.
TWO GUYS-TWO OUTCOMES
Edgar Martinez is not in the Hall of Fame. Edgar Martinez played 18 years in major-league baseball. Every one of those years he played in Seattle. Seattle is not the center of the media universe and he certainly didn’t get as much recognition as some other players of his 1987-2004 timeframe. Martinez had a career batting average of .312. He hit 309 homers. In 1995 he stroked 52 doubles. In 2000 he drove in 145 runs. He was a designated hitter for much of his time from 1995 on.
Edgar Martinez drove in over 80 runs eight times. He drove in over 100 runs six times. Is the fact he was only a DH keeping him out? I hope not. Designated hitter is a very legitimate position in baseball and one that should carry David Ortiz to the Hall.
Martinez had 8674 plate appearances in 2055 games. He drove in 1261 runs. He struck out 1202 times. He walked 1283 times. He scored 1219 runs. He had 2247 hits.
Andre Dawson is in the Hall of Fame. Andre Dawson played 21 years of major-league baseball, seven more than Martinez.
Dawson played for Montreal, the Cubs, the Red Sox and the Marlins. He had an outstanding career. He had a career batting average of .279. He hit 438 homers and drove in 1591 runs. He drove in 80 or more runs ten times. He had four seasons of more than 100 RBIs.
Yes, Dawson played four more years and some of his numbers were more than Martinez. But when I look at the total picture, they weren’t far off in their career numbers and impact. Yet Martinez remains on the outside looking in. Dawson made it to the Hall on his 9th year of eligibility. The picture is blurry for me.
Edgar has been trending up in his quest to enter the Hall. He started at 36.2% in 2010. With only two years of eligibility remaining in the BBWAA system, he received 58.6% on the way to the required 75%. I have no idea what is taking so long.
THE HALL OF FAME IS THE HALL OF FAME
I mean no ill will towards Bill Mazeroski. The Veterans Committee voted him into the Hall in 2001. But his membership in the Hall puts the icing on the cake I have baked regarding a lack of performance criteria.
Bill Mazeroski is in the Hall of Fame. Bill Mazeroski played 17 years in major-league baseball.Every one of those years was with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Bill Mazeroski had a .260 lifetime batting average. He hit 138 home runs. He drove in 80 runs twice-in 1962 when he drove in 81 and in 1966 when he drove in 82. He was a good player. A Hall of Famer? When Edgar Martinez is not? Regardless of the system used for Mazeroski to enter the Hall, he is a Hall of Famer.
And there are more like Edgar. Many more.
Take a look at Jim Kaat’s statistics, for example:
Kaat pitched for 25 seasons for six major-league teams. He won 283 games, just 17 shy of that magic number of “300 wins” we hear so much about. He finished with a 3.45 ERA. He threw 4530 innings. He had a season with 304 2/3 innings. He pitched 14 seasons-14 seasons of more than 200 innings. He yielded only 395 home runs. He pitched in three All-Star Games. He won 16 Gold Gloves. He never received more than 27.3% of the votes needed for entry to the Hall. I have no idea why not. To me, he is a true Hall of Famer. But again, what are the standards used by the writers for their votes? Or by the veterans for their votes?
Want more? See Larry Walker, Alan Trammell and his middle infield partner Lou Whitaker. Check out their career numbers and achievements. And of course, there are even more.
WHAT ABOUT PETE ROSE?
If the O J Simpson trial was the trial of the century, the Pete Rose story was the debate of the century. Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Let me ask this question once again. What are the standards? What are the qualifications? Can one cheat and get in? Can one do steroids and drugs and get in? Can one be a racial bigot and get in? Can one gamble on baseball and get in?
Tell me the standards and I’ll give you my answer on every player that meets eligibility standards. Give me the criteria and I can tell you how I would vote on every eligible player. It doesn’t mean my vote is right. It doesn’t mean my vote is the way you would vote. It would mean I am voting on some written criteria.
I believe there are drug users and abusers in the Hall of Fame. I believe there are game-day cheaters in the Hall of Fame. I believe there are racial bigots in the Hall of Fame. Pete Rose admits (reluctantly) to betting on baseball. Pete Rose is not in the Hall of Fame.
On his baseball merits, Pete Rose is a Hall of Famer. We can agree on that, right? Does someone who gambled on baseball deserve to be in the Hall of Fame? That is where we may part company. Baseball fans are divided on Rose to the Hall.
On every clubhouse wall, the rules of baseball are clearly, clearly spelled out. Gambling on baseball is probably among the top sins clearly articulated on every clubhouse wall.
I personally know and have discussed the Pete Rose topic with baseball executives who warned Pete Rose over and over about the consequences of betting on baseball. They showed him and read the gambling rules to him. He ignored them. Then he lied when he got caught. He lied for years until it became financially beneficial for him to sell books and tell the truth.
If I had a vote, Pete Rose would not get in the Hall of Fame. But there are others who wouldn’t get my vote and whom I believe should not have gotten a Hall pass from the Hall monitors.
If I were a dad I don’t know how I’d explain Pete Rose and some others being in the Hall of Fame to my son or daughter.
BEING IN THE HALL IS LUCRATIVE:
Yes, the prestige associated with being in the Hall of Fame is indescribable. It is tough to get in the club and most deserve to be included. But many currently in the Hall want entry to be made even tougher.
Hall of Fame membership can be very lucrative financially. Fabulous jobs open that may have been closed. Speaking engagements appear that may not have. Autographs become much more expensive for the fan willing to pay the price. Access to the “right” business connections can help with investments. Yes, it is a nice end of career boost to the bank account and the ego.
I really could go on with inequities for much longer. I believe my points are simple:
What are the performance standards for consideration?
Are there any character and ethical standards for consideration? If there are, what are they?
Why do so few people get to vote?
Why isn’t the voting universe expanded?
No, I’m not fond of the current structure and administration of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. I hope it changes.
I don’t think it will.
Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff
Take a ride in a very, very inexpensive Cuban taxi that happens to be a 1956 Chevy. With the top down. Sit and drink rum and smoke cigars. Enjoy the culture of Cuba. Hang out with me and talk baseball as we visit the oldest stadium in Cuba and probably go to a Cuban playoff game. Details? Contact me on email at BPleskoff@aol.com. We still have room for you.