Thursday, January 7, 2010

More thoughts on the Hall of Fame vote


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When it comes to voting on the Baseball Hall of Fame, for the most part the Baseball Writers Association of America has its head on their shoulders. However, with it's omission of Roberto Alomar from the 2010 Hall of Fame inductions, a couple of bad apples had to spoil the whole bunch.

The BBWAA as a whole didn't do anything wrong, but several writers within the association took it upon themselves to make an example out of Roberto Alomar. The message those writers sent was "if you misbehave, we will punish you for it".

I know that I've criticized Ken Rosenthal in the past, but on this one he knocked it out of the park. Even Rosenthal understands that a change within the BBWAA needs to be made:
“When a scout asked me Wednesday, ‘How could people not vote for the best second baseman of the last quarter-century?’ I had no answer. There is no answer, other than this: Our membership is too bloated, too riddled with voters who do not take the process seriously enough to educate themselves properly."
Obviously, there are voters within the BBWAA who do not follow the game as closely as beat writers, sports writers, and even some of the bloggers. I'll give Ken credit here: he's always down there on the field and in the clubhouse doing his job, so he understands who is deserving of a Hall of Fame vote, and who isn't.

Just like the fans, he is baffled at why certain voters left Roberto Alomar off the ballot. In total, 143 writers decided that he wasn't even worthy of a name mention. Now, I'm not expecting every single person to agree that Alomar should be in the Hall of Fame, but you would figure at least 75 % of them would come to a consensus.
"I’m still trying to figure out why 143 voters failed to endorse Alomar, leaving him just short of the 75 percent required for induction. Alomar was not simply a Hall of Fame player; he was one of the best second basemen in major-league history. I do not need to list his qualifications. If you watched him play, you understood his brilliance, knew he was worthy of Cooperstown."
When you think of the best second basemen in baseball, Roberto Alomar should automatically be one of the top three among Joe Morgan and Ryne Sandberg (maybe even better). If you were a big Blue Jays fan in the early 90's, you were priveledged enough to see Roberto Alomar work his magic day in and day out. Even if we are a little biased towards the greatness of Alomar, there is no denying that he is a Hall of Famer.

So how can this situation be prevented in the future? Well, there's no surefire way to stop it from happening again, but Rosenthal offers his solutions to the problem:
"The sports editors should be eliminated immediately; they simply do not develop the same feel for the game as writers who cover the sport regularly. The BBWAA has done a fine job in recent years of adding Web-based writers, including several whose work is strongly influenced by sabermetrics. The next step is to go the other way, trim the fat from the membership, purge those who do not study the game closely enough to warrant Hall of Fame votes."
I hate to admit it again, but Richard Griffin made a good point in his column yesterday:
"The fact of the matter is that once you are enshrined as a Hall-of-Famer, whether it's on the first, second or 15th ballot, you are a Hall-of-Famer, equal with the Babe, Willie and the rest."
It's true that when we look back 20 years from now, no one will really care whether or not Roberto Alomar was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, so long as he's in Cooperstown.

That being said, it doesn't mean that certain writers from the BBWAA have permission to turn their ballot into a vendetta ticket. I will single out Jay Mariotti, because he fully admits to leaving his Hall of Fame ballot completely blank.

This is the very same Jay Mariotti who chastised fellow BBBWAA for voting for Rickey Henderson in his first year of eligibility. His argument is that "the first ballot is sacred".

As Griffin alluded to above, whether a player gets into the hall during their first year of eligibility or last year of eligibility, if they are good enough, they are going to go into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, there is no upper echelon or distinguished wing in Cooperstown for first-ballot Hall of Famers. So what difference does it make whether Jay Mariotti and other voters write down Alomar's name this year or next year?

Then there's Jack McCaffery of the Delaware County Times who openly spoke on TSN's "Off the Record" that he'll never vote for Roberto Alomar because of the spitting incident, yet will gladly vote for Mark McGwire. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

I guess after letting this sink in for the past 24 hours, I am starting to feel like the importance of the first ballot is less and less important, so long as the voters make the right choice eventually.

It's obvious that the BBWAA's voting system is still flawed, and something needs to be done about it. It's just unfortunate that a couple of writers had to ruin it for everybody.

8 comments:

  1. I can buy the "so long as they get in, they get in" mentality, and for that, I have no problem with the extended period (though it's too long) and the vote changing.

    I personally like to believe that a knowledgeable writer will be able to tell the first time if the player deserves it or not, but a few of them probably need to get drunk with their friends and be steered correctly after a foolish/unknowledgeable vote. So give them a few tries.

    My biggest problem is that the "if they are good enough, they'll get in" assumes that no great player will be overlooked -- and right now it looks like Tim Raines has a very good chance of that happening. Do a few hundred voters really need to be steered correctly on this one - if so, there must be some fundamentally stupid people among them.

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  2. QJays, I wonder if people thought the same way after the first year of eligibility for Tim Raines or Bert Blyleven. Their first year vote totals were low, and so they thought "we'll get them next year" - but now they're still waiting.

    My fear is that the same thing will just keep happening. Those guys will go on the backburner, and eventually a time will come where they will probably be overlooked, when in reality they should have been voted into the Hall their first year of eligibility.

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  3. It's a huge surprise that Alomar didn't make it in on his first ballot, with the lack of strength of this years ballot. I have no doubt in my mind he will make it in with his career numbers.

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  4. I was shocked when I found out Alomar didn't get in. He will certainly make it in next year, but it's baffling to think that some voters thought he wasn't deserving of their vote the first time around.

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  5. I think it's pretty clear why Roberto Alomar didn't get in: McCain Fruit Punch was not a favourite amongst the Kool-aid drinking voting members of BBWAA.

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  6. It's a damn shame, too BK. McCain Fruit Punch is much more refreshing and has vitamins and minerals that Kool-Aid doesn't.

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  7. Mariotti's a goof, but there are quite a few like him that give extra special meaning to the "first ballot" and what it means to be that kind of a Hall of Famer. As you said, though, there is almost no separation in people's minds after a couple of years between who got in on what ballot.

    McCaffery's argument for not voting for Alomar due to the spitting incident is kind of ludicrous, seeing as - despite the lip service paid to it - the "character" section of the Baseball Hall of Fame doesn't really mean anything. See Ty Cobb and Cap Anson as top-of-mind examples of that.

    It's a strange dynamic that writers that once didn't vote for a player, for whatever reason, could somehow later decide they were wrong. There's also the strange thing about guys like Mariotti who don't change their ballots from year to year - they can't be convinced.

    There's a book that discusses just what exactly Hall voters were thinking, and while he too gives a great deal of weight to the first ballot, it is really a sobering look at who's made it and who hasn't.

    You're right, baseball does need to trim some of the fat and take out some of the voters that really don't evaluate - they vote for the names of people they recognize and are friendly with. After all, that's what the Veteran's Committee is for.

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  8. Thanks for the comment, Mike.

    I can't really understand McCaffery's rationale for leaving Alomar off the ballot. The spitting issue is water under the bridge according to John Hirschbeck, so why are certain voters still holding this against Alomar?

    I also understand how some voters can totally flip their vote from one year to the next - over the course of 365 days, what suddenly makes them change their minds on whether they believe a player is eligible for the hall or not? I have a feeling it depends largely on what the other voters are planning on doing the following year.

    I might just have to read up on that book you suggested. It looks like a good read - maybe I will do a review on it in the coming weeks. Thanks!

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