January 9, 2014
Voters got Maddux, Glavine, and Thomas right, but the institution is still broken.
Photo: Getty Images | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2014
Yesterday, the Baseball Writers Association of America announced that pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, as well as slugger Frank Thomas, had cleared the 75% voting threshold to earn induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer. This is just fine - taking the mound for the Atlanta Braves for the vast majority of his career, Maddux is inarguably one of the greatest pitchers in the game’s history, a brainy craftsman whose precision control baffled NL batters for over a decade. He got 97.2 percent of the vote. Maddux’s longtime teammate Tom Glavine was nearly as good, winning two Cy Young Awards and topping 300 wins. He got 91.9 percent. And Frank “Big Hurt” Thomas finished his career with two MVPs, 500+ home runs, 1700+ RBIs, and a .300 average. He got 83.7 percent. By any calculation, all three are worthy - no arguments here. Maddux and Glavine thrived as pitchers in the heart of the steroid era. Thomas, of course, thrived in the same era, but unlike fellow rakers like McGuire, Sosa, Bonds and co., he was never implicated in the PED scandal.
All this is a long way of saying that the Hall gets some things right. But given the uproar following yesterday’s announcement, it’s worth taking a look at what it gets wrong. Perhaps the biggest story that emerged yesterday was that Miami Herald reporter and ESPN host Dan Le Batard gave away his ballot to Deadspin in protest over what he sees as the hypocrisy and ridiculousness in the voting process.
His rationale (which you really should read) is thoughtful and well-reasoned, and the ballot he turned in on behalf of Deadspin’s voters was pretty legit (by the way, how low rent does the actual ballot look? It’s like our office NFL pool). Those writers who get a ballot can submit up to ten names, and here’s who Deadspin’s voters chose on Le Batard’s behalf, in order of percentage of votes:
Greg Maddux – 98.3%
Frank Thomas – 92.6%
Tom Glavine – 92.1%
Mike Piazza – 91.7%
Greg Biggio – 78.1%
Edgar Martinez – 69.9%
Jeff Bagwell – 66.8%
Roger Clemens – 66.6%
Barry Bonds – 64.9%
Curt Schilling – 58.9%
That’s a pretty valid list, and, who knows, may not have been all that far from the ballot La Batard would have submitted on his own. In the end, Craig Biggio, who racked up 3,000 hits while playing most of his career at catcher and second base, got 74.8 percent of the vote; he missed by just two votes. That’s just cruel, but seeing as every member of the 3,000 hit club has eventually made it into the Hall, he should get there eventually. Mike Piazza is the greatest offensive catcher in baseball history, and he got 62.2 percent. He’ll wind up in Cooperstown too.
But Jack Morris, who finished 6th in voting with 61.5 percent (and wasn’t on the Deadspin ballot) fell off the ballot for good because this was his fifteenth time on, and that’s all you get. He may get in through the Veterans Committee, but he really should’ve been in already. The rest of the Deadspin ballot contained plenty of other snubs as well. Martinez is arguably the greatest DH in history. Bagwell had one of the era’s best combinations of power, speed, and bat control. Schilling is one of the greatest – if not the greatest – post-season pitchers ever; bloody sock game, anyone?
And that brings us to Clemens and Bonds, perhaps the greatest pitcher and hitter of their generation, respectively, if not baseball history. (NOTE: Big asterisk there.) Clemens retired with seven Cy Young Awards, more than any pitcher ever, as well as the fifth most victories and third most strikeouts. Bonds won seven MVPs, also the record, as well as the records for career home runs and single season home runs. BUT. And we all know what that “but” is. No two players have seen their legacies more tarnished by association with performance enhancing drugs. Critics will say that fact alone is enough to keep them far from Cooperstown. Others point out even before they were alleged (and we’re using that term loosely) to have violated league policy, they’d already compiled Hall-worthy credentials. It seems that most young fans feel this way: That baseball shouldn’t try and sweep a whole generation under the rug and pretend the PED-era never happened. Put them in the Hall, this line of argument suggests, and include a line - or asterisk – acknowledging their infractions. The Hall of Fame is a museum of baseball history, after all, and the steroid era is part of that history. Now, does that mean Mark McGuire or Sammy Sosa should make it? Who knows? The truth is, neither is in the same league as Bonds or Clemens.
Regardless, Le Batard’s fellow writers, including his friends and fellow colleagues, weren’t down with his decision. On “Pardon the Interruption”, Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser ripped Le Batard as sanctimonious and attention-seeking, arguing that the voting process is democtratic: One man, one vote. Except this notion of “one man, one vote” is about as democratic as America was in 1800, when only white, male landowners could vote. In the Hall’s case, it’s only the 571 voting member of the BBWAA who act as gatekeepers to Cooperstown, and one of Le Batard’s arguments is that in this day and age, there are fans, statisticians, and even players who are just as qualified to pass judgment as the those writers.
As ESPN’s Jason Stark points out, with such stars as Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Gary Sheffield, and Nomar Garciaparra joining the ballot next year, even more worthy candidates will be dropping off in the years to come. But by the same token, as more and more members of the BBWAA stumble toward retirement, perhaps their ranks will be filled by younger, more forward-thinking voters. We can only hope.
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