Baseball Hall of Fame: 2014

Baseball Hall of Fame:  2014

The past ten years the schism on how baseball is reported and analyzed between those who like sabermetric analysis, wins above replacement, OPS+, etc., and those who don't has significantly grown.

Nowhere are the differences and enmity between the two sides displayed more than during the annual winter food fight which is also known as the Baseball Hall of Fame selection process.

"Voters with traditional views on baseball tend to look primarily at bubble-gum card stats like HR-RBI-AVG-Wins-Saves,"said Jonah Keri, a baseball analyst for Grantland, Baseball Tonight on ESPN and the author of the critically acclaimed book The Extra 2% on the rise of the Tampa Bay Rays.

"They're even more seduced by round numbers in those categories. So {pitchers like} JackMorris gets major points for having more wins than any starting pitcher during the '80s, without consideration for the teams that he played for, his pedestrian ERA, etc."

   And showing why there is no love lost between the two camps Keri elaborated on how many of the newer analysts see the game.

"Voters with analytical views tend to take a more well-rounded view. They prefer to strip out the effects of teammates and ballparks and focus on players within their peer group. So Bert Blyleven doesn't get dinged for playing on some lousy teams, Jeff Bagwell gets a bonus for hitting as well as he did while playing many home games at the pitcher-friendly Astrodome, etc."

While all of the major sports have institutions that reward career achievements none come close to carrying the weight of baseball.

Think about it. When was the last time you heard someone argue that LeBron James would definitely not be able to dunk on George Mikan or yeah, Peyton Manning is great but let me tell you what Sid Luckman did in the 1940 NFL Championship game.

Baseball is different, we have these conversations.

Even the most casual fans have been known to spout off that Babe Ruth was a much better player than Barry Bonds or that Mike Trout maybe very good but he's no Mickey Mantle. Ruth's final game was in 1935 and Mantle stopped playing over forty-five years ago but to many fans its just part of the continuum of the game not musty black and white newsreels.

Baseball resembles a William Faulkner novel in which "the past is never dead. It's not even past," and for that reason more than any other who is and who isn't in the Hall and their place among them matters.

To be considered for the Hall a player must have played at least ten years in the big leagues and have been retired for at least five years. To get in they have to receive at least seventy-five percent of the votes from the 600 plus voting-eligible members that comprise the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA).

Players must receive at least five percent of the vote in any year to stay on the ballot and after fifteen years if they are not selected are removed and can only be admitted into the Hall by the Veteran's Committee, which has undergone several changes through the years. No voter is allowed to select more than ten players in any given year.

The group that gets the attention is the BBWAA, which is comprised of beat writers and former beat writers for newspapers that cover a major league teams. After ten active years as a member of the BBWAA the member is eligible to vote for life regardless if they are or are not involved in baseball.

Team announcers, MLB.com writers, Internet writers, who now make up a significant amount of baseball coverage, are not eligible for membership in the BBWAA. Although, in 2007 the BBWA did provid limited membership to writers on internet based sites.

"I do think it's a problem," said Jay Jaffe who writes for Sports Illustrated and SI.com and is considered one of the foremost experts on the Hall of Fame.

"There are people that are removed from the game and act like nothing has changed in thirty or forty years. Yes, there was and is the steroid issue but there are so many other multi-faceted occurrences that went into the offensive explosions that we saw; the tweaking of the parks, the willingness of baseball and the media to ignored performance enhancing drugs, the changing of how the strike zone is called to name just a few."

"Moreover there are different ways in how we now understand individual value and if an electorate is not well versed in the methodology they will make some choices that are out of line."

Before writing for Sports Illustrated, Jaffe wrote for Baseball Prospectus where he developed JAWS, the eponymously named Jaffe War Score System which, according to its definition, attempts "to measure a player's Hall of Fame worthiness by comparing him to the players at his position who are already enshrined, using advanced metrics to account for the wide variations in offensive levels that have occurred throughout the game's history."

The crux of any Hall of Famer argument, whether you are a voter or a fan, is how to define "great" and how to separate different players from different eras. In short, the JAWS system measures through wins above replacement (WAR) the best seven years of a player's career, or their peak, combined with the totality of their career to derive a score by a player's primary position. Its main contribution is that it allows voters and fans to compare how a particular player stacks up against players from various eras.

Despite gaining the scorn of many on the internet the biggest criticism of those who study the Hall is not on the voting by the BBWAA but by the Veteran's Committee. In the late 1960s and early 1970 the Veteran's Committee was dominated by Frankie Frisch and Bill Terry, two great players of the 1920's and 1930s with the New York Giants and St. Louis Cardinals, where many borderline candidates and former team mates such as Fred Lindstrom, Travis Jackson and Jim Bottomley made it in.

"You will find a lot of guys from that era that are in because of the veteran's committees," Jaffe said on the subject. "I'm not saying they should be out but let's just say they were not inspired choices."

"But then again you can't have above-average candidates without having below-average candidates."

As Keri pointed out while many in the sabermetric community deride traditionalist for their love of "bubble-gum card" statistics - .300 batting averages, pitcher wins and career "counting stats"- 3,000 hits and 300 wins - in the end both sides get to the end results each desires, the truly great players are in the Hall of Fame.

Great candidates who were dominant players for a significant portion of time are going to have great numbers under any matrix. Its doubtful if anyone in the sabermetric community would argue against the inclusion, or in some cases eventual inclusion, of Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, both of whom have attained the magical standards of 300 plus wins or former Astros second baseman Craig Biggio with 3,000 plus hits. Most of the arguments are on players that fall on the tier just below the obvious greats.

"We are talking about where do you draw the line between very good and great, which is a very thin line," Jaffe elaborated when discussing his own standards. "It's true that when we are discussing great players not tainted by the steroid issue, guys like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and some others are going to make it under any measurement."

"I like WAR but also think there is plenty that is not captured there. How someone did in the post-season, or if they got screwed in some of the voting awards and maybe some other things that is not captured in there. So when I look at a candidate like Jack Morris, whom I think was very good, he just comes up a little short."

The biggest and most obvious problem that confronts voters is the performance enhancing drug (PED) issue both on players who actually took it and those that writers suspect could have used it. Unlike the cases of Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson who were banned from baseball for gambling on the game, players that were caught with positive test for PEDs Rafael Palmeiro during their careers or admitted to using them afterwards as with Mark McGuire are still eligible for induction. Throw in the fact that two of the best players of any era, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are heavily suspected of using PEDs and the steroid issue is the main obstacle for the Hall not representing all of the truly great players of all of the eras.

"It's a museum not a church," responded Jaffe on whether he would vote for PED users, both suspected and those that were suspended.

"The debate is much more nuanced than a black and white issue many are presenting as I alluded to earlier. First, their records have not been expunged from the record books and the Hall has not issued specific instructions on what you should or should not consider with regards to this issue. With cases like Pete Rose or the Black Sox Scandal of 1919 we do have instructions; you can't vote for them."

"Some voters will talk about the character clause in the Hall's instructions but that is really an antiquated standard that voters chose to ignore when it comes to Gaylord Perry's spitball or the wide variety of racists, wife beaters and even a drug smuggler that are currently in there."

"The point is people are selective about their morality and for me as long as a player is on the official ballot I'm going to judge them by what they did on the field."

***

The MLB Network will broadcast who will be admitted into the Hall of Fame on Wednesday, January 8. I don't have a vote but regardless of your position on the steroid question it is very easy to find ten or more worthy candidates. My choices are: Bagwell, Biggio, Bonds, Clemens, Glavine, Mike Piazza, Maddux, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling and Frank Thomas.

As for who I think will get in we may see a record year after last year's shutout where no one was elected. My prediction is we will see four, which would be the most since 1955 with Maddux, Glavine, Biggio all being elected and coming in by the skin of his teeth, Jack Morris for the revenge of the traditionalists.

MadFriars.com Recommended Stories