“Y is for Young, the magnificent Cy. People batted against him, but I never knew why.” — Ogden Nash
“The Big Guy’s left us with the night to face, and there is no one who can take his place.” — Grantland Rice, on the death of Babe Ruth
Cy Young, Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Jackie Robinson, Harold Baines… Huh?
I really can’t take it anymore. This annual watering down of the Baseball Hall of Fame has gotten completely out of control. And this isn’t just a criticism of the controversial election of Harold Baines, a terrific player for many years, who by all accounts, is an even better human being. You see, here’s the thing, you can be a tremendous baseball player, one who history smiles upon when we hear the name and think back fondly, and not be a Hall of Famer.
Harold Baines was a terrific baseball player. Ted Williams was a Hall of Famer. There is a difference.
The Hall of Fame should be reserved for the truly elite stars that have graced the diamond over the years. What got me boiling (again) on this topic was a series of InstaGram posts from the MLB Network (if you are on InstaGram and aren’t following MLB Network, I suggest you start, as they consistently put out cool content that will bring a smile to the face of most baseball fans). MLB Network has been posting HOF ballots, from actual voters, as they become public.
And it sickens me when I review them for the following reasons:
*Every ballot I’ve seen thus far contains the maximum ten nominees. Now understand, there are ten slots available to voters on their annual Hall of Fame ballot. But nowhere does it say that the voter is required to put ten names on the ballot. Somewhere along the line that tidbit was lost on many of The Hall voters. Hence the recent inductions of good players such as Tim Raines, who shouldn’t be included among the game’s greatest of all time.
*Each year the voting process dredges up the whole Steroid Era debate. For the record, I am against any of the obvious steroid cheats ever gaining induction. To me that list includes (but is not limited to) Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Manny Ramirez, Andy Pettitte, and when the time comes — A-Rod.
I’ve heard the arguments from those who choose to cast their votes in favor of some of the above-referenced reprobates, and if in time they get in, I am resigned to accepting it. However, that doesn’t stop me from hoping the steroid-sympathizer camp never gets critical mass to push these cheaters across the threshold and into Cooperstown with the required 75% of the votes.
*Names that should never even sniff a Hall vote are included on every ten-candidate ballot that’s become public. Worthiness may be in the eye of the beholder, but Fred McGriff? Really? I mean, he did have a Hall-worthy nickname — the Crime Dog — but noooooo!
My rage was further stoked this morning when the above photo popped up on my Facebook newsfeed. This 1999 Hall of Fame class represents what entrance into the hallowed shrine of Cooperstown should look like. Legends that will share a bronze bust next to Ruth and Cobb, Cy Young, Mays and Aaron, without sullying the distinction of being a Hall of Fame All-Time Great. Above you see (from right): George Brett, Nolan Ryan, Robin Yount and Orlando Cepeda. That’s a deserving class!
These are legit Hall of Famers. Brett was one of the faces of the game in the ’70’s and ’80’s, won a World Series, damn near hit .400 one year, and was an overall badass who was a no-brainer inductee.
Ryan? All-time strike out leader, multiple no-hitters, legendary competitor (just ask Robin Ventura) — no-brainer.
What about Yount? A bit of an accumulator, due to his early start in the game (he was 18!), but he was an All Star as an infielder and an outfielder, two-time MVP, member of the 3000 hit club (one of two automatic entry stats, along with 300 wins), and also falls into the category of no-brainer (however not a first ballot guy, another forgotten element of this sacred annual rite, raised again this year due to Mariano Rivera’s initial appearance on the ballot).
Cepeda? He was a Veterans Committee election back in 1999, and unlike Baines, was exactly the type of deserving candidate the committee should be looking to add when the annual balloting process occasionally swings and misses on an all-time legend. In fact, Cepeda is the only man to provide batting order protection to both Hank Aaron and Willie Mays (check out his absolutely sick stats with the Giants in the late-’50’s and ’60’s), and the first, every day Designated Hitter in history (Red Sox, 1973). To me, Cepeda is a no-brainer even if his accumulated career stats aren’t up to the level of some of today’s pretenders.
Which brings me back to today. This morning the ballot of Bob Nightengale showed up on InstaGram. Nightengale, like so many of his peers, has decided that ten ballot slots must mean he is charged with casting votes for 10 players, and thus made his decision that the following ten players should gain entry into the Hall of Fame:
*Barry Bonds *Roger Clemens
*Roy Halladay *Edgar Martinez
*Fred McGriff *Mike Mussina
*Mariano Rivera *Curt Schilling
*Gary Sheffield *Omar Vizquel
As misguided as I believe Mr. Nightengale’s ballot is, this is not an indictment of the voter (even if I should receive his vote moving forward based on this abomination), it is an indictment of where MLB has allowed this process to take us. Let’s take a closer look.
The “Please No’s”
Halladay, Schilling, McGriff, Mussina. Sorry, guys, but these four simply aren’t Hall of Famers. They are all outstanding players, who each made their own indelible imprint on the game during their career, but none of them belong in the Hall of Fame.
If we continue in the direction of the Hall of Very Good, then sure, let ’em all in, along with Baines, and Andre Dawson (inferior numbers to the undeserving Crime Dog, in case you were wondering) and Jack Morris, to name three recent inductees that weren’t worthy of the honor. Halladay’s candidacy is benefitting from the emotional wave of his tragic death, but like Thurman Munson before him, sympathy can’t be part of the induction criteria, unless you’ve authored a Clemente-esque body of work.
McGriff put up some big (493 dingers, same as Lou Gehrig — but never again should these two first basemen appear in the same sentence) offensive numbers (in fact, you could argue they were superior numbers to not just Dawson, but also Jim Rice — another who doesn’t belong — and Vladimir Guerrero — but Guerrero would have earned the AtticBro vote because he was a true five-tool superstar) for some great Toronto and Atlanta clubs. Again, though, he did not do enough to warrant anyone’s Hall of Fame vote. Schilling? One of the game’s most clutch postseason performers, his bloody sock from 2004 is already enshrined, and that’s all of Schilling that is Hall-worthy today. Incredible pitcher and personality. Not a Hall of Famer.
Players like Schilling and Mike Mussina are benefitting from the recent watering down process that got Jack Morris inducted a year ago, and will one day allow for a debate over whether Bartolo Colon belongs (egads!). Great players? Absolutely. Hall of Famers? Not even close — that’s why most MLB teams now have their own Hall of Fame-type honor circles. Yet there these four were on Nightengale’s ballot.
And by the way, if you go deeper into MLB Network’s IG feed, you’ll see other ballots that include the likes of Lance Berkman (yup, as Casey would say, “you can look it up”), Andrew Jones, Billy Wagner, Larry Walker and Scott Rolen. Scott Rolen?? As the Three Stooges once protested in Disorder in the Court, “This is a mockery, of a sham, of a mockery, of two shams…” How have these voters been granted such privilege given their obvious lack of historical context?
The Steroid Cheats
The Bonds and Clemens debate will be an every year affair until the day they are both inducted (which, unfortunately, appears to be coming soon). I would ask Mr. Nightengale how he justifies putting these two in, but not Palmeiro (3020 hits, 569 homers)? On numbers alone, Palmeiro is a no-brainer (as is McGwire, by the way), so why should Bonds and Clemens be earning his vote, but not the other steroid-scarred stars? To me, if they were a major face of this disgraceful era, they don’t gain entry, and I say that even though I happen to like McGwire and Andy Pettite (not Hall-worthy even with his juice-inflated stats), who get DQ’d because of what they did.
Apparently Nightengale is either subscribing to the argument that “they were Hall of Famers before they started the steroid-driven, late-career stat drive” (totally ludicrous), or using the “never admitted, never convicted” justification, which is even more shameful. So McGwire is out because he told the truth, but Barry and Roger get votes because they didn’t? Thank God Lance Armstrong wasn’t a ballplayer.
First Ballot Versus Eventually
If I had a vote (and I desperately want one, if you haven’t figured that out yet), I would lean toward never including a player on my ballot in their first year of eligibility. Note I said “lean.” Tom Seaver would have gotten my vote in his first year on the ballot, due to my personal bias toward the Mets and Tom Terrific (hey, voters are fans and humans, too), plus his other worldly stats and face-of-the-game, iconic status. Willie Mays and Henry Aaron would have gotten my year-one vote for the same reason. You get the idea. The Hall is special. A vote for a player in their first year of eligibility should be unicorn special. This year, Mariano would get my vote. I am fascinated to see if he becomes the first unanimous inductee in Hall of Fame history (guessing yes). He can take his place next to Babe, Christy, Jackie and Nolan and not a one of us would blink.
If I use Nightengale’s ballot as a guide, I believe his votes for Edgar Martinez, Omar Vizquel and Gary Sheffield warrant closer examination. None would get my vote in their first year, and I’m inclined to exclude Sheffield altogether because he was such a consistent horse’s ass throughout his entire career. Plus (and this isn’t fair, because I haven’t thoroughly researched it), I seem to remember him being a prominent part of the Steroid Era (vague recollections of “the cream” or “the clear?”). Sheffield wasn’t a Barry Bonds when it comes to body type evolution, but take a look at Sheff as a rookie versus later in his career. Yes, guys fill out as they get older, but typically not 80 pounds of muscle “filling out.”
I would have included Edgar Martinez somewhere around his sixth or seventh year of eligibility (this is year ten for Edgar), as he was a pioneer at the DH slot (as an aside, I can’t stand Big Papi, and his disastrous work on Fox this postseason only added to my disdain, but begrudgingly he’d eventually earn my vote as Edgar has — but please, voters, only freakishly good DH’s going forward, kind of like closers). Martinez also didn’t benefit from being hidden up in Seattle all those years, while playing in the shadow of Junior and later A-Rod. But he belongs.
Vizquel reminds me of a cross between Ozzie Smith (without the backflip) and Luis Aparicio, two Hall of Fame shortstops who went in carrying a glove, not a bat. Vizquel would be an addition to my ballot toward the end of his run of eligibility (kind of like how Bert Blyleven finally got in — to me Blyleven is the dividing line for starting pitchers, between HOF-worthy, and not). This is only the second year on the ballot for Omar, so I’m not ready to part with a slot for him just yet.
So for 2019’s ballot, I only offer two names for induction:
I’d like to see Rivera go in by himself to reinforce to the voters that enshrinement is only for the truly elite, but since it is Edgar’s final year of eligibility, I feel the need to include him as the first full-time, career DH deserving of a spot in The Hall.
Write your congressman, comment on social media, lobby for AtticBro to receive his ballot — but however you choose to let your opinions be known, join me in shouting from the rooftops that nowhere is it written that ten ballot slots mean ten names are required to be returned!
We need to take back The Hall. Cy, Babe, Willie, Gehrig, Mariano, Seaver, Junior. Only for All-Time Legends, people!
It’s the Hall of Fame, folks, not the Hall of Very Good.
2 thoughts on “When Hall of Famers Were Truly Hall of Famers”
Spot on! I cannot believe some of the names I saw on the wall last time I was at the HOF. I think this trend to let in anyone who was “really good” and not just the exceptional flows from our need to give everyone a trophy from the T-Ball, through Little League and now the HOF. Fingers crossed that exceptionalism gets rewarded and given the individual recognition it deserves again.
Couldn’t agree more! Funny, I meant to include the whole concept of “participation trophies” in the piece, and then forgot. My daughter reminded me when we were talking about it last night. Rivera — no-brainer.