I grew up an Orioles fan. My favorite player of all time was Cal Ripken Jr. I collected every baseball card of his. I met him once, and got his autograph as a kid after a game at Camden Yards. I was there the day he tied the consecutive games streak, and I have the shirt that says “I was there” to prove it. I watched the next night from home when he broke the streak. I drank milk because Cal Ripken did milk commercials. When Ripken eventually retired, I said that my first trip to Cooperstown would be when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
I’ve still never been to Cooperstown.
Ripken retired at the end of the 2001 season. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007. By the time 2007 rolled around, I didn’t care at all about the Hall of Fame, even if it meant seeing my favorite player’s induction ceremony. I didn’t care about this for one reason.
The Hall of Fame is dead.
There are two purposes for a Hall of Fame. The first purpose is to serve as a museum. In theory, if a person didn’t know anything about baseball, they could go to the Hall of Fame and learn anything they wanted to learn. The second purpose is to honor the best players who have ever played the game. These are the players who tell the story of baseball. Without their inclusion in the Hall, you can’t accomplish the first purpose. The problem today is that modern technology makes the first purpose irrelevant, and the second purpose has become a mockery.
A Museum of Baseball
When I was a kid, we had an Encyclopedia set. You might remember these from “How I Met Your Mother” jokes, back when HIMYM was a funny show, and not a weekly highlight reel of funnier jokes from previous seasons. And if you went to school before the internet, you might remember these books as the books you’d turn to when you had homework. Anytime there was research to be done, you could find the information in one of the 26 books that your mom bought from a person who sold these books door to door, because that was how you bought things like this back then.
I’m not sure if there’s a market for Encyclopedia sets today, but I can’t imagine there is with the internet. You could open up the “Index” book, find the book you were looking for, then flip through that book for the answer. Or you could just pull up Google and type your question.
The Hall of Fame is a museum of baseball history, but you don’t need to go there if you want to learn baseball’s history. You can find anything you want to know on the internet. The truth is that the Hall of Fame doesn’t even tell the history of baseball. The Hall of Fame tells the censored history of baseball. It’s like watching a favorite movie on network TV. You can’t really enjoy it because your favorite line comes up, and it gets censored in a really awkward way that makes you realize that there’s a better version of this movie. That can also usually be found on the internet, but I don’t want to condone piracy or anything.
The Hall of Fame isn’t telling the story of baseball. You can’t tell the story of baseball without Pete Rose. You can’t tell the story of baseball without The Black Sox. And you can’t tell the story of baseball without steroids.
We’re now entering the point in time where players during “The Steroid Era” are eligible to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Already we’ve seen Barry Bonds shut out, even though he holds both of the major home run records (season and career). He accomplished this thanks to steroids, but he’s still the home run leader and one of the best hitters in the game. You can’t tell the story of the game without him. Also, if he was inducted, I can finally use my “Which hat will he wear? The size 7 or the size 10?” joke.
Bonds is just one example of the many accused or proven steroid users who won’t get in the Hall of Fame. That’s a problem, not just because these players tell the story of the game, but because steroids tell the story of the game. The biggest story over baseball for the last decade has been steroids, and steroids were a part of the game for at least one additional decade. MLB might not like that, but it’s true. Every top performer is viewed with skepticism. Every star player seems to be guilty until proven guilty. And top players are constantly being linked to steroids, or even suspended for steroids.
The solution by the Baseball Writer’s Association of America has been to sweep it under the rug. Don’t vote for steroid users, or even suspected users, and leave them out of the history of the game. In turn, that eliminates a huge time period from baseball’s history. And it’s not like steroids are going away. Why would players not use steroids? MLB might suspend you for 50 games, but you still keep the money you’ve already made, and when you return, teams will still pay you millions of dollars — as we’ve seen in the last two years with Melky Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta. It’s funny that the BBWAA is harsher on steroid users than MLB.
The Hall of Fame might have once been considered a museum of baseball’s history, but it in no way tells the true history of the game. I’d say this would be like the Smithsonian leaving out horrible parts of American history (which they don’t), but we’re only talking about baseball here.
Honoring the Best Players in the Game
The Hall of Fame is now more of a post-career award than a history of the game. It’s this view as an award that has really tainted the voting process. There are so many things that don’t make sense involving the voting process.
The biggest problem is that there is such a thing as “First Ballot Hall of Famers”. Shouldn’t everyone in the Hall of Fame be a first ballot Hall of Famer? The fact that players aren’t seen as Hall of Fame worthy one year, and are later inducted into the Hall of Fame is ridiculous. How can someone not be a Hall of Famer one year, then suddenly be worthy the following year after making zero improvements to their playing career?
A big reason for this comes from the rule that limits writers to a maximum of ten players on their vote. I don’t know where the rule of ten came from. I assume this is to limit the amount of players who can be inducted into the Hall, but isn’t there already a limit with the 75% vote requirement? If you get a 75% majority saying that more than ten players are eligible for the Hall of Fame in a given year, then more than 10 players are eligible. Nothing about that cheapens the Hall of Fame. It just means that given year had an exceptionally strong class.
Another reason why “First Ballot Players” exist is because players are often compared to other players on the ballot, rather than looking at their actual numbers. Sometimes that means a player is left off because he was number 11 on the list. This is why Craig Biggio wasn’t inducted this year. He fell two votes shy, with multiple writers saying they would have voted for him if they would have been allowed to vote for more than ten players. Often players are left off because many writers don’t believe in voting for ten players. Or you’ve just got situations where writers won’t vote for a guy as a first ballot Hall of Famer, but will vote for him in following years.
The biggest problem with the voting process is the Baseball Writers Association of America. For some reason, this group holds the entire vote. I believe this started in 1939. It was definitely during a period where baseball writers were the only guys covering a team closely. Now we’ve got TV, radio, internet radio, internet TV, blogs, online-only newspapers, podcasts, Twitter accounts, and so on. The fact that the Hall of Fame vote goes to one form of media is kind of ridiculous.
What’s even worse is that many in this group have gone power crazy with their vote. The vote has become more about the voter, and less about the candidates. The BBWAA just banned Dan Le Batard from voting, after he gave his vote to Deadspin readers. Meanwhile Murray Chass and Ken Gurnick both voted for Jack Morris and no one else, all out of spite, and they both keep their votes. Le Batard’s vote was actually credible, but if you’re going to punish him for tarnishing the process, you have to do the same for the others.
The problem here is that the BBWAA doesn’t see there’s a problem. There have been some discussions inside the BBWAA for changes, but obviously no changes have been made. The entire system needs to be blown up. This current system isn’t working.
The usual comeback to anyone questioning the BBWAA is that they’re a “stat nerd” who is jealous that they don’t have a vote. That’s not me. Sure, I’m a stat-nerd. If I had a Hall of Fame vote, I’d probably start with the stats first, and my vote would be largely based on the statistical results of a player. But I don’t want a vote. I wouldn’t want to be one of the people who decides who goes into the Hall of Fame. I don’t want to be a member of the BBWAA. I just want to see a better decision making process that has less to do with the voters, and more to do with getting the best players in the Hall of Fame. You might believe the Hall of Fame should be a museum of baseball history. You might believe the Hall of Fame should be an award for the best players who have ever played the game. The current voting process means that the Hall of Fame is neither of those things.