The Unfortunate Evolution Of MLB’s Hall Of Fame

1-24-22 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)

As a lifelong baseball fan, the streets of Cooperstown, New York are by far the most hallowed grounds that anyone could ever envision stepping foot on. Since the initial induction ceremony on June 12, 1939, countless legends have walked the exact same path as every single visitor to the tiny Northeastern town-in the middle of nowhere-with a population of less than two thousand people.

Throughout its history, baseball has been the perfect mix of history, nostalgia and a pure love of the game that so many of us have put on the cleats to play, or at the very least experienced it in the stands. From backyard Wiffle-ball, home-run derbies on a make shift field and Little League contests under the lights to high school rivalries, battles in college and for a select few, the chance for World Series Championship.

At every level of competition-including the view from a general fan’s prospective-there is so much emotion that goes into something that is honestly a child’s game; even if you are not supposed to call it that because of the current situation going on with MLB’s lockout of their players. Which, if you are asking me, only becomes a sticking point, or a faux pa, when there is a conflict between the powers that be.

Nevertheless, anyway you look at the current set of circumstances, it doesn’t really matter; because no matter what, the same feelings still exist. For some, baseball is life. And, beyond an innate desire to hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy at the end of the season, it would seem that each player has aspirations to put their name next to all of the greats that came before them.

Since it’s inception, and based on the original precedence set by a class of Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson and Honus Wagner, the MLB Hall of Fame was designed to be a collection of the absolute best players in the game’s history. A Hall of Greatness, not a Hall of Very Good. Although, it appears that this very specific intention may have been lost in translation, or at the very least been watered down a little bit over time.

Part of this has to do with the process itself. And, no I am not just talking about the often criticized morality clause; even though it has effectively drawn the conversation from being purely stats based to one that involves speculation, investigations, formal reports and Congressional Hearings. It also draws the attention to a select group of players, rather than allowing the discussion to include everyone who is eligible; especially those who have a legitimate shot at being elected.

This year it’s mostly involved the final year of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Shilling, along with the first opportunities for David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez; which is a rabbit hole I have found myself falling into more than once. Truthfully, I can’t tell you the number of times I have compared Ortiz’s time with the Twins versus his 14 years with the Red Sox, as it pretty much directly lines up with the alleged positive test for God knows what, that we are supposed to ignore because Ron Manfred told us to. He’s a man that can’t even be trusted to put a similar ball in every game or to negotiate a shortened season in good faith, without eventually putting MLB and its owners on blast, but we are supposed to have faith that he is being sincere with this explanation.

It’s unfortunate. I just want to open each player’s Baseball Reference page, like I did with Scott Rolen, Jeff Kent and Jimmy Rollins. However, all of the other available information is simply unavoidable.

Then there’s the maddening guideline about only being able to select ten players on the ballot or the structure that supports a player garnering more support each year until they eventually reach the 75% necessary to be inducted; and, don’t even get me started about the four Era Committees.

It’s rather straightforward, or it at least it should be. Have the writers vote yes or no on each and every player on the ballot. You’re either a Hall of Famer or you’re not. Instead it becomes this long drawn out process where it takes Larry Walker-and his 72.7 WAR, 2160 hits, 383 homers and .313 lifetime batting average-until the final year on the ballot to finally make it in; while almost completely ignoring the fact that he could still get in with approval from the previously mentioned tiny groups years later. But, that’s assuming they can make the right decision; an ability I have yet to see them exhibit on a consistent basis.

Back in 2019 the Today’s Game Era Committee chose to elect 22 year veteran of the league, Harold Baines to Hall of Fame. In his career, Baines earned 38.7 WAR, failed to reach any of the milestones- 3,000 hits or 500 homers, and his career .820 OPS-that voters often use as a measuring stick for enshrinement and only accumulated 6.1% of vote on the writers’ ballot at his highest point. So, if we are supposed to trust the process, Baines never even came close.

Next you have the case of “The Wampum Walloper”, Dick Allen. In his 15 year career, Allen earned 58.7 WAR, put up a .912 OPS, was selected as Rookie of the Year in 1964 and won the MVP award in 1972. Yet, Baines was considered to be a Hall of Famer, while Allen fell short again this year. To make matters worse in my eyes Gil Hodges-who’s overall numbers don’t stack up against Allen’s-was selected over Allen just last month. This is not to say Hodges isn’t a worthy candidate; but if he is, so is Allen.

The Hall of Fame has set all of these somewhat arbitrary standards to demonstrate that a player is deserving of a spot, then decide to totally disregard them randomly for certain players. It’s completely exhausting to see all of the hoops one has to jump through to explain some of these decisions.

The whole thing has become a spectacle.

Listening to voter’s justify the reasoning behind their ballots, talking about PEDs at nauseam, hearing a candidate call a writer an “a-hole” for not voting for him, reading about a player demanding that his name be removed from the ballot in a Facebook tirade and bashing voter’s for submitting blank ballots just to name a few.

The Hall of Fame election process has become more about how a player is selected, rather than concentrating on their accomplishments.

This can’t be what Stephen C. Clark intended his grand idea to become. And, although there is no way to make up for the mistakes of the past, it is possible to ensure these problems don’t persist. Unless, they really aren’t invested in the perception of and future for the Hall of Fame.

Published by Craig W. Toth

Former Contributing Author at InsidethePirates.com, Co-Host of the Bucs in the Basement Podcast and life-long/diehard Pittsburgh Pirates Fan!

2 thoughts on “The Unfortunate Evolution Of MLB’s Hall Of Fame

    1. I generally agree, though many have argued the scrutiny on PEDs hurt the game. I don’t think the numbers–financial or engagement–reflect that. If anything, the problem is breaking the game in the 21st century, not with various changes to rules or replay or whatever other pet peeve, but with the blatant separation of haves and haves-not.

      Anyway, I also think the how and character are important. I think there are plenty of players who were excellent without eclipsing a threshold of onerous conduct. People will have different thoughts on that, whether it’s Bonds, A-Rod, Clemens, or whomever, as they will with what defines exceptional performance. That’s fine.

      I think the problem for the HoF is as simple as the crotchety set of curmudgeons composing much of the selection committee, but I could be wrong.

      Like

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