Sports, Thrill of Victory

Why I no longer care about baseball’s Hall of Fame

Before I entered the world of sports media 11 years ago, baseball was my favorite sport, and Baseball Hall of Fame debates were my favorite sports debates. I spent the weeks leading up to the voting e-mailing friends to discuss the candidates. Once hour of the vote unveiling arrived, I hit the “refresh” button on my Internet browser every few minutes.

After I joined the media, my interest intensified. I would have press box debates with other writers. I built an entire spreadsheet of the top 250 players, complete with their accomplishments, color-coding the players who were in with one color, the players who weren’t (but should have been) with another, the players who were in, but shouldn’t be in with another, and so on.

It was all a bit nuts, but that’s what made baseball special. More than any other sport, you could quantify what players and take those numbers to make valid comparisons against other players.

And yet, last week, when the voting came and went, it came and went without a peep by me. Not a blog like the one I wrote last year or even a single e-mail or text to a friend. Some of that was because my Vanderbilt beat responsibilities required me in the drama which coach James Franklin unnecessarily dragged us through, but even with that, I don’t know that anything would have changed.

Hours after the voting, I learned that Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas were all elected. But that was all there was to it. No taking to Twitter to blast the writers for poor selection, no “Can you believe that?” texts to friends, no laments that guys with better stats than those who got in were left out.

My family probably appreciated that, but to be honest, I feel like a part of me has died.

There have always been problems with the Hall of Fame voting. My biggest gripe has been that a large block of the voters don’t know what they’re doing. Baseball research of the last 20 years has helped us decipher defensive statistics, taught us the importance of on-base and slugging percentages, and shed light on how particular ballparks and team environments affect a player’s statistics, and yet there remain voters who harp on out-dated, irrelevant measures (“But he knocked in 1,500 runs!” or “He lost 200 games!”) as a basis for their votes. It should be a requirement that in order to vote, you actually should be educated on the stats that actually correlate to scoring or preventing runs and thus help win or lose ballgames, but that’s a topic for another blog.

The reason I am increasingly backing down from the arguments is that I’m on equal footing with the incompetent voting bloc because I don’t know what I’m looking at any more, either.

The Steroid Era reduced stats to nonsense. Yes, I know there are cheaters already in the Hall of Fame; Gaylord Perry’s there, and he threw the spitball. “Greenies,” baseball’s PEDs of the 1960s, were said to be so rampant that we’d be fools to think that that some current Hall members didn’t use them. But the 1990s and the 2000s changed the game far more drastically than those times did. When Louis Gonzalez (57 home runs in 2001) and Brady Anderson (50 in 1996) to hit more home runs in a season than Hank Aaron ever did, it not only blurs the lines between players, but it threatens the credibility of the game itself.

This is old news. I write only because it’s a commentary on what it’s done to my lack of passion for what used to be a passion. Voters are judge and jury for the players, and we have to do the same for the voters, all because commissioner Bud Selig refused to.

So Maddux and Glavine get in. That’s okay by me… I guess. Maddux and Glavine never looked like PED users and I don’t think they were, and I always liked Maddux in particular. But who thought that 5-foot-10, 180-pound Alex Sanchez, he of six homers in 1,527 career at-bats, did? He was the first guy caught for steroids as soon as MLB started its crackdown. Thomas was an enormous man who was never tied to anything, and spoke out against PEDs during his career when nobody else would. Was it a cover? I seriously doubt it; he was big to begin with and everyone always viewed him as an honest guy.

But the point is, nobody knows for sure.

Speaking of certainty, the only certainty comes in knowing those who did use. Most of the voters acted accordingly by snubbing Barry Bonds (34.7 percent of the vote, where 75 is required), Roger Clemens (35.4) and Sammy Sosa (7.2). Thankfully, Rafael Palmeiro (4.4) has now fallen off the ballot entirely. Those who voted for them will probably make the Gaylord Perry argument, but it’s safe to say that we’ve not reached a good place when the argument for one cheater is bolstered by another.

Oddly enough, the election has now become about the credibility of the rumor-mongerers than the players themselves. By the numbers, Mike Piazza (59.2) is the best-hitting catcher ever, and Jeff Bagwell (54.2), who played in the spacious Astrodome for much of his career and still had a .948 OPS, absolutely deserves to be there. Jeff Kent (15.2), who had more home runs than any second baseman in history, probably does also. All were dogged with unproven PED allegations. I’ll let you guess why each isn’t in.

And then there’s Tim Raines (46.1), who was never tied to PEDs or publicly suspected of using them, but was unjustly left out.

Did I let that slip? Maybe I do still care a little bit, after all.