Something often lost in Hall of Fame discussion

by on January 6, 2011 · 10 comments

Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way.  Maybe I’m not enough of a baseball historian, and what follows could certainly brand me as such.

Amongst all of the bickering, name-calling, and endless columns, posts, and Twitter sniping about who belonged in the Hall of Fame from the 2011 ballot – Jack Morris versus Bert Blyleven, Jeff Bagwell versus perception and presumption, Edgar Martinez versus the designated hitter rule – I think some writers, analysts, even fans seeking information have lost something in the process.

The ability to just appreciate the names on the list.

I’m guilty of it myself.  I wanted to be “in the know” with the crowd that has successfully made the argument that Blyleven belonged in Cooperstown.  I’ve read the arguments for and statistics bearing out Bagwell being a viable candidate for induction, statistically.  I’m not saying there isn’t value in the discussion and healthy back-and-forth – but why the attacking “me against you” mentality?  It’s one thing to completely whiff on a ballot.  But if you think that Morris is more deserving than Blyleven, I disagree, but I’m not going to tell you that you’re an idiot for thinking so.

I digress.  The point I’m trying to make is that every year when the ballot is released, there is at least one name on there that makes me think: “Holy cow, Carlos Baerga!”  Or, with a more local flair: “Kirk Rueter!  Hoyleton’s finest!”  Sometimes it’s not that the name sparks a reaction, but rather the time passed: “I can’t believe it’s been five years since Larry Walker retired already.”

I enjoy taking the time around Hall of Fame balloting to just look through the names on the list and remember something about those players.  It happens for me every year with Dale Murphy, and he’s been on the ballot since 1999.  I think about having watched a guy play at Busch Stadium, or having pulled one of their baseball cards out of a Topps wax pack, or just notables for each player that would result in them getting on the ballot.

Lenny Harris – most pinch hits of all-time

Benito Santiago – the gold standard for catcher defense for many years, made throwing from knees fashionable

Bobby Higginson – well, he was on the ballot, not really sure why

Higginson brings me to another point.  For all the guys like Bert Blyleven and Ron Santo and Jim Rice who wait years and years on the bubble, not knowing whether they’ll ever get in – think about the guys who never expected their name to be on the ballot!  Rafael Palmeiro is complaining that he should receive more votes, and probably rightly so.  For a guy like Higginson, imagine what a thrill it must have been just to be nominated to be on the ballot!  (I could be totally off there, but I feel pretty safe assuming.)  Kirk Rueter didn’t have a Hall of Fame type of career, but it’s at least some kind of acknowledgement to even make the ballot, right?

For the record, I submitted the “official” Baseball Bloggers Alliance ballot for Pitchers Hit Eighth.  Dennis posted his ballot here for all to see, and so will I:

Roberto Alomar, Jeff BagwellBert Blyleven, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Mark McGwireTim Raines, Lee Smith, Alan TrammellLarry Walker

Yes, I voted for McGwire and left Palmeiro off my ballot.  Thanks to Jim Caple, I don’t expect to do that again next season.

Perhaps it was Caple’s piece that spurred this rambling post on for me.  This portion in particular struck something in me:

Finally, let’s bear in mind something very important here. For all the self-righteous stances I read, this is not a weighty moral decision. We’re simply deciding whether a career performance warrants a plaque on the wall of a museum, alongside the occasional racist, tax cheat, alcoholic, drug addict and abusive owner.

Palmeiro’s career warrants enshrinement along some of the other finest playing careers, regardless of what he did or didn’t do that wasn’t specifically against the rules at the time.  McGwire did it too, just because he apologized doesn’t make it any less of an offense (as the voters clearly showed with their ballots yesterday).

That all leads me back to my original premise, that I find joy in getting outside of the arguments over sabermetric analysis, steroids, who’s right and who’s wrong and just appreciating the ballot for what it is – a bunch of names that I remember for one reason or another.

Perhaps it’s the inner child in me that is spilling out here – a wish for a return back to the innocence of my card collecting days when I happily piled up Mark McGwire cards without a second thought as to what revelations may come out twenty years down the pike. As mentioned above, maybe it’s because I’m just not in touch enough with baseball history to always have these names on the tip of my tongue.  Or maybe, I’ve reached that Baseball Hall of Fame nirvana where I can separate the arguments and who gets voted in from that child-like desire to pull another 1984 Topps Don Mattingly from a bubble-gum pack.

Writing about the Cardinals and other loosely associated topics since 2008, I've grown tired of the April run-out only to disappoint Cardinal fans everywhere by mid-May. I do not believe in surrendering free outs.
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Tom January 7, 2011

Dennis, you really touched on something here – good job, more discussion – less argument – more joy for the game – less bitterness.Excellent! Thank you!

PH8 January 7, 2011

Hey, Dennis didn’t write this one, I did!

Thanks for reading and the kind words, nonetheless. 🙂

Tom January 7, 2011

So you really do think Mattingly belongs in the Hall? Just kidding!

Tom January 7, 2011

PH8 – congrats on a fine piece of writing!

PH8 January 7, 2011

Heh – thanks.

Chris January 10, 2011

I was also surprised to see Bobby Higginson on the ballot this year. I remember him being a good player, but not great.

PH8 January 10, 2011

Exactly Chris. Higginson was one of those guys who was always supposed to have a breakout year and go on to become a year-in-year-out stud – and, well, the breakout year (or years, non-consecutively) happened, but not so much the perennial All-Star thing.

Robert January 28, 2011

I think Baegra and Higginson made on the ballt because they played 10 years in the majors. After that it is up to the sport writers to determine who is HOF worthy. Maybe one or two a year.

Dennis January 28, 2011

Robert, thanks for the feedback. I’d almost forgotten about this thread, and it deserves a reply. The players listed on the ballot are actually determined by a screening committee comprised of 6 members of the BBWAA. Eligible players must either have received the minimum 5% support in the previous election, or they must be nominated by any two of the six committee members as in the case of newly eligible members.

Robert January 29, 2011

I was at the Baseball HOF a few years back. A squirrel got fried in a transformer causing a power outage in the Hall. The #1 man at the Hall came out and talked with us, explaining the requirements for entry. The only I remembered was the playing in the majors for 10 years. Does make you wonder how some of the players make it on the ballot. Baegra obviously does not have HOF numbers.

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