Friday, March 04, 2011

Thoughts on the Hall of Fame

Some sportswriters live in mortal fear that the baseball Hall of Fame won't be exclusive enough. They fear a watering down of the sports' greatest players by making the rules easier for players to get into the hallowed place. Many of these sportswriters are more than happy to have one or two guys make it in a year. As such, they debate endlessly over who deserves to get in and who doesn't. They invent reasons not to vote players in including either the certainty of steroid use or now in the case of Bagwell, just the unfounded suspicion of it. It would be interesting to ask some of them what they thought the percentage of players in the HOF should be.

Would some say three percent? Five percent? How many is too many? To keep the number low, we have the 75 percent rule where a player needs 75 percent of the writers' votes to get elected. That's an extremely high number and it does its job by eliminating all but a few players a decade. Then you have the Veteran's Committee, a body that seems to change every other year with rules that change just as often. Those guys hardly ever elect anyone.

The true fact is that you would be hard pressed to get 75 percent of any slice of the population to agree on anything. It's possible that any random thousand people would have trouble getting a 75 percent consensus to agree that Mother Theresa was a saint. But that's the hurdle that faces every retired ball player. But it isn't just that hurdle. Players on the ballot have to get a minimum amount of votes to stay ON the ballot. And so guys like Lou Whitaker get tossed off the ballot before we can even have time to debate his relative merits. And once a player gets tossed off the ballot, the odds of getting a second chance by the Veteran's Committee are astronomical. That committee should right the wrongs of past votes, but that rarely happens.

According to, 17,497 players have played Major League Baseball. Of those thousands, only 202 are in the Hall of Fame. That works out to 1.2 percent of all players or one out of 85 players that have ever played the game. Of those 202, 36 percent are pitchers and 35 percent are outfielders.  There are 23 shortstops and 21 first baseman. Of all the inductees, only 13 are third basemen.

Besides the players, there are 35 players from the Negro Leagues (out of the hundreds that played), 26 executives and pioneers, 18 managers and eight umpires. Those percentages are minuscule too.

What recent votes have taught us is that a lot of people disagree on players for a large variety of reasons. And with the 75 percent threshold, a very few writers can effectively block a deserving player. It's just too high to be workable. Would the talent in the Hall of Fame be seriously diluted if the figure was more rational, such as 60 percent? Would it be a terrible crime to allow players to stay on a ballot for ten years instead of falling off after one vote? Would that be such a terrible work load for writers to sift through? No and hardly. If 60 percent of any slice of the population agree on anything, then that's pretty darn impressive.

And shouldn't the voting population be reconsidered? Baseball writers are no longer just newspaper and magazine guys and gals. Many Internet writers pull in an amazing number of readers. Shouldn't broadcast journalists be included?

If we made this a much more fair process, the sky won't fall and we won't get a bunch of B.J. Surhoffs in the Hall of Fame. But we just might get a Jeff Bagwell.

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