Archive for the 'Hall of Fame' Category

Fans divided on Bonds and the Hall of Fame

The fans have spoken, and, well, for now, let’s leave the Hall of Fame voting to the Hall of Fame voters.

According to a USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll, 49 percent of fans surveyed think Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame while 52 percent think Bonds’ records should be taken away.

While these numbers are within the poll’s five-percent margin of error, I have to wonder: If Bonds’ records are taken away, what are his Hall of Fame qualifications? All around nice guy? Mr. Baseball? Not exactly. I guess the 49 percent who think he should be in the Hall aren’t among the 52 percent who want his records erased.

Meanwhile, these numbers are down from last summer when 57 percent believed Bonds should be in the Hall. Again, I’m left wondering: What changed? In my opinion, nothing.

As The Onion aptly pointed out last week, everyone who has ever watched a baseball game knows that Barry Bonds’ body has changed drastically over the last eight years. At an age when he should have been on the decline of his career, Bonds somehow topped every single season home run record known to baseball fans and is well on his way toward 756.

A year ago, everyone knew Bonds’ production wasn’t natural; they focused on the lack of concrete evidence. Now that two authors have synergized the evidence that was largely available last year and put in an easy-to-digest Sports Illustrated form, the majority of fans will no longer accept Bonds. While I am no defender of Bonds, public opinion sure can be fickle.

This Bonds controversy ties in nicely with another issue floating around the Internet. It’s the age-old debate on who should vote for the Hall of Fame. A few weeks ago, the unfortunately named Peter Schmuck, president of the Baseball Writers Association of America, penned a column in defense of the BBWAA’s Hall of Fame voting. While many newspapers do not allow their writers to vote for awards, Schmuck concluded that the writers should keep on voting:

The Baltimore Sun and several other major newspapers have decided that they would prefer to have their employees simply cover the news and let someone else make the newsworthy decisions on who should win certain awards or gain induction in the Hall of Fame.

I accede to that authority, but I believe that the baseball writers charged with voting on the postseason awards are uniquely qualified to render those decisions while still meeting the ethical standards of the journalistic profession.

I feel even more strongly that the BBWAA is the proper body to choose the inductees for the most revered of the various professional sports halls of fame.

In short, it’s a difficult job, but there is no one better qualified to do it.

Needless to say, those of us who didn’t like seeing Bartolo “Wins” Colon walk away with a Cy Young last season were nonplused, to say the least. Over at Armchair GM, a new Wiki-baseball site, Dan Lewis issued a rebuttal in the form of an open letter to Schmuck. Lewis advocated a system similar to that found in the presidential nominating convention system:

The BBWAA should, in its effort to democratize the election process, choose regular fans as delegates. Allow people like myself to apply for the job of Hall of Fame voter. Give us the opportunity to demonstrate to you our resume of fandom, our knowledge of the game, etc. We watch game after game, crunch stat after stat, and root for (and against) players and teams year-round. We know the game backward and forward. We are perfectly capable of making informed decisions. And you are perfectly capable of identifying us.

Just don’t ask us who we’d vote for. Let us approach that in our own way. Your job, again, is to frame the debate, and to convince us to vote one way or the other.

You already have the power of the media. You don’t need the power of the vote. The fans need a voice. Don’t keep all the power to yourselves.

While Lewis’ proposed system is intriguing, I am doubtful that fans can vote in players with any more rhyme or reason than the BBWAA. Would fans vote in Bonds? Since a player needs 75 percent of the vote, Bonds wouldn’t make it today. Would fans who are chosen as Hall of Fame voters opt for Bonds? It depends. In five years, we may know that Bonds cheated his way through a successful career, but we may also know that everyone else playing in the late 1990s did too.

So in the end, we’re left with our imperfect system. The Baseball Writers can take their holier-than-thou attitude one day while I still believe that any number of baseball beat writers could have blown the lid of off the steroid story any day from 1996 through 2002. The Baseball Writers who are supposedly looking out for the best interests of the game and are paid to know about baseball could vote.

Or the fans, the true arbiters of the game, could vote. The fans see the game through the lens of the media whether that media be Bill Plaschke’s inanities, Baseball Prospectus’ insight or the lyrical prose of some of the more prolific baseball writers.

Everyone, it seems, is fickle. Fans sway with the media. Bonds is persecuted one year, evil forever after. Awarding Hall of Fame voting to the fans, as these poll numbers show, won’t solve anything.

Meanwhile, as Barry Bonds took all of four Spring Training at bats to launch his first home run, baseball has a bigger problem on its hands than fan opinion and a dialogue over Hall of Fame voting. As Bonds nears Ruth and Aaron, baseball is left with a commissioner discussing an investigation or whatever Bud Selig feels like conducting.

While those of us who watch baseball may have our opinions on Hall of Fame voting and the highly questionable legacy of the Steroid Era as it relates to Cooperstown, it is time for Selig and players union head Donald Fehr to step up and solve this steroid problem. Targeting anyone as a scapegoat isn’t fair, but those in positions of power in Major League Baseball need to make a strong statement whatever that may be.

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Beat writer’s vitriol against Belle misdirected

The post-Hall of Fame voting backlash grew in leaps and bounds on Monday as Chicago Tribune writer Teddy Greenstein issued a nasty attack against the former left fielder.

David Pinto’s Baseball Musings site directed me to this story today. In it, Greenstein rails against Belle’s behavior:

He got only 40 votes, or one for every 10 that Bruce Sutter received.

So why do I still believe that Albert Belle got way more Hall of Fame support than he deserved?

Oh, yeah. Because I covered him in 1998 when he played for the White Sox.

I saw him curse at reporters. Saw him react callously after accidentally flinging a bat into the stands that bloodied the face of a 10-year-old girl. Saw him pile up meaningless stats before sparse crowds. Saw his teammates and coaches revile him.

Greenstein, with his first-hand knowledge of Belle, has a very selective memory. We’ll get to that in a second. First, another excerpt:

But now there’s a segment that says Belle’s sins shouldn’t matter, that his numbers should merit an acceptance speech.

The Hall of Fame voting process has become politicized, they say. If you’re a baseball writer who takes into account a player’s off-the-field behavior, you’re superficial and petty for holding a grudge.

What a crock that is. Character counts. If it didn’t, Pete Rose would be adding “HOF” to all those autographs he hawks.

In my opinion, Greenstein’s justifications for denying Albert Belle the vote fall flat on this front. How many people enshrined in the Hall of Fame are of poor character either on the field or off?

Let’s look at Ty Cobb, one of the game’s greatest hitters and biggest bigots to every step foot on the field of play. There’s no need to rehash every crime Cobb committed, but it’s safe to say that he hated non-white people.

On the field, did Cobb have any more integrity than Belle? He sat out the last day of the 1910 season so that he could win a car by capturing the batting title. You can’t find a more meaningless statistic. He played mean baseball, sliding in to second spikes up taking out more than a few second baseman in his days. Finally, he was so popular among his teammates that his funeral drew a grand total of three other baseball players. Cobb, one of the game’s greatest, was hardly a nice guy. He gets a free pass.

Then there is the more recent example of Kirby Puckett. Like Belle, Puckett saw his career cut short by a devastating injury. For 12 years, he was one of the game’s greatest hitters just like Belle was one of the game’s greatest sluggers for the same period of time. Ten consecutive All Star appearances, a few Gold Gloves and batting titles as well as some World Series heroics earned Puckett a trip to Cooperstown. Furthermore, he had the reputation of being a nice guy. But was he?

Hardly. Since retirement, more has come out about Puckett’s personality than many of his biggest fans wish to admit. In 2002, Puckett was charged with groping a woman in Minnesota. Then, he and his wife went through a bitter divorce period. In March of 2003, Puckett’s story was plastered on the front of Sports Illustrated. According to the SI article:

Laura Nygren, whom SI describes as Puckett’s “mistress of many years,” told the magazine that Puckett resumed an affair with her just seven weeks after he was married in 1986 — then cheated on Nygren with numerous other women.

After the onset of glaucoma in his right eye forced him to retire in 1996, Puckett began committing lewd acts in public, such as urinating in mall parking lots, Nygren told SI. Her relationship with the ex-ballplayer ended last March after he allegedly threatened her and she obtained a temporary order of protection.

Where’s the outrage from Greenstein over Puckett? Now, Puckett and Cobb are just two of many players in the Hall who didn’t make it on their personalities. Mickey Mantle was a big drunk. Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams had their own issues. The list just goes on and on.

When I filled out a mock ballot for the Hall, I voted for Albert Belle. It was a tough decision because the Hall rules explicitly mandate that voters weigh character as well as baseball prowess. Maybe Belle deserves to be in the Hall; maybe he doesn’t. But it is not reasonable for a beat writer with a Hall vote to hang Belle out to dry without giving other stars already enshrined in Cooperstown the same treatment.

Hall of Fame voting a flawed system

Bruce Sutter is excited to be in the Hall of Fame after 12 years on the ballot.

“It was a call you always hope for, but you never really expect it to happen,” Sutter said in an article in Wednesday’s New York Times. “And, when it did, I didn’t think it would affect me or hit me as hard as it did, but it sure did.”

But should he really be feeling that good? Sure, he’s now Bruce Sutter, Hall of Famer. He’s also Bruce Sutter, Hall of Famer, elected during his 13th year on the ballot.

For the previous 12 years, Bruce Sutter wasn’t considered Hall of Fame material. And then in 2006, a year with no clear-cut Hall of Fame candidate (or no Hall of Famers, period), the voters decided that maybe Sutter deserved a plaque in Cooperstown.

It only took President George W. Bush two elections to win legitimately. Sutter needed 13. What’s wrong with the system?

My argument here is not an original one. In fact, this argument was the first I read during a Tuesday filled with Hall of Fame arguments. It was Dan Shanoff’s over at ESPN.com’s Daily Quickie. Here’s what Shanoff had to say:

I simply want to say that if these players didn’t get the 75 percent of “yes” votes needed for entry in previous years, I don’t understand how they are suddenly qualified. These are baseball players, not bottles of wine.

It’s as though the swing voters (the ones switching from “no” to “yes”) can’t handle a year without a Hall enshrinement. Is the food in Cooperstown so great that they don’t want to miss a party?

In reality, any previously unqualified player who suddenly makes the cut is just another example of how broken the Hall of Fame voting system is.

In my opinion, Shanoff hit the nail on the head. No part of Sutter’s career has changed since the 2005 Hall of Fame election. In fact, no part of Sutter’s career has changed since his first appearance on the ballot. Yet, now he’s Hall-worthy?

It’s not as if Hall of Fame voters couldn’t have voted him. Every writer has the opportunity to vote for up to 10 of the eligible candidates. As David Pinto pointed out, with 520 eligible voters, that means 5200 votes. This year, 2933 votes were cast for a whole bunch of candidates, none of whom had Cooperstown careers. With nearly 2300 non-votes, Sutter easily could have been elected a few years ago had voters really thought he was Hall-worthy.

Instead, the baseball writers association apparently decided that they just had to vote in someone even if that person’s name hadn’t made it to their ballots in the previous 12 elections. What makes Sutter’s case even more ludicrous is that as recently as 1999, his name didn’t appear on 25 percent ballots. In his first year of eligibility, with his career still fresh in the minds of voters, he appeared on fewer than 24 percent of all ballots.

It doesn’t make sense, and something has to give. Yesterday’s voting shows an institution stuck in its ways. The Hall of Fame voters had to elect someone. So they opted for a reliever who couldn’t garner 25 percent of the vote seven years ago while omitting players whose careers were nearly identical.

Sutter, obviously elated after 12 years of disappointment, hit the nail on the head. In talking about Goose Gossage and Lee Smith, two closers who didn’t make the cut this year, Sutter said, “We can’t compete with their statistics: their innings and their strikeouts. If you compare [the relievers] to each other, I think that you’ll see we’re all pretty equal.”

If the Hall voters were voting on anything other than a sense of obligation to elect someone, they would have voted in three closer all of who are equally deserving (or not deserving, as the case may be).

As it stands, Hall of Fame voting, much like the All Star game and the Cy Young Award voting, is just one more part of the baseball rewards system stuck in its flawed ways.

Belle, Blyleven on my Hall ballot

A few weeks ago, I was approached by Eric Mirlis, webmaster of TheMirl.com, to join a Hall of Fame roundtable. We were asked to vote for the Hall of Fame as though we had a vote (which just one of the participating writers have). Participating in this roundtable was one writer with a vote – Bob Rosen of the Elias Sports Bureau – and one former Major Leaguer – current Padres broadcaster Bob Scanlon.

To see if the 18 of us would have voted anyone in to the Hall this year and to read everyone’s decisions, check out The Writers: Baseball Hall of Fame 2006. Here’s my ballot. Follow the link at the end to read my explanation.

Benjamin Kabak’s Hall of Fame Ballot 2006

1. Albert Belle

2. Bert Blyleven

3. Andre Dawson

4. Jack Morris

5. Jim Rice

Usually, Hall of Fame balloting doesn’t elicit nearly the same controversy as, say, the annual MVP races often do. Fans usually agree that a few candidates up for election have the stature to gain a place among the giants residing in Cooperstown.

The Class of 2006, however, promises to give us a fresh topic for the quiet baseball days of January simply because there are no clear cut Hall of Famers on this list. There are no 300-game winners, no members of the 500 home run club. There are no shoe-ins; there are merely players noted for their longevity and loyalty. As a I write this before the voting is announced, it is possible that no one will appear on 75 percent of the ballots. Maybe the baseball writers won’t choose to enshrine anyone this year.

While only time now will tell, I’d like to present my ballot. Eligible voters (of which I am not one) are allowed to vote for as few as zero and as many as 10 candidates. None of the candidates leap out at me as sure-fire Hall of Famers, but in my opinion, a few of them deserve recognition for their careers.

Before, I get to my ballot, I would like to explain a little about my overall voting. According to the Rules for Election, “voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.? As this is somewhat vague, I also like to consider, as I debate this with my friends, whether during the candidate’s playing days, you would have wanted to have this player on your dream time. So here goes.

Click here to read My Ballot, Explained


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