Words like “travesty” and “shame” and “unthinkable” are being bantered about with regard to today’s Hall of Fame vote which yielded no players receiving the 75% of the vote needed for election. There are three contributors (Deacon White, Hank O’Day, Jacob Ruppert), only one of whom actually played baseball in the majors and none of which are alive, who were elected via the veterans committee. And probably a broadcaster and a sports writer in their respective wings. But no modern player for the first time since 1996. While this blog felt that six players were worthy immediately, I’m here to tell you. It is okay. Here are five reasons why:
1) There probably wasn’t a consensus candidate worthy on this ballot. A key word there, consensus. What that means is that history shows that it takes a while for the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) to come to consensus. History shows that marginal candidates (and by that, I mean non-slam dunk candidates) grow in their vote count from year to year. Bert Blyleven, Andre Dawson, and Jim Rice are three examples (14th, 9th, and 15th year respectively). Great players in their day, but not necessarily consensus during their early years of eligibility. It took a while to appreciate their place in baseball history. Craig Biggio will be a Hall of Famer, but the consensus is just not there yet. Comparable middle infielder Barry Larkin didn’t get in until Year 3.
2) There is no fundamental reason that there should be a minimum of one inductee per year. There is only an economic and publicity one. Cooperstown will suffer very low attendance this year. I wonder how many living Hall of Famers might suddenly have a family commitment that precludes them from showing up? Because we will be inducting ghosts (always fun to congratulate ghosts in person). And baseball needs good press, needs the interviews, the highlights of the inductees, the buzz, the reminiscence, the big smile on the inductees face, the family reaction, the discussion among sports analysts. But it will get none. But in terms of worthiness of the Hall of Fame, you don’t put someone in just because there is no other option.
3) Analysis of future competition and/or the thought that only a few players should get in every year is also not valid. You hear chatter of “X and Y player will be on the ballot next year and take away votes”. There is a limit of 10 players per ballot, but I believe most voters put at most half of that and don’t pit inductees against each other. At least they shouldn’t. It’s not supposed to be an election of one candidate against the rest. It’s the candidate against history. Just as there may be a year with no inductees, there is no reason that there couldn’t be six or seven inductees if several outstanding players retired at the same time.
4) There is definitely no consensus on the steroid issue. MLB has given no clarification on the issue, and therefore, many writers are holding back their votes to see how it plays out, and probably rightfully so. You can’t un-induct someone (at least not to date). So with time on their side (candidates like Bonds will be on the ballot until 2027) no reason to rush into judgment. It may turn out that every single player in baseball did steroids and therefore we should include it as part of the game and move on (just like not penalizing players before the color barrier was broken). It may be that nothing changes much and these people are punished (joining Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose in terms of their worthiness but lack of induction). But the process is working, for now.
5) Maybe baseball deserved this. By that, I mean the guilt of the steroid era is widespread. The commissioner should have done more, the MLBPA should have agreed to testing (told owners they strike if testing was in 2002 agreement). Fans deserve blame for probably knowing what was up and still buying tickets. Media probably turned the other way to keep player relationships to do their job. Players should have self-policed (and not taken the darn things). So now we have a generation of players with Hall of Fame talent (no doubt, Bonds, Palmeiro, and Clemens in my mind didn’t need juice) that will be postponed at best. But there will be the Biggio’s, the Maddux’s, the Glavine’s, the Jeter’s that were above the fray and will get in. And deservedly so. But there might be some lean years, here.
So we have a momentary disappointment. Some people will call for a change in the voting members (none is perfect). Some people will call for all steroid users to get in because it wasn’t their fault. Some people will call for a change in the voting threshold. But these are knee-jerk reactions. The system works. Deserving players get in (Shoeless Joe and Pete Rose debate for another day). This just won’t be one of those years.
And oh, by the way, you can scratch number 5 from what should be your New Years Resolutions. Wait until next year, you might see 4 or 5 inductees.
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