Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Baseball Hall of Fame

On Wednesday, this year's baseball Hall of Fame inductees will be announced. For those not intimately familiar with the process, it tends to create the same sorts of heated debates and controversies that the BCS selections create every year in college football.

The biggest problem is that the entire process is flawed. Hall of Famers aren't chosen based on statistics. They aren't chosen based on perceptions from other players or managers or owners or anyone else who actually works within the industry. They are chosen based on the subjective opinions of sports writers. Specifically, members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that sports journalists are all incompetent douchebags. But its clear that they are not the ideal group to be selecting members of the Hall of Fame. Just because someone is a sports writer doesn't mean he has extra special information that your average baseball fan doesn't have. Fact is, a given sports writer is just as likely to be biased and uninformed as anyone else. Someone may cover the local MLB team in the local paper, but that does not mean he/she has any special insight into players who played on other teams, in other leagues, in a different era.

That last point is especially poignant - the issue of players from different eras.

A player must be retired for five years before he can appear on a ballot. That, of course, is to give time for his "legacy" to sink in. If a player receives at least 5% of the vote, he will remain on the ballot for the following year. 5% is not much, so many players remain on the ballot for many years. Twenty years have to pass before a player loses eligibility. Thus, in 2010, for instance, there could be players on the ballot who retired as far back as the mid-80's - long enough ago that some of today's BBWAA members were only children at the time. Are they really qualified to be making the decision?

The fact is, it has become more and more obvious in recent years that there is a distinct bias among modern BBWAA members against players from the 1980's. The reason for this is because of the performance-enhancing drugs boom of the mid-1990's and the resulting scandal of the early 2000's. Suddenly 40 homers in a season wasn't such a big deal. Suddenly a slugging percentage of .500 was ho-hum. Offensive numbers skyrocketed as a result of widespread cheating, and even though we now know what happened and why, it hasn't changed the perceptions that resulted from those steroid-enhanced numbers of the 1990's and 2000's. It's left us with the perception that those players from the 1980's - the guys who played in the last generation before the steroid boom and who are now the players on the Hall of Fame ballots - it's left us with the impression that these guys weren't all that great. So you have top player after top player after top player from the 1980's and early 1990's who are languishing on the Hall of Fame ballots year after year because they are being judged against the drug-enhanced power numbers of the modern era instead of against the era in which they played.

A prime example is Andre Dawson.

Here is a player who won one MVP award and was runner-up MVP two other times. He won the Rookie of the Year award. He won eight gold gloves. He was the first player to really combine consistent power with consistent speed, hitting double digit homers and stealing double digit bases in 12 seasons. He hit over 400 home runs (again, pre-steroids era) and stole over 300 bases. He had nearly 1600 RBI. He was an 8-time All Star. He was a 4-time Silver Slugger. In 1987, he lead the league in both homers and RBI.

The fact is, Dawson was among the very best players of his era. Any discussion, circa 1988, of the "best player in baseball" would most definitely have included Dawson. He was among the best of the best.

Yet he has languished on the Hall of Fame ballot for nearly a decade now. A decade!! It's unbelievable that someone who so dominated his sport and his position for so long could end up being so overlooked by today's baseball writers. He is a prime illustration of the kind of bias we have today in this post-steroid scandal world.

Andre Dawson, for what it's worth, will probably get in this year. He only missed by a few votes last year. And new candidate Roberto Alomar will probably be a "first balloter" this year as well. Barry Larkin deserves to be a first balloter, but my guess is that he will not make it this year in his first chance.

Despite being the premiere shortstop of his era (famous but one-tool Ozzie Smith notwithstanding), Larkin is just one of those underrated players that people tend to overlook. He played in the shadow of the more familiar Ripken and Smith, and the the last few years of his career he was overshadowed by the rise of the power-hitting shortstops like Jeter, A-Rod, Tejada, and half a dozen others. But make no mistake, Larkin's overall numbers are better than any of his shortstop peers during the prime of his career (roughly 1987 to 1997).

Jayson Stark, writer for ESPN, wrote a fantastic article last week about Larkin and why he deserves to be in. If ever member of the BBWAA read this article, I think he'd get in to the Hall of Fame tomorrow on his first ballot. But not every member of the BBWAA will read it. Here's the link: Underrate Larkin Deserves Spot in Hall

If I was a member of the BBWAA, my ballot would have Larkin, Alomar, Dawson, and Atlanta great Fred McGriff.


Charley said...

Great post! Andre was one of the best in the 80s, especially the early 80s. It's time that he is recognized as one of the best all-time! Can't leave one of only three players with 400 HRs and 300 SBs out of the Hall!

Andre in 2010!

Andre Dawson for the Hall of Fame

Scott said...

Thanks for reading, Charley. You must be the Hawk's #1 fan, judging from your blog! That's true loyalty!

I grew up a Cubs fan too, so I have a soft spot for him, but bias aside, his numbers are Hall-worthy, beyond any shadow of a doubt.