“He’s a Hall of Famer, but not a first-ballot player.”
It’s not a direct quote from any single analyst, only because it’s a phrase that so many experts and fans alike have decided to label some of the cream of the crop of MLB’s superstars.
On Wednesday, the National Baseball Hall of Fame announced that no player received the mandatory 75 percent of votes that gives MLB players a glimpse at immortality.
Among those on the ballot for the first time were Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Craig Biggio. There was a home-run king, a 354-win legend and the second-most recent member of the 3,000-hit club.
While the third seems like the least qualified, Biggio was actually widely recognized as the player with the strongest chance of being enshrined in this year’s class. He wasn’t a masher, nor did he light up the scoreboard every game, but he did two things that you almost always need to enter the Hall of Fame.
First, he played the game the correct way. Biggio ran out ground balls, played the game fearlessly (he is Major League Baseball’s all-time leader in hit-by-pitches) and has never been implicated in any steroid discussion. Second, he achieved one of the few benchmarks that essentially guarantees membership into Cooperstown: 3,000 hits. Still, he received just 68.2 percent of the necessary vote.
Because he’s not flashy, he’s not a “name” player and 75 percent of voters don’t believe he is first-ballot worthy; he now has to wait until 2014. And next year, he will without a doubt be overshadowed by the likes of surefire, first-ballot locks like Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, not to mention a few more borderline names in Frank Thomas and Mike Mussina.
While this isn’t a cry for help for Craig Biggio, it is a cry that something needs to change in the Hall of Fame’s voting process.
The counterargument to Biggio, in recent memory, has to be Jim Rice. Rice was indeed a very good baseball player. He was in the top five of MVP voting six times, winning the award in 1978. He had a lifetime batting average of .298 and he nearly eclipsed 2,500 hits.
While the stats are impressive, in my humble opinion, he is no Hall of Famer, and 75 percent of voters agreed with me for 14 years. To repeat, Rice was on the ballot for 14 years before his name was finally called, garnering 76.4 percent of the vote in 2009.
Twenty years (all players must wait five years after retiring before they’re placed on the ballot) and all of a sudden this man is a Hall of Famer. Yet, nothing changed. He didn’t make a Bernie Mac-type comeback and hit a milestone. His stats didn’t change. He remained for 20 years a very good baseball player and then was almost magically a Hall of Famer.
I believe that Hall of Fame voters need to be further held accountable for their votes. If a player is a Hall of Famer, then he is. Just like us fans, voters get five years to analyze, break down and dissect every facet of these players’ careers.
Voters need to make sure that the players they think deserve to be in the Hall are in it, whether they are first-balloters or not. A Hall of Famer is a Hall of Famer.
Decreasing the maximum of 15 years that a player is eligible to be on the ballot, I believe, would give voters more of a sense of urgency to vote for specific players and make sure they are elected.
I don’t believe it should take any longer than 10 years total—the five years before the player is eligible and then five years max of being on the ballot—to deem a player Hall-worthy.
The Hall of Fame voting process must change to keep this lair of the elite sacred. And while I’d love to get into another debate about how to determine the definition of elite, that is not the argument. It’s the voters’ jobs, not ours, to deem a player special by their standards, and if he's not after 10 years of looking at him, he isn't and never will be.
Along with cutting the number of eligible years, those players would have to have at least 25 percent of the voters’ ballot in their first eligible year, and that percentage would rise by five percent each subsequent year.
In 1995, Jim Rice received 29.8 percent of the ballot. Under these regulations, he would be on the ballot the next year and every year until 1999, his fifth and final year, when he dropped down to 29.4 percent.
Yes, this year’s crop is chock-full of controversial names like Bonds, Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa. And while they have all been accused of some type of cheating, there must be an out clause to account for new evidence.
Most baseball purists will likely agree that cheaters don’t belong in the Hall. That isn’t likely to change, but the facts and criteria may. I would propose a simple out clause that would grant a player who had surpassed his five years additional eligibility if new evidence came forward that, without a shadow of a doubt, cleared their names of any fraud.
For example, even though Roger Clemens was found not guilty of his accusations, he still received less than 40 percent of the Hall of Fame vote. This obviously shows that voters still believed that he was doping.
If in the future Brian McNamee, the chief witness against Clemens, were to come forward with evidence that proves he had been lying about his accusations, Clemens would receive additional eligibility.
Obviously, these situations wouldn’t come up very often, but these rules together could do wonders for the game and help preserve one of the most sacred buildings in all of sports.
We can eliminate unnecessary, 10-year-long debates about players who, in the end, are likely not deserving of enshrinement. None of this is to say that players voted in after their fifth year of eligibility don’t belong. Quite the contrary, many or most of them do. They are Hall of Famers, and they didn’t deserve to wait 10-plus years to earn the distinction.
So to Hall of Fame voters out there, I offer my plea to vote—and vote early—for those players who deserve this accolade.
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