Baseball Hall of Fame: How Sabermetrics Scream for New Guidelines

Cliff Eastham@RedsToTheBoneSenior Writer IIFebruary 23, 2011

Whitey Herzog
Whitey HerzogJim McIsaac/Getty Images

In light of a recent article I wrote concerning Baseball Hall of Fame voting criteria, or lack thereof, I would like to submit the following for your perusal.

First and foremost, the voting should be snatched away from the Baseball Writers Association of America, like a thief in the night. They have taken a national shrine to baseball greats and made it a ridiculous load of fodder.  

Irresponsible comments coming from the writers’ own pen is a good place to begin. Concerning Roberto Alomar, one of them said that he was being “punished” by not being elected on the first ballot.

The alleged punishment would be restitution for his spitting at umpire John Hirschbeck in 1996. Hirschbeck subsequently forgave him and they became acquaintances.

I must say the incident soured me on Alomar as well, but not to the point that I am blinded by the fact that if any middle infielders belong in that hallowed Hall, he is the one.

The same venom comes from the pen of another who stated that the boys who made trips to Steroidville would be punished as well or even more severely.

That is a different kettle of fish completely. Steroids by their own definition are a “performance enhancing drug” or PED as we like to call it now. When your performance is being aided by anything other than your own natural abilities, you become a baseball outlaw.

To “punish” a player for one year or 14 is irresponsible and disingenuous. They are supposed to be the judge and jury of this matter, but not the legislative branch. They should not be permitted to take it upon themselves to rewrite rules or laws as they go.

Since there are very few rules the writers have to go by, let’s just have a look. A player must have been retired for five years to be eligible for placement on the ballot. Special situations may occur that precipitate an earlier vote (such as the cases concerning the deaths of Lou Gehrig and Roberto Clemente).

Currently a player must be on the ballot of 75 percent of the writers to be enshrined. A voter is entitled to vote for 10 players or less. If a player receives fewer than five percent, he is eliminated from further consideration. A player may remain on the ballot for 15 years provided he has received at least five percent each year.

After 15 years the player is removed from the ballot and his only chance then rests in the hands, and sometime feeble minds, of the Veterans Committee.

Now let’s talk, you and I. An earth-shaking question: Does a player get better in five, 10 or even 15 years of idle retirement? Does he become more HOF worthy?

Recent cases of Jim Rice, Andre “Hawk” Dawson and Bert Blyleven have pushed that question to the front of the line.

Rice’s case is extremely interesting. Of the 15 years in which he appeared on the ballot, Rice increased his percentage 10 years while his stock decreased in four of them.

He only garnered more than 60 percent from 2006 until his election in 2009, when he was elected by the skin of his teeth with 76.4 percent. Another thing of note about him is that he declined 2006 to 2007 by 1.3 percent.

So, did he get better as a player from 1995 to 2009? Was it the competition each year?  During his run 23 men were elected to the HOF. Of those, 14 were elected on their very first ballot.

We all can argue that 500 career home runs should get a man in like it did years ago. If there was a vote today, with Eddie Mathews on the ballot, he would be lucky to draw 30 percent of the votes. Even though when he retired in 1968 he was No. 7 on the all-time list. He had hit more home runs than any left-hander in history besides Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.

The magic number in terms of wins used to be 300.  Bill James, the SABR community and maybe even the Mensa International decided that the win statistic was not what your grandfather thought it was.  That may be debated until Christ returns, but it was good enough to be used for over 100 years of baseball.

Perhaps wins should be replaced by quality starts. But see, again we are legislating on the fly. Should we restructure the entire game to accommodate the theories of mathematicians? I can see all of you young bucks, sneering as you read this, cursing me to a life in hell with an abacus or a slide rule.

I am sure you are aware that Major League Baseball has no real affiliation with the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Just about the only thing that matters to the latter is that a player has not been blackballed by the former (my apologies to two of the best players ever, Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose).

So, where does this leave us? We still have no concrete forms that we can pour the players into and see how they mesh. It is so speculative that it makes me want to puke.

Many questions arise. Should we judge them on their entire careers? How about judging them on the best five years of their career? Curt Schilling is a very good example of that. He had only a mediocre career, yet he had two or three great years. Don’t start with the postseason crap. You can look up the records on the roster of the HOF and you won’t see postseason mentioned.

Should the middle infielders be granted a special form of offensive amnesty because of their defensive prowess? Any way you slice it, Phil Rizzuto, Bill Mazeroski, Luis Aparicio and Pee Wee Reese do not belong in Cooperstown. They are just a few that came right into my mind.

Back to topic, if we take the vote away from the BBWAA, to whom should it be given? If anyone should have to vote at all, it should be the players. All players who have ever played at the major league level should have a vote. Managers and coaches would certainly be included as well.

But if some guidelines were laid out, it wouldn’t even need an election. Several categories could be used as a format. An example for batters could be as follows: 500 HR, 3000 H, 1500 RBI, .300 AVG, .400 OBP, 135 OPS+, 500 SB, five All-Star selections, two MVP, five GG, five SS. That is 11 categories. If a player meets or exceeds any four categories, he is automatically enshrined. Remember, this is only an example.  If it would be decided to use “new age” math as well, we could still throw in some for kIX (that is new age for kicks).

Seriously, if the new math is seen as the way to go by the powers that be, a new format needs to be implemented because it is not right to compare Chase Utley with Nap Lajoie.

The same thing could be done for pitchers.

Obviously, this would not affect any players who may have been elected prior to the new format. A designation could be made between the older format and the new. The old guys would just be grandfathered in.

Since there would be no elections, it would not be necessary for someone to remain on a ballot for 15 years of seasoning.

I mean seriously, if a person is qualified for the HOF after 15 years, should he not have been considered qualified during his initial ballot?

I would only serve as the new Czar of the HOF for the first five seasons. After that, my WAR would not be what it should be.  I mean, face it, the older we get, the better we were.


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