The Baseball Writers Association of America rules over the Hall of Fame like Stalin once did Russia. The onus of deciding which ballplayers should forever be enshrined in Cooperstown has fallen on the BBWAA for years. They make decisions based upon personal biases and false perceptions. They also maintain themselves as some sort of baseball moral police. It is now extremely difficult for players to be elected and only the absolute elite that have never committed a perceived transgression make it. These “elections” have become nothing more than overly subjective popularity contests. While the Association does count many good writers as members, there are far too many hypocrites and bitter hacks holding a vote for the Hall of Fame.
No Pete, Mini-Me can’t help you get in either.
Right now, Cooperstown’s only saving grace is the Veterans’ Committee. The committee is made up of qualified Hall of Fame players, writers, managers and executives. Their purpose is to help ensure that forgotten, but deserving, old timers still have a chance to make the Hall. The Veterans’ Committee has served its purpose. Over the years, they have elected numerous Negro League players, forgotten greats, and prominent figureheads. All of which, the BBWAA didn’t deem worthy. However, the rules require that a player must be retired for twenty years before they can be considered by the Veterans’ Committee; the BBWAA considers players after five years of retirement. Everybody elected by this Committee must first endure at least fifteen years of disrespectful snubs by the BBWAA.
The BBWAA seems to have two main hang ups when it comes to electing players: cheating and the failure to reach arbitrary numbers. But, they will exclude a player for any reason. Examples include bias against a player’s home stadium and downgrading a player because there were many other great players at his position during his era. As a result, many are unable to obtain elections for reasons that carried no weight in the selection of their predecessors.
Recently, players from the Steroid Era have started to become eligible and none have come close to being elected. The BBWAA has made it crystal clear that they will not be supporting the candidacy of any player associated with steroids. I find this stance hypocritical; I believe that many members of the BBWAA turned a blind eye to baseball’s steroid epidemic.
For three seasons (‘96-‘98), I was fortunate enough to serve as a visitor’s bat boy for the Texas Rangers. Despite terrible pay, awful hours, and exposure to many things a sixteen-year-old shouldn’t be exposed to, it was an absolute dream job. What else could I ask for? I spent my days immersed in the culture of Major League Baseball. However, even as a teenager, one thing was very apparent to me. There were a TON of players juicing and it would have taken a fool not to notice.
Guys looked freaky. They had muscles in places they should not have had muscles. I can remember standing with a Cleveland rookie relief pitcher — name withheld on purpose — and going through the Texas roster together, picking out the Rangers we felt were juicing. Guess what? Turns out we nailed quite a few. Even to me, it was very clear that this rookie pitcher was feeling pressure to try steroids. The steroid problem was the eight-hundred pound elephant in the room and anybody with behind-the-scenes access should have been aware of the issue.
The vast majority of the BBWAA was very active during this time period. When McGwire and Sosa were in their great homerun race of 1998, these guys were quick to heap praise on the two players for saving the game. Many profited greatly during this period of baseball, but they were immersed in the very same culture I was. I’m not saying every single writer from that period was privy to what was going on, but there had to be more than a few that were aware. They were in the locker rooms, and instead of pointing out the obvious, they wrote of the players’ Ruthian feats. Now the rampant steroid use has been exposed and these writers must express outrage, but the truth is that they perpetuated the problem as much as anyone. After all, these were the people with the voice that could have caused change.
The BBWAA also doesn’t know history. Currently, the Hall is full of cheaters, bigots and some of the most despicable human beings to ever grace this planet. Ty Cobb is perhaps the game’s biggest all-time low life. He was a violent, racist man who bet heavily on his own games and cheated at every opportunity. Cobb isn’t the only cheater enshrined in Cooperstown. The Hall is filled with guys who used illegal substances to doctor the ball when pitching, guys who threw games, and guys who took amphetamines to gain an advantage. Yet, deserving players like Pete Rose, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro are black-balled for the very same reasons. I’m not defending these player’s transgressions; I’m merely pointing out the double standard.
Elect the Crime Dog!
Another big excuse for excluding players from the Hall of Fame is numbers, or the lack thereof. Success in baseball is often measured in milestones. We like nice, even numbers — a .300 batting average, 20 wins in a season, 30 HRs, 40 doubles, 100 walks, etc. Similarly, the BBWAA uses benchmark stats in Hall of Fame voting and they are intolerant of any player that comes up short on one of the necessary markers. Five-hundred home runs is one such target statistic. Any power hitter needs to have five hundred dingers to qualify. There is no rhyme or reason to 500. It is a number seemingly plucked out of thin air, but it is an absolute standard. Long time slugger Fred McGriff hit 492 homeruns and can’t get in because he is eight homeruns short. More on McGriff later though.
These strict requirements also serve to exclude great players who were unable to maintain longevity. A guy could hit forty home runs every year for a decade and still be one-hundred short of the golden five-hundred. Greatness should be measured in more ways than just statistics. Awards like the MVP, Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers, and All-Star selections should bear more weight in the determination — as should playoff awards and championships. Unfortunately, the BBWAA doesn’t see it this way. They would rather abuse their power and use it as a check on those that they make a living covering.
In my next post, I will discuss several laudable players who have been unable to obtain election into the Hall and a few players who are new to the ballot this year, including the great Larry Walker.