Tuesday, January 8, 2013


These are the four guys...
'Tis the season to be grumpy, right? Announcing Hall of Fame results so close to the end of the holidays has become increasingly slicey/dicey, particularly with all of the leftover portions of the Christmas goose being hurled around with such rapacious gusto.

The voting results have become akin to the terribly inappropriate and downright embarrassing Christmas gift that can't be returned--or hidden from public view.

At least that's the take from the post-neo world, which has (mostly for worse) defined itself as a political entity in terms of this issue. (We will say this: the hammer-and-sickle does look striking when it's sewn on to a lab coat.)

But we're just rehashing what we've been saying about this for some time now, and that's not the real reason for this column. No...the purpose here is to lay bare the only reasonable approach to the current Hall of Fame voting, utilizing a perspective that actually spans both world views, acknowledges the logic of both sides, and cuts through the crap like a hopped-up Veg-o'matic.

It also makes sno-cones for the kiddies, but that costs extra.

So here's the Hall of Fame ballot for 2013 to end all of this nonsense once and for all.
...who deserve to be in the Hall of Fame...

There are thirteen players on the current ballot who are front-door Hall of Famers. We can only vote for ten, so we have to determine a way to combine the quality of the players with the need to address the so-called "character issue" that is but the latest red herring of the most retrograde elements of the media. (That issue will, however, play itself out over time, as all such retrograde elements ultimately do--it just won't happen fast enough for many.)

So here are the ten players, factoring in the above, who should appear on anyone/everyone's 2013 ballot:
...but who won't get in for awhile....

Jeff Bagwell; Craig Biggio; Barry Bonds; Roger Clemens; Edgar Martinez; Mark McGwire; Rafael Palmeiro; Mike Piazza; Tim Raines; Alan Trammell.

These are the three Hall of Fame level players who have to wait for room on the ballot, but who'll get enough support to remain there while waiting for that room:

Curt SchillingSammy Sosa; Larry Walker.

Here are four noteworthy players with very different HoF vote totals in the current scheme of things who are not  front-door Hall of Famers:

Kenny Lofton; Jack Morris; Lee SmithBernie Williams.

Here are the holdover players still hanging around on the ballot who are not front-door Hall of Famers:

Don Mattingly; Fred McGriff; Dale Murphy.

A Hall of Fame ballot in 2013, after a decade of moralizing about steroids, needs to address the issue head-on by selecting the four players with Cooperstown-level credentials who are being scapegoated. What we know about steroids is clearly not sufficient to make the type of rash judgments that would legitimize a ban of these players, and those who are outraged need to look in the mirror, swallow hard, and get over it.

...because they are being scapegoated.
Wonks will ask: why Martinez and Palmeiro over McGriff and Walker? Here are the clear, unvarnished, and logically consistent reasons for that:

1. Always favor the players who sustain their performance level late into their careers; we know now how unusual that is.

2. Give black ink in OBP its due.

3. Adjust for egregious park factors (such as Coors Field--or Wrigley Field back in the day: while Ron Santo belongs in the Hall despite that, there's a reason why he should have waited awhile, and that same principle applies to Walker: his OPS+ for his years in a hitters' paradise is no better than Edgar's career OPS+).

4. Blend facets of performance when necessary to get a total picture of a player's excellence (Raines).

5. Understand and accept that there is an implicit pecking order set up by the precedents in earlier Hall of Fame voting and that the number of years that a player waits is neither arbitrary nor random. (If you fail to accept this, you will tear you hair out and will wind up throwing leftover Christmas goose forever in a special circle of Hell devised just for you.)

Occam and Aquinas: who's who?
Bigger wonks will say: you're not providing enough data for the players you've selected for the ballot vs. the ones you haven't selected.

OK, let's deal with that, but succinctly. 3000 hits gets you in, like it or not. 500+ HRs gets you in, offensive spike or not. A .400+ lifetime OBP gets you in, even if you were "only" a DH. (Over-simplified, you say? Hey, we'll take Occam over all of you budding Aquinas[ses] any time.)

And don't get hung up about WAR. WAR is not the answer, it's just a convenient (and flawed) framework to utilize if more rudimentary and straightforward approaches are not sufficiently clarifying.

Finally, ideas such as Joe P.'s "needs more clarification" category or Tim Marchman's "let the public vote" are well-meaning but misguided attempts to band-aid a process that is not nearly as flawed as they want (or need) to portray it as being. The "character clause" is such a basic red herring that it can be dismissed out of hand (and, really, Joe P.'s experiences with the other Joe P. should be a cautionary reminder to him that his ability to assess "character" needs some more work). The notion of the Hall of Fame as an utterly botched concept that Marchman takes up is a convenient fiction borrowed from Bill James's compelling but fatally slanted Politics of Glory (a book with a truly pernicious legacy); while the Hall isn't perfect, it's not nearly as f'ed up as the mouth-foamed minions in the post-neo brigade claim it is.

It is an overblown argument that rests on two items: slightly more than a dozen players who were shunned by the BBWAA over the past twenty years and the vagaries of Frank Frisch's tenure on the Veterans' Committee. That's unfortunate, but this is real life. It's not the end of the world as we know it.

There will be no movement away from the BBWAA as the instrument for Hall of Fame selection, no matter how loudly the post-neos shout and wail. The combination of steroids moralism and ballot crowding has and will continue to produce a logjam; but it will be worked through, and more quickly than the doomsayers (with their vested interest in such a failure) are predicting. The writers may not be math geniuses, but they are not nearly as stupid as they are being portrayed. They will adjust. It won't happen as quickly as it should, that's for sure; but it will happen, and we are just going to have to live with that. It will be a blip, not a blot.

But the malignancy has metastasized, the trenches are dug; the bullet casings have been laid out with exceptional care, in hopes that Murray Chass and his ilk will be there. (With abject apologies to Clement C. Moore...)

It's all for naught--but, apparently, there's no turning back. Remember, folks: tragedy, then farce.