The best reaction to Wednesday's Hall of Fame non-election came from the New York Times, which delivered a blank page instead of a story. Can anything sum up what happened better than that?
As I wrote last night, the current problem isn't just the PED-tainted players not getting in or creating a crowded ballot. Voters want to elect Hall of Famers -- the average ballot contained 6.6 names -- but they just can't agree on which players. They generally stick to a "best at his position" opinion of candidates, but even though the number of teams has doubled in the past 50 years, the number of Hall of Famers hasn't.
Some other takes:
Do we really want a Hall of Fame that basically tries to pretend that none of those men ever played baseball? That none of that happened? Or that none of that should have happened?
Hey, here's a bulletin for you: It happened.
The '90s happened. The first few years of the 21st century happened. I saw it with my very own eyeballs. So did you.
It all happened, on the lush green fields of North America, as crowds roared and cash registers rung. It ... all ... happened.
And how did it happen? The sport let it happen. That's how.
Joe Sheehan, from his newsletter:
Biggio's lack of support reflects a truth about the Hall: you're better off having one signature skill than being a great player who does everything well for a long time. As with Tim Raines (52.2%), as with Alan Trammell (33.6%), Hall voters, who largely shun the analysis that takes into account all facets of a player's game, were unable to see Biggio's complete package as being Hallworthy. Kenny Lofton and Bernie Williams, two center fielders of a similar bent, fell off the ballot having appeared on fewer than 5% of the ballots. Similarly, faced with two right-handed starting pitchers on the ballot, one vastly superior to the other, the voters instead gave Morris 385 votes and Curt Schilling just 221. Whatever the Hall of Fame voting is about now, these results show that it is most definitely not about identifying, evaluating and honoring the best available players.
Normally I would say that (Jack) Morris has a great chance to make it next year. But he, like (Craig) Biggio, like everyone, will be facing a ballot unlike any in baseball history. There are three players -- Maddux, Glavine and Thomas -- who are by almost any view of history first-ballot Hall of Famers. Biggio is so close. Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell are in the shadow of the door, and almost everything Jack Morris did Curt Schilling did better.
The math is problematic. The BBWAA has not elected more than three players in a single season since 1955. And, of course, we’re in an era where there’s so much skepticism.
I think it will be very close. But after today, I’m not sure Morris gets in next year.
When Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire conducted chemistry experiments and broke home run records, this enraged a whole generation of writers. It's basic human nature. We don't like to be made the fools, and here come these two muscle-bound guys, who looked nothing like the Mark Belangers and Rod Carews of the past, launching baseballs into outer space at unprecedented rates. Leave aside the disappointment in seeing records previously held by an asterisked player and a greenies user go by the board. By blackballing Bonds, McGwire, and anyone about whom anti-steroids voters can concoct a flimsy argument, the writers are sending a message.
But, we’re here. And when (Hall of Fame president Jeff) Idelson announced that for the eighth time in history the BBWAA had thrown a shutout (and for the first time since 1996), the day struck me as one for accountability, for authenticity, for integrity. Maybe it lasts forever, soothed by the coming class of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas and Jeff Kent, augmented by the holdovers Craig Biggio, Jack Morris and Fred McGriff. Maybe we’ve mistakenly lost Dale Murphy in the shuffle, and maybe that’s not acceptable. Maybe it’ll always cost Bagwell and Pizaza votes.
Newspapers are now just one of many options for baseball-hungry consumers. For a time last season, one team -- the Seattle Mariners -- didn't have a single newspaper reporter on its road trips. At least one BBWAA chapter pads its membership with people who do not meet the organization's own requirements. Plenty of other members -- people who haven't written about the sport in decades -- continue to have Hall of Fame voting privileges.
This system may have worked in another era. But now, as men and women move on from the newspaper business, as they get farther and farther from the process, the Hall of Fame could do better.
BBWAA membership is supposed to be for the men and women whose primary responsibility is to cover baseball, and the BBWAA traditionally has extended membership to newspaper columnists and sports editors regardless of the depth of their involvement in coverage of the sport.
What makes this discussion even more compelling is that we're living in an era when there are more ways to evaluate Hall of Fame candidates than ever before. Whether you buy into the various ways of calculating Wins Above Replacement, whether you believe in Jay Jaffe's advanced metrics or the writing that Bill James has done on the topic, they are invaluable tools for being able to assess the whole of a player's career.
Schilling was the archetype of the plus-control, high-strikeout pitcher, which makes him something of a snapshot in time. If you wanted to be successful in the '90s and '00s, you pitched like Curt Schilling, missing bats and limiting walks. Few did it better. Or, rather, no one did it better. He pitched long enough to win more than 200 games, and he dominated in a high-offense era. He pitched in four World Series, and he literally pitched with his tendon shooting blood out of his ankle like something out of a Sam Peckinpah movie to help the Red Sox win their first championship in a millennium. Literally!
And he did his best work, his stretch of truly superior pitching, during the peak of the steroids era. If the voters are going to penalize everyone on the list of 205 names the Senator from Wisconsin had in his hand, why wouldn't they give extra credit to the players who excelled against those stacked odds? Considering there's no smoke around Schilling and PEDs, why wouldn't he get a boost?
Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, speaking on MLB Network, referred to the day’s outcome as a “deferral,” and that’s exactly how I see it. Many of us are so conflicted, we’re unable to say — definitively, right now — that many of these players belong in the Hall. But is it possible we could change our minds later? Of course.
Such shifts in voting patterns drive many fans nuts, but the 15-year grace period gives us time to form new and broader perspectives. The arguments of sabermetricians, for example, helped persuade me that Bert Blyleven was a Hall of Famer. I’d rather be adaptable than inflexible, as long as I ultimately get it right.
No doubt, Clemens and Bonds face an uphill battle. I expect that their totals will rise next year; some voters surely did not want to elect them on the first ballot. Yet, it’s also possible that many voters who oppose Clemens and Bonds will never waver, keeping them far below 75 percent.