We’re excited by last week’s announcement of the results of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s 2014 Hall of Fame ballot.
The way that the HOF voting is set up, where a candidate for enshrinement needs to be named on 75 percent of the ballots, ensures that getting picked is not easy. Good players are often bypassed. Great players sometimes don’t make it in for years. The best candidates, the aptly named first-ballot Hall of Famers, are rare.
So to have three first-ballot Hall of Famers in the same induction class makes 2014 a special treat for the Hall and for Cooperstown. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas are a great class of players and we think their respective fan bases will respond. Cooperstown, and its merchants, should be in for a huge crowd in July. Perhaps it won’t be a historic crowd, but we do believe it will be a better-than-average one. Certainly it will be better than the reported 2,500 visitors that turned out for the 2013 induction.
We’re also excited by the names coming up for potential induction in the upcoming years: Randy Johnson and John Smoltz will be on the ballot for the first time in 2015, and Ken Griffey, Jr., will be on the ballot for the first time in 2016. Plus Craig Biggio – two votes short this year – will be in line for induction.
Biggio’s struggle toward enshrinement illustrates the difference between perceptions and reality about the Hall of Fame. Enshrinement is not meant to be easily achieved. While fans of his have been upset that he has not been inducted yet, he is in good position. He has more than a decade left on the ballot, but it is likely he will not need that length of time.
It is easy for a fan, or a sports columnist or even a business owner to lament the slow process. But their concerns are not the same as the concerns of the BBWAA or the HOF itself.
That brings us to the hand wringing and self-serving concerns of the critics. For years now they have been lamenting that the process is flawed. They complain that BBWAA rules allow only 10 votes per ballot. They lament that the steroid users will never be inducted. Some of the more extreme ones predict that Cooperstown itself will be damaged forever because of the “flawed process.”
This year those critics have had their concerns taken up by a flawed standard bearer: ESPN personality and columnist Dan Le Batard. Le Batard, whose radio show is heard on 730 AM in Oneonta, decided to protest by allowing the readers of a website, deadspin.com, to fill out his ballot. The website had been looking to buy a ballot for its readers; Le Batard agreed to give them his as long as no money actually changed hands. In a case of awful timing, he announced this on Jan. 8, right after the ballot results had been announced, taking some of the spotlight away from Maddux, Glavine and Thomas.
In response, the BBWAA suspended Le Bartard’s membership and has barred him permanently from voting. We think this was fair punishment. We like his shows and often find him entertaining, but in this instance, we think he was wrong.
The ballot that the readers produced was actually fine. Perhaps proving Le Batard’s point, the ballot was better than some of the ones that were produced by other BBWAA writers. But we still think the move hurt the credibility of the ballot itself.
Le Batard and his few defenders have pointed out that some of the other BBWAA voters are not current baseball writers. It was a good point; unfortunately for him it was probably his only good point. The other reasons he cited were less credible: he was upset that Maddux was not a unanimous pick and that Barry Bonds is not in the Hall of Fame.
Maddux missed being a unanimous Hall of Famer by 16 votes. We think 555 votes out of 571 is a fine number. We agree Maddux is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and a great pitcher. But we wonder if he should have been unanimous when Cy Young, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan and Cal Ripken, Jr., were not.
We also don’t believe that players who used steroids or other PEDs should be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Period. And while we know that not everyone who used will be caught, we think that is a poor argument for allowing known PED users to be inducted. We’d also like to draw a line that almost no one seems to recognize: The accomplishments of Barry Bonds (and Roger Clemens and Pete Rose, for that matter) are in the Hall of Fame. Their memorabilia are on display. Their teams are celebrated. Their likenesses, are, in fact, in the Hall of Fame. But those players will likely never be enshrined and we believe that they never should be.
Those are debates for another day. The process of voting could be amended. The results are sometimes different from what one fan or columnist might want. But those concerns seem misplaced this month.
The class is 2014 is an excellent one. We can hardly wait for Induction Day.