The Crowded Ballot

On Monday afternoon, the Baseball Hall of Fame announced that former Cincinnati Reds shortstop, Barry Larkin, had been elected into the Cooperstown museum, receiving 86% of the vote.  It was Larkin’s third year on the ballot, and quite honestly, he should have been elected in 2010.  We’ll never know what Larkin did to sway enough additional voters his way over the past couple of years, but sometimes additional time, research, and consideration is needed.  Regardless, it was a huge accomplishment, and one that was well deserved.

Sadly, several deserving players on the ballot fell short of the 75% threshold required for enshrinement, and were left on the outside looking in.   Among those not elected were five players I included on my mock ballot a couple of weeks ago:  Jeff Bagwell, Edgar Martinez, Mark McGwire, Tim Raines, and Alan Trammell.  To be honest, I’ve gone back and forth on Rafael Palmeiro and Larry Walker several times, so that list of deserving players could easily be expanded to seven.  While this happens every year, this year the situation seems a little more dire than in years past.  Why?  Because the Hall of Fame ballot is about to get really crowded.

Next year, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa, and Kenny Lofton will hit the ballot for the first time.  While we’ll probably be consumed with a lot of passionate, divisive rhetoric from both sides of the steroid debate next winter, it’s pretty clear that each player has compelling cases for why they’re Hall of Famers.  In fact, if not for the cloud of steroids, we’d likely be talking about six players with clear chances of being elected into Cooperstown.  There wouldn’t be any discussion.  It would be a rubber stamp.  Mabye they don’t all get in on the first shot (it is a really stacked ballot, after all), but with the exception of Lofton; they would have all been shoe-ins for enshrinement at some point in the near future  Instead, we’re probably looking at only Biggio getting elected next January because the BBWAA is too busy moralizing an issue they’re partially complicit in allowing to happen.

Therein lies the problem.  Rather than having a consistent, blanket approach to the steroid issue, neither the proprietors of the Hall of Fame,  nor the BBWAA have done anything to rectify a problem that’s about to reach a critical mass.  They’re purposely evading the issue through grandstanding, in hopes someone else (read: Veterans Committee) will clean up the mess they partially created.  No guidance has been provided to the voters, and many feel justifed of their irrational decisions by invoking the vague and preposterous “character clause.”  They stand tall as the moral caretakers of a sport that’s lost it’s way, and strike quickly to cast the “cheaters” and “evildoers” out of baseball’s Eden.  They don’t think about due process or downstream consequences, but instead of their own reputations and emotional reactions.  If they were thinking rationally, they would realize it’s ridiculous to invoke the “character clause” for steroid users when it’s been ignored for years to elect players with significantly more questionable morals/personal ethos.  Their own faulty thought processes and irrational arguments have created a caste system of baseball crimes by which some are acceptable and others are not.  Throwing spitballs, using greenies, and corking bats are apparently forgivable.  Failing a PED test and/or failing the steroid eye test?  Not so much.  Those players get life imprisonment, even if there isn’t any credible evidence proving them to be guilty.

Ballot overcrowding doesn’t just affect the 2013 ballot, but it affects every ballot for the next decade and beyond.  As it stands right now, my theoretical (because I obviously don’t have a real one) 2013 ballot would include Bagwell, Raines, Martinez, McGwire, Bonds, Clemens, Piazza, Sosa, Schilling, and Biggio.  That’s ten players; the maximum I could theoretically put on a ballot.  It’s an incredibly strong ballot–maybe one of the strongest in history. But do you know what?  I had to leave Trammell off of it completely, and that annoys the hell out of me.  Maybe I’ll have a change of heart at some point down the line, and put him on at the expense of McGwire, Sosa, Schilling, or Biggio.   That said, I’ll still have one worthy player being left off of my ballot entirely, and that I find to be unacceptable.

Of even greater insult to injury is that borderline Hall worthy players like Palmeiro, Walker, Lofton, and Bernie Williams get completely lost in the shuffle.  (You could also include Raines, Trammell, and Martinez in this discussion, too.)  Sure, their cases are questionable, but that’s not really the point.  The ballot is about to become so crowded, they’ll end up losing much (if not all) of that 15 year eligibility period where the writers can examine their cases and re-evaluate their credentials.  They won’t be able to gain any traction or momentum.  This might not sound like a big deal to some of you, but to guys like Bert Blyleven and Jim Rice who waited years for “the call,” it was crucial.  If they had to deal with today’s ballot conditions, it’s unlikely they ever would have had the chance to enjoy their day in the sun.

Still, like I said, ballot overcrowding doesn’t end after the 2013 Hall of Fame election.  It gets worse.  Here are a few of the top candidates that become eligible between 2014 and 2016:

2014

Greg Maddux

Frank Thomas

Tom Glavine

Jeff Kent

Mike Mussina

2015

Randy Johnson

Pedro Martinez

Gary Sheffield

John Smoltz

2016

Ken Griffey, Jr.

Trevor Hoffman

Jim Edmonds

It’s a pretty impressive list.  Each candidate listed has a resume that’s more than worthy of being enshrined in Cooperstown.  In fact, with the exception of Sheffield, none of them have been linked to steroids in any way, shape, or form.  As a result, almost everyone on this list has a pretty good shot of getting “the call” at some point.

Just for a moment, let’s assume that only Craig Biggio and (cringe) Jack Morris get elected in 2013.*  I already explained how crowded my ballot would be in 2013, but what would it look like in 2014?  It would be:  Maddux, Thomas, Bagwell, Raines, Martinez, McGwire, Bonds, Clemens, Schilling, and Piazza.  Again, even with a full ballot, I had to leave off Trammell, Sosa, Kent, Glavine, and Mussina (all whom I think are legit HoFers), plus Walker, Palmeiro, Williams, and Lofton (whom I think are borderline, but worthy cases).  That’s 19 players that are worthy, and at most four will get in.  Those four slots (if there are that many) will be filled by the 2015 class, and so on.

* I can’t envision the BBWAA voting in anyone else on the first ballot.  Bonds and Clemens are tainted by very public steroid cases and might be second or third balloters; Sosa still has that ugly Congressional testimony with which to contend; Piazza has long been suspected by some media types; and Schilling doesn’t “feel” like a Hall of Famer to some people.  Bagwell has the best shot of the non-first balloters, but he’s likely still another year or two away because people can’t get past the fact he “looked” like he did steroids. 

It’s a vicious circle, and it won’t get any better until someone (MLB?) steps in and demands a solution or provides guidance.  Unfortunately, all we can do it sit back and watch as worthy players get bypassed year-after-year because of flawed logic and hubris.

Categories: Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame

After being slapped with a restraining order for stealing Nick Cafardo's mail, I was forced into retirement for a brief period of time. As fun as it was to lounge around the community pool and play shuffleboard with noted internet columnist, Murray Chass, I quickly felt a yearning to write again. Now in my second tenure with Fire Brand, I have set lofty goals of achieving world domination, ending the plight of the hipsters, and becoming BFFs with Mike Trout. I am fluent in two languages (Sarcasm and English, in that order); have an intimate relationship with M&Ms; firmly believe that Lucille is the best character on Arrested Development; and spend my spare time trolling select members of the Boston media. You can follow me on Twitter @Chip_Buck.

7 Responses to “The Crowded Ballot” Subscribe

  1. TroyPatterson January 13, 2012 at 9:46 AM #

    It's amazing how bad those Phillies teams were that Schilling pitched for (I know cause I grew up in the Philly area). In 1998 he threw 268.2 innings with a 3.25 ERA and 300 Ks. He finished with a 15-14 record that season.

    Even in 1996 he finished with a losing record and an ERA of 3.19! This I think will be a true case of how strong is the influence of statistical analysis in voting. Although if he gets in they will say it was because of his playoff performances.

  2. marcos January 13, 2012 at 10:14 AM #

    is this theoretical or do you really vote for the HOF?

    • ChipBuck January 13, 2012 at 2:11 PM #

      #facepalm

      • marcos January 13, 2012 at 7:57 PM #

        I just glanced at it. Didn't have time to read it this morning

  3. Brendan January 13, 2012 at 11:18 AM #

    That's struck me a few times when thinking about Schilling's HoF case. He didn't win 300 or any Cy Youngs, which is a problem for the old-school guys (unless they're talking about Morris), but he has a thousand playoff moments and he was outspoken about steroids, which the old-timers love.

  4. Tonez January 13, 2012 at 3:46 PM #

    marcos read the…no, not worth my time. I'm going to assume you are just trolling. Moving on.

    What are the chances that our esteemed voters just vote in some of these guys first ballot thereby reducing the ballot clutter? Maddox, Johnson? There are some first ballot guys on here. The issue is that being a first ballot hall of famer has come to have its own meaning. Even if a guy belongs in the hall the writers often make him wait a few years. Very rarely do the writers need the extra time for additional consideration.

  5. ChipBuck January 14, 2012 at 7:18 PM #

    There are some sure fire HoFers on that list. A hell of a lot of them actually. The problem is the BBWAA's inaction has allowed for the ballot to become so crowded that deserving players won't get votes because there aren't enough spaces.

    As for the comment about Marcos…BWHAHAHAHA!