Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Some thoughts on the Hall of Fame

The Baseball Hall of Fame sent out their ballots this week for the election by the BBWAA. It's a bittersweet time for me, as I was the Manager of Visitor Education at the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum from May 2006-February 2009. The pay was terrible, rent was expensive, heating oil was ridiculous. We had to keep our thermostat set at 57 to make the oil last as long as possible.  The first winter my wife (who is from Baytown) and I spent in Cooperstown was cute. The second winter was terrible, and by October 2008 we looked at each other and thought, "We gotta get the hell out of here." Wilco's "Hate it Here" was a household anthem in those final months. We made friends that are like family - still are - but I know what it's like to have your windows open when the wind chill is -35 because your furnace blew up. But I loved every minute that I spent at work. The current president of the Hall of Fame - who is a legitimately Good Dude - was my boss('s boss) before he became President. We texted each other after the Astros won the World Series (Name-Drop Alert). So I have some thoughts about the Baseball Hall of Fame. They are, in no related order of importance, as follows:

*The Steroid Era should 100% be acknowledged, simply by inclusion, and absolutely does not need an asterisk. Why? The five highest single-season batting averages in baseball history are as follows:

1. Hugh Duffy - .440 (1894)
2. Tip O'Neill - .435 (1887)
3. Ross Barnes - .429 (1876)
4. Nap Lajoie - .428 (1901)
5. Willie Keeler - .424 (1897)

Twenty-five of the first 26-highest batting averages in a single-season occurred prior to 1920. Those 26 instances were compiled by 20 different players. Fifteen of them are in the Hall of Fame. The highest single-season batting average in baseball history post-Integration is George Brett's 1980 season, when he hit .390. It ranks 48th.

Now, the five highest single-season slugging percentages in baseball history are as follows:

1. Barry Bonds - .836 (2001)
2. Babe Ruth - .847 (1920)
3. Babe Ruth - .846 (1921)
4. Barry Bonds - .812 (2004)
5. Barry Bonds - .799 (2002)

That said, using the George Brett Comparison (which is problematic, admittedly), only 18 of the first 48 highest single-season SLGs came after 1990. There have been 45 separate 50+ home run seasons. Twenty-eight of them were in 1990 or after. Sixteen of the 26 highest single-season home run totals have come since 1990, a ratio that is underwhelming compared to the batting average gambit.

Nine players who have hit 50+ home runs in a season, out of 29, are in the Hall of Fame: Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg, Hack Wilson, Ralph Kiner, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Johnny Mize, and Ken Griffey, Jr.

Maybe it's worth mentioning that Barry Bonds only hit 50+ home runs in a season once: his 2001 season with 73. Of course he got walked a lot because of his power, but Barry Bonds did not destroy Baseball's Home Run books. McGwire and Sosa hold positions 2-6. Giancarlo Stanton hit 59 home runs this season while David Ortiz's best is 54.

Point being: Whereas the early days of organized major-league baseball highlighted batting average for a period of maybe 40 years, the last 40 years of Major League Baseball have highlighted power. Hitter exploits weaknesses in the opposition and the rules. That much remains the same. So you look at Hugh Duffy's .440 average in 1894 and you're all, "Yeah, but that was 1894. Game was different." Then look at Barry Bonds' 73-HR season in 2001 and you're all, "Yeah, but that was 2001. Game was different." Baseball fans don't need an asterisk.

*Joe Morgan, a Hall of Famer himself, a member of the Hall of Fame's Board of Directors, and the Hall of Fame's Vice-Chairman, sent a Very Earnest Letter to...everyone, I guess, but specifically the voting members of the BBWAA pleading:
We hope the day never comes when known steroid users are voted into the Hall of Fame. They cheated. Steroid users don't belong here.

People with more scientific knowledge than I can argue that the rampant use of amphetamines in the latter half of 20th century baseball, or the hypocrisy of Joe Morgan decrying this most recent era in baseball history.

*"Here" is a very small, idyllic, pastoral town that is the home of James Fenimore Cooper in upstate New York. While short-lived, our (The Wife and I) time in Cooperstown is a massive part of my life. It is the home of the best artifacts in baseball's history, and has plaques with biographies of the players that 75% of baseball writers could agree were the best in the game's history. That said, aside from trade shows and what I would assume can only be described as drinking sessions between buddies who were also really good at a game, the only time Hall of Famers get together is during Induction Weekend. So Joe Morgan really only has to be associated with other Hall of Famers on three nights out of the year. My wife and I lived about a block and a half from the Otesaga, the hotel in which the Hall of Famers are comped their rooms and whatever they consume during the last weekend in July. It is a massive hotel. Don't want a drink with Barry Bonds? Go to your suite, and invite your old buddies. Do some greenies and reminisce.

Joe Morgan, acting as an influential member of the HOF's Board of Directors, over-stepped his bounds. But think about it like this: How many extremely successful people do you know who actively give you an in, or a tip, or a secret, that can put you on their level? Rich dudes don't want more rich dudes. Joe Morgan, and most members of Baseball's Most-Elite Club aren't interested in swelling the ranks of their Elite Club. Morgan apparently doesn't see a correlation between being able to perform at a high level day-after-day in the 1950s-1980s and being able to perform at a high level day-after-day in the 1990s-2000s (2010s?). It's grandstanding on Morgan's part.

*I do not understand why, if the BBWAA voted to make all ballots public after the election announcement, the HOF (including the Board of Directors) said no. Writers can release their own ballots as they wish, but the HOF will not make all ballots public. 90% of the voting members voted to make their ballots public. My guess is that it was a very loud 10% who objected. The Hall of Fame has said "We don't elect, we induct." The voting members are looking for guidance, and the Hall is perfectly willing to not provide it. Is that deflection? The HOF has been very clear that any controversy regarding results in the voting is a voter issue, not a Museum Issue. That's disappointing. Bloggers don't monitor the accession/deaccession records of MFA Houston and question the logic.

*The Hall of Fame, as an institution, has a tremendous opportunity - perhaps a mandate - to take control of the narrative and set some guidelines for voting. Provide clarification for which the members are asking. But rather than be the Principal and gain control of the 500+ member schoolyard fight, they're just willing to let whomever wins reign as the champ. And that's disappointing.

1 comment:

C Ross Bartley said...

Great post. Agree.

I have been watching Ken Burns’ “Baseball” again, between naps, and just finished the 1900-1920 era when pitchers dominated. The supposition in that documentary is the pitching was better because they scuffed, soiled, defiled the ball. In Burns’s words the pitchers of that era had a huge advantage. There are certainly pitchers from early 1900’s in the HOF. Sure scuffing the ball wasn’t against the rules in 1910 but...