A friend of mine once remarked, speaking of an industry other than baseball, that there were so many awards given out these days there must be one for everyone. He was exaggerating slightly, but his point was well taken: there are a lot of awards bestowed by a lot of organizations and institutions, especially, it seems, in baseball. MVP; Cy Young; Comeback Player of the Year; Player of the Year; Manager of the Year; Rolaids Reliever of the Year; Silver Sluggers; Rookie of the Year; Sporting News Player of the Year; etc..
At a minimum, these awards carry with them a guaranteed listing in perpetuity of the recipients in the annals of baseball and, for some, a nice financial bonus depending on their contracts. The granddaddy of them all, of course, is election to the Hall of Fame, which confers immortality. Is it any wonder, therefore, that election to the Hall inevitably engenders the greatest debate regarding the candidates’ worthiness?
Less than a week remains before we learn the names of this year’s Hall of Fame inductees. In the time leading up to the announcement, we have once again witnessed the annual rites associated with baseball’s greatest honor, namely what are the criteria for entry and who among the candidates is worthy.
The question of criteria was never firmly established beyond the following eligibility rules:
Eligible Candidates — Candidates to be eligible must meet the following requirements:
- A baseball player must have been active as a player in the Major Leagues at some time during a period beginning twenty (20) years before and ending five (5) years prior to election.
- Player must have played in each of ten (10) Major League championship seasons, some part of which must have been within the period described in 3 (A).
- Player shall have ceased to be an active player in the Major Leagues at least five (5) calendar years preceding the election but may be otherwise connected with baseball.
- In case of the death of an active player or a player who has been retired for less than five (5) full years, a candidate who is otherwise eligible shall be eligible in the next regular election held at least six (6) months after the date of death or after the end of the five (5) year period, whichever occurs first.
- Any player on Baseball's ineligible list shall not be an eligible candidate.
Interestingly, the founders also felt it necessary to keep out one-time wonders such as a Don Larsen with this rule:
Automatic Elections — No automatic elections based on performances such as a batting average of .400 or more for one (1) year, pitching a perfect game or similar outstanding achievement shall be permitted.
Thus we, the non-voting public, are left with the endless debates regarding who was dominant and for how long; which player(s) “defined” a position in terms of defense while hitting more than respectably; whose numbers matched or exceeded current members of the Hall; who was a “feared” opponent and why; etc..
This year’s list of eligible candidates include two certain entrants – Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn – one certifiably controversial candidate – Mark McGwire – and a host of players who have been on the ballot for many years without gaining entry, most notably Jim Rice, Bert Blyleven, Goose Gossage, Andre Dawson, Lee Smith, Tommy John, Dave Parker, Steve Garvey, Jack Morris, Dave Concepcion and Don Mattingly. The list is completed by a group of lesser players including names like Bobby Witt, who is eligible for the first time and has absolutely no shot at entry and others, such as Harold Baines and Alan Trammell, who had estimable careers but are unlikely to get sufficient support. Finally, there are names such as Albert Belle, whose demeanor especially toward the voting writers, was nothing short of openly hostile, and who will be elected only when the distance between bases is reduced to 80 feet.
For what it is worth, my ballot would include the following:
McGwire should not make the Hall on merit, or more precisely a lack thereof. His overall totals do not measure up to the general standards set by current members apart from his 583 home runs and his slugging percentage. Even though at least some of his power figures are suspect, I agree with that camp arguing it is impossible to determine without concrete evidence who was definitely using steroids and what portion of their career totals were thus affected. Where I differ from their point of view is in concluding that some of their numbers were “falsely” achieved even though the likely substances had not been deemed “illegal” at the time by MLB. We are talking about the spirit if not the letter of the law and one look at the younger McGwire and a comparison with the later image raises all sorts of red flags about his use of supplements.
Gwynn and Ripken meet all of the Hall’s criteria though, remarkably, a few voices have argued Ripken’s Iron Man streak should not be a factor in the voters’ minds as if that were his only achievement. There will always be dissenters in any vote. Remember, even Willie Mays did not receive unanimous support when he became eligible. Gossage deserves election in this, his eighth year on the ballot. He was a dominating indeed fearsome presence for many years in a pressure-packed position for teams frequently in contention. The Hall of Fame site offers these biographical details:
RICH GOSSAGE: 8th year on the ballot… Pitched 22 seasons… Led the
Blyleven is a “victim” of having pitched during an era when there were certainly other dominating eventual Hall of Fame pitchers around. He also had the misfortune to play for a lot of mediocre teams yet he put together impressive totals by any standard. Here is the