The American Baseball Hall of Fame (part 2 of 3)

Part 2:

Even though there was more controversy of the Hall of Fame voting this year than any in recent memory, the voters did elect three very good candidates. Greg Maddux, of course, is a no-brainer. He’s the kind of player people think of when they think about a hall of fame: He was very, very good for a very, very long time, and at his peak, he was unbeatable. He’s a good guy, he’s well-respected, and, of course, no one has accused him of cheating.

Tom Glavine was a very good pitching for a very long time. He’s nowhere near Maddux’s class, but that’s if we held everyone to that standard, the hall would be nigh-empty. Tom Glavine belongs in the Hall of Fame, but he’s more of a “run of the mill Hall of Famer,” which is a phrase that may make no sense but is nonetheless accurate.

Frank Thomas is the most interesting of the candidates in that he’s the first player elected to the hall who spent most of his career as a designated hitter. He’s exactly the kind of player who knocks down barriers. He was so overwhelmingly qualified as a hitter that he was able to overcome whatever bias sportswriters had against a player who offers nothing on defense. Thomas’ career was a curve-breaker in another way. Most players’ careers follow something sort of like a bell curve: They reach the majors in their early 20’s, they improve until about age 27, they stay at that peak for a few years, and then they slowly decline until they aren’t good enough to play anymore. Thomas arrived in the majors at age 22 and was immediately the best hitter in the game. It’s hard to project what a player like that will do. How much growth is left in a guy who’s already the best? The answer was: not much, but who cares? From ages 23-29, he was the 3rd best hitter in the league once, the 2nd best twice, and the best hitter in the league 4 times.

Injuries cost him the majority of three seasons in his 30’s and, while he remained a very good hitter, he was not the dominant force he’d been in his 20’s. Nonetheless, when he retired, he’d clearly been on of the greatest hitters ever to play the game and so obviously worthy of the Hall of Fame that anything but electing him on the first ballot would have been silly.

Not that there wasn’t a great deal of silliness in the balloting. The 2014 will be remembered more for who wasn’t elected than who was. None of the players whose names were associated with steroids in any way, let alone testing positive or admitting usage, came anywhere close to election. Barry Bonds, the only player who can stake a claim alongside Williams and Ruth as the game’s greatest hitter, was not elected. Roger Clemens, an even greater pitcher than Greg Maddux, was not elected. Rafael Palmeiro, one of only two players to amass 3000 hits and not win election on the first ballot, got less than 5% of the votes (a player needs 75% to be elected). Jeff Bagwell, essentially the same type of player as Frank Thomas, was not elected.

And man, what about Craig Biggio? He had one of the more unique careers out there. He came up as a catcher, he moved to center field, and wound up at second base. He could lead off, in which case he’d get on base and steal bases. He could bat in the middle of the lineup, in which case he hit home runs. He could do anything he was asked to do, and he did it well. Oh, and he’s the other guy who got 3000 hits who wasn’t elected on the first ballot. And, he was, as far as we know, clean.

He missed election by 2 votes. Two idiots who cast “protest” ballots that were either blank or listed only a very marginal candidate like Jack Morris kept Biggio out of the hall. Biggio’s not the slam-dunk candidate that guys like Bonds and Clemens are, but he’s comfortably above the line. Keeping him out of the hall just looks petty and ridiculous.

I’ve almost lost hope for guys like Tim Raines and Alan Trammell, both of whom should be in the Hall of Fame, but don’t look like they’re going to make it. Let me clarify here: When I say “should,” I mean that these men, over the course of their career, accomplished things that have invariably resulted in election to the Hall of Fame. I happen to believe both players belong, but that’s not a terribly convincing position. On the other hand, by the de facto standards established by the voters, there’s no precedent for keeping them out. By objective-ish standards, they should be elected. More on that next post…

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