This Is Why No One Respects You, Hall of Fame

December 23, 2011 at 9:48 am | Posted in Bob Nightengale | 60 Comments

(This isn’t about the Dodgers. It’s a slow week.)

As you’ve no doubt noticed, Hall of Fame voting has grown increasingly contentious in recent years, as an aging electorate, some of whom haven’t covered the sport in years, continues to distinguish themselves only through continued ignorance and embarrassment. If they’re not trying to cling to arcane stats for pitchers, they’re pretending that they have supreme moral authority (and total knowledge) over the steroid era, or waiting one year too long to induct a deserving Ron Santo decades after his last plate appearance, or bringing down the overall quality of the Hall by inducting a completely undeserving Jim Rice (not even the best player in his own outfield), or most recently & egregiously of all, defending an accused child molester in a completely tone-deaf fashion.

Every year, it gets worse, and the inherent conflict of interest in allowing the writers to vote makes the entire institution seem like a complete joke. I’ll grant, of course, that there’s always going to be disagreement. That’s half the fun of this time of the year, and there should be disagreement and argument, at least when they’re based on facts. But then you get the mental gymnastics required to put in a ballot like the one that USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale submitted this year

Sent Hall of Fame ballot in mail today: Larkin,Palmeiro,McGriff,Morris,Trammell

…and it makes your head hurt. Larkin is absolutely deserving and Trammell is defensible; I don’t want to have the Morris argument again. But you’ll notice that he has two first basemen… and neither of them are Jeff Bagwell. My first thought was, “wait, are you really keeping Bagwell out because of a pie-in-the-sky guess that he was a steroid user while actually voting for the busted Rafael Palmeiro?” As it turns out, no; Nightengale says that he would vote for a suspected PED user. His objection to Bagwell is more due to his on-the-field play.

Palmeiro’s numbers across board are much greater than Bagwell’s.

…ookay. It’s clear that Nightengale is only looking at home runs and (completely meaningless) RBIs, since that’s about the only areas where Palmeiro comes out ahead. It’s certainly not in slash lines:

Bagwell: .297/.408/.540 (.948)
McGriff: .284/.377/.509 (.886)
Palmeiro: .288/.371/.515 (.885)

Or advanced offensive stats:

Bagwell: .406 wOBA
McGriff: .382 wOBA
Palmeiro .380 wOBA

Or WAR, thanks to Bagwell’s superior defense, and let’s show that in a nice WAR graph from FanGraphs:

As Bill from The Platoon Advantage put it,

To match Raffy’s career #s Bags would have to find a way to hit .264/.235/.439 in 6.5 more seasons, somehow dropping 89 BB/HBP

So really, the only thing at all Palmeiro was better in – besides, you know, for lying to Congress – was collecting more homers. Except what Nightengale seems to be forgetting is that A) Palmeiro had nearly 4,000 more plate appearances than Bagwell did to accumulate them, and B) Bagwell spent the first decade of his career hitting in the cavernous AstroDome, a pitcher’s park nearly on par with PetCo Park.

So sure, Palmeiro’s a better candidate, if you stick your fingers in your eyes and ignore just about all of the facts. And people wonder why the Hall of Fame has lost a lot of its luster?


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  1. If we’re ignoring PEDs, McGwire is a far better option than either McGriff or Palmiero, as well.

    • Also true. Nightengale said he left out MM because of a low batting average, which, sheesh.

  2. All of the old boys networks are making their obsolescence painfully (in the true sense…) obvious.

  3. Great post, Mike. The BBWAA, USA Today, and Bob Nightengale all deserve one another. They are individually and collectively a joke, and a bad one at that.

  4. Take the politics out of much of the voting for HOF

    10 All Star games and in automatically without a vote
    8 All Star games and in with a 50% vote
    Everyone else – existing rules

    • Only if you change the way a player is selected to the All-Star game.

      • Exactly. All Star Game selection is even more bogus than HOF, MVP, etc.

    • So that instead we’ll just deal with the politics of the All star game voting?

  5. I’ve always been ambivalent to the sports’ Halls of Fame.

    First, I think people get too hung up on stats (I know, I know). It’s a Hall of FAME. Not a Hall of Really Good Stats.

    So, to use a basketball example, in my Hall of Fame, Robert Horry gets in. His stat line is horrible, but everyone knows about “One Shot Rob” and his heroics in various playoff games.

    That being said, the Hall of Fame is supposed to put in players that we find admirable or want to emulate. Also, we want to put in successful players. So, stats play a role but they need to be taken into consideration with the environment.

    So, looking at Bagwell versus Palmiero, I think Nightengale is completely off base. First, the stat line favors Bagwell. He’s more successful than Palmiero in a harder environment. Second, Bagwell is someone we want our young players to emulate.

    In closing, I concur with your final result.

    • I think you mean “Big Shot Rob” not “One Shot Rob”.

    • I think it’s a good idea to have a “great moments” section of the hall of fame, or maybe a player could get some sort of honor for his role in such moments, but I think that to be inducted as a player, you have to a be a player worthy of induction. Making one great shot doesn’t cancel out all the difference in value between him and a hall of famer, so I think you can honor him for making that shot without putting him on par with the true greats.

  6. Just to play devil’s advocate, this hardline adherence to advanced metrics (combined with the strident tone) could just as easily have someone on the other side of the fence saying “this is why no one respects you, sports bloggers.”

    I’m not saying the voter’s ballot isn’t flawed or that Palmeiro is better than Bagwell or anything, but the voter earned his ballot and is going to choose to vote in a way that makes sense to him. It’s nothing worth getting worked up about. In 30 years, all the voters will be looking at WAR and OPS, and people will complain that the inductions are too sterile and academic. C’est la vie, I guess.

    • The problem is that both the writers and the bloggers are talking about the same thing, that is how good or valuable a player was. The difference is that the writers use fallacious appeals and outdated stats to do it. They may write about it elegantly, but that just masks the fact they’re using a less effective method of determining the same thing,

      • How is the accuracy of mthe Cy Young explained, then, over the last few years.

        • The Cy Young hasn’t been that accurate, just more accurate than the MVP. People have been complaining about wins for long enough that it’s impossible to ignore, so they moved onto ERA. over 200 innings, ERA has a decent correlation with pitching skill, so using ERA instead of wins will provide more accuracy. Also, they factor in innings, and value = effectiveness*innings, and ERA is a crude but not terrible measure of effectiveness, so this results in improved accuracy. But one could make the argument that Halladay deserved the NL Cy over Kershaw, and also that Verlander’s win shouldn’t have been unanimous.

          • “one could make the argument that Halladay deserved the NL Cy over Kershaw, and also that Verlander’s win shouldn’t have been unanimous.”

            A very good argument. Not that I can argue with how it turned out.

          • Who would you have preferred over Verlander? If there isn’t anyone, then why not unanimity?

            I was actually commenting on the selection of Felix Hernandez and his 13-12 record. SEEMS TO ME THE WRITERS DIDN’T BLOW THAT ONE.

  7. It makes me wonder if there is any way imaginable to break the link between sprotswriters and the HOF, or is such a change totally impossible?

    I know how the MVP fuck-ups can be stopped forever: Establish a new award and get MLB behind it as THE ULTIMATE award, one that could still include pitchers, and would be aimed at eclipsing, and making irrelevant, the fuzzy MVP concept within a few years. Right now all the sliver sluggers and player of the years barely draw notice.

  8. I agree with every single thing you said in this article except that Jim Rice doesn’t belong in the HOF. That article you linked to is pretty poorly argued. Oh my, Jim Rice ONLY hit .300 six times in his career? What a hack. And his career average doesn’t come out to .300 (like that’s a prerequisite for the hall)? Only .298? Disgusting. A “meager .502 slugging percentage, .854 OPS, and 128 OPS+” over his 16 year career? Terrible.

    Note for all those trying to make a baseball argument: You can’t just present good stats with negative adjectives in front of them and turn them into bad stats.

    • But to address the main point of your article, YES. Bagwell absolutely belongs in the HOF. Based on numbers alone, there’s no doubt. If people leave him out because they think he’s a steroid user (without any actual evidence), then it should be depressing to see that same (completely unfair) standard applied to power hitters like Frank Thomas, Ken Griffey Jr, and Chipper Jones. Like Bagwell, all of these guys are absolutely deserving HOF candidates that have no real link to steroids but happened to play in the steroid era. I hate to invoke the “innocent until proven guilty” cliche, but I think with the 90s-mid 2000s you have to try to give some of the cleaner guys teh benefit of the doubt or else everyone is guilty and no one deserves anything.

    • To be honest, I just googled for a Rice piece, and that was one of the first ones. A bit of laziness on my part, perhaps.

      That said, I still don’t believe Rice is in any way worth of the Hall. He was a good hitter, but not a great one outside of a few seasons, and offered little value on defense. For me, Rice is in the class of “really, really good players who aren’t Hall-worthy, like Boog Powell, Harold Baines, etc. Here’s some better links that explain the case further:

  9. I think a balance of stats and subjective “fame” should be included so there will always be arguments. For example I would put Jack Morris in just because he was dominant in the 80′s, more CG’s than anyone else. For that matter I would also put in Hershiser just for his 1988 season and the scoreless inning streak.
    But I do agree Bagwell should get in over Palmerio and McGriff not just due to stats but due to subjective perceived value to his team.
    Agree on Rice, probably shouldn’t be in but he was a very good player in the 70-80′s era before the heavey steroid use (at least supposedly).
    I see the use of advance metrics but I think there is and should be partly a subjective vote on those guys that deserve it cuz they just had that “it” factor. Anyway that’s what I think you’re free to disagree.

  10. The Hall of Fame has been ruined for me since Jim Rice got in. Not that I was THAT upset over Rice, he was just the last straw. It’s lost so much credibility it’s hard to take such a significant part of baseball seriously. Sad.

    • I lost it for the HOF when Bill (one BIG home run and great defensive second baseman but otherwise mediocre in every aspect of the game) Mazeroski was elected.

      • Totally agree. Mazerowski is absolutely not a HOF caliber player. And I hate to do this on a Dodger blog, but I’m not entirely convinced that Maury Wills belongs in the hall either.

        • And I’m an idiot. Wills isn’t in the hall. I have no idea why I thought he was…

          • I think part of the argument for Wills is that he kind of pioneered base stealing as it’s done today. Going back to what Brian Stuart said, I could get behind him having some sort of honorary induction because of his contribution to how the game is played today, but I agree, he wasn’t a good enough player to get inducted the traditional way.
            I just looked up Mazerowski… and oh my. Over his career, his highest wRC+ is 97 and his highest wOBA is .328. Hall of Fame numbers right there. Mark Ellis has exceeded that mark a few times, and is rated as a similarly good defender. Actually, Mark Ellis has nearly matched Mazeroski’s rWAR already. We just bought a Hall of Famer for 4.5 mil a year, guys!

          • No such thing as honorary HOF induction. Kinda like being just a little pregnant, eh wot?

          • My point thought is that there could be one, perhaps.

  11. What are your thoughts on Edgar Martinez?

    • I would vote for him. But I don’t think it’s a travesty if he doesn’t get in. I just don’t buy the “but a DH only plays part of the game!” excuse if you’re voting for closers.

      • The argument I always use for Edgar is that if his managers played him at 1b and he totally stunk it up he would make the hall easily so then why not when he didn’t play a position at all (thus actually INCREASING his value by DHing)?

        • Edgar played a solid 3rd base for a number of years for the Ms. but if a relief pitcher can make the Hall, so should a DH. he still has to hit the damn ball.

          • Yes, agreed, there will come a point when the voters will consciously want to put in a DH and the obvious choice will be Edgar. I mean, what did he hit all those years, like .335? But, like Santo, he may have to wait a ridiculous number of decades for that obvious, now, ground to swell.

  12. Imagine the numbers Bagwell might have put up if he had played half his games in Boston.

  13. You know, it IS a slow week, but I really hadn’t wondered why “the HOF has lost a lot of it’s luster”. :)

    Merry Christmas, MSTI

  14. i grew up in Houston and the Dome was a pitcher’s dream, the worst hitter’s park i have ever seen. Bagwell’s years there hurt his slugging production during his best years. Also, when you graph his WAR with McGwire, it is still quite favorable, along with graphs of current HOF members Murray and Perez.

  15. I don’t know which is worse, voting for Fred McGriff, or voting for Fred McGriff and then proudly tweeting it to the world.
    For some reason my brain couldn’t process beyond McGriff. Rationally I know as a vote Palmeiro has issues, but somehow McGriff just distracts away from all the other wrongness that is that writer’s proud tweet.

    It begs the question which is morally worse. Voting for McGriff, or voting for McGriff and then tweeting it to the world. I’ll let philosophers argue the issue.

  16. I grew up watching Bagwell and pretty much worshipping him and his entire career. But the steroid era has been simply too prolific to have just passed him by. He was a beanpole who became gigantic. He was known to run the Astros gym which was renamed Bagwell’s gym because he was obsessed with working out. Everything went well until his shoulder started to degenerate in some odd way. I like the defenses lodged on his behalf. But I’d be a rank hypocrite myself if I didn’t also say I think he’s a roider.

    I think they should all get into the hall, the roiders and liars. Baseball milked them for the honors (1998 home run race, etc.), Baseball failed to take testing seriously. So baseball deserves the shame of their HOF being full of cheaters. I think it is fitting that the HOF not be allowed to whitewash the reality of what happened under Bud Selig’s watch. Call it the Selig wing of the hall.

    The sole reason for exclusion from the hall is for gambling against your own team.

    • Unfortunately this particular writer included Palmeiro, but not Bagwell, who had a superior career to Palmeiro across the board in hitting, getting on base, fielding, and base running.

      And with Palmeiro, there is ample evidence of juicing, none with Bagwell, only unsupported speculation. But somehow Palmeiro ends up on his ballot without Bags.

      And this same writer also included McGriff, who was a fine player, but a below average defender and a questionable HOF candidate at best.

    • How about perjury and flat out lying to a Congressional committee about your personal use of PED’s?

      • I know this is going to sound ridiculous, but I actually say “hard to say”. I really think in sports, the only thing you can do to warrant exclusion from the HOF is gambling against your own team with the outcome in doubt. It jeopardizes the actual point of the entire endeavor and you could have actually influenced the outcome. Other than that, I think even if you are a mass murderer, if you hit .400 for 15 straight seasons, you should go to the HOF as a hitting savant who was a mass murderer. You would have been the greatest hitter of a generation, and you would also be a crazy ba&&tard. I am not trying to convince you, as I see the point your making and wouldn’t even vehemently argue against it. but since you asked, no, lying or perjury should be irrelevant to the hall.

        • Yeah I agree with that, but I would say that it’s hard to say that using steroids can be overlooked given the reason that you said that gambling against your team is warrant for exclusion. Using steroids affects the outcome of a game in an unfair way. I also don’t care if a player lies about using steroids, and I don’t care if he commits perjury, but I have to care that he gave himself and his team an unfair advantage.

  17. Good stuff, don’t remember if i mentioned it here yet but everyone has to read “Veeck as in Wreck” :)

  18. You could argue the definition of “fame”, as in HOF, as much as the definition of “valuable” in MVP. If you had to do play on a contending team to be valuable, then it would follow you had to do something extraordinary to be famous. The latter is the reason I personally feel and have long beaten the drum for Maury Wills’ election to the Hall. He revolutionized the way the game was played in his era and broke Ty Cobb’s stolen base record, which at the time, was considered even more untouchable than DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.

    Wills never came really close, while stiffs like Mazeroski and Phil Rizutto did. The latter’s claim to fame is shouting “holy cow” whenever somebody hit a loud foul.

  19. I have long argued that the HOF is or should not be solely a shrine for the greatest statistical players
    If it was only to honor the greatest players, they someone should just take the voting away, set up a stat based formula like WAR and players are objectively chosen based on a formula and the very subjective voters would be removed from the equation.
    However, since it is a hall of FAME and I believe that it should enshrine/remember/memorialize players who were worthy or did something worthy of such remembrance. The game is more than just the stats. Probably in all of sports, baseball is more stat based than other games, but players/managers/coaches do more than just produce stats.
    Maury Wills would not get attention for being a below average fielder or hitter, but he changed the game. Jackie Robinson had possibly borderline stats for enshrinement, but thankfully his overall contribution far outweighed stats and he was recognized.
    Roger Maris might fall into a class of players who may not have the career stats but his performance over a few years was worthy of remembrance.
    Sandy Koufax and Dizzy Dean did not have the career stats worthy of recognition, but fortunately the voters looked at their short term accomplishments. Conversely players like Don Sutton or Nolan Ryan were recognized for a long term body of achievement.
    There are precedents for all types of careers and achievements. Every player who suits up for the majors to me is worthy of being honored and remembered.
    Perhaps another way to look at it is to take the attitude of Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address. He said that the people there could not dedicate, consecrate, hallow the ground in the cemetery, but that it was the men who fought struggled and died who cold only consecrate the ground. Similarly, it is not the voters or the HOF itself who honor the players or grant them fame, but the players themselves with their achievements, contributions, fan dedication and service that lends honor to the HOF and the sport and to themselves

    • Jackie Robinson did not have borderline stats. He was one of the greatest players ever, social accomplishments aside. His only issue was he had a short MLB career for obvious reasons.

    • Hmmm….Sandy Koufax was not borderline. You’re completely out of your mind if you think so. He had a six year period of dominance that is pretty much never going to be repeated again.

      • Pedro.

      • It would have been nice if Bip and RS had bothered to read what I had written before turning into trolls.
        I consider Jackie Robinson to be the greatest/best player or at least among the best few. Possibly the greatest defensive player of all time and with amazing athletic skills and awareness of the game. However, his career stats would not have impressed voters unless they looked beyond the stats and saw his contributions, value, inspiration, leadership, skills and the reasons for a relatively short career. Even if he had played like James Loney, he should have been honored for how he changed the game and his contributions to the game and society.
        Look at Baseball Reference. BASED SOLELY ON STATS – Jackie falls below average for their HOF ratings. They even have him rated as the 189th greatest player – which of course is absurd. He does not measure up to their standards based solely on career numbers. We must look at more than numbers.
        Again my point that was clearly stated was that you cannot base judgment solely on stats. Many players, coaches, managers etc. have contributed beyond their stats and deserve recognition
        The same for Sandy Koufax who I consider to be the greatest pitcher of all time. Nowhere did I write that Koufax (or Robinson) themselves were borderline as men or players. I wrote that JACKIE’S STATS were borderline for HOF recognition as determined by Baseball Reference. Someone looking at Koufax’s career stats might not consider him worthy based upon only 162 wins in 12 years or many of his other CAREER STATS. We know by looking at how dominant he was for 4-6 years that he was as great as he was. Same for Dizzy Dean who had less than HOF worthy career stats, but based upon an incredible first 6 years or so he was honored.
        When players like Maury Wills, Gil Hodges, Roger Maris and others are overlooked because they may not have had all the stats expected, it would only be fair to them to consider other things. Maury changed the game, Gil led “the Boys of Summer” to greatness as well as the ’69 Mets, Roger did what others had not . Do they deserve the HOF – maybe,maybe not, but do not judge them or others only on stats that do not measure their full value or contribution.

        • Strictly upon “fam”e both Roger Maris and Maury Wills belong in the Hall. Will’s revolutionary feat still creates heat 50 years later. Maris still owns the non-steroid one-year record. They belong in the Hall, imo, because they are the very STUFF of baseball fame. What are you going to do with Craig Biggio, who has as much fame accorded him as the does the longest toss by a peanut vendor? Or Jeff Kent’s stats? HOF-worthy on stats alone? DEBATABLE. Wills’ and Maris’ fame is NOT debatable, all these decades later.

          Relying on stats alone, as sole indicator, is closer to the importance of numerology. It isn’t the Wonk HOF.

        • I did read what you wrote, and I said that other accomplishments aside, his stats alone still make him one of the greatest players ever. Both b-ref and fangraphs have him at over 60 WAR, which is easily Hall of Fame territory on its own, and when you factor in his short career, it puts him in the absolute highest echelon. I do think 60 WAR in ten seasons is valued more than 60 WAR in twenty seasons. The only thing Robinson doesn’t have is the counting stats, i.e. homers and RBIs, but that typically isn’t expected out of a second baseman, without them he’s still possibly the best offensive second baseman of all time.

  20. It’s not as if the voters for things such as the college football polls are any better.

  21. Wasn’t Jeff Bagwell one of the most valuable hitters ever according to Bill James? I thought i remember that from his abstract.

    That’s the problem with the hall of’s all about the perception of a bunch of writers who are not necessarily knowledgable about anything except their innate view of a particular player when he happens to become hall eligible.

    There should be a standard for entry into the hall of fame based on all around stats, not some arbitrary vote by people who have been deemed qualified to select HOFers because they’ve had the privilege of publishing an article in newspaper that involves baseball at some point in their career…

  22. We need to lobby MLB, with reasons they would accept, to disengage all writers from these major votes and, my vote, leave those votes within the domain of people who have played and managed the game on the field. MLB could put one finger of pressure on the HOF and it eventually would succumb and follow suit. Choosing the players for entrance to the Hall is not as subjective a determination as those lunkheads in the press make it. Waiting for Ron Santo to die before honoring him—if he’s worthy now, he was worthy 5 years after he played his last game—is as ridiculous as anything that’s cockeyed in society.

    The problem is wresting the tradition the writers hold without MLB feeling the negative feedback from them, to the degree MLB thinks it would hurt them in the pocketbook. Only then would MLB agree to disavow the entire voting process and reinaugurate it under a smarter system. And that should extend to the MVP votes, and anything the writers impact, as well.

    I suggest organizing in these pages a group who would sign on to a plan to so lobby MLB. All the problems (financially negative to MLB) would have to be disposed of before the criteria for selection could be formulated (which would have to include actual “fame”, often missing in mere compliation of numbers) . We could start by asking what is it that writers bring financially to MLB that would make it worth their trouble to jettison them, or any proposed changes would never progress.

    • “leave those votes within the domain of people who have played and managed the game on the field” Some these people are worse than the writers. Players and managers have little reason to learn much about statistics, so their voting would probably be even more laughable than the writers’.

      • That’s not the case in All-Star games, where the players’ and managers’ votes make up for egregious errors in the fan voting, who often are only regurgitating some relative meaningless hero worship they’re picking up from cliched writers. (Bloggers who know stats are not voting for MVP.) The ‘some’ who are worse than writers are more than made up for by relative cluelessness of the writers across the board. Btw, what players’ votes are you aware of that were so terrible? The players know each others’ stats better than bloggers, they have to play against each other with a lot more on the line, often mentioning an arcane point about a specific player’s weakness most statisticians know next to nothing about. It’s the GMs who don’t know stats, at least not the stats some pay close attention to.

        • To me, the best solution would be to have a small committee made of some select people from different aspects of the game: some managers, players, writers, statisticians, historians, etc. It seems like a lot of complaining about who the selecters select could be solved by whoever selects the selecters selecting better selecters. Phew.

          • And rotate it. No selector should cast votes for more than a 5-years. The current travesty sends ballots to former beat writers long after they’ve stopped attending games.

  23. Sooooo, if Nightengale is going to vote for Palmeiro, why not McGwire?

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