This afternoon, Major League Baseball announced their Hall Of Fame inductees for the 2015 class. Three legendary pitchers were voted in on their first year of eligibility: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz. All three were no-brainers. The only position player voted in was Craig Biggio, also a worthy candidate in his third year of eligibility. I was recall being rather surprised when the former Kings Park High School and Seton Hall product didn’t get voted in on his first ballot. He owns the 3,000 hits which have long been regarded a punched ticket to Cooperstown. Having watched the National League for the entirety of Biggio’s career, I can attest that he was more than just a compiler. Biggio was a spark plug, a team-first guy, and a pest to the opposing team. I thought it was rather unfair when Biggio wasn’t inducted with the 2013 or 2014 classes.
Alongside Biggio for those back-to-back snubbings was the greatest hitting catcher of all-time, Mike Piazza. Unlike Biggio, Piazza was denied a place in Cooperstown for a third straight time today, receiving 69.9% of the 75% vote required to be inducted. Many believe that with his vote total having risen slightly, Piazza projects to make it in 2016, where the only newly eligible no-brainer will be Ken Griffey, Jr.
Mike Piazza’s numbers stand for themselves. There is no reason to state Mike Piazza’s case for the Hall Of Fame by referring to his batting average, All-Star selections, dramatic home runs, or records. Mike is being denied (or at the very least delayed) induction into Cooperstown because he played in what is now being known as “The Steroid Era”. Guilt by association, suspicion, innuendos and hearsay. Other than the presence of back acne (which this writer used to have plenty of as a 135-pound 14 year old…anything but steroid related), there is zero empirical evidence suggesting Mike Piazza took steroids. But enough about Mike…let’s take a look at the big picture.
A former battery mate of Piazza in their days with the early 1990s Dodgers, Pedro Martinez would go on to become one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball history. Pedro’s 1999 season pitching in Fenway Park in the American League East at the height of the steroid era is arguably the best season ever achieved by a starting pitcher. Pedro’s ERA was nearly 3 runs lower than the American League average. Allow that to sink in for a moment: 3 full runs better than the league, while pitching in a stadium with a 310 foot wall in an era where every other hitter looked like a body builder with a bat. The prime of Pedro’s career rivaled Sandy Koufax and fellow inductee Randy Johnson as one of the most dominant 5-season spans in the history of the game. Pedro is without question one of the top 5 pitchers in the last 50 years. Now chew on this for a moment: Pedro Martinez received 91.1% of the votes. That means roughly 1 in 11 voters DIDN’T vote for Pedro Martinez. If Pedro Martinez isn’t worthy of the Hall Of Fame, I’m wondering who is? Of course, I’m sure a fraction of those 50 or so of the writers who didn’t vote for Pedro are the guys that actually admit that they don’t vote for ANYONE in their first year on the ballot. This maddening fact is one of many reasons why the BBWAA needs to be removed (if not entirely, then greatly limited) from their privilege of deciding whether or not these men achieve baseball immortality.
Some of the justifications that writers have given over the years are reason enough to revoke their role in the election process. Things like (paraphrasing) “If Babe Ruth didn’t get 100%, no one should, so I didn’t vote for (insert newly eligible baseball legend)”. Or “Yeah he’s a Hall Of Famer, just not a first ballot Hall Of Famer”. There is not a single player who has added to his career résumé seven, eight, twelve years after he retired. Craig Biggio didn’t steal a single base between 2014 and 2015, but a handful of writers who didn’t vote for him last year voted for him this year. The amount of other inductees should not play into the voting. You hear things like “Maybe Jack Morris or Blyleven will get in this year because there’s no big names on the ballot.” As if the induction would be less special if it was shared with half a dozen others. Understandably, it’s a big event for the museum and the town. But the vote should involve comparing the player’s body of work to his peers, not basing the potential induction on whom else may go in that year. I wonder if the writers say, “Well Tim Raines probably should be in. But Pedro, Biggio, Smoltz, Big Unit…eh, there’s not really room at the dais. Maybe another year when we have no one else to vote in.” At this rate, players may start to consider retiring one game into a season if it places them on a weaker ballot 5 years down the road. Strategy to combat the stupidity of the BBWAA…it just might work.
So how can we fix this broken system of voting for the Hall Of Fame? I don’t think that the BBWAA should be outright stripped of their votes, though some of the writers really disgrace the privilege. The BBWAA should have 1/3 of the vote. The other two thirds should go to the living members of the Hall Of Fame (which would all but assure that even if reinstated, Pete Rose would never get elected), and a unique third voting party: former managers. In order to be eligible to vote for a player, a manager (active or retired) must have managed in the same league for at least 5 years of that player’s career. So for example, the managers that would be voting on Craig Biggio would not be the same ones voting on Pedro Martinez. What better party to have a say than the guys who were given ulcers by having to scheme to beat these players? And unlike many sportswriters, they’ve actually PLAYED PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL. I understand that the HOF should be exclusive and difficult to get into…but when you hear things suggesting that Bill Madden of the New York Daily News waited until Jim Rice’s final year of eligibility to vote for him based on their poor relationship, it doesn’t exactly instill confidence in the competence of those 548 voters. So keep the 75% number for the writers. Use 75% for the vote by living members of the Hall Of Fame (allowing them to abstain without counting it as a “nay”, as perhaps some of the much older guys might not watch the game. Though my guess is that they would all take the honor very seriously based on the comments I’ve heard from Tom Seaver, Hank Aaron, and Ralph Kiner.) Use the 75% number for living managers who managed in the same league for at least 5 years as the player. Again, that group of voters would have plenty of overlap (Tony LaRussa for example has probably managed 5 seasons against every eligible HOF candidate), but be slightly different for each player. If the player achieved 75% or greater for 2 of the 3 voting groups, he is a Hall Of Famer. This wouldn’t necessarily make it any more or less difficult to get into the Hall Of Fame, but it would certainly place the voting into some more qualified hands. It would also be an interesting way to combat the cases of Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and (eventually) Alex Rodriquez. It certainly would provide for some interesting quotes. “Hey, Frank Robinson, are you voting for Mark McGwire this year?” “So Hank Aaron, you voting for Bonds or what?” “Hey, Bobby Cox, are you voting for Trevor Hoffman?” It certainly couldn’t be worse than the current system.