The Broken Baseball Hall of Fame

Posted on January 8, 2014 | in Baseball, Sports | by
greg maddux atlanta braves

Greg Maddux will be elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame, but the voting process for the Hall lacks objective standards and uses arbitrary baselines for eligibility. (Chris Trotman/Getty Images/Bleacher Report)

Baseball has perhaps the most famous Hall of Fame in the world, the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Today, a few more of baseball’s elite will be elected for enshrinement on its hallowed walls. However, the entire process for selecting the best of the best for the Hall is inherently flawed because it lacks objective standards for what represents a Hall of Fame player/manager/executive/representative of the game and because it utilizes arbitrary baselines for election eligibility and vote quantity.

I’ll explain each of those flaws individually, but here is a quick rundown of the problem that is created – this year there is perhaps the largest group of strong candidates for enshrinement, but many of them played during a period of heavy PED and steroid usage and many voters refuse to cast votes for players suspected of using PEDs or steroids while other voters don’t hold it against players as much.

First, the arbitrary baselines. Players are eligible to be on the Hall of Fame ballot if they played during the period beginning 20 years ago but ending at least 5 years prior to election. That’s fine. However, players not receiving votes on 5% or more of the ballots cast in a year are no longer eligible to be on the ballot, but voters can vote for up to 10 players on their ballots.

Why 5%? What’s the harm in leaving a player on the ballot into perpetuity even if he never gets a vote? Does that hurt anything? The ballot might be a little more cumbersome to handle or sort through, but 5% is an arbitrary data figure that has no meaning. To compound that problem, what if in a year like this year a voter thinks there are more than 10 worthy candidates to receive votes? Jayson Stark of ESPN.com thinks he could viably vote for 19 individual players on this ballot. Because every voter can only vote for 10 total (and they don’t even have to vote for 10 – more on this in a moment) some strong and worthy candidates for enshrinement might miss the 5% threshold for remaining on the ballot just because they came along in a year when 10 other candidates had stronger profiles which compares player #11 only against these 10 and not against the rest of baseball history – and that’s not what the Hall is about.

That brings us to the other flaw – the lack of objective standards for enshrinement. From the Baseball Writers Association of America’s site on Hall of Fame election requirements:

5. Voting – Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

6. 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.

#6 says there are no thresholds to cross for automatic enshrinement. That’s fine, but that means that #5 probably needs to have a lot of ambiguity stripped from it, and tightened up so that all voters could follow a similar standard to viewing eligible players.

barry bonds

The greatest player of this generation won’t get enshrined – this time – because of his ties to PEDs and steroids.

We, unfortunately, don’t have that. What we have is a whole slew of really good candidates who have either been accused of, indicted for, or perhaps been guilty merely by association with PEDs or steroids.

So much ambiguity!

So much, in fact, that writers and voters are all over the place when it comes to taking a stance on steroids and PEDs – some voters flat out refuse to vote for players even remotely associated with their use (and getting beat up online for it):

“As for those who played during the period of PED use, I won’t vote for any of them.”

…while others take a long view of the Hall of Fame being more of a museum than a sanctuary of angelic players only:

“the Hall of Fame needs to live on as a museum. Where no one tries to apply a giant eraser to any period in history. Even this one.”

When there is so much ambiguity, nothing gets accomplished. And here, players with great achievements on the field won’t receive enshrinement.

While I’m not a voter and my opinion as a baseball fan means nil, as a Lean practitioner focusing on doing things better for the greater good, my stance is this:

Keeping baseball players out of the Hall because of steroid or PED use is the equivalent of customers firing factory workers themselves because the machine given to them by managers was broken through no fault of their own.

Players existed during a time of broken testing and they took advantage because the system allowed it. It is a historical footnote, an occurrence that baseball did not do enough to stop. The process was broken, a process the players had nothing to do with building or maintaining. If the process was important enough to hold players accountable today, the powers that be in baseball should have maintained that process and tightened it long before yesterday.

Also, has anyone noticed that the people responsible for voting – the writers – are not the ones in charge of maintaining that process of keeping the game clean? Voters – writers – are holding players accountable for a broken process provided to everyone by baseball’s management. There are NO checks and balances here at all.

Yes, once, Hall of Fame time really did involve an actual baseball conversation. Then it became a PED conversation. And now, it’s just a flat-out train wreck.

And that’s why the baseball’s Hall of Fame is broken.

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