We have the class of 2018 for the baseball Hall of Fame. Mariano Rivera, Roy Halliday, Edgar Martinez and Mike Mussina will be enshrined this summer. As usual, some pundits and voters are more focused on semantics than true examination of the worthiness of the candidates. This year, the question of “does anyone deserve to be voted in unanimously?” was the semantics question some deemed more important than anything else. I have 3 main issues with the way players are viewed.
Today’s starters are soft, so relievers should be more valued. Rivera was named on all 425 ballots submitted, and thus is the first person ever to be so named. CBS Sports writer Dayn Perry wrote, “if you rightly observe that relievers are generally less valuable than starting pitchers” in his column on the unanimous vote semantics, arguing that Rivera is indeed worthy. This is my first issue with the questions around Rivera.
I’m the first to admit I’m one of the last fans to embrace sabermetrics and analytics, mainly because I’m not all that bright. I’ve never taken an IQ test, but I’d bet serious money that if I did, my score would be 100, the perfect example of incredibly average. A lot of the advanced metric stats available and used today are simply over my head. When I see a new stat, I just keep reading until I figure out what number makes a player good or bad, so I can judge one player against others. On the other hand, I’m not stuck on “baseball card stats” either. I couldn’t care less about batting average. I understand OPS and like that measure much more. With pitchers, I know pitchers’ win totals tell us almost nothing about how good or bad they are. What I know more than anything is that 21st century pitchers are as soft as stuffed animals compared to… oh, every pitcher that debuted prior to 1980. In today’s game, the second a pitcher pitches his 200th inning, sabermetrics gurus and almost every fan born after 1980 start hyperventilating, sweating, shaking and screaming for the pitcher to get shut down, lest his arm fall off before the playoffs. Matt Harvey and his agent famously lobbied for him to get shut down several years ago, and he wasn’t even close to 200 innings yet. There was a time when 200 innings was the bare minimum. In a 6-season run from 1972-77, Nolan Ryan threw 1,724 innings, or 287 1/3 innings per season. Only once was he below 200 innings – in 1975, with 198 innings. Gaylord Perry exceeded 220 innings 12 times in the 14 seasons between 1966 and 1979. Louis Tiant exceeded 200 innings each of his last 3 seasons with the Tribe, then after 2 injury-riddled seasons in 1970 and 1971, he rebounded with Boston and pitched at least 260 innings each season from 1973-1976. Tom Seaver exceeded 200 innings in each of his first 13 seasons. Unlike the NFL, where we now have ample evidence that the “old school thinking” has had disastrous long-term affects on players’ well-being, we have no evidence that throwing 300 innings a year has left players disabled in their golden years. I’m not even saying we should go back to this workload (although I’m sure more pitchers can handle it than we might think). I’m saying that if we are going to continue to treat starting pitchers so delicately that a 201st inning is a cause for world panic, then we need to throw the “starters are more valuable than closers” argument in File 13.
Either he belongs in the Hall of Fame, or he doesn’t. I never have, do not, and never will understand the public’s obsession with “first-ballot Hall of Famer.” This argument isn’t about statistics as much as it is about how such a distinction is allowed to exist at all. Either Mariano Rivera is worthy of the Hall of Fame, or he isn’t. Either Roy Halliday is worthy of the Hall of Fame, or he isn’t. Whether a player is on the ballot for the first time or the 20th time should make no difference. If he’s a Hall of Famer next year, he’s a Hall of Famer this year. Further, there should be no classes within the Hall of Fame, or a wing in the museum for the players that were elected on their first ballot, separate and apart from the others – and that’s what comes across when you call one player “Hall of Famer” and another “First-ballot Hall of Famer.” You’re clearly establishing one person in the Hall of Fame more valuable and/or worthy than another Hall of Famer, and that is ridiculous.
The writers have a god complex.This was most obvious in 2013, the year the biggest Steroid Era players became HOF-eligible. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were the biggest names. No one was elected to the Hall that year. Craig Biggio, a clearly deserving player who had never been accused of doping, was lumped in with the steroid users. ESPN’s Howard Bryant wrote a particularly disgusting and galling column justifying himself and the other writers’ asinine rejections of eventual inductees Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Mike Piazza. Too often, writers suffer from the same delusion as owners – they think the fans are tuning in to see & hear them, rather than the players. This complex is getting worse by the year, spurred on by all the political news reporters that have egos the size of the Grand Canyon that spend as much time bragging about and promoting themselves as they do spewing hatred at the politicians of a different party than their own (both sides are guilty), and once every blue moon doing some actual news reporting. Whether it be politics, sports or any other topic, it sure would be nice to see a writer or reporter come at me with “here’s the latest news” instead of “I am the greatest reporter ever because I hate (insert name of athlete / politician / celebrity here)” One can only hope.
With this year’s class now decided, we can relax until the day after the World Series, when the semantics debates will again ensue. We know the 2020 process will include an epic amount of Derek Jeter-slobbering, and probably some debate on truly ridiculous things – such as if Jason Giambi and Cliff Lee are really Hall of Fame-worthy or will they not be worthy until 2021, and should Curt Schilling’s intolerant politics continue to be more important than his postseason accomplishments in his candidacy.
And what about those steroid guys – Bonds, Clemens and Sosa? And if Sosa gets elected, will he forget how to speak Spanish or English when he gives his speech?
Oh, the joys of debate!